Date: 12 January, 1997
From: Janet Phillips, Palmer Station
Janet Philips is Antarctic Support Associates' Area Manager at Palmer Station. Her Journal provides an interesting contrast between her role as passenger on board the "Duke", and the person in charge and ultimately responsible for all health, safety and logistics at Palmer.
We had a fun party to bring in the New Year. The dance floor was specially enhanced by a few little special projects that the electrician and carpenter made in their off-time. The electrician had installed a strobe light and some colored floodlights before I arrived on station. To that, he added a bubble machine and one of those mirror balls with a light shining on it like they have at the discos! It was pretty wild -- looked like the Lawrence Welk New Year's Eve here! Anyway, between the great decor, and the Senior Materials person who wintered over here and is still here playing DJ, our best volunteer bartender (who is really here as a scientist) behind the bar, and plenty of champagne and confetti... it was a good time.
We had the 1st as a holiday. The evening of the 1st we had a slide show where people brought their favorite ten slides and we looked through them all. It was fun --too short, which is unusual for a slide show!
It's Saturday night and sleep is evading me. I went up to the lounge and watched the end of a dumb Schwarzenegger movie... it was a good brain-numbing experience though and I was quite relaxed.
Then I walked outside and was standing on the deck admiring the glacier when the carpenter walked by and said "quiet out here tonight" as he walked by. I'm not sure what he meant by that... maybe that no one was in the hot tub or running around outside. But it made me focus on the sound, the most prominent of which is the hum of the power plant. Then I thought how nice it would be if it really was quiet... which led me to the power plant being "off"... which led me to "power outage"... which led me to think about whether we were well prepared for a power outage... which led me to think about fire alarms and whether if one went off right now I'd be at the level of readiness I should be at... which totally eliminated the relaxing, brain-numbing effects of the movie and left me once again feeling the weight of responsibility upon my shoulders. Sad to think that Arnold was my brief respite for the evening! I think I'll try and get out to the islands tomorrow and appreciate some of the local wonders for a break!
Work lately has been a lot of future scope type stuff, in addition to dealing with things here at the station. Local issues have had the usual spectrum... conflicts between the living space and lounge (which are adjoining with no sound barriers), the physician's frustrations with the "other duties as required" like being the storekeeper, the effects on everyone's schedule when the ship visits the station, the difficulty of doing things here the same way as in McMurdo because of population limitations and the frustration that causes for people here who have worked in McMurdo, and the fact that in such a small space the effect of anyone being the least bit inconsiderate has a huge effect on the community.
And then there are the routine duties like setting up safety meeting schedules, preparing for tour ship visits, writing weekly reports, ship line handling, answering oodles of e-mail and in-person questions, staff meetings, keeping an eye on the weather and comms to make sure we're doing our job of keeping the scientists operating in a safe realm while in the field, giving station orientation to new arrivals, coordinating various issues with the MPC (Sr. ASA person) on the ship, running fire drills, kitchen clean-up duty (called "gash") and other community cleaning projects, etc.... and trying to hear the pulse of the community here to ward off any anticipated evils. No lack for things to do anyway.
We had a visit from a small yacht, which had contacted NSF for approval for a visit, on the 6th. The captain is a Frenchman on this 60 foot yacht that sleeps a total of 10 people. The Captain and his one hired crew member essentially train their 8 passengers to be crew also and everyone pitches in to help out on the journey. This group was on a one month tour, and had fared pretty well across the Drake, though some were obviously not thrilled with the idea of having to go back across to return to Usuaia! The passengers were Italian and French and spoke very little English. We had a fun time with them though. I toured them around the station, with the lab manager's help at the "touchy feely" tank of sea creatures, and the Physician and Sr Materials person at the tourist van to sell t-shirts and other souvenirs, and the cooks prepared brownies and coffee. The Captain also invited us to tour his yacht. I took advantage of the offer and after looking around decided that I would probably be fairly sea-sick crossing the Drake in this little vessel, but would love the rest of the trip! The group was obviously quite a congenial and hardworking group despite age and background differences -- looks like a neat experience in a lot of ways. The Captain has been coming here for quite a few years -- 14 visits to Palmer so far. His son (14) was on the yacht for the first time at 14 months old and has been to Palmer many times with him, but is now studying in France at an international school where some classes are taught in French, and others in Spanish. One of the scientists here remembered one year when the son was here that the station folks asked him to draw pictures of his home and best friend -- he drew a boat and a penguin.
Two days later, on Wednesday, the R/V Polar Duke arrived here with Polly Penhale, the NSF Representative, and the LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) scientists for their cruise around this area. It was three days of hectic times until the Duke departed station this morning to begin the cruise. There are 27 ASA/NSF people aboard the ship and the Norwegian & Chilean crew of 13, and 40 people on station now -- so it was quite crowded here while the ship was tied up at the pier and 80 people were wandering around!
On Thursday night Robin Ross, the lead LTER scientist for this year's cruise, gave a science lecture about the LTER program and their purposes and goals. The LTER program exists in various places around the globe, not just here. The basic idea is to take long term measurements of the same type to detect trends in biological activities. The data can then be related to other data such as weather patterns to detect cause and effect.
On Friday night we invited everyone for pizza at the GWR lounge. There were a number of birthdays occurring that night so we had a couple of birthday cakes also. The Duke will be leaving the US Antarctic Program service this coming May, and this was Polly's last trip on the ship because she will leave on a cruise ship from here. So she read a few letters of thanks to the Duke that were sent from the OPP (Office of Polar Programs) folks at NSF... Neal Sullivan and Al Sutherland. Deane Rink brought over his music video tape that was created in McMurdo for everyone to see... and eventually it turned into a dance. It was a good way to send the ship off onto the cruise.
Tonight things are pretty quiet around here -- likely because of the activity last night! It is midnight here and the sky has darkened a little bit... we're on the "getting darker" cycle now, though I suspect I won't see true night-time dark before I leave here. Next week will bring visits of three IAATO scheduled tour ships, two with about 100 passengers and one with 35 aboard. With these bigger ships the routine is that Polly and I will board the ship and she will give a slide show and introduce me to the passengers. Then we invite them to the station in groups of 20 people to take tours. Other ASA folks will be the tour guides around station, on a volunteer basis. It should be an interesting experience!