They have to keep lookout in all kinds of weather. "One morning, it was a little rough for my liking, but other than that, it's been easy," said Melissa Freese, 21, a senior from Mount Airy. She expressed regret that she hadn't seen any whales on her watch.
Also aboard are scientists from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who are gathering data on atmospheric conditions and winds high above the water, where the giant turbine blades will be.
Ruben Delgado, a faculty research assistant at UMBC, said the data gathered using remote sensing gear on board as well as old-fashioned weather balloons launched from the deck will help scientists and potential wind developers ground-truth the government's wind-speed estimates, which are generated by computer models using mostly land-based data. The cruise also may provide information on how winds can vary from day to day and hour to hour.
"You need to know what the variation is," Delgado said, "because if you have a windmill and all of a sudden have a gust, that means it's going to produce more power."
On Friday afternoon, the windspeed aloft where the turbine blades would spin was a steady 10 meters per second, he reported.
"You're making money at 10 meters per second," said Gohn.
Though forced by rough seas to return to port in West Ocean City a couple times, Suthard said the cruise has been mostly uneventful, with the staff working in shifts around the clock, deploying gear and monitoring data collection. What free time they have, the crew spends eating, reading and watching satellite TV. The scientific crew rotates through two-week stints, with a small enclosed launch ferrying supplies and crew changes from land.
"Most of the time the survey, if everything is going well, is pretty mellow," said Suthard. "You're just here running the computers and collecting data, everything starts getting in a routine, especially over two months."
Though the cruise is not yet complete and the data still raw, Gohn said he was unaware of anything that would preclude large areas of the ocean floor from accommodating turbines. The targeted area is big enough to fit five times as many turbines as could be built using the ratepayer subsidies that Maryland lawmakers approved this year.
"I mean, from a geology standpoint it's pretty boring," he said, "but that's probably good from a development standpoint. We're not seeing a lot in the way of habitat. We're not seeing a lot in the way of other issues."