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 (http://www.usap.gov/vesselScienceAndOperations/contentHandler.cfm?id=305) 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!