"News from Antarctica"
Geoff Haines-Stiles - October 26, 1994
Project Director, PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE & the LIVE FROM... specials
Weds 26th October, the LIVE FROM ANTARCTICA field video crew set off from New Jersey, Virginia and California on what turned out to be a long trip towards Antarctica. After all the hectic last-minute planning and packing, watching the feature film SPEED on board one of the plane rides was almost restful! The full crew met up in Los Angeles, and it was here that we encountered the first of the researchers we had met at the Orientation Conferences. You could tell most of those who were going all the way South: serious boots, and quite a few portable computers. The first video we shot was of the quite ordinary lounge which was our launching point for the South Pole!
The plane ride was long... but pretty comfortable. We "lost" Thursday in transit, and woke up on Friday morning, landing in Aukland, New Zealand. Then an invigorating walk to the domestic terminal, and a short flight down to Christchurch, the main port of embarkation for journeys to the Pole and to McMurdo Sound, site of America's main research station. It was from here that Robert Falcon Scott and others set off on the expeditions of the first decades of the 20th C. which first explored the continent.
We were met at the airport by a representative of Antarctic Support Associates, NSF's contractor for all field operations in the Antarctic. It was off to a hotel, and some walking around this city of 300,000 plus, with beautiful chestnut trees and a river running right the way through downtown. We also spent some time with the ASA staff, and discovered that early next morning the research vessel NATHNANIEL B. PALMER would be docking at the port of Lyttleton, about 20 minutes away.
So, it was up at 5:00am and some careful map reading through unfamiliar streets. The coast was covered with low-cloud when we got there, and there was a little uncertainty about where exactly the vessel has moored overnight, but soon, out of the now clearing fog, came the NATTY B. It's the newest vessel in America's polar research fleet, a bright orange hull and a cream infrastructure, with a round sign attached to it side, showing the white Antarctic continent. We filmed it coming to shore, and the beginning of what we were told was the most extensive loading and unloading of research cargo in recent years. There were large wooden boxes coming off, and more waiting on the dock to be loaded later in the day.
But for us, it was off to breakfast, and back to Christchurch for the mandatory viewing of a safety video, and the issue of cold weather and survival gear.
The first words of the video struck a definite tone, being Scott's "Great God, this is a dreadful place!", but they got your attention for the information which followed: tips about how to make sure the parkas fit, the boots will work in the cold we thought we were soon to experience.
Then it was off to the Clothing Distribution Center, and we all got to try on every piece of clothing that had been arranged for us, based upon the sizes we have earlier sent in. For the first time, we pulled on special long underwear, designed to keep us warm, and dry. Then fleecy trousers, a wind-protective layer. Then a fleece jacket, and the large, bulky red parka, each with our name on it, with its furry hood. It was more comfortable than I had expected, but there was quite a trade by many of the other 25 or so scientists and ASA support staff who were kitting out with us.
We thought this was to be the last day in Christchurch, so after a guided tour of the Palmer (we were to fly at 13:00 hours so we planned to tape it in the morning) we went up on the ridge above Lyttleton for a last look at green grass and trees... and then a great last dinner.
But... it was not to be. We did not fly Sunday... or Monday... or Tuesday... or Wednesday... or Thursday! Bad weather set in over McMurdo, and one of the C-130 planes was grounded at the Pole. We were called to come to the airport twice, put on all our gear, checked in our bags... and the flights were cancelled. Our personal items -- except for what we were hand carrying -- stayed behind and we were off to the only hotel rooms left in Christchurch. The opening of a new casino and a racing event had booked up all the space. Four of us in a room, and the entire hotel crammed with the same faces we had seen back in Los Angeles!!! We had plenty of time for last minute logistics... extra cables and connectors, a few more post-cards to send, lots more e-mail messages to reply to. This is a message that came in to another researcher who was trying to get a bulletin from McMurdo, and it summed up what has been going on inthe past week.
THIS WEATHER IS WILD!!!! IN ALL MY YEARS HERE I HAVEN'T SEEN ANYTHING QUITE LIKE THIS. LOTS OF SNOW, LOTS OF WIND, LOTS OF CONDITION 1 AT THE RUNWAY. WE'VE CANCELLED MORE HELO MISSIONS THIS YEAR DUE TO WEATHER THEN LAST YEAR ALL TOGETHER. HOPE THIS ISN'T AN INDICTION OF WHAT THE WHOLE SEASON IS GOING TO BE LIKE ... PRETTY INTENSE OUT THERE AT THE MOMENT....CAN'T SEE OB HILL! (which is where we planned to station some of our microwave gear!) SO....ENJOY CHCH FOR ANOTHER DAY. I HEAR THOUGH THAT THEY'RE LOOKING TO SEND THE PLANES LATE TONIGHT SINCE THEY'RE EXPECTING A LITTLE BREAK IN THIS. HOPE SO..IT'S TIME TO GET THIS SEASON GOING!!!!!
We quite agreed, and so I hope this will be the last time we update you ICE!
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