By Miguel Souto
Working at sea has always been a priviliege. My childhood was very focused on developing individual skills playing tennis and trying to become a professional tennis player. When working at sea with a team, all the goals are achieved together and the mood of each person influences the mood of the group, making it important to look out for each other and use our skills to help one another. As an ROV pilot, I’ve already experienced a lot of good memories, but what surprises me the most is that I like it more every time I go at sea.
I have been working as an ROV pilot for 13 years. After I finished university, I was invited to do ROV pilot training with EMPEC. Being selected for ROV training was a good opportunity but it was not what I expected in some ways. As I did a marine sciences degree in university, I thought my career would be more scientific and less technical. When I started, EMEPC had just acquired the ROV Luso and during training we worked with professional ROV pilots from the team who we purchased the ROV from. We were trainees for three years before it was time to do our first solo mission in 2012.
I still draw upon my training during each dive, including lessons learned from our very first training session. I remember the man teaching me told us our job was to control all the little details and the best way to do this is slowly. Our first cruises were with EMEPC, but now we are involved with more scientific cruises. EMEPC has a geological focus so I mainly sample rocks. Rocks are more difficult to get a hold of but easy to sample once you have a grip. Now sailing on biological cruises, there’s more attention to be given to biological samples. It would be easy to just grab an organism, but we could crush it which wouldn’t be too good for the science team, so we have to be very careful when sampling.
For me, working at sea is amazing. It’s like an adventure. You are working with science, away from everyone back home, and the work must be done today, it cannot wait until tomorrow. We are also learning every minute. Each day we have a challenge and learn new skills to get tasks completed. At sea, it can be stressful sometimes having to do new things I’ve never done before. But, any challenge can be overcome when the ship comes together and I feel rewarded when I see the scientists happy with the results.
There have been some tense moments while piloting. I’ve had two scary moments with fishing cables during my career. One of these happened on this cruise. I was piloting on a dive when a cable appeared in front of the camera quickly, but we thought it was a coral. A moment later I knew something was wrong when I was not able to move the ROV forward. I turned the camera down and saw the cable there. At that instant my co-pilot and other team members in the room started working together and giving ideas. It was difficult to focus because there were so many people speaking at once, but all the ideas came together for a solution. I moved the ROV backwards and turned a bit because the cable was not parallel to the ROV. Then the cable slid off most of the ROV but was caught on the left manipulator arm. I moved the arm down and thankfully the cable slid off. In times like these, I get very focused and try to solve the problem, but I also rely on my team’s help.
Above: Some images taken by ROV Luso earlier this week. Images © ROV Luso / iMirabilis2
Sailing on iMirabilis2 has been very special cruise to me. The conditions on Sarmiento de Gamboa are great, there are nice people on board and the food is very good. This ship is always ready to work. But more than that, it’s the connection between people on this cruise that has made it special. Perhaps this is because of COVID-19 and the excitement of being able to be close to others again. I also am enjoying working with Cova Orejas as a cruise leader. Cova has a nice balance of pushing you professionally while still giving you time to be yourself. Her ability to take care of both aspects doesn’t always happen on board and it is quite rare.
Last night we broke the record for the deepest ever dive with Luso and our success was celebrated by a colleague playing a song on Galician gaita for us. It felt very good to have friends celebrating with us. It was my favourite moment of the cruise. More favourite moments have been the views of the sunrises, sunsets, moon, and stars. Seeing Bea Vinha’s excitement while I was piloting was also a nice moment. I was trying to focus on a challenging ROV dive but hearing Bea saying what an amazing area it was gave me a good sensation. I realised she was not worried about the dive and that any small issues I was dealing with were not problems for her. This gave me good motivation to continue making her happy with our piloting so she gets the best results in the end.
I’ve spent around one year of my life at sea throughout my career. This is one of the longest cruises I’ve been on. Myself and the ROV team will stay on board back to Vigo where we will prepare all our equipment to be sent back to Portugal. After that, I will take some time off and spend time with my family and dog. Especially after one year in my apartment, I want to travel and experience new things. I wouldn’t want to do any other job. I’m still eager to learn new things, but I don’t want to leave ROV dives. I like the science as well so maybe one day I’ll be a closer colleague to the scientists on the ship. Overall, I just like to work at sea.