Friday, February 29, 2008

More photos.

Our population is up to 39 people now with the arrival of 7 more on the Laurence M. Gould research vessel last week. It is tradition to jump off the pier as the Gould chugs away, as a farewell to friends leaving station, northbound to Chile.

The person in green shorts jumping on the left is me. Thankfully Palmer has a hot tub (that's right, a hot tub) and after the swim it is great to head up for a soak in 110F water to restore circulation.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Boathouse

The boathouse is a special place on station. It is located on the shore of Hero Inlet, overlooking Palmer Staion's fleet of Zodiac boats. The boats vary in sizes and accoutrements and are build up specially for the science groups that use them. All boats have two motors, two external gas tanks, a battery, a safety box with emergency supplies and a GPS unit. The birder boats are small and quick, with long range radios, nets and poles. The Dive boat has a rubber flooring, depth finder, and leapord seal alarm system. There are two boats with large platforms which are used by the mircobiologists and the krill scienctists. These boats are more complex with motorized winches, 50-75hp motors, nets, bottling equipment, computers, water pumps and various other tools and equipment. There is also a recreation boat built specially for recreation and maintenance projects. Lastly, is the Ocean Search and Rescue (OSAR) boat which is our newest boat with a 75hp motor, long range radio, emergency gear and other safety equipment.

The boathouse itself is large and spacious. One side has a rack with 9 extra motors stored and ready for action. The motors range from 9.9hp to 75hp, are four stroke Yamahas, and turn key ignition. Pretty sweet. The boathouse is large enough to fit one fully inflated Zodiac comfortably, though I have fit two at a time. There is a computer, for monitoring weather and checking email. Lots of tools and hoists, safety gear, ropes and boating things.

All are welcome in the boathouse. Right now it is littered with SAR caches, which are blue barrels filled with survival gear, stored out at various islands to be used in case of emergency. I am in the process of retrieving them, changing out expired items and replacing them back on the islands. There is music in the boathouse so indoor activities are almost just as fun as outdoor ones. It is also the muster station in case of a fire. There is a hammock in the boathouse, though an upside down Zodiac is a much more comfortable bed in case a night needs to be spent with the boats. This happens from time to time in bad weather.

The boathouse has a deck overlooking the inlet and a ramp for easy access. It is a place in constant flux. Boats are in and out of the shop, motors are being torn apart, platforms fixed, people gathered. It has seen a lot of action and will likely see much more.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I would like to update this blog from time to time in order to give my loved ones (and anyone else who is interested) a better account of what life is like down here at Palmer Station, Antarctica. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my job and daily activities that I don’t take the time to look around and process all that is happening. Since this was actually started by Lacy to be a travel blog, I will try and insert inspiring travel quotes and other such thematic threads. But of course, I am really not traveling at all. At least not in the way that most people would define travel. My entire area of activity is within a two-mile radius generating out from the station in which I spend most of my hours. I actually live here, at Palmer Station. Held hostage by a ship that comes around only once every couple of months and a string of rules and regulations that would make Shakleton and Scott shudder.

But I still feel like I am traveling. For one thing, I am only here for 6 months. I have a wife and cat waiting for me. And this place is so dramatic that looking out the windows of my bedroom is enough to make my heart beat faster. The day trips to various islands, which I am coming to know better, hold more mysteries than I will be able to discover. It is as foreign to me as another planet.

Travel Quote No. 1: “Extensive traveling induces a feeling of encapsulation, and travel, so broadening at first, contracts the mind.” – Paul Theroux

I can hardly say I am an extensive traveler compared to many, but constantly moving though places often gives me only a glimpse of life with which I use to make wild and sweeping conclusions. Staring out the window of a train, it is easy to see a village and make a judgment about an entire country. It’s easy to think in my language and feel apart from it all, just an observer.

I am happy that I am here long enough to be able to become part of the community. There are progressive things happening here. Antarctica is one of the greatest places on earth, not just because of its physical beauty, but because of the science that brings humans here. People from all over the world come here to research the ocean, the cosmos and the human psyche. Though we are all dependent on the whims of our home-countries, living here often creates the illusion of world peace. We study penguins and global warming, the beginning of our universe and the impact of tsunamis in the South Pacific. Everyone here is a transplant, a high percentage of whom hope to bring findings back to the real world and make some type of change.

Of course there are downsides. And points to be entirely critical of, but I’ll have to save those for another time…

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Back to Antarctica

I have been at Palmer Station for about 2 months now. I will be here until June working as a Boating Coordinator, managing a small fleet of Zodiac boats used by scientists. Lacy is holding down the home-front and we plan to meet in Chile in June, right after she graduates with her Masters in Landscape Architecture. There are 33 of us on station and the weather hovers around 35F daily. Things are smooth and good at the moment, though chaos is perpetually just around the corner. Boats popping, motors exploding, scientists getting stranded on the water and blowing away from station. All of these things continue to happen around me and I am usually just putting out to speak. The wildlife here is plentiful and entertaining. Three humpback whales swam directly under my boat last week. One of their tails nicked the boat. I was frightened, but the lady I was with seemed cool, so I just went along. I work long days and half days on Sundays. It is tiresome and makes me miss my coffee-shops and wife. But the perks of this job are fantastic. Lots of time speeding around among the islands. I get to go to many "protected areas" and out to various boats under the banner of science . It is quite a bit different than Pole. The scientists use the boats every day. Some of the groups I work with are SCUBA divers (looking for cancer cures, and believe it or not they have found one for melanoma), birders (penguins, giant petrels, albatrosses, etc.), krill (little shrimp-like things) collectors, and microbiologists. The krill and microbiologists are finding some interesting and scary things. The declining krill population is thought to be connected with the lack of bacteria in the water, due to too much glacial silt from the rapidly melting glaciers. Antarctica is melting, the silt blocks the sunlight, causing less bacteria in the water, limiting krill population, which limits whales and penguins. Many of the Antarctic species of penguin populations are shrinking rapidly, which is terrible because they are so damn cute. Also, there is a this "tourism" dynamic here that keeps the station in constant flux. Mostly small yachts, 3-8 people, but sometimes we get huge cruise ships of 100+ people. Sometimes helicopters from Chile. Last week we had a family on station who has been living on their sailboat for 5 years. Mom, dad, and 10 year old daughter. Wild. The girl wore a purple fairy princess costume with wings the entire time she was on station. I ate dinner on their boat one night and they were on and on about pirates and storms.

Around Palmer