Look, Bob, I'm a Cowboy (Far side Cartoon) So, look everybody! I'm an
oceanographer! I am writing you from the frozen but blessedly stable ground which
is Palmer Station, Antarctica. Actually, it is not so bad, about 30 or so. That's
Fahrenheit, you see, not to be mistaken for a typical Miami day back with in the
US. This is our first night here, finally off the Research Vessel Polar Duke. We
had an apparently mild crossing of the Drake Passage, where we sailed from Punta
Arenas, Chile, northeast through the Straits of Magellan up through Argentina,
and then down around Cape Horn to first Hugo Island (to repair a weather
station), and then to Anvers Island where Palmer Station lies. I can't say much
about the trip, as I spent 3/4 of it either in bed sleeping or "manning my post"
outside on the fantail of the ship. Anywhere else on board I felt deathly ill.
Most people were at least as bad, as each meal (I never made a breakfast), no
matter what the time, showed the same number of people who'd obviously just
arisen from their deathbeds to make an appearance. With the meals on the Duke
prepared daily by the mainly Norwegian crew, the array of disconcertingly
prepared meats would not have sat well with my American stomach even if I had
been on dry land...as such, I and a few others lived on a diet of crackers and
To pay for our crackers and soda, the entire passenger contingent volunteered to
help out with the several oceanographic surveys which were taking place to map
out in various ways our route across the Drake Passage. Two people at a time
would stand a four hour watch, which consisted primarily of one person
periodically launching a small disposable probe overboard and the other person
recording by computer the changing temperatures of the water as the probe sank
quickly to the bottom of the sea. On some watches, this was not so quick, as the
water depth across the passage could vary from a few hundred meters to over a
thousand--water a kilometer deep. Something to think about, for the unfortunate
one of watch persons who was delegated to launching the probe from a shifting,
water-slick deck at 3 in the morning! It was actually a neat experience however,
as it allowed all of the us a chance to contribute to the overall mission of the
Duke, which this trip is to perform part of a Long-Term Ecological survey of the
Antarctic Peninsula region. And for me personally, my by now substantial
experience with these particular tests allows me to add "Oceanographer Tech, 2nd
Class" to my otherwise blandly electrical engineering resume. Had I known when I
took that first satellite communications class...
Bow of Polar Duke while crossing the Drake Passage.
Adelie penguins on Torgersen Island with Palmer Station and Polar Duke in background.
Having finally acquired my sea legs, I could enjoy the ride for the last two
days. The Polar Duke seems to me sort of a cross between a very clean fishing
boat and a very small cruise ship. The accommodations were small but tidy,
allowing two persons per room each their own bunks and several cunningly designed
closets and drawers. In addition, there was a small table and bench seat, and a
small sink and mirror to share. In addition to several labs and a large cargo
hold, the boat also boasted a kitchen, dining room, day room for reading, and TV
room for watching videos and communing (or commiserating) with your fellow
passengers. All done to miniature scale, but quite comfortable. The last days on
the cruise until we reached Palmer were just glorious, nothing but icy blue water
and bright sun to every horizon. There was also a constantly changing show of
seabirds at the back of the ship, hoping for handouts, no doubt.
Well, this entry ends tonight (!while still dusk outside at after 2 am) with my
first night at Palmer. I'll probably wake up a few times before then, though,
wondering why the engines have stopped and why we are not underway. Did I ever
mention I couldn't bear boats or the cold? My attitudes are adjusting. But I'm
not giving up my place in Pasadena quite yet.
Tomorrow we break into the satellite gear we've carried so far, and the real work