The following are my daily notes on a trip to Bermuda
to convert a 25 foot long,
5 foot tall, 1500 gallon tank into a living reef.
DAY 1, Los Angeles International Airport,10:30
PM, I had checked in the eight large boxes containing 3 Metal Halide lighting
systems, 6 ballasts, 4 Oscillating powerheads, and assorted other items
I was bringing, filled out all the paperwork and tags properly, would all
the boxes make it ? Had I forgotten something ? Oh well, too late now.
I settled back into the cramp airline seat and began to think about the
5 hour flight ahead of me. I find flying exciting but really very uncomfortable.
Hec its night, I'll sleep. Right ! I was so excited my Knee caps were tingling.
DAY 2, What seemed like all night, and now was
6:00 in the morning, the plane landed in Newark, N.J. With a 3 hour layover
ahead, I found a McDonalds in the airport and had breakfast. Getting back
on another plane I had to prepare myself for another 2 hour flight. At
least it was daylight and I could look outside. Yeah lots to look at over
the Atlantic Ocean. Just before we finally landed, I caught a view of the
coral reefs and the turquoise colored water below and knew that the flight
was all worth it. As we got off the plane the signs pointed us to the Customs
check-in area. I thought I had all my paperwork ready. Well I didn't have
the address of the fellow I was staying with, and was told I would have
to step into the room opposite where everyone else was going. OH OH. In
moments a British speaking fellow came in and asked why I was here and
the name of the fellow I was staying with. I told him he was suppose to
be waiting for me outside and with that the Brit got on the P.A. system
and paged my friend. By now everyone is looking in the window at me. A
telephone rang, the Englishman answered it, asked for the address, and
turned to me and said I could go. WHEW ! At the carousal I found my boxes,
a little beat up, got a Porter and wheeled myself to the next desk, the
Duty Officer. This lady looked at me then looked at the mountain of boxes
on the cart and then looked back at me. She asked me what was inside and
if I had any paperwork stating their contents. Just then my friend, Cesaer,
came up with another lady, the Duty Officers boss, who told to the officer
to figure out the duty tax and move me on through.
My friend Cesaer is Italian, he's lived in Bermuda for
30 years, he owns one of the most popular restaurants on the Island and
he looks like what you would think Cesaer the Great looks like. Well he
gets his Van, now remember that Bermuda is a British Island and all the
vehicles are these small European, economic ( gas was about $ 4.00 a gallon
) variety. We loaded the boxes or at least half of them, the other half
stuck out the back of the van. I had to ride in the back just to hold the
boxes in. Now here's the first thing I noticed that was amiss, the steering
wheel was on the the wrong side of the car ! The next thing I noticed was
everybody drove on the wrong side of the road ! And the roads were very
narrow and they all drive too fast !
Cesaer lives on a peninsula that is in the Hamilton Sound.
His home has a wooden dock that goes half the way around the house and
he has created many little gardens and patios within it. Inside the house
were many rooms, but the largest room had the Aquarium in it. The tank
is 25 feet long, 5 feet from the floor upwards and 30 inches wide. It was
built out on what used to be a balcony, which is now enclosed with glass.
The interior of the aquarium is covered with local dried coral rock and
the bottom has two levels. The lower level is half the width of the tank
bottom and runs the length of the tank. Previously this trough was used
as the lower section of an undergravel filter. The tank is viewed through
3 large glass panels. Now here is the nice thing, there is a 5-MD water
pump that draws water from the ocean, 10 feet away, and pumps it into the
tank at a rate of about 500 GPH !. Constant water exchange ! Well we ended
the day with a boat ride of Hamilton Sound and many, many discussions on
how I was planning on setting up the tank.
DAY 3, Got up at 8:00 AM and sat out on the dock
enjoying the sun. Cesaer said lets go snorkeling and with that we put on
face masks and snorkels and jumped off the dock. Wow, Condylactus Anemones
a foot across, sea cucumbers two feet long, Four Spot Butterfly's, sponges
of many colors and lots of gorgonian fans. The water was 76 degrees but
I got a little too cold and climbed back up on the dock to dry off in the
sun and have breakfast.
Wasn't long before we went to work. We unpacked all the
boxes and began to position the items on the tank in a mock set-up. We
discovered that the light enclosures didn't reach the distance between
the supports that spanned the width of the tank. This could have been a
problem, but with some quick thinking, I suggested we use to the old tank
tops and cut out the area where the enclosures could sit into. Cesaer was
pleased. Again we loaded half of what we had, the other half hanging out
the back, into the little van, and off to the carpenters shop we went.
Steven, the carpenter, was also a Bermudian ,born on the Island. He proceeded
to cut the openings in the three aquarium tops. A few hours, one Router
and a few table saw blade teeth later we loaded the tops back in the van
a went home.
DAY 4 First thing was to drill 5 three inch holes
though the back of the tank. Three holes for overflows out of the tank
and back into the ocean and two for electrical cables. The Electrician,
Harry, a real Bermudian, a descendant of the British who shipwrecked here
back in 1607. He drilled the holes using a large electric drill with an
auger looking drill bit. Because of the Re-enforcement bar within the cement
back of the tank, none of the holes were straight or at the same angle.
This would make things interesting. Harry finished the holes and had to
leave, so it was my turn, I had to create an over flow system and link
three holes to the pipe going back to the ocean.
Well I got out a hammer, chisel and some PVC pipe and
fittings and began to construct the overflow system and collection manifold.
While working away the phone rang. Cesaer had gone to get some more materials,
so I set my tools down and went in to answer the phone. It was Rolf, he
was calling to confirm our venture tomorrow to gather the Live Sand and
Live Rock I was going to use in the reef tank. I wrote down his number
so Cesaer could call him back. I walked back out to my work spot, reached
down to pick up the hammer and chisel, and the dog, which had settled down
next to my tools when I went in to answer the phone, growled and lunged
forward. White teeth apparent ! SHE BIT ME ! Right across the back of the
hand. Pinta was an Akita, 13 years old and I guess I had startled her.
Just before the blood appeared to flow out of the two wounds in my fore
finger I thought I could see white bone. OH MY ! I sat down and began to
think how I was going to resolve this situation.
When Cesaer returned he said "lets go to the Hospital
". HOSPITAL ! In Bermuda ! OH MY. Off we went in his little van with the
steering wheel on the wrong side of the van and driving on the wrong side
of the road. I thought I remained quite calm for the situation. We got
to the hospital and Cesaer persuaded the nurse to have the doctor look
at my finger right away. " Well Mr. Stime, when did you have your last
Tetanus vaccination ?" I thought and said " no idea ". The nurse then said
that I should get the vaccination now and she would administer the shot.
SHOT ! OH MY ! Moments later she reappeared, I took a deep breath and looked
away. I felt a prick in my arm and she was done. "The doctor will be with
you in a moment " she said and left. In walked Dr. Schaeffer, a bearded
fellow. He asked me a few questions, looked at the wound and decided that
it required further examination and said that I would need a stitch to
help the wound stay closed. Off to another room and as I laid on my back
, my left arm covered in clothes, he said "this will burn slightly". BURN
was a good word ! Fortunately, as he applied the local anesthetic it only
burned for a moment. I could feel my finger become numb. He used a syringe
and about a Liter of Saline solution before he declared that the bite had
not broken the Tendons or hurt the bone. The doctor used a stitch to close
the wound, applied a bandage and said " to avoid infection, it was a good
idea not to go into the water". Well there went any diving for me.
When we returned home it was time to go out for dinner,
a French restaurant. First we had Breads and Cheeses, then Scallops and
Escargot ( in a pastry ) appetizers, then Mushroom soup, and then the steak
with Peppercorn sauce I had ordered. And then dessert, some sort of dark
chocolate cake with thick frosting and walnuts. Oh life isn't so bad ,
even with a bandaged finger !
DAY 5 Today I met the young fellows who would help
us collect the Live Sand. Rolf and Stephen were both Watchmakers from Germany
and Thomas, a Chef who was from Austria. We loaded 14 five gallon buckets,
masks, fins, snorkels and scuba equipment, and off they went in the boat.
I remained, as I was not able to go in the water due to the bandaged dog
bite, and worked on finishing the overflow system.
A few hours later they returned. They unloaded the buckets
of sand and told their stories of what they had seen while gathering the
sand. I ran my fingers down into one of the buckets, lifted up a handful
of sand and saw many forms of live scatter from it. We then began cover
up the trough in the bottom of the tank with Plexiglas panels that had
holes drilled in them. The Plexiglas was supported by large diameter PVC
pipes sat on their ends. Over the panels we siliconed nylon window screen.
The trough was now an enclosed area that would serve as the Plenum in a
Jaubert / NNR type system.
Next we placed the buckets of Live Sand ( about 700 lbs
) over the bottom of the tank. This gave us about three inches of sand
the length of the tank. Then we went out to what Cesaer called the hole
and lifted up the Live Rock that he had previously placed. There were pieces
that were about 2 feet long, a foot wide and at least 6 inches thick. It
took two of us to lift them out of the water. These rocks were covered
with Zooanthid Button Polyps, some had Gorgonians growing off them. I saw
many different types of Caulerpa's, calcareous algae's and sponges. We
hauled these up to the tank. With two men inside the tank and two handing
the rock to them, I directed where I wanted the pieces placed.
Once the rock was in the tank Cesaer turned on the pump
and the tank began to fill with fresh seawater. Even at 500 GPH it took
almost three hours for the tank to fill. I watched as the water level neared
the three over flows. They seemed to all be at the same height. As the
tank filled, each over flow evenly took 1/2 an inch of water and there
were no leaks or drips in the collection manifold. Things were working
DAY 6 The Electrician showed up to run the new
circuits that would allow Cesaer to turn the lights on and off from the
living room wall switch. Cesaer had called a local Acrylic supplier, Willy.
Willy was part Portuguese, part Lebanese and ran the "outlet" store in
town. They had decided to replace the old tank tops, we had cut the other
night, with custom made Acrylic covers that would hold the light hoods.
Unfortunately the new light hoods wouldn't arrive for at least two weeks.
In the meantime I used some 3/4 inch thick Acrylic supports to place the
light hoods on top of. The lights consisted of seven 250 watt 55 K Metal
Halide bulbs and six 40 watt Actinic fluorescent bulbs. These were placed
in three light hoods and their power cords ran out the back of the aquarium
to the ballasts placed in a cellar below the aquarium.
At the ends of, and between the light hoods I placed the
four Oscillating Power Heads. These "AquaGate" units generated 950 GPH
each and the discharge slowly swings back and forth 45 degrees. OH BOY
do we have water movement ! After fooling with the fluorescent bulb fixture
connections, the tank began to come ALIVE. With the alternating discharge
angles of the powerheads creating a very "chaotic" water current in the
tank, combined with the ripples of light or "glitter line" created by the
Metal Halide lights, the tank really began to look like a piece of the
DAY 7 Decided that we would go scuba /
at some of the local beaches ( well Cesaer and Thomas would ). It was my
job to watch the equipment. As I watched them go out into the water, I
almost decided to go out with them and hold my bandaged hand out of the
water. I decided not to and watched the girls on the beach. I recall one
in particular, a blonde with short hair, tiny turquoise two piece bathing
suit and long legs.
That afternoon we went to dinner at Cesaers restaurant.
This was a real treat. After appetizers of Cheeses, Salami's, Ham, Mushrooms,
Mediterranean Olives, Scallops, Clams, Calamari, Peppers and various fruits,
we then ordered our meal. I selected the Fettuccini. It was delicious. Joining
us was Thomas and his friend, Jennifer. A very attractive girl with black
hair, creamy skin, and beautiful light blue eyes. She was from Boston.
While being pampered by the waiters, I was introduced to many of the local
prominent businessmen and another young pretty girl, Susan. She was a D.J,
( also from Boston ) at the local radio station. We chatted about music,
what was current and favorites. The evening was very filling, exciting
and socially entertaining. Jennifer asked if I wanted to go with Susan
and others to the local "club". Well I had left my wallet at the house
( remember I'm on vacation ) and only had three dollars on me ( CLUCK CLUCK
). I wouldn't feel right not being able to pay my own way ( CLUCK CLUCK
), didn't have a ride home ( CLUCK CLUCK ) and had to get up early the
next morning ( to crow at the morning sun ! ) Well I chickened out, but
have a date with Susan, if I return. Jennifer is leaving Bermuda in January,
she said she had relatives in L.A. We plan on getting together if she comes
DAY 8 Today we went to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum
and Zoo. We saw many exhibits of the local marine life and history. I got
an opportunity to visit with the Aquarium Curator, Richard Winchell. We
then sped off to the Crystal Caverns. 180 feet below the surface was a
cave with million year old Stalactite and Stalagmites. We were told that
if we dove down into the 65 degree crystal blue water we could swim into
another chamber that was even bigger.
In the afternoon we went to the Bermuda Biological Society
and spoke with to Dr. Smith who was involved in coral research. He talked
about coral bleaching. Dr. Smith indicated that the expulsion of a corals
Zooanthelae was due to some form of environmental stress. He also said
that a coral could lose up to 99 % of its internal algae and if conditions
became less stressful they could redevelop the algae. His researched centered
on the causes of the environmental stresses.
That evening we began to fine tune the positions and placement
of the corals and gorgonians. We then cleaned the glass panels, adjusted
the oscillating powerheads and sat back to enjoy our efforts. As the powerheads
alternately created currents in the tank, the seafans swayed back and forth.
Under the Actinic lights the Brain corals glowed brilliant green. The "glitter
line" created by the rippling of the light from the Metal Halide lamps
really gave you the impression that you were looking at a 25 foot section
of the ocean. Then it occurred to me that this tank was, literally, a piece
of the ocean, 10 feet from the ocean ! There was no filtration, just the
constant flow of new seawater into the tank. The power heads would keep
the debris in the tank suspended long enough so that they would eventually
be flushed out of the tank. All the life that was introduced, via the live
sand and rock, along with the anoxic layer ( Jaubert / NNR ), below would
help digest the debris that might settle. We had a long conversation on
the other types of life that could / should be added. These items Cesaer
would add at a later time ( maybe I will be invited back in June ). For
now it was time to enjoy our indoor ocean reef.
Day 9 After a peaceful breakfast out on the dock
we raced off for the tourist part of town, so that I could pick up a few
souvenirs. Once done it was off to the airport. After filling out more
paperwork, paying duty on the bottles of Rum I was bring back and through
the metal detectors, I was ready to board the plane. One last deep breath
of clean Bermudian air and I stepped onto the plane. It was two hours back
to New Jersey and another six hours back to Los Angeles. As I sat on the
plane, I thought about the job I had just completed, the people I had met,
the friends I had made, the places I had seen. The foods I had eaten. The
flights I had to endure. Certainly this was the largest tank I had ever
worked on. What an opportunity, WHAT AN ACCOMPLISHMENT
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