Friday, July 01, 2005

Chapter 9 - Boondoggling the Antarctic Waters

10 October 89

Today is the tenth and it's the third day I've been on the Polar Duke. It is sort of a vacation until I get back on the 28th of October to Palmer.

The first night we went up to the Gerlache Strait and then spent two days going in circles for the scientists on the ship. I know, it does sound stupid!!

The scientists were surveying an island to set up a weather station for six months, but the snow was too deep at the best landing site, and the swell was three feet---not the most favorable conditions for landing a Zodiac. There was too much snow on the island to land anywhere safely. Now they are trying to find suitable alternatives to the initially chosen sites. They did end up getting the sediment traps down.

The UV studies went well from what I hear. From there we were going to go out near the Drake Passage, but stayed in the Bransfield Strait and came into the Dahlmann Bay just north of Anvers Island. No luck locating a spot for the weather station, but more UV studies. Now it's about 11 p.m. and I hear we will be in the Lamere Channel by morning (if I'm awake!).

The view is beautiful. We still have a lot of snow. Yesterday we did a circle around an iceberg that was about eight stories tall and about a half of a city block square.

There are only four of us on the ship from Palmer right now. Dick our cook, Pat the GFA from Elmhurst and Alan Campbell who is working on being the most famous Antarctic artist (seriously, no joke) and me. Alan will be getting off when we go back to Palmer. He will stay until the next ship goes north. Pat has been having mild bouts with seasickness but won't admit it. The rest of us aren't too bad.

This morning when we were in the Bransfield Straits and the sea was the roughest I've been in since I came down. But I felt ok. Had to tie things down in the Lab since it had all been undone earlier this week. We are going into another circle now. It's a funny feeling when the ship is circling around.

10 October 1989 9:30 p.m.

Just got back from a slide show. One of the scientists on the ship gave us a show on the beaches of Texas near Port Aransas. He has been documenting the destruction of the beach over the last twelve or so years. Just found out that we aren't staying overnight here. The ship is enroute now to the Lamere Channel. Too bad, I was hoping to be able to get some nice pictures of the Neumeyer Channel. Hopefully, the weather will be nice and I can get some good shots of the Lamere. My slides didn't turn out the last time we were in the Lamere when we went to Faraday Station.

Karen, the science coordinator on the ship was telling me that I don't have to stay in Punta Arenas during the four day stay up north. She was suggesting that I either go to Puerto Natalles or go and see Torres Del Paines. I want to wait to find out what the others are doing. I'll probably tag along with one group or another and do some sight-seeing. Wish there was enough time to stop at home.

10 October 89

Boy, do I feel like a schmuck! I looked back and your last letter to me was more than a month ago. Actually, I have an excuse, but I don't know how good it is. I was waiting to find out what was going to happen with my job here. About the time I was supposed to write you, my job situation was changing. I'm going to stay at this position for another five months! I wish my life was a little less impromptu at times.

At any rate, things are going alright with me. Right now, I am on the R/V Polar Duke just sailing around for a little break from the normal pace of life at Palmer Station. Most of the crew that came down to Palmer were from last year, so I feel very comfortable with them all. Some of these people we relieved when we came in last year in October! So it's like old home week at the Palmer Ranch.

I boarded the ship three days ago and am being generally lazy. I have managed to watch some movies and have been putzing around with the computer too.

I've not been very diligent at working out over the past couple of months. I feel bad, but I was putting most of my attentions to completing the inventory on station. My shop had not had a complete inventory in three years and for some reason, the inventory was divided up into three different sections. So Marcia and I combined the inventory into one folder so that we could have an accurate idea of what parts are available and how many. I also tasked myself to reorganizing the spare parts by generic number. This required looking up in catalogs all the part numbers and the generic equivalents.

I just finished the day before the ship got in. So that made me feel good. Now that I think of it, I didn't do too much of anything over that last month BUT inventory.

It is always nice to get a plane in with visitors. We got a visit at Palmer by the Argentines who were doing a flyby on the Bahia Paraiso. That whole mess will be stirred up again once the weather is nicer. The Argies also made a fly-by with a KC-9 with "spectators" from Buenos Aires. Who knows what kind of circus that will end up to be! Isn't this the same type of circus that ended up in a plane crash near Mt. Erebus near McMurdo a few years back?! An Aussi tour doing a sight-seeing of Mt. Erebus crashed in the Antarctic "desert" killing everyone.

It's funny, my sister in Naperville had held onto a letter for me from a Dutch friend. Well, she finally sent it to me (postmarked on 22 April!) and I got it on the ship three days ago. I started to read it and it wasn't making any sense. So I finally read the return address and it was from a guy who was on one of the tour ships that came to Palmer during the austral summer. I was thinking it was from my Dutch friends from when I was over in Europe. I didn't expect that at all, so it came as quite a surprise.

Anyway, he was a tour leader and after this Antarctic tour last year, he followed it up with a tour to the Galapagos Islands. So I have to get a letter out to him too.

Take care of yourself and I'll see you later than expected!

10/16/89 02:30 a.m.

Just wanted to jot down some notes about the worst sea experience of my life!

We left port out of Palmer a little late, but around 1115 a.m. on the 14th of October. I realized that we didn't take the Neumeyer Strait when things got rough in the first half-hour into the trip. We headed out north around the west side of Anvers Island and directly out to sea. I've been out on the Duke three other times, but now I am able to distinguish what is meant by "Drake Lake" on a good crossing--as was my initial crossing when I came to Palmer.

My second trip was up to King George Island to the Chilean Base-Tenente Marsh during a five day stint. The third time out was just a quick day trip out to Faraday Station, the British Base, on a winter boondoggle. This, the fourth trip is part vacation that I am getting before I return to do another austral summer at Palmer. I will leave Punta Arenas on the 23rd for my return trip south.

Yesterday at lunch, I was able to put down something, but poor Robin Lamere who is my bunkie had his difficulties. He was losing it by about one in the afternoon.

Robin had taken to marathon puking from about 1:00 p.m. until about 5:00 p.m. He reassured me that he had seen god and sold many Buicks that afternoon.

I switched racks with him and took the upper rack, then made his rack up since he was having such a rough time of things. I haven't thrown up before on the ship, but had the feeling that I could probably make it down faster than he could if the situation required it.

Robin had taken a liking to the sitting on the chair in front of the sink and dry heaving. At one point, he said to me, "You might want to get a different roommate with me puking in the room."

He had already lost all the contents of his stomach and I hadn't requested a non-puking room, so I'd deal with it. Believe me; I was still going through my feelings of queasiness. Once the Dramamine kicked in, I did feel a little bit better. Nonetheless, I stayed in bed just to make sure!

At this point, Robin and Dick led the puking pack with Pat and Marcia running close seconds. BJ was on scopolamine (and probably valium), and Tom was sleeping. Doc was up and about, but being the Navy man that he was, this was a given.

By two, I was feeling queasy, but still managed to compose myself! I took my second Dramamine, and then slept through dinner at five.

I did run into Dick Wall, the cook in the hallway about three. He had just come from the other head (bathroom) and looked like Hell. I asked him if he was ok, and he smiled and replied, "No," in a sickly voice.

Marcia got up at one point to use the head. She was still a little under the weather. During one of the severe pitches, she was opening the head door and tried to brace herself on the door frame while the door was still open. Unfortunately, the door closed completely on her thumbnail. Her thumb swelled up like a balloon. Doc had a look at it and said that she may lose her nail. He didn't have any x-ray equipment on the ship, so that was about as much as could be done until we got to port in Punta Arenas. Kind of a bad deal. She is supposed to go onto New Zeeland and meet her other half to do some scuba and sailing, etc after we get back on solid ground.

(Post Script: Marcia did go to the doctor once stateside. Turned out that she had fractured the bone in the top part of her thumb and had to have the nail removed prior to leaving for New Zealand.)

Got up out of bed around 6:30 p.m. to shower and grab something to eat. As long as I can keep food in my stomach, I am able to handle the sea alright. Doesn't matter what it is, but anything with sugar seems to help me some.

Robin asked me for a Dramamine about 8:00 p.m., but didn't hold it down long enough to work. He was back in bed right away.

Went up to the lounge and watched videos until about one a.m., back to bed at 1:30 a.m. and slept through until about 5 a.m. on the 15th.

Dragged myself up to the kitchen to grab a couple of crackers and cookies and something to drink. The seas were already rough, but the sunrise was a beautiful orange glow on the horizon that peaked in through the round galley window. Then back to the bunk again.

By the time I pulled myself out of bed again, it was 11:45 a.m. I decided I needed a shower since I hadn't showered since the morning before and I felt like garbage. Although it was only a "ship-shower", I felt refreshed enough and headed up for lunch. A ship shower consists of getting yourself wet, turning off the water; soaping yourself up, dousing yourself again with water to wash off the soap. Water is to be spared on the journey and even washing clothes is for the most part reserved as an in-port activity and done sparingly while at sea.

Somehow, I managed to shower with the ship all over the place, rocking back and forth like a rubber ducky in a bathtub. I did want to get up on the bridge to get some pictures of the water breaking over the bow. Man, I wish I had a video camera!

By noon on the 15th, the sea state was at 10 and the ship was taking steady rolls at between 20-30 degrees on either side, back and forth. The waves were around forty feet high. It was very strange to see the seas roll like a big wall in front of you and then disappear, only to find that you were now on top of that wall of water!

BJ came up to the bridge to get some pictures too and Karen was already up with her video camera. About this time, we started taking 40-45 degree rolls and the waves had increased to anywhere from 45-60 feet in height.

It was quite a show! Drawers throughout the ship were flying open and closed as the ship rocked from starboard and port sides. We regularly checked the science labs in the hold to make sure the equipment and drawers were staying latched down and closed.

While down in the hold checking the port side lab, I ran into Vernon Asper (literally!). He and I were walking toward one another in the hold about fifty feet from one another. The next minute the ship rolled to the starboard side and he had disappeared behind the starboard lab while I was crashing into a crate that was latched down in the hold. I ran over to check him and he was ok. We both got quite a laugh about how the scene looked. It was like a big hook just dragged him off-stage after a bad performance!

Back up on the bridge, Karen was filming the breaking waves over the bow. BJ and I were standing on the starboard side of the bridge and Karen was on the other side of the controls on the port side doing her filming. Just then, the ship pitched 45 degrees to the starboard side. Karen dropped the video camera in her clamor to hold onto something. She was able to grab hold to a post next to her. With the 45 degree roll she looked like she had been caught in a stiff wind and her legs were suspended horizontally towards us!

After the ship righted itself, Karen ran over and grabbed the camera which had crashed into the port side wall on its roll back. The impact had been broken by the carpet sliding over during the roll and the camera was still filming. Checking out the footage, Karen definitely caught the thrills of the moment with the video camera.

I went back to bed around 3:30 p.m. after Robin and I put scopolamine patches on one another, in hopes of kicking the queasiness. I missed Brenden's special meal of the day: Smashed Turkey, Smashed potatoes and smashed Broccoli. Dinner may have been a challenge to eat all the same, since the chairs were all bungi corded down to the tables to keep them from dancing around the galley.

Got up around seven p.m. and the waves had calmed somewhat with less severity and less frequency. Snacked on some turkey and went up to the lounge to catch some movies.

It's about 03:15 a.m. on the 16th now. We are still rocking and rolling, but at least now I can write and am able to catch the events of the day on paper. I've tucked a pillow under the edge of the mattress to keep me in the rack should we run into more rough water again while I'm sleeping.