Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Chapter 7 - Men of Antarctica 1989

05 August 89

The Polar Duke will be pulling out tomorrow, so I'm trying to get this into the envelope tonight. We are having a Mexican Fiesta tonight complete with Margarita punch, so I'm half expecting not to be able to write this later on! It is really going to be hard to see this group go, but I guess that them leaving brings us closer to our departure date.

I got your marsgram, but I haven't had much to write about, so I'm waiting. I should have any letters that you have sent me via mail by the end of the month. The Polar Duke will be back in around the 25th or so of August, so we will be back to ten people on station till then.

I was telling you a couple of months ago that I may have a lead on a job next year in October. If everything goes right, the guy who is working comms on the Polar Duke is going to put in a word for me at South Pole. I may get the chance to do a summer season from October until about February. The job I want to try to get would be a computer operator position. I really would jump at the opportunity, plus it would give me an excuse to see Australia and New Zealand. But I'm not going to get too worked up about it yet. The contract will possibly change companies at the end of this year. Although the people usually follow the contract, nothing is ever certain.

I just got myself a Margarita and am sending traffic over the satellite on the other computer. Even though I'm missing dinner right now, it's alright as long as I've got some refreshment here to keep me going!

Dinner was great, as usual. Dick, our cook had frozen some guacamole in the freezer awhile back. So, our Fiesta wasn't too bad. The Margarita's ran out, so I've switched to Dos Equis at this point. I'm sure tomorrow morning at 08:30 a.m. when the Duke pulls out, I'll be sorry! We have snow falling right now and have accumulated about an inch so far. The wind isn't blowing and everything seems pretty quiet. The party has continued in the other building—“across town.”

Guess I'll close this letter out and get across-town to the party. Just got a call on the ring-down crank phone to bring a ladle over to the other side. Doc made a punch with pineapple and tequila; some kind of sedative he is trying out! The pineapple has sat overnight in the tequila, so I'm ready to try it! Sounds like it may be just what the doctor has ordered.

10 August 89

The weather this last week has been varied. This week we have had a snowstorm, a windstorm, and one beautiful but overcast day with temps of 35 degrees. Today started out at 0730 with a fire drill. There was a blanket of fog across the whole area this morning, but half of it has lifted behind us and the sun is shining now. The days are starting to get longer with the sky getting light at around 08:30 a.m. and the sunset around 5:30 p.m. Spring will be here before we know it!

We had a crab eater seal up on the station a couple of days ago. He had four deep gashes in his side from a leopard seal. So he sat on land for a day to recover and had to keep moving around because a sheathbill was pecking at the wounds.

14 August 89

Ham radio is starting to come back in again.

We've had a stretch of days that have been really nice out. The temps have been around 25 degrees and the sky has been pretty clear too. Tonight we got our first snow in 1-1/2 weeks; but only .5 cm. Not anything to cheer about.

The harbor has some grease ice around and the glacier has been calving more, so there is a lot of ice in the harbor now too. But it only takes a day and the right winds to blow all the ice out again. Actually, we are all hoping the weather stays nice so that we can go to Faraday Station (the British Antarctic Survey Station about 25 miles from here) when the Polar Duke comes back in at the end of this week.

The big item around here now is the "Men of the Antarctic" calendars. One of the guys here is creating a Chippendales type calendar for the last group of female scientists that were here. We were a pretty close knit group and Pat wants to give them something to laugh about. Eight of us guys are posing in semi-compromising positions with the "naughty bits" covered.

Marcia, the only woman here is judging the pictures to determine which shots will be used for the calendar. She says she is looking for "originality, poise and maximum exposure"…among other things! Marcia has a great sense of humor and has been enjoying this picture judging! Some of the conversations heard by Marcia and Pat (our photographer,) “Don't you have a bigger spatula?” “You're revealing too much…Dick” (our cook of course!! Where is *your* mind?)

Lessons learned from their kitchen photo sessions are that a violin (Pat) and a keyboard (me) cover a lot more than a spatula (Dick)! (But I don't know how one would play a violin that low.) However, for the oil can shot in the garage (Robin), it depends on how big the spout is!

After judging the initial photos against the second shoot photos of Dick’s kitchen shots, Marcia liked the first shots with the naughty bits exposed. So she took a magic marker to the “over-exposed” shots of Dick! As you can tell, we are having fun with it and I'm sure the recipients won't be disappointed. It's amazing what we do to humor ourselves down here, huh?

Now sign me,
Divulgingly Dangerous Dave

14 August 89

It is great, as always, to get mail! Thanks for writing.

It will be strange to work out at a regular gym after this one here. Most of the time I arrange my workouts so that the gym is all mine. As of late, I am working out in the mornings since my satellite sched is around 7 p.m. The afternoons have also gotten busier, so the mornings are about the only time I can get my workouts in. I've been doing the stationary bike every workout,
but I need to do more aerobic work to burn the extra calories.

One of my coworkers Ned has this knack for trying to piss people off. Since I’ve started working out in the mornings, he will purposely beat me in there and start banging away at this damned punching bag. He knows that the noise wears on my nerves. Well, little did he know that he was also pissing off BJ. BJ’s office is right next to the gym and has a door into the gym. So poor BJ is trying to work and can’t hardly hear himself think once Ned starts in on this punching bag.

Well, things finally came to a head when one morning this week when the punching bag held air no more. Of course, I got the blame since Ned has continually found ways to try my patience throughout the winter. But truth be told, both BJ and I knew it was BJ who resolved the punching bag problem. An ice pick through the stitching conveniently rendered the inflated tube inside incapable of holding air anymore. Boo-hoo! BJ and I are just devastated. It was worth it, even if I did have to take the blame.

The winter is most of the way gone now. It seems hard to believe that I've only got another two months this week. The Polar Duke is to arrive this weekend with mail, freshies (fruit, veggies, etc) and more people. We will only get in four permanent people, so it isn't that bad. Two science people to study ozone, one carpenter and an artist sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Also have a Navy person coming down to check out the medical equipment, but he'll leave two days later when the Duke goes back north to dry dock in Val Paraiso, Chile. The next time the ship comes in will be the 6th of October with our replacements.

We are hoping to get the chance to go to the British Station about 25 miles away when the Duke comes in. The Duke brought out a guy from Faraday that wasn't very stable mentally, so their doctor had to accompany him north to Punta Arenas. Sounds like he had a break-down. The Brits do two year stints and this group was only on station for six months. Our Doc will provide radio support until their Doc gets back down from P.A.

So, when the Duke comes back in, they still have to drop the British doctor back at Faraday. Hopefully, we will get a field trip out of the exchange! I work with the comms guy there everyday--pass current weather observations and also collect marsgrams for them for Rick to send to England. I would really like to meet them after working over the radio for so long with them.

I'm sure it's gonna be hard to give up my social life here to settle down into a functional normal being back home. I'll have to learn how to be a couch potato and flip channels!

Guess I'll close for now and go to bed so I can work out in the morning. Take care and hope to hear from you again before I leave the 14th of October.

19 August 1989

Faraday Station Boondoggle

The Duke came in to Palmer from Punta Arenas and dropped off mail, freshies and supplies. They still had one more stop to make, however. The doctor needed to be dropped back at Faraday Station after he escorted one of his former winter overs from Faraday back up north to Punta Arenas.

This would be the perfect opportunity for a day-trip away for most of the station personnel. This would give me the opportunity also to meet Peter Lomax who I pass daily weather observations to at Faraday twice a day. Everyone was really looking forward to this.

The only hitch is the weather. Antarctic winters are very unpredictable, but the weather patterns appeared to be clear and the sea ice wasn't too bad at Palmer. Everything was a go.

It was a clear day all the way up to the Lamere Channel. Things then started clouding up some and the sea ice seemed to thicken. There was discussion of not landing anyone at Faraday except the doctor, but that decision was changed once in the harbor at Faraday.

We had the chance to see the station, meet the people who would spend the next 1-1/2 years remaining at Faraday and have a beer with them if we chose.

Our visit was cut short however, since the weather seemed to be closing in. We didn't want to get stuck in the harbor trying to work the Zodiacs around the sea ice and the barometer was starting to take a dive indicating we were probably in for a change of weather.

At least we had the chance to get off the station for a day and got some great clear shots of the Lamere Channel too.

22 August 89

We got some mail in when the ship came in. I got a couple of letters from Europe and Dee said that Roland and Angelique from the Netherlands sent me a letter to Naperville. Dee will mail that one off to me. I'm anxious to read that since I got a postcard from them on their honeymoon in south Germany. If you remember, they are from Holland and Roland is in the Dutch army. Angelique went into the army also around last September or so.

We did get to Faraday Station this weekend. The weather was kind of flakey, but we did get in a short visit, at least. It was nice to get off the station for a change. I don't mind going on the ship too much anymore. I have been lucky enough to get off station aboard the Polar Duke twice since I've been here, so that isn't bad. The weather has gotten bad again with another six inches of snow and ice built up in the harbor. Don't know if it will freeze over or not. Overall, it has been a mild winter and it isn't looking like the harbor will freeze over at all.

24 August 89

Sorry that I haven't written back to you sooner. The mail that we received last week was the first that we have seen here since the beginning of June. I should have given you the address for Rick in Pennsylvania. Those letters reach us over the internet, so there isn't too much wait time.

Winter here hasn't been too bad. We have had a couple of windstorms, and naturally, some snow. But, I think that I have seen more severe weather growing up in Chicago than we have had here, so far. The temperatures mostly stay between 0 and -2 degrees C but we have had some days below that. Today, it is 0 C and we are having some snow. As always, it is cloudy. I think it is almost as constantly cloudy as in Kalkar, Germany!

30 August 89

Thanks for the letter. It was also great to speak with you last weekend.

The weather is still cool, but nice. We haven't had any real storm in the past few weeks. Went up the glacier a few times and one night we had a bonfire in a barrel on the glacier. Got out in the Zodiacs and got around to a couple of spots in the harbor.

Saw quite a few leopard seals, more than we have seen before sleeping on ice floats. The giant petrels are back and were checking out the Zodiacs invading their territory. The Antarctic terns were also buzzing our heads and watching us. Most of the penguins are gone, but they'll be back in the next month. I can remember how many were here when we first arrived last year in October!

The temps have been staying in the low 20's to upper 20's for the most part.

31 August 89

We haven't had any sea ice form in the harbor and the temperatures have stayed in the 20's most of the time. We have a low pressure closing in on us today, so the weather started out clear, sunny and nice and has gone bad over the last five hours.

Earlier this afternoon, we had a twin otter plane land here for a quick visit. The plane is a leased plane from a Canadian company--Kenn-Borek and they are running supplies for Will Stieger's Trans-Antarctic Expedition. After lunch, we all went up the glacier on the snowmobiles to check out the plane. The plane has no trouble landing on the short landing field and is equipped with skis for glacial landings. They had with them a Siberian Husky, Razor that was headed down to meet the expedition. So I got to touch and pet a dog for the first time in eleven months! It was nice to see a domesticated animal for a change.

Today is Robin, our mechanics' birthday. He has a thing for flatulence and requested a dinner of pinto beans, sauer kraut, hot dogs along with grilled onions! That and some beer and I'm sure he will blow us to the continent tonight! I have a feeling that it may be a crazy night. It started last night when his door was saran wrapped!

Some people here have set up a birthday/treasure hunt with clues hidden all over the station, including one clue hidden in a bag of elephant seal dung. Every time he finds a clue, he has to take a shot, then proceeds to the next clue. So each clue is a clue to the location of the next clue and eventually it will lead to a present. I'm not sure what the big present is yet. One of the smaller ones is a “soap on a rope.” They’ve drilled a hole through the middle of a bar of Ivory, attached a rope and adorned the one side of the hole with steel wool. Enough said about that! I think that is probably an indication of the direction this birthday party is going to go.

Things are starting to wind down now with the summer crew expected to be in around the first week in October. We haven't made any reservations yet, but probably by next week. Guess I should mention that I've been asked if I want to stay on for the summer season from October till March.

How it all came about was that I had seen that my position was still unfilled. We’ve known that Peter was coming down as the manager for next season and I asked him if he wanted me to stay for a month or so until they could find someone. He came back to me the next day on our daily phone time over the ATS and asked if I’d be interested in staying for the whole summer season.

Peter has worked on the Polar Duke as a coordinator and a few other jobs, so all of us have worked with him at some point or another. He has a great reputation with everyone that has worked with or for him. So from my side of things, I am more than happy to stay and work with and for him. He is very no-nonsense and will let you do your job without butting in.

Along with Peter, Al is coming back to be my supervisor again. Now that we’ve done a season together, I think that he and I will get along alright. There is a lot scheduled to happen this summer and I think I can learn from it. I figure it doesn't make any difference if I stay here another six months. So now I just have to wait and see what happens in the office up north as far as the paperwork and request goes.

01 September 89

I'm back. Just got confirmation today that I can stay next season if I want to. The way it looks now, I'll get a short break for a couple of weeks and head up north with the Duke to Punta Arenas in mid-October. I'll spend a couple days in Punta and then I'll come back down. I don't know the exact date I'll return, but it looks like it will be around the middle of March. I know the five or six extra months won't be that much more. I am actually looking forward to the idea of spending another summer here.

02 September 89

I would like to ask a large favor of you. Since I had only planned on staying until October, I'd like you to send out a few things to the office in Paramus for me. These need to be sent to Paramus no later than the end of the week if they are to make it down to me in time. The Polar Duke isn't going to be down but twice more before March this season.

I just spoke to Dad tonight and he said he would tell all of you about the job. He sounded a little (no, a lot) shocked about my decision to stay.