Sunday, June 05, 2005

Chapter 3 - Shipwreck

28 January 89

Another two tour ships on schedule for visits to the station today! The Argentine ship Bahia Paraiso was the first. People on this ship were a mixed bunch, not like the others of previous visits which brought predominantly American passengers. Crew on this ship include about 150 Argentine military. The Argentines are using this ship to resupply their sites in the Antarctic but also hauling tourists to various sites in the peninsula area in order to raise money for their government which is in such dire straites as of late.

The visit went as usual and the weather was a cool 35F or so, but clear and sunny. The last Zodiac pulled out around 12:45 in the afternoon, but most of us were finishing eating or had eaten and were milling around the galley area until the station meeting was to start at 13:00. The meeting was just basically to cover when station clean up would be done and who would choose a movie schedule and cook Sunday dinner.

I had been sitting by the window before the meeting just reading and staring off into Arthur Harbor. The meeting had started and was in progress, but my eyes were lazily watching the Bahia as she made her way away from the station. We were expecting our second tourist ship visit from the Society Explorer around 13:00,
but they called via the radio and advised that they would be closer to 14:00. No problem, it would give us a chance to catch our breath.

It was around 13:10 and the Bahia was out in the middle of the harbor and was starting to take a sharp turn to the right. It appeared at first that she would head straight for DeLaca Island, but then veered to cut between DeLaca and Torgersson Islands. We were told that the Bahia Paraiso came in that route on her last station visit last season. We had seen no other ships ever come in by that route since we have been here, so her route really was strange from what we were used to seeing.

Mike and Chip opened the meeting and went through the usual spiel. I can't say that I was paying too much attention. Just trying to bear with it and hope it would be over soon.

"All the monkeys look!" has been Brian's catch phrase of the week. As usual, he was up to his monkeying around again at the meeting. He always knew how to break up the tension and monotony of our meetings. So jokingly he spouts, "Look, the Bahia Paraiso has run aground!!" Naturally, everyone is supposed to look so that he can spout his little phrase.

A few of us were laughing off Brian's comments only to realize in a few moments that the Bahia was bellowing thick black smoke from her stacks and was not moving anymore. She had really run aground and was trying to back off the low submerged pinnacle she was now impaled upon.

We all watched and waited over the next half hour to see what would happen. The binoculars and the telescope were passed around between us all in the galley to get a closer look. It was about 13:45 when we started to see the life rafts that were
being set down into the cool harbor water.

Back in the communications shack, the captain had summoned our station manager, Mike on channel 16. The captain of the Bahia asked Mike if we had any boats that might assist in pulling his ship off of the rocks. To us, this was kind of comical since our largest boat is a Zodiac with a 50 hp Johnson outboard! The Bahia Paraiso was a warship/hospital ship complete with helicopter deck and two Sea King helicopters chained in back.

Mike advised him that we hadn't any larger vessels that could perform that type of function, but that the Society Explorer was due in soon and that they may. It was around this time that and Inmarsat satellite call was initiated for our NSF Rep currently on station, Ted, back to Washington D.C. to brief his bosses on the current situation.

As we had been briefed earlier by our previous NSF Rep, Tony, "We cannot offer help unless it is officially requested." It sounds callous, but with American liability laws and all, it wasn't our responsibility (the individuals or the American governments) to take nor ours to offer. The official request came from the captain of the Bahia between 14:00 and 14:15. He advised that he had already sent off one life raft and was dispatching more and would like assistance from our Zodiacs at Palmer.

Actually, the captain's first request for assistance was almost an apology.

Mike proceeded to ask, "Is this an official request for assistance?"

The Bahia Captain replied, "I'm sorry, but I must direct my passengers and put them on Palmer."

Two Zodiacs were already in the water at this point, thanks to Eric. Our people were ready to assist in the rescue of the passengers of the Bahia Paraiso, we only awaited the request of the Bahia captain. The "official" B.S. was out of the way now.

Jim Porter was in a Mark III and Suzy, Ted and Eric were in a Mark V. Al was busy working the radios at this point, so I was feeling like a fifth wheel sitting in the communications shack. I went down to the pier to see if I could assist any in preparing for our visitors as the first lifeboat was just arriving.

I helped Lisa scout down Bill who we desperately needed as a translator and whom we relied on heavily from that point on for translation assistance. Lisa and Alison were busy taking names of the passengers and country of origin, so we would have record of who was accounted for. We would soon find out that the crew of the Bahia would not have any kind of manifest for us to compare our manifest of passengers with.

The first lifeboat came in and I assisted the one crew member pull the rope in and gave a hand as passengers came up the ladder onto the pier. Still I didn't feel like I was much of a help. Just then, one of the crew members sliced his hand on the pier skirting. He caught his finger just below the finger nail about 1 1/2 inches in the shape of the letter t and it was bleeding pretty good.

I helped him to the Biolab building and sat him down in the foyer because the Doc's office was locked. Doc wasn't anywhere in site and I was debating whether to leave this guy alone and risk him going into shock, or go look quickly upstairs for Doc. I bolted up to the Galley on the second floor and just then I saw Doc coming down the stairs. I showed Dennis the guy and his finger and he took care of the guy from there.

On my way out the door, I saw Brian with a float coat. He said that he was headed out to see what he could do to help in the harbor. I grabbed a float coat and joined him in the little Mark II with a 25 hp. Out we went to save the Bahia!

Brian hauled ass out toward the ship and stopped at the first raft we came to. The people in it told Brian in Spanish that they were ok and to go get the older folks closer to the ship. It was quite a site to see. Ten or so of these circular orange
pup tents floating around the harbor.

We hitched up with two life rafts that were connected together near Torgersson Island. The poor 25 hp couldn't pull the load and started pulling us all in closer to Torgersson Island. Luckily a Mark V from the Society Explorer showed up just in time and gave us a hand. The two life rafts separated and we took one and he took the other.

Slowly but surely we pulled our life raft into Palmer. Our passengers got out and Brian suggested I go in and get my camera. He wanted to get his too, but did not want to wade through the crowd of people gathered on the pier now.

Once inside, the third floor berthing where my room was, was hastily blocked off with some yarn across the hall entry. This was to at least give the impression that it was restricted access. Most of the crowd chose to remain outside since the weather was sunny and clear. Temps were still only about 37 F, but with the sun out, you could at least feel some warmth.

I attempted to barge into my room, but remembered that now I needed a key. Keys were issued out to all of us for our rooms and work areas as soon as it looked imminent that the passengers would be coming onto the station for more than a visit. This precaution was taken because of stories of a previous bad experience with the crew of a ship two years prior to this visit.

The crew of this earlier visit had come on station and gone through the berthing areas, stealing anything that wasn't nailed down. In the end, the personal belongings were returned, but no money was ever accounted for. During regular ship visits, the tourists are fairly well contained and we hadn't ever locked the doors. This would provide at least some peace of mind amid all the craziness.

After about ten minutes, I was back down to the rocks on the other side of the boathouse, but Brian was already near the pier. He was helping to move some life rafts further down into the Inlet to clear an area for more incoming boats and life rafts. I gave him a shout and he said that he would be right over to get me.

In the mean time, Commander (a nickname, not any commander from a ship or the navy!) was holding an incoming life raft with a hook and asked if I would give him a hand. There was a passenger with a leg prosthesis who needed assistance getting out of the life raft. Actually, she was being carried out of the life raft by four other
people. They had laid one blanket out on the rocks because the algae on the rocks made stepping and standing difficult. Another blanket was laid down up past the rocks on the dry ground closer to the station to provide a dry and warm spot on the cold rocky ground after she was lifted out of the life raft.

I grabbed one of the empty rafts to give the line to one of the soldiers, but as I bent down, my feet came out from under me and I crashed down onto the slimy rocks. I caught myself as my elbow bashed into the rocks and ended up with one leg wet to the knee. My hand was numb either from hitting it during the fall or from whacking my funny bone, but I was ok.

I wanted to change clothes into something dry, but Brian shouted for me to get into the Zodiac. It wasn't until we started heading back out to the ship that I started to feel cold and I remembered then that I left my gloves on the bed in berthing.
Well, at least I had my camera and the weather wasn't too threatening at this point.

As we came up on the ship within 1000 yards, the smell of oil and diesel got strong. You could see the light brown wake from the motor as it churned up the fuel like a blender. Brian pulled up to the left side of the ship where we saw Andy and Bill working. We asked if there was anything we could do and they wanted us to stand by at this point. No one was very sure if the ship was going to list anymore than she already was or whether she was even still taking on water. But they wanted resources around just in case the Bahia took a sudden turn for the worst.

After waiting about twenty minutes, we were asked to assist another life raft on the port side of the ship. Brian brought the Zodiac around and was awful close to the ships port side which was listing over us like a long heavy limb of a tree. Sitting in the what looked like five stories of leaning ship didn’t sit real well with me. I was about wetting my pants and told Brian that I didn't want to die this way!

We got over to the group of lifeboats and got in close enough so that I could grab a lead on one of them. We had found out earlier that the reason our rescue was going so slow was that the life rafts have sea anchors to keep them from drifting all over. So when we got to the empty rafts, we had to find these anchors and pull them up out of the water. All they were was a cloth sling on strings that would slow the movement of the raft if the winds kicked up. We then took this raft to the starboard side as requested.

Back on the starboard side, Andy was still struggling with the pump. They were not able to get the thing primed well enough to get any pumping accomplished. Eric said he was sticking around since he had the Mark V and Pete Boudreau also was sticking
around. Jim Davis was just heading back, so Brian and I couldn't really do too much more now. No sooner had we arrived back at Palmer than Andy called us to bring out the shorter twelve foot pipe for outgoing water. Jim was still in his float coat, so I went back out with Jim to deliver the pipe and a couple of connectors per Andy's request.

Jim and I arrived again back at the Bahia and Andy and Bill took the connector right away. Bill was translating, but questioning to what extent the Argentines were following Andy's instructions. The first try with the pump was unsuccessful due to no prime in the hose. The second attempt they primed from below deck, but there wasn't enough water in the hose to take. The people on the ship could only prime the pipe so far. When water came out, they figured it was full. However, with the list of the ship and the ups and downs of the waves, they couldn't fill the hose

Andy was a bit curious as to what was going on at this point. This made twice that they tried to get the pump going without success. He asked Jim to take him over to the stairs and he boarded ship. Jim and I stayed in place next to the ship while
we watched the water swell on the markings on the side of the ship from XIV to XV. Between ourselves, we discussed the possibilities and the way things looked at this point for the future of the stranded ship. Nothing too hopeful, at this point.

A couple of Argentines on the ship brought us down a couple of Cokes which were a welcome relief. The salt air seemed to really drain me of all energy, not to mention drying out my eyes and throat. That night, Richie suggested to me that the dryness in my eyes and throat may have been from all the fuel in the water.

A few minutes later, Andy showed up above deck and made his way back to our Zodiac. He said that we would not believe the situation below deck. The slant of the floor combined with the oil and fuel along with the lack of lighting below deck made the
walk below dangerous at best. He primed the hose again and was ready to give it another try.

He started up the pump again, but it only worked for a few short moments and was flat dry again. At this point, the station manager Mike, suggested Andy come back to the station. Bill told the crew that we were going to have to give up for now and that we wanted the hoses and connectors back. The connectors and hoses were vital for the station as well and could not be left behind. It took some time to get that point across even as Bill spoke their own language, but we were soon on our way back to Palmer.

Andy boarded our Zodiac for the trip back just as the Argentines brought another life raft to this side of the ship. I tied it off to the boat that the pump was on and we headed back. Bill gave us a sad puppy dog look and was ready to come back with us. So after the Argentines backed away from the ship some, Jim brought the Zodiac along side the Argies Zodiac and we picked Bill up.

Finally, we were back home at the pier at Palmer. People and lifeboats everywhere!! I can't believe this station has this many people. I guess I expected the peninsula would just buckle up and sink under the weight of so many bodies and equipment. Lifeboats were lifted out of the water with our crane and set down along our road to be used for storage and as tents for the remaining military members who would stay behind. The real adventure was just starting. It's like coming home after a bad business trip and finding out your neighbors on all sides have moved in.

All I wanted at this point was a hot shower and clean, dry clothes. I darted up the stairs and stopped dead at the yarn strung checkpoint. Margaret was guarding the berthing area since the one bathroom downstairs couldn't handle the number of people
needing the facilities. Some of the tourists were using our dryer to dry out clothes that got wet in the transfer from the ship to the life raft and back on to Palmer. Mary was there too keeping Margaret company and talking with a couple of the tourists using the dryer.

Not that I didn't want to be cordial, but I had only one goal in sight a hot shower. I said a quick hello and I was off to my room. It was comforting to know that all was ok or as okay as it could be for now and we were back at home now. Safe and warm. No lives were lost, no serious injuries and 300 something new neighbors downstairs.

The hot shower felt great! I took a ship shower (water on, water off, get soaped, water on, wash down quickly, water off, shower complete) because I was pretty sure we would need to start rationing water usage with 300 now using the resources meant for fifty. As I was drying off, I spoke with one of the American tourists who was putting on some clothes he had just dried in the dryer. He was saying that he was only sorry that he didn't pick up his film before he left the ship. He said that things happened so fast that they didn't even have their passports and they were given reassurances that the problems would quickly be resolved and they would be on their way.

On my way back to my room, I told Margaret that I would spell her on her watch. I've been speaking with many of the passengers who are drying their clothes. Women are taking their pants off in the hallway and wrapping blankets around themselves or putting on some long underwear that Lisa brought out of USARP supply.

I have heard a lot of positive comments from the tourists about the station. One said that she was glad it was here that this happened, and that she was touched by how well we were handling the situation and the people. Another commented on how this made her proud that she was an American. Overall, the most of them were sorry that they weren't able to grab their video equipment, cameras or film from their trip that they had taken. I guess that most of them felt it would only be a few hours and they would be back on the ship and on their way back north to Ushuaia, Argentina.

Around 18:30 19:00, traffic kind of halted through the dorm area, so I went back down to see if Al was doing ok in the communications shop. There were so many people in the communications room using the radio equipment, I would only be in the way. At one point, I was asked to chase the people off of the rocks at Gamage Point by the antenna. Al made a joke about all the stray emanations they were probably picking up just standing so close to the antenna with all of the communications we were initiating. So I went out there and nicely in a tourist guide type voice, requested them to come down from the rocks. Turned out they were Swiss, so I was
able to use my German after all!

Got word around 20:00 that the Society Explorer was going to take 132 passengers to King George Island. Guess word has been given to turn the World Discoverer back for passengers as well as another frequent visiting tourist vessel, the Illiria. Sounds like the Argentine military people or a large number of them will remain on station. We'll see.

Society Explorer left with 132 at around 21:30 and the Illiria was to follow and take out another 132 only to leave with fifty or so. The Illiria advised that they would only take out fifty. Ted (NSF) went nuts. I guess Tony (NSF) had called the llliria on Inmarsat and the captain told him they would take out 130; only to renege once they arrived at Palmer. Ted and Suzi went onboard the Illiria and convinced them to take 65, I think.

I hear there was some fooling around in regards to taking the Argies (military) off of the station, and the ship nearly left without the extra military people. Something about the military people wanting to stay and not leave the scene. I thought it was the captain who goes down with the ship!

Sent out a Telex for the Bahia to the effect that they don't want the help of the Discoverer. By this time it was midnight and not too much else could be done today. People all over the place!! They were sleeping in the boat house, GWR; the gym, lounge, and even in the life rafts!!

Stayed up a little bit and was speaking with the ship's dentist, Roberto. He is about 29 or 30 and has been in the military about six years. He seemed to understand English well. Also started speaking with another Argentine that he knew, Gustavo. He understands English well when I speak slowly and has a great tongue for English pronounciation.

Lisa and Connie were cooking up soup and boiling water to send out to the people working on the ship. It has had no power since the engine rooms filled with water shortly after the ship hit the rocks. The engine room doors had not been secured prior to departing Palmer, so when the ship ran aground, water rushed into the engine
room, flooding it.

I showed Gustavo and Roberto some of my pictures from home and we talked about different places and things. I really find it interesting to speak with so many different people. I wish now that I had taken the time to learn Spanish when I got back from Europe.

Jan 29
I finally got in bed around 4 a.m. and was up at noon. I barely remember shutting off the alarm and then waking up at noon. It's January 29th. Looks like there are fewer people here than yesterday, but many more than we are used to! Alison and Connie cooked up a big breakfast, lunch, as well as dinner.

We've got all of our boats out and all of our radios out too. Oil and diesel in the harbor is a big concern at this point to the scientists. All of the scientists want to go out to check the effects of the oil on their penguin rookeries.

Sent out a message or two today via radio, Telex and facsimile. HMS John Bisco (UK) sent out an offer of assistance to the captain of the Bahia Paraiso. The Argentine captain returned an immediate response back that the Argentine Navy would take care
of the situation. Guess it wouldn't be right for an Argentine commander to let his men be taken out by a British ship. A little note; The Bahia Paraiso served time in the Falkland War as a hospital ship. Not too much more need be said regarding the feelings between the Brits and the Argies at this point!

Guess as far as we know, a Spanish ship, the Las Palmes and an Argentine icebreaker, Gurachaga, are coming to try to salvage the Bahia. She doesn't look too much different today except maybe a little lower in the water at the helo deck on the back port side. Andy went out again to try to use the pump to pump out the engine room. No luck though. Can't get the pump primed enough to remove any water.

You should see the tent city. It really looks like a refugee camp. All the circular life rafts with orange covers pointing up. A group went out today to find the C rats at Old Palmer Station in case they are needed by the Argentines. I don't quite know how good C rats from 1966 are going to be, but any port in a storm!

Jan 31 1989
We were all gathered for another meeting tonight in the galley when at about seven p.m. the Bahia slowly rolled over on her side. Mike got some shots of this on his camera connected to the telescope.

Feb 2 1989
We have learned that the best way to fax photographs across the facsimile is to photocopy them first. That will give them better contrast on the receiving end. Ted has been trying to fax some photos across to Washington D.C., probably so the big wigs can put out their news releases with dramatic photos! The communications
shack is still regularly crammed with people at all hours of the day and night. With no doors on the shop, it is hard to keep them out and give us some peace to complete the work that has to be done at times. It is hard to remember that our primary function is to support science, when you are inconvenienced with a disaster! Our proximity to the galley also lends to our increased traffic. Everyone wants to know the latest messages going out and coming in.

So much has happened since Saturday and I have really had a hard time even writing this much up till now and remembering all of the activities.