We left Punta Arenas on October 4th to cross the Drake Passage that lies between Cape Horn and the Western Antarctic peninsula. This journey typically takes us about four days, depending on weather. On the afternoon of day one, we were met with 50 knot winds hitting us on the beam, and 25 foot seas on the nose. For reference, the top of the crane in the video below is about 25 feet above sea level and the containers on deck are about ten feet high.
We had waves breaking onto the back deck, and with each new trough, the whole boat would shudder as it took the force of thousands of pounds of white water slamming against the hull.
After about 24 hours, the winds dropped and the seas laid down. On day four, we encountered pancake ice, rising and falling with the swell. This was the first sign that we were nearing Antarctica!
On the evening of day four, we got our first glimpses of the mountain ranges and glaciers that make up the Neumayer Channel that we transit through to get to Palmer Station.
At last, on the afternoon of day five, we tied up at station. Today we are doing cargo ops- delivering fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as lab chemicals, containers of break bulk, and various other supplies. We will remain on station for seven days, before we head back into the notorious Drake Passage.
For the past week, I’ve been back at work on one of the two research boats I’m employed on for about a third of the year. The Laurence M Gould is a 70m research icebreaker in the employ of the United States Antarctic Program. I work between this and our other Antarctica research vessel, flying down for a month or two at a time.
I work on board as a marine technician; every trip we do is different since we work with whichever scientists get grants to come study on our boats. I help them to interface their gear and the gear we provide with the icebreaker. Depending on the trip, my duties can include driving zodiacs, driving cranes, deploying large oceanographic instruments, deep sea fishing, etc. We have biologists who study penguins, whales, leopard seals, and other large marine life. We also have oceanographers, glaciologists, geologists, climate scientists, and ice scientists. We work with hundreds of different universities and scientific groups including NOAA and Woods Hole.
This time, I flew down early to help work on one of our RHIBs (reinforced hull inflatable boat). It’s a 30′ aluminium boat that we use for research at one of the stations. This speedy nugget can go over 20 knots, and was custom built to provide research support for the scientists down at the station.
The extra week working on the RHIB means that I’m spending more time in Chile than usual. Normally we have a few days of port call and then head straight down to the ice. I’ve been enjoying the equinox and the first few days of spring. Temperatures still hang out around freezing this time of year, but longer days indicate an entrance into summer. Eventually the sun never goes away and we experience all the beautiful shades of the midnight sun.
On the second of October we’ll head south into the Drake Passage, a crossing which takes about four days. Around the 6th we’ll see our first sights of Antarctica. No matter how many years people have been in the program, everyone still lines up along the bridge and on the bow to stare at the mountains, glaciers, and icebergs. We always say that if you’re no longer awed by the scenery then it’s time to quit and find pleasure in the perfect geometry of an office cubicle.
It has been four months since I’ve last been down here and I’m already getting excited for the landscape, some of the coolest people I know, and of course- penguins