Monday, March 31, 2014

Arrival to Palmer Station!

Day 4, 2130 hours.

Day four, and thankfully not Day 3 anymore.  Overall, Day 3 was not too bad, but I’m glad it’s done.  Glad I have my body feeling normal again.  We are only miles from the first Antarctica islands.  On the same chart with Shackleton’s Elephant Island.  It’s now just around freezing.  Snow has started to fall, some have seen icebergs.  I have seen seals.  We are getting close.  We’ll be there tomorrow at 1100 hours. 

Day 3 had 6-10 foot swells with some twelve footers.  The wind peaked in the morning at 60 knots (I think while I was asleep or trying to sleep).  The rolling, the pitching…as I lay in my bunk, with each big roll my internal organs would shift and then my mattress would follow.  I spent the day reading, watching a movie, sleeping.  I got on the rowing and bike machines during Day 2 for a good bit, but when I tried the bike machine again yesterday, after a few turns, I thought, I need to get off this thing. 

Most of the time, I loose track of time.  Not sure what day of the week, what day of the month, what time.  I eat, sleep, read, watch, and experiment with some electronics. 

I am now on the station, having safely made it here.  It is nice to be here, finally.  I awoke early on the last day to see the islands of the Antarctic.  They are beautiful. 

So now I have been here a week.  We’ve been collecting our gear and equipment, scouting our towers and antennas, doing trainings, and settling into the routine. 

The ship, and the noise of it’s generators, finally left this morning.  I partook of the tradition of when the ship leaves and is northbound, people jump off the pier into the water.  It is cold!  But then…to the hot tub!  Yes, Palmer Station has a hot tub.  It felt excellent and a dunk and a tub seemed to be an excellent way to start the day.

So far, it’s been grey and windy for all but one day that I’ve been south of Chile.  Icebergs float by.  Seals are our neighbors.  Today on my day off, I worked on my electronics kit (making an infrared sensor to alert me if my roommate beat me to bed in a dark room).  Then ran on the treadmill, skied up and down the glacier in the “back yard.”  Learned a bit about soldering from the comms guy.  Cleaned the kitchen (our turn for the week).  That’s about it.  Got to hit the sack soon. 

The beautiful conical monipole antenna.  We call it a Coni Moni.

Bye Bye! 
Just before jumping in!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Approaching the Drake

21 March 2014
Drake Passage
Day 1, 1900 hours

Smooth “sailing” so far.  I’ve taken a meclizine for the first time to keep the green faced sea sickness at bay.  I do get sea sick if in rough conditions.  It is miserable, indeed, and I want to be able to enjoy this passage as much as possible.  We’ve been underway for around 7 hours or so, very little rocking.  Maybe 5 degrees to one side or the other, maybe less.  We’ve had our safety briefing and even got to get into one of the little orange rescue boats that was featured in the movie Captain Philips.  I really hope I never have to get in one of those. 

And so I wonder, will it get really rough, is this the calm before the storm, or will it be like this?  I try my best to keep tabs on my body, to stay healthy and keep all systems working properly.  Anything to avoid being seasick.  There are many factors: food – type and amount, exercise, hydration, sleep.  Got to stay functional.  So far so good.  A run yesterday and this morning, granola for breakfast, rice and veggies for lunch and dinner with a little cheerios for snack.  Not too much, not to little, no sweets.  A nap this afternoon, and lots of water.  So far so good.  Tomorrow may be another story…

Most folks hang in their bunks or the lounge or take a quick visit outside while we still can.  Right now some folks are watching Anchorman 2 in the lounge as others read or check their email.  Not being part of the ship’s crew, we don’t really have work to do, and so the most important messages from the Chief Mate are Don’t get hurt, Take your sea-sickness meds, and Don’t leave the toilet running!  Basically our job seems to be survival. 

Day 2, 1700 hours.

We’re now almost to the Drake Passage.  Much of the day was beautifully sunny and calm.  Continued rollers from behind, gently roll under, gently roll through, little motion on the ship.  No placemats needed in the galley.  Sunny outside.  A bunch of us gathered on an inflatable dinghy, some in tee-shirts, as if we were out for a little cruise in a small boat.   A group of mostly Antarctic veterans, many know how to make the most of good weather, and always in the back of our minds is that we’re headed for cold, ice, wind. 

Now, however, we are near the horn, the seas no longer only come from behind.  We have turned further south and the seas seem more confused than the quiet rollers from the stern.  Beautiful land masses on both sides now as we skirt as much south as we can through the southern end of Argentina.  The rolls are bigger, but mostly we’re pitching now, which is better than rolling.  The frequency is shorter, I imagine some are starting to feel queesy.  I can feel the accelerometer in my stomach and brain…measuring the G-forces both higher and lower than our normal 1.0.  I must be careful now.  Pay attention to the body.  Be on the lookout for the burps…, often my first sign.  Had an afternoon nap, feeling a little zonked.  But soon for dinner.  The endless stream of movies have taken a break, I imagine as people nap.  Today’s highlights included The Dark Knight and Office Space.  I busied myself by making a little sonar unit with my electronics kit.  It now lights one LED if it detects something less than 4 feet away. Two LEDs if it’s something less than 3 feet away, and three LEDs for less than 2 feet, and the all four if it’s under a foot.  Very entertaining for me.  Two burps. But still feeling alright.  Walking the corridors becomes a game.  Walk through without touching the side rails.  No V8 for me today.  Pictures come later.  Shipboard data allowance is 50MB a day.  Words for now. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bound for the Antarctic Peninsula

I sit now in the back of a 767 flying over South America for the first time.  I’ve made it through another overnight flight and got a relatively decent amount of sleep at times trying to wedge my body into the empty seat beside me and my own, feeling like a contortionist.  But at least it got me horizontal until some body part lost circulation.  I have not actually seen South America yet with my own eyes, but I will within an hour or so as we descend through the clouds.  I am flying to Santiago, Chile then on to Punta Arenas.  There I will board the research vessel, Laurence M. Gould ( for a voyage I have awaited for many, many years. 

Ever since reading of Shackleton’s voyage to the Ice, I’ve wanted to see for myself what the actual passage was like to get to the frozen continent.  I eventually started flying to Antarctica, many years after reading Endurance, but it always felt like cheating.  It was too easy, I hadn’t really earned my arrival – all I had to do was sit in the back of a relatively comfortable military cargo plane for 5.5 hours and presto! 

This time will still be greatly easier than in Shackleton’s day, but still I will I have to pass through the Drake Passage, across the stormiest and coldest ocean in the world.  I like to think of this passage on the research vessel as a scouting trip for when I sail – just like Shackleton and Amundsen – to the continent.  I’m not sure I actually will ever sail there, but it’s still worth scouting if only for the imagined adventure (for the actual misery might far outweigh the adventure.)

I am bound for Palmer Station, Antarctica (station population ranges from around 20-40) on a short Antenna Rigging contract.  I’ve been on the waitlist for this stint many times, and my number came up this year.  The station being short on real estate, the only way to get there is by ship.  I’ll be on the station for about 7 weeks and our tasking includes inspecting all the communications and scientific towers and antennas, and building a few towers for science groups/projects.  Palmer is heading into Autumn and when I get there, close to the equinox, we’ll have about equal hours of daylight and sunlight, but by the time I leave around mid May, we’ll only have about 7 hours of daylight and it’ll be getting colder.  The average temp while I’m down there will be around 30 degrees F.  Darker, and colder, I feel as though I’m going in the wrong direction after a long and cold New England winter that is just about to burst into Spring. 

Hark!  Land Ho!  A break in the clouds show the mountains of Chile, of South America!  In Santiago, I will rendezvous with other Antarctic folks including the two other Riggers who I will be working with.  We set sail in two days in the spirit of all Antarctic explorers who have crossed the waters before us.  One of the things I’ll need to do is find a certain statue in Punta Arenas and rub its toe which apparently gives good luck to those who travel across the Drake Passage to Antarctica.  Until then!