Slices of Life: Singing Factory & Shallow Water

July 11, 2015 · Posted in Diving, Marine Biology, Science!, Slices of Life, Work 

I’m wading in knee high dark water pulling the boat after me when the factory sings out again across the strait. A flute-like mechanical sound, vaguely melodic, but not quite. Like someone had sampled a gale whistling in the structures of an abandoned factory, and played an atonal melody with it while throwing in a bit of vox humana. I stop to listen.

(Photo: Essi Keskinen / Metsähallitus)

(Photo: Essi Keskinen / Metsähallitus)

“Is that music or not?” I ask out aloud.

“I’ve been wondering the same!” says the drop camera operator sitting on the bow of the boat. “It sounds so strange”, she continues.

The sound fades away and I resume pulling the boat. The sky is part light gray, part covered with heavy rainclouds. On the shore a row of wind turbines slash the sky with their blades. They are not the small and friendly looking turbines, but large hulking things with long and narrow blades that make me think of wasp wings. Up close their scale and speed is intimidating.

“In Germany there’s a locomotive that makes a sound when it starts”, says another colleague from the aft of the boat. “It’s just a machine but…” I stumble on an underwater rock and almost lose my balance, and miss the rest.

(Photo: Essi Keskinen / Metsähallitus)

(Photo: Essi Keskinen / Metsähallitus)

I walk in silence for a moment, and the water starts getting deeper. I try to understand the dimensions of the island, which seem to stretch further and further away as I wade through the waters, pulling the boat. On the nautical charts the east side of the island is just 0.9 meters deep and littered with rocks, but the island is just 400 meters long.

“Can I see the plotter”, I ask the colleague and wade to the aft of the boat. She hands me a handheld GPS.

“I think it’s just around that spit of land” says the dropcam operator, pointing at a little nub of shoreline.

“No, we’re just halfway there…” I say and turn to look.  “No wait, that’s not part of this island!” What I had thought to be the northern edge of the island, so far away, was actually the next island over. I’m confused for a moment. I was sure there were wind turbines on this island too.

“Okay, fuck it, we are not turning back, it would just take longer to drive around the island past all those rocks. We are committed, so let’s go, I’ll pull us there.”

(Photo: Metsähallitus)

(Photo: Metsähallitus)

The factory sings out again, but this time the fluting song is interrupted by a siren and loud clanking that echoes through the cloudy afternoon.

“Let’s do a video here” I say, and the ladies on the boat spring to action.

“21!” says the dropcam operator in a perky voice to the GoPro bolted on top of the camera, and drops the camera assembly in the sea with a little “Whee!”

“Depth is about point seven meters”, I say.

“572… oops, we are at the bottom. Yay, we have plants. Get it up a bit. That’s beautiful.” says the drop video recorder from the aft. I let the boat slide past me and start pushing it from the side instead of pulling it, so I won’t foul the water. There are some quiet mumbles of “a bit up” and “is that Potamageton?” before the video recorder announces “aaaaand stop”.

“How many is that?”

“18 videos, two to go.”

I keep pulling and the water gets deeper and deeper. It’s dark, but not murky, coloured by the humus brought in by the nearby rivers. I’m thirsty and sweating, but my bag and water bottle are in the boat, in a box under the video assembly. It will have to wait. Soon I’m chest deep and thankful my immersion suit doesn’t leak too much.

(Photo: Alejandra Parra / Metsähallitus)

(Photo: Alejandra Parra / Metsähallitus)


Two videos later we are done with the eastern side of the island and the water is deep enough to use the motor.  I seal-mount the boat.

“Right, let’s do three videos from the north, have a break, fill up the gas and catch the others.”

I guzzle down almost half of my water. The Snickers bar tastes divine.

The factory sings out once more before we leave.


We are in the open water between the islands, speeding through the waves. It’s my first time navigating an appreciable distance on the seas, but it’s easy with the plotter and the maps of the polygons we need to survey. Soon we are on the northern edge of the polygon, and see our other boat a few hundred meters away, moored next to a small island. Sun is trying to burn through the gray layered clouds, not quite succeeding.

“How many people are on board?” asks the drop cam operator.

“I can see just two” I say, although her eyesight is probably much better than mine. “Let’s take the first video from up here.”



“3.9 meters.”

“Nothing, noth- oh we hit the bottom, pull it up… now it’s good. Starting.”

“Start point is 580, depth 3.9 meters.”

“I wonder if they still have divers in the water, we need to drive past them soon. Let’s call them after this is done.”


Half an hour later, as we speed back towards the cabin, we overtake a large cargo ship on the shipping lane. I drive past it, admiring the sheer mass of the ship, wondering how that amount of iron can stay afloat. It’s easy to know intellectually, but seeing half a city block glide high on the water is an another thing. My attention is on the ship, and the route markers on the harbour are more confusing than usual, so I almost miss our turn home.

As we turn towards our pier, I can’t help but be annoyed that I didn’t bring my Zoom recorder with me to get a sample of the singing factory.

Photo: Essi Keskinen / Metsähallitus



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