Thursday, June 02, 2005



In September of 1988, I was given the opportunity to embark upon an important career and personal journey. I took a contract position working with and supporting scientists conducting studies in Antarctica with ITT Federal Electric, Antarctic Services.

Within the pages of this blog are my experiences which took place during a total of twenty months in Antarctica. During this time, the Argentine vessel, Bahia Paraiso ran aground and sank 1-1/2 miles off Palmer Station. I have documented my stay in
Antarctica through letters to my family and diary type notes written to myself which describe my winter-over on the Ice; my trip north for three weeks and the storm we encountered while crossing the Drake Passage with sixty foot swells and the ship
taking forty-five degree rolls; and my returning back down to the Ice again to complete another austral summer season.

I have had so many questions about my stay in Antarctica since my return in 1990. Are there many/any women on station? Are there any trees? What is the weather like down there? Is it difficult to be away from your family and friends for so long? Were you ever lonely down on the Ice? What did you eat? Where did you
sleep? What did you do when you were working? What did you do for recreation?

This blog is an insight into my experiences in Antarctica and an expression of my feelings of being away from my family and friends during this period. My notes written to myself and my letters written to my family and friends over this two year
period, relate my experiences and feelings during my stint down in the Antarctic. I'm happy to have the opportunity to share these experiences in these pages.

Finally, I’d like to dedicate this blog to my good friend Rich Skane who passed away in February of 2003. Word of his passing quickly rippled through our Antarctic network of friends as the news of his passing bounced around the world from Boston to Antarctica to New Zeeland and to Alaska, in a matter of hours. Richie was the kind of guy that would have given you the shirt off his back and will always be held in the highest thoughts and regards of all those who have ever had the opportunity to cross paths with him. His common phrase, “Good on ya!” will forever be etched in my memory.

So here’s to you, Richie. Thanks for the inspiration, the friendship and just being you.

Dave Gallas

List of Common Antarctic Terms:

Antarctic Services - A division of Federal Electric and ITT, headquartered in Paramus, NJ. The first contract company I worked for during a majority of my stay in Antarctica.

Antarctic Support Associates - A division of EG&G/Holmes Narver headquartered in Englewood, CO. The second contract company who was awarded the Antarctic contract by the National Science Foundation beginning the austral summer of 1990 (Fall 1989).

ATS-3 - The ATS-3 satellite was the science communities main contact with the outside world. This was a military satellite which was to have been retired after it wore out its batteries. The problem was that the batteries were lasting too long and the military wanted to take it down (Star Wars practice) to make room for a newer, more powerful satellite. The outcry from the science community was such that the ATS-3's life was extended. Our allotted time on the satellite allowed us to transmit and receive data while the other sideband would be used for our voice transmissions to the home office on a daily schedule. On weekends, this timeslot could be used to put collect calls back to the States from the earth station in Florida.

Austral Summer/Winter - The southern hemisphere summer or winter which occurs opposite to the northern seasons. Thus, Austral Summer is the North American Winter.

Bahia Paraiso - The Argentine vessel that ran aground and sank 1-1/2 miles off Palmer Station in 1989. The Bahia Paraiso performed the duty of a hospital ship for the Argentines during the infamous Falklands War against the British.

Bar Ice - Bar Ice is harvested from the harbor on an as-needed basis. Bar ice are the clear chunks of ice that have calved off of the glacier and have no dirt or striations. Packed under incredible pressure for thousands of years, this ice has
effervescent qualities and stays frozen in mixed drinks for a good, long time. It will on occasion, pop in your glass with such enthusiasm as to splash you in the eyes with your drink while your glass is still sitting on the bar.

Beaker - Scientist

Biolab - one of two main buildings at Palmer Station. Biolab houses all the laboratories, the Communications center, the Galley and immediate food storage and approximately half of the station berthing consisting of two person rooms.

Brash Ice - Brash ice is ice that has broken down into small chunks and collected in one spot to look like a big slushy. This kind of ice is bad on the propellers of the outboard boat motors. It eats up the blades since boat props are not like the blades of a blender.

Desalinization - a means of producing water by boiling the impurities out and catching the condensation as fresh water.

Faraday Station - The British Antarctic Survey Base located about twenty-five miles as the crow flies from Palmer.

Freshies - any and all fresh fruits and vegetables.

Grease Ice - Grease ice was a thin coating of ice that would float on the surface of the water. Its appearance gave it its name since it would look like grease on the water.

Greenpeace - A radical ecology-minded group that mind everyone else’s business in their effort to maintain a pollution-free world. Greenpeace has taken extreme efforts to maintain the Antarctic continent as a "World Park". This stresses among other things; no mining, managed tourism, no krill harvesting and cleanup of unused sites that have left pollutants of any sort behind in the Antarctic.

GWR - (Generator, Welfare and Recreation Building) one of two main buildings at Palmer Station. GWR houses the generators for the station, the reverse osmosis machines, the HAM shack, the gym, the bar, the lounge, the garage, the deep freeze, long term food storage, parts storage and the second half of the station berthing consisting of mostly 2-5 person rooms.

Inmarsat - (aka Inmar$at) An attempt at full-duplex communications by means of the Comsat satellite. Price ranges are at $10/minute with a three minute minimum. This
communication satellite is normally used by remote stations and ships at sea.

Marsgrams - letters that were originally sent via the military Mars system to Palmer Station, South Pole and McMurdo and later sent directly from our contact in Pennsylvania via the internet.

Marsh Base - Tenente Marsh - The Chilean Base on King George Island equipped with a runway long enough to land C-130 aircraft. This is among a few stations which house permanent residents of Chile to protect their claim on Antarctica should the treaty ever crumble.

McMurdo Station - (aka McMudhole, Mac Town) The largest American contingent located on the continent and located under New Zeeland. The Navy to civilian contingent is about one to one and total population during the summer months runs up to 2500 people.

NSF - National Science Foundation - Located in Washington D.C. this is the agency that determines what appropriations will be awarded to sponsor which science projects are to happen in the Antarctic. The NSF also sponsors many other science programs all dependent upon "soft money" or appropriations from Congress.

OAE - Old Antarctic Explorer. Someone who has been down on the Ice previously over an extended period of time, whether on contract or as scientist.

Old Palmer Station - Old Palmer looked like a double long trailer located about one mile from new Palmer Station. The new site was chosen primarily for the depth of its location. Resupply ships were unable to unload at the old site due to the shallow landing. This required ferrying supplies from a larger ship onto smaller
vessels for delivery to the site. The old site was closed down in 1967 but remained standing until its dismantlement in 1990.

Palmer Station - That little spot of sunshine on the Antarctic peninsula below the Drake Passage and South America at 64 degrees South and 42 degrees West.

Peso - (aka $) The Chilean peso was roughly worth 300 pesos to the dollar. The Chilean currency uses the same insignia to indicate pesos as we use for dollars. 1 mil = 1000 pesos

Polar Duke - Research Vessel Polar Duke (aka the Duke, Polar Puke). A contracted ship owned by Rieber Shipping of Norway which transports people and equipment from Punta Arenas, Chile to Palmer Station, Antarctica. My first two seasons this ship was contracted with a Canadian crew from New Foundland. The last season, the ship's crew was from Norway.

Punta Arenas - (aka P.A.) The city in Chile on South America's southern tip where the Peninsula Program would depart from.

Reverse osmosis - producing fresh water by means of pushing it through a membrane to separate the fresh water from the salt and other dirt.

SAAM Flights - military flights from King George Island to Punta Arenas, Chile. The New York Air Reserve pilots perform this service and fly down from New York-Santiago-Puerto Montt-Punta Arenas-King George Island. These flights are not known for maintaining a dependable schedule.

Ship shower - a term used to define a very short shower to conserve water usage. Water on, get wet, water off, get soaped up, water on, clear soap, water off, shower complete.

Siple Station - Former Antarctic station which was located at the bottom of the peninsula. Long since closed, this station was the inspiration for The Thing and Ice Station Zebra among others. Subsequent tiers were built upon one another as the snow and ice would build up, eventually crushing the lower tiers. Antarctic cooks who have in the past worked this station, discuss the best level where the previously abandoned food stores would provide what was needed if none was presently on hand. ie..The best frozen strawberries according to Connie Deady and Bob Taylor, were in level 3. This being the third station built upon the two previous sites!

South Pole Station - The American Station located at the geographic South Pole.

T-5 Science building up the hill from the main buildings which houses scientific equipment for various active projects.

Winter-over - this term varies depending on the Antarctic site. At Palmer Station, winter-over normally ran from station close in mid-April until mid to late-September. South Pole usually buttons-up around the beginning of February and reopens around early to mid-September. McMurdo keeps a similar schedule to South Pole since all flights to South Pole originate from New Zeeland via McMurdo Station.

Zodiac - an inflatable boat with a hard metal or wood bottom that would accommodate four to ten passengers. Zodiacs were our normal means of transport to larger ships in the harbor or between the station and any other landing site.

Copywrite 1988-1990, Antarctically Yours…Letters From the Ice. Please don’t copy my material without prior consent.