Saturday, April 05, 2014

Boating!

And so we took to the boats!  Our rigging work requires us to go to some islands a few miles away to service weather equipment and radio repeaters, so we had to do some boat work.  Yesterday we finally had good enough weather to take a spin, check out the local area, get briefed on procedures and the like.


Soon after we left the dock, our trainer asked if anyone wanted to take the helm.  I volunteered and at last I was doing what I have dreamed about for more than a decade - I found myself steering a boat through the ice!  It doesn't sound like much, but after reading so many antarctic sailing stories, though we were not in a sailboat, I was very excited to finally be able to share this task, small as mine might be.  Palmer Station is small, there are no outside runs to be had.  I run on the treadmill and have been gazing longingly outwards to the islands across the sea.  We took to the boats and I found my freedom.  

We go slow through the brash ice, but are able to go full steam ahead when there's little ice chunks.  Sometimes they require weaving about, sometimes you can surf down the swell at the same time.  I love the task and steered for as long as I could morally steer before asking if someone else wanted to share in the task.  I came to realize, perhaps more than I ever have, that I love driving boats! 


Along the way, Antarctica did not disappoint.  We saw 50 gentoo penguins swimming at us, a huge leopard seal (we have reinforced tips of the stern inflatable tubes because these types of seals have taken to biting the zodiacs there), fur seals, carcasses of penguins that leopard seals have eaten.  The training offered many times that we relished in the fact that we were getting paid for this.  One of those amazing Antarctic days.
Palmer Station.
To be followed by another.  I was elected captain of the boat, three of us riggers and three others who came along for the ride out to Halfway Island to replace a wind anemometer.  Bashing our way through the brash ice, then weaving through the larger chunks, then more brash ice.  It eventually was snowing and visibility dropped at one point where we couldn't see land in any direction.  I love it.  They were all content to ride as passengers, I couldn't believe my luck.  Penguins again swimming to investigate us.  A huge leopard seal napping on an ice flow upon our return.


In my suit, I was ready for more, so I went out again with some others to see the sights.  We stopped by a few islands, the old Palmer Station, saw many many seals, a few penguins, and some glorious ice bergs.  All in all a fantastic few days of boating.  I love the sea, I love being on the helm.  And I'm happy to be here.