Saturday, June 11, 2005

Chapter 4 - Winter Over Begins

April 1989

The time down here has really given me a lot of different experiences. The most memorable up until now has been when the Bahia Paraiso ran aground and sank 1 1/2 miles off shore here in January. The station came together and did as much as we could to bring in the life rafts of people, pulling canisters and barrels and other assorted floating garbage from the harbor AND somehow managing to keep our sanity with over 300 people on the station from the ship.

Fortunately, two other tourist ships came back and took 200 or so passengers from the ship off station and northbound that night. I don't know where we would have slept that many and kept them over any period of time! It was a challenge enough to find sleeping spaces for over 100 Argentine soldiers from the ship on a station that was built for a maximum of 45 50 people.

The cooks here got help from the ships cooks with meals and dishes, but is still was quite a task for them. Instead of the usual one person watch, we had three people scheduled for station watch. Certain areas had to be manned 24 hours to make sure the clepto's were kept away. We still lost a few items, but things worked out ok, considering as many people as were here.

The Argentines left over 100 soldiers here from the ship to "help" in their half hearted cleanup effort. I made a couple of friends among them, and would like to stop over in Buenos Aires on the way back if possible. With all the political turmoil in Argentina, I will have to wait and see when I'm ready to leave here.

The ship hit the rocks on Saturday, January 28th and rolled over on its side on Tuesday night January, 31st. It took the American Government some time to get the oil response equipment and people to Palmer from the States. An American C 5 flew down and landed at the Punta Arenas airport with all the equipment and people necessary to control and clean up a "worst case" oil spill.

Within weeks, scientists came down to study the oils effects on the environment and wildlife. The NSF needed to know the ramifications of this disaster on any future science to be conducted in the future. Palmer is only one of three stations that are kept open by the American contingent in the Antarctic region.

Our spill was nowhere near as devastating as the incident in Alaska, but it was the first real spill in the Antarctic and the first involving commercial sea tourism in the Antarctic. Around the same time, a Peruvian vessel ran aground at King George Island and was leaking oil and fuel. This was not a tourist carrying vessel and did not sink.

The first month was the hardest on the birds. Over the last couple of months the scientists generally had concluded that not enough oil was spilled to have had a permanent effect on the area. Even with the initial losses of bird life and non
vertebrates, the damage isn't expected to carry over into the following year.

Chilean divers hired by the National Science Foundation went down to investigate the wreck and give some kind of an idea what the situation looked like below the water level. They corked up a few holes and closed the portholes that were left open when the ship sank. This seemed to have stopped the heavy oil leaks we were smelling and seeing on the surface of the water. That's not to say that the wreck still wasn't leaking...just not so badly now. Whenever we get a good stiff south wind, it still smells like a diesel filling station here.

The oil response people weren't able to predict what effects the ice and winter will have on the ship's hull at this point. They say that at worst, the ice could crush the ship and spill the remaining contents into the harbor. But we can only wait and see. If only the engine room doors had been closed, like they were supposed to, the ship may have been saved. The two Sea King helicopters onboard were probably worth more than the ship. Once the ship took on water and started to list, there was no way the helicopters could be launched off of the helo deck without sliding into the water.

17 April 1989

Everything here is ok. I was depressed for about a week after this last group left, but I'm finally getting over it and carrying on. Al has already started to pack, so I'm getting more prepared to settle in for the winter. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the crew leaving and the station going into winter mode.

I'm going to retrograde a box of stuff back from here in May. It probably won't be home until July or August since it will go back first to Paramus, NJ on a slow boat, then be mailed back C.O.D. to Naperville. I'll send home the sweatshirts I've bought among other things I've collected. You may want to have a look at the literature about the shipwreck and all that. It's a good collection of information and will give you a good idea of what went on here during that time.

I got the box from Dee and I'm glad she sent what she did. There were a few things I wish she would have sent, that I did ask for, but I'll live without them. I have as much as I need to get me through.

I'm kind of curious as to what new music is out since I've been gone. I heard the new Bangles song on the BBC shortwave broadcast and it sounded good. I still miss driving my car.

The weather here is cooler now. Looks like winter is here to stay. Average temps are running around 28 30F and we have been seeing more snowflakes around. Last night we ended up with about an inch on the ground. We had a day last week when the whole station smelled like diesel again. The ship is leaking again, but there isn't much that can be done about it. The fumes were bad like standing around at the Dixi truck stop on old Route 66 in Mc Lean, IL!

I see your temps in Chicago are getting warmer now. We get the news through the main computer in Florida. So we can kind of keep track of what's going on in the real world. By the way, did Daley win or what? I hope so. Chicago really needs someone who knows the system and the ins and outs of the city.

21 April 1989

The weather here is just starting to remind us of winter. We have had snow all this week and have probably two or three inches on the ground now. We are having a lot of gray days the past couple of weeks. Winter seems to be finally kicking in. Guess we won't be seeing bare rocks again for quite a while.

As we will soon be closed for winter season, I'm not sure about the frequency of mail. It sounds like there will be a spell where we won't see the ship for 1 1/2 months between mid June and August. So I'll keep in touch by marsgrams during that time.

Al, my supervisor, will be leaving on the next ship out in three weeks and has been trying to prepare me for the winter and take care of some projects he doesn't want to leave hanging. Communications traffic has slowed down some since the last group of scientists went out two weeks or so ago. The mood is definitely more relaxed and everyone is settling into a winter mode here.

We had a picnic at Old Palmer Station this last weekend, snow and all. It was nice to get away even if it is only a mile or so. The boat ride is normally only five minutes or so, but we had a bit of brash ice in the harbor and it took around 25 minutes to get over to O.P. We cooked steaks on the grill and a few of us went and checked out an ice cave in back of the station.

It was interesting to see light shining through parts of the cave lighting the way through it. A couple of people did some cross country skiing and I pulled a sled up to the top of the hill and did some sledding. The second time down did me in. Busted my butt. Hit a rock mid way down and flew something like two feet in the air. So I've been sitting on one cheek this week!

Just call me, Dangerous Downhill Dave.

28 April 1989

The job here has been very interesting and challenging. I have learned how to use a PC like never before. I can remember how afraid I always was of them before this job. Al, my supervisor has managed to somehow bang into my head most of the information I'll need over the next five and one half months.

I have had many chances to see the wildlife in the area. We have penguin rookeries on the nearby islands and cormorants (blue eyed shags) on another nearby island. Elephant seals are all over the place and fur seals have just started coming in within the last month. Many sitings of whales; humpbacked mostly, but orcas too. The divers from a few different teams have brought up loads of animal and plant life that I've never seen before. It is hard to believe that such a variety of sealife can live in such a cold climate where the sea water temps stay around 30 32F.

29 April 1989

No, I haven't grown my beard back…yet. I am waiting until we close up for winter. Besides, Dee just sent me six cans of shaving cream.

The weather here just turned cooler today. We got a cold front in after a week of fairly mild temps 28 32F and about a foot of snow during the week. It's funny to see all rocks covered again. It looks like it did when I first arrived in October of last year. I was just sitting in the hot tub the other night and the wind was blowing and the snow was really coming down it was so relaxing. I'm still working out, although I had to take a few days off when I took that tumble sledding last week at Old Palmer. I have two big bruises on my behind. Soon we'll be able to ski on the glacier, and with some snow, it won't be so icy. It is hard to think that we are just starting into our winter and the temps on your side of the world are in the sixties.

Things are winding down here and we're starting to get into a winter mode. The next ship to leave will take the most of the regulars out with it. So we will be left with ten or eleven until the ship comes back with the two other winter overs. Last chance to get mail to me will be on the ship that leaves Punta on 02 June. I don't know how long it takes to get mail from Chicago to Punta Arenas, but we won't see mail during most of this austral winter, so we will have to write more marsgrams.

01 May 1989

The weather is probably the most exciting thing happening around here. We had winds gusting up to 60 knots and staying steady at around 40 50 knots all day yesterday. The days before that weren't much calmer with constant winds around 30 knots. I was staring out the window yesterday just watching the waves crash up on Bonaparte Point and sending a mist into the air. The glacier has been calving a lot too, but the ice is being carried out to sea with the wind and waves. The snow that we had last week is slowly melting away and we have been having more rain the past couple of days. The temps aren't too bad and it's been staying between 30 34F for most of the week.

I'm almost caught up on writing letters. We won't get mail in for another 2 1/2 weeks, so I have a break until then. The Polar Duke will be in on Thursday and leaving on Friday to go back to P.A. So you'll be receiving another letter (handwritten) from me in probably two weeks. Not too much happening here since the last group left. There are 21 of us now and we will be down to ten after the ship leaves.

Tom our station manager pulled us all together after the ship departed for a meeting. He informed us that we will eat one meal per day as a group. It would be our decision, but we needed to be together for one meal each day. This would help us bond and give us a chance to check in with everyone while not allowing anyone to cut themselves off from the group. Winter over can tend to do strange things to peoples minds and personalities...or so we're told. So we've decided that we will all make lunch at 12 noon. That may be a challenge once my satellite schedule slips till late in the night.

09 May 1989

Deb, I have a few things I would like you to do for me. One; buy me a pocket (Random House or something similar) dictionary for Spanish to English. I want to do some traveling on the way back north and will definitely need it. I would also like you to pick up a book by Thor Heyerdahl by the name of Aku Aku. It is a book all about Easter Island and the cultures that built the giant statues.

What would also be nice is to record some music on Saturday night or even during the day. I miss hearing the normal radio programs. The tapes, book and dictionary should be sent to the office in Paramus and that way it won't get lost in the Chilean mail and will be shipped down air freight or hand carried by someone coming down in August. There isn't any huge hurry on that though.

15 May 1989

I'm starting to think about leaving and have been looking at the books to decide where I'm going to visit on my way back to the U.S. I know that I'm going to do at least a few days in the Lakes region of Chile. I've mapped out a course around one of the main lakes near Puerto Montt. The area is supposed to be somewhat bilingual (Spanish/German), so at least if I can't learn much Spanish with the tapes this winter, I can speak one language they'll understand.

I'm also starting to check out the possibilities of going to Easter Island.

Thanks for staying in touch. I'm glad you are writing again. It sometimes gets lonely not hearing from all of you way up there. Plant some radishes for me. I'm waiting at my mailbox!

22 May 1989

The weather has been generally like garbage. It rained yesterday all afternoon and changed to snow it the evening. By morning today, we had probably another six inches or so of snow and the wind stayed a steady 35 40 knots throughout the night.

Got my hair cut off last night. It's down to about 1/2 inch now. I figure that I have four or five months for it to grow back. I won't look like a fugitive forever. We may have an opportunity to take a field trip to Faraday Station. That is the British Antarctic Survey Station that I speak with every day at least two times a day to pass our weather observations to. It would be nice to get a change of venue for a day or so. I'll let you know if it happens.

Finally able to find a radio station!! Found BFBS (British Forces Broadcast Service) on the bottom of the AM band transmitted from the Falklands (Islas Malvinas). I used to listen to BFBS in Germany too since we were in the British sector, so I kind of feel right at home. Some of the broadcast is from London, so we do get live news now, other than reading it in the news updates we get from the computer in Florida. I'm not able to pull in the station with a regular radio, I have to use the shortwave.

The Duke (R/V Polar Duke, our resupply ship) is due in on Wednesday, so I'm hoping I will get some mail from home. It will be nice to have fresh fruits and veggies again too. Our new winter cook is also coming in on this ship. So we will see some new faces again too.

I'll let you know more about my plans as they solidify over the next five months.

Antarctically yours,

26 May 89

Got your letter this week. Glad to hear that everything is going well for you. You may not be too surprised that I'm staying on until October. This doesn't mean you will see me in October though. I plan to do a lot of traveling once I leave here.

My workouts seem to have more breaks in them, but I'm still keeping relatively close to a three on one off sched. I'm doing stationary biking and trying to do something cardiovascular at least two of the three workouts I do. I'm still eating like a horse and the new winter cook isn't going to help things any! I am eating more here and bigger meals because they are prepared and there, plus I live and work in the same building that the kitchen is in. If all else fails, I'll come to you for meal counseling to help me lose my midsection pudge. I think you'll be surprised at the gains and the definition I have been able to make since I left Chicago.

You asked if slides are easy to process. Yes, they are and it does require a few more steps, but as long as you are able to keep the water temperature and solution temp constant, it only takes about a half hour to do. I think the big problem for me is that to do processing at home, I just don't take enough pictures to use the solutions while they are fresh. I don't know how long the solutions keep once they have been mixed and out of the packages. The slide processing we do here is E 6 Ektokrome and there are only seven total steps including the rinses.

Everything here has wound down this last month. We have only 10 12 people on station now and soon that will be even fewer. Around June sometime, we will have some scientists on the station, but the station population will still be fewer than 15 or so. So it has been real quiet.

The weather has been less than pleasant. We have been having either rain or snow almost every day in the last three weeks. We have also had a lot of wind. Normal blows are around 20 30 knots steady most of the time. Today we have already had gusting up to 76 knots. Snow is still blowing around all over in general, pretty stinky weather.

Spoke with a friend of mine last week and he kindly reminded me that by the time I get home and spend winter at home, I'll have had 1 1/2 years of winter! That's ok, I'll look forward to spending a nice week in the sun on Easter Island before I come home.

28 May 89

Got your letters this last week. I know it takes awhile to get letters back and forth from here. I'm writing you a marsgram now because June 15th will be our last chance to receive mail until the beginning of August. This way you only have to drop a letter to Pennsylvania and I'll have it within a week.

Well, don't pull the grill out yet. I won't be leaving here until the middle of October and am hoping not to be home until December. I'm in the process of planning a trip to Easter Island to tan my skin a little and give me the chance to sightsee. I'll keep you posted as my departure date gets closer.

When the last ship left two weeks ago, it left us with ten people on station. Now, since the ship came back in, we have a couple of science people here and got our new cook in. But when the ship leaves again, we will be back down to seven. The next ship coming in will have a group a beakers and a couple of new station personnel.

I'll be seein you before you know it and then I can bore you with bunches of slides!

30 May 89

Things here are going okay. I can't believe I have been here in Antarctica seven months already. I have really seen and learned so much, it is hard to write it into one letter.

The weather here has been nasty the past three weeks. Winter is without a doubt, here. Today was the nicest day that we have seen in weeks. We even saw the sun and some blue sky! The winds finally died down today too. It may not be cold here compared to the rest of the continent, but the wind makes sure it isn't too pleasant. This is known as the sun belt of Antarctica since the peninsula has nicer weather and more animal and bird life than most of the continent.

Most of the station personnel have left for the winter, so we have about 15 people now. After our resupply ship R/V Polar Duke leaves on Saturday, we will be down to seven. Then in the middle of June, we will have some beakers come in, but I don't know how many will be remaining on station. That ship will be the last we will see of mail from the states until mid August.