Friday, July 15, 2005

Chapter 19 - "Tin Roof...Rusted!"

12 October 90

WOOFF!! Howdy Commander! I finally have two reasons to write. I just ended up back home at Palmer. Nothing permanent, just a 2.5 month stint until mid-December (scheduled return on the SAAM flight--ya, right). It's nice to be back, and I think Al is enjoying having me around too.

I ran into Matt, Andy, Lisa and Beav in Punta Arenas. They had just come back from Torres del Paine and we got stuck in P.A. for almost two weeks. I was hoping to see at least Matt and Lisa before they left and at first was disappointed when I heard that they had already left. I also had the chance to spend time with a Chilean Air Traffic Controller who is now at Punta that was at Marsh during my winter-over, when I was stranded in Punta Arenas for ten days.

The main reason that the ship was stuck in port at P.A. was that the Duke's Inmarsat system bit the big one. The ship couldn't leave port until they had a functional satellite phone system. The new system sent from England was sent through Sao Paulo and the Brazilians were on strike. Once in Santiago, the new dome wouldn't fit into any of the planes. Then a U.S. military C5 military plane had to fly from the U.S. down to Santiago in order to bring it down to P.A. Then the installers who came down to P.A. from Val Paraiso couldn't read English, so the Duke ET and electrician did a lot of the install work.

Just talking with Al. He says that he didn't get your package. It was supposed to come in on this ship. As usual, Port Who-Needs-Me (Port Hueneme, CA) managed to lose that along with the exabite modem for T-five (aren't we surprised?!) If you need something sent down, better to hand carry it or toss it off the pier yourself. At least then you know what happened to it and you know then why it didn't arrive.

I won't be overly optimistic about things, but things are going along fair to midland. Some of the struggles with management around here now remind me of my first season down--Shield-esk in a way! Nothing that hasn't been dealt with so far. Us O.A.E.'s are looking forward to the ship coming down at the end of November. Guess you're coming down along with Bill Fraser, Debi and Craig (now married) among others.

Just to forewarn you; under the new contract, you are given a per diem to cover your food and lodging. They don't cover the lodging as before. Mario will make arrangements at the Savoy in Punta Arenas. If you or Bill want arrangements somewhere else, say something ahead of time to Jimmy upon your arrival in Santiago. The Savoy is running around 5500 Pesos per night. Condor del Platta is running 7500 per night and Los Navigantes is 17500 per night.

Nothing else too earth shattering happening here. We have been having snow and a lot of wind. Temps are ranging from about 25-32 F. I'll close for now, but drop a line if you can and let us know how things are going. Looking forward to seeing you again. Take care and have a good trip down.

13 October 90

There wasn't anything more to say over the phone so I didn't call again. The ship didn't leave Punta Arenas until the 4th of October. It was very frustrating to be sitting in port and not know when we were actually going to leave. We arrived at Palmer on the afternoon of the 8th. It ended up a little longer because we had to drop two people off on King George Island. They have a hut near the Polish Station at Arktowski in Admiralty Bay where they study mostly gentoo penguins.

So we helped them dig out to get into their shack, bring supplies from the ship to the zodiac to the beach to the shack and also helped them set things up. Got the radio running again and ran a radio check with Al who is back at Palmer. There was quite a bit of sea ice on the way down. It was surprising after the winter I spent here. We had no sea ice my winter. So it slowed us down a bit having to break thru ice. It really makes a racket inside the ship.

The other bad part was (and still is) not knowing about pay status. I am glad that I am only with this company for a couple of months. They are really taking everyone here for a ride! No need to worry about me wanting to come back again the way ASA has handled me this time around. I love the Antarctic, but the lack of support from the home office and the other hassles just don't make it worth my while to come back.

I am number one on the managers hate list. I made my feelings known that I didn't like what the company has done with us, concerning paychecks and pay start dates. I also told him that I wasn't a charity and if I wasn't getting paid, I wouldn't stay. It's like you have to twist arms to get what is due to you in this company. I realize that it is a new contract and all, but we need support from the home office and all we have gotten is lip service. I thought Paramus was bad until I see how these guys are "supporting us". I'm glad mine is a short contract!

As far as my pay goes, all I can do is hope that things work out. The most serious problem seems to be pay and when it started. This company works things differently. They don't start pay until after the Duke pulls out of port. So basically, I was stranded in PA for ten days without pay!! I realize that I didn't come down solely for the pay, but that is no reason to shove it down my throat. I know that you are keeping up with putting the right checks in the right envelopes to pay my bills. I just hope the money is going into the bank to cover the checks!!

I am sure at this point that if there were a ship out next week, I would be on it. But, I'll see this mess through since the next ship doesn't leave until the second week in November. At that point, I may as well stay on to get the $75/week bonus, plus it is only another four weeks by then. I am more homesick than I expected and now realize too, that my whole life has changed a lot in just the last six months while I was back at home.

I started this morning to go through all the addresses and resume stuff. December isn't that far off, and I want to have everything ready to print and send out once I get back.

It took me a few days to acclimate myself to the cold, but you can bet that I'll be ready for the Chicago winter once I get back. We came in earlier than usual this year, so winter still seems to be holding on here. We are getting some melt, but still snowstorms and the usual winter windstorms.

The weather here has been cold and stormy. As usual, a couple of feet of snow is still on the ground. We have been having regular wind storms with gusts the first night we were here of up to sixty knots. The whole building shakes under those winds--it's a strange feeling again.

16 October 90

How the heck are ya?! I just got your letter postmarked June and I wanted to write back to you. It might have been longer had I not returned back down to Palmer to pick it up! I finally left Palmer in March after spending two contracts back to back down here for a total of 18 months. When I left in March, I didn't expect to come back down again. I had all intentions of going back to school, selling the condo and living happily ever after or some BS like that. But the way things didn't work out this last summer, I'm back down here for a few months.

So I'll be hitting the pavement at the end of December for a job again.

Winter is still holding on, but summer is just around the corner. The penguins are coming back slowly and have already started to pair up at King George Island from what the ornithologists up there say. We keep weekly scheds with a science group about five hundred miles north among others.

18 October 90

It is nice to be part of the working majority once again, but I am already thinking about my return trip home. No word yet on what date I’ll depart here since the schedule is still a mess from our unscheduled stay in Punta.

Al has made it clear that he is not going to go up to Punta for any amount of time. With the new guy coming in on the end of November ship, Al will want to train him his own way. So I don't think there will be much reason for me to stay as late as they had originally planned, but that would only move my return time up by about a week. I'll let you know, but with so much depending on weather, I probably can't give you a firm return date until I'm actually in Punta Arenas, as crazy as that sounds.

I have been keeping myself out of trouble. I have started back to working out and yesterday did a walk up to the top of the glacier at lunch. This is a fairly quiet group overall. A group went over to Old Palmer today and did some skiing on the new snow. I wanted to go over to OP, but there are other things to concentrate on here. Also could have gone out to Torgerson Island with the penguin scientists, but I turned that down too.

We stopped on Torgerson on Sunday and the penguins are just now starting to arrive. So there isn't too much going on there at present. They won't start laying eggs until late December or so, and I'll be home by that time. The best part of the season is when the eggs are laid and the chicks start hatching.

19 October 90

So many things were happening yesterday, that I was exhausted by the days end. A Twin Otter plane flying from Marsh Base to Rothera was flying over and was going to drop some mail to the station on a fly-by. He chose his drop site and when he released the package, it got sucked up into the starboard side propeller requiring him to emergency land the plane.

You could actually hear the bag get sucked in and the muffled sound from the propeller as it sputtered and coughed before they were forced to land on the glacier behind the station. Two of the blades were seriously damaged. One had a 1-1/2 inch chunk out of it and was bent and another was badly bent on the tip.

After calls up to Calgary, Canada, they were instructed to cut off four inches off each blade (three blades to each motor) of the starboard side. This would reduce the vibration and not cause any further damage, and allow them to take off without requiring an airdrop of the new parts. They finished that this morning and took off just before noon. It was pretty exciting in retrospect. Fortunately, most of the damaged mail was Philatelic mail. Not everything in the mail bag was shredded.

Yesterday and today were beautiful days. The water was so still, you could see the reflection of the glaciers in the harbor. The sky was clear and blue and the sun was shining brightly. Then out of nowhere, the barometer dropped like a rock in the late afternoon and the clouds started to come in. All total we had about three inches of fresh snow that stopped about 9 a.m. this morning. We weren't sure if the weather was going to clear enough for the Twin otter to get out, but it only took about two hours for everything to clear. By about four pm the sky had clouded up again. Good thing they got out while they had the chance.

I didn't get to see the plane take off up on the glacier, but I did run out and watch it from the pier as it taxied down and took off. It is quite a site with the white trail of snow and ice crystals it leaves behind in its wake. They really don't need all that much of a runway to take off either. We stayed in contact with them by radio until they landed on Marsh Base about one hour and 50 min after leaving here. The whole incident reminded me of the winter Twin Otter visits we had on my winter over. Al says that the whole thing was the most exciting thing that has happened since the Bahia went down!

Not too much else happening event a week is about all we can handle.

20 October 90

Yes, I am back. I don't know what came over me, but I think I stepped into a time-warp and ended up back at Palmer during the Nazi era. We have a meeting this afternoon to brush up on our goose-stepping. Well, ok, it isn't that bad, but it sure isn't life as we knew it last summer!

A lot of the people down here now have been down to the ice before…but not the manager! If they’d just let us do our jobs and leave us be, everyone would be happy. All kinds of new rules, and generally a green attitude about everything including managing people.

There is a big group from the McMurdo side and the admin assistant Donna, just got out of South Pole in May and was back down here the end of August! She and I rock out to B52’s every morning now. It started out one hung-over Sunday morning when I’d put on Cosmic Thing. Next thing you know, Donna’s screaming over from her office, “Tin roof…rusted!” and dancing over to the Comms Shack from her office across the hall. It’s our own little dance party at 8:30 in the am! This seems to be our one thing to look forward to in the morning before the black cloud rolls out of bed to lock himself in the manager’s office at around 10 am.

I did see Pat Sullivan the night before I left to come down here. I have written to Dennis, but he didn't write back and now I hear that he is in the Gulf. I called up Robin and speak with him right before his break up with his wife, but I haven't had any chance to speak with him since. If you can, give me his phone number if it has changed. Richie is back down as expected and says hi. Even he has had his second thoughts about coming back with this new contractor.

Al said that you were writing him regularly and that you were doing well. Drop a line soon and I'll keep in touch.