Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Another month is winding its way towards closure. The days sometimes creep by at a very slow pace indeed, yet somehow months fly by like seconds, without a chance to reflect upon it's activities. As far as station life is concerned things couldn't be more active. This past week, with the population down, I was able to fit in a few games of poker, some serious hot tub time and yet another viewing of The Life Aquatic.

Working in the boathouse does dominate most days here, and even with only two science groups on station, the boating world is very busy. Winter brings all types of strife to our floating Zodiacs. My position here has taken on the shape of of a man fighting entropy. Lines are continually getting caught, boats packed and rammed by ice, torn, popped. Without constant supervision it is hard to imagine the boats lasting more than a few days on the water. They sit like children, idling their days among the dangers of Antarctica.

The rest of station seems to have found a steady groove as well in their work. We all know each other now. Here is a little panorama video I shot in the Neumayer Channel on my LMG Fishing Cruise.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fishing Cruise

Until the day before yesterday it had been 5 months since setting foot outside of Palmer station’s 2 mile radius. My life has been transformed here, retooled and reconfigured. People live here, fairytale lives, in the Antarctic mountains, tripping to islands and glacier trekking. Roughly 30 minutes before another standard Gould departure I was given the opportunity to leave with it, for three days on a scientific fishing cruise. Though I couldn’t have asked for better timing, the decision was difficult. Who will take care of the boats? Who will run cartoons on Sunday morning? The big Aloha Party in the boathouse is tonight! These thoughts and more raced through my mind. Stepping away, I managed a yes and hit the ground, gathering things and boarding the boat, just as the line handlers were taking up the gangplank and setting the ship to sea.

We boarded the Gould on Saturday at 1pm and were on our way toward the Neumayer straights by 3. The day was clear and crisp. The moon waning gibbous and sky shades of purple and pink. It was a perfect Palmer day. There were three other Palmerites along for the ride as well. We spent our first few hours on deck, watching the sunset and gazing at the mountains. That evening we hung around, enjoying the luxuries of our own rooms, splendid views and an entirely new cast and crew of characters. At about midnight I awoke to help out with some fishing, which is the current science happening on board. Nets are lowered into the sea and dragged along the ocean floor in order to collect fish. The goal of the night was ice fish, a slow moving, monstrosity of a fish. The scientist, Detrich and his colleagues are finding out firsthand how the ice fish survive and thrive without a normal oxygen transport system, and how their genetic makeup may eventually help treat blood diseases in humans. The nets bring up a large variety of sea-life including starfish, squids, octopi, and fish of all types. I helped sort the creatures, pulling ice fish from the mass of sea life and shoveling the rest over board. The entire process of dropping the net, trolling and sorting takes about 2 hours. Fish lie close to the ocean floor at night so the majority of successful trolling happens in the dark.

The next morning was the first morning I have slept in during the last 5 months and it felt terrific. I dozed until 10am and lounged in the galley until we were invited by Lily, future BC and current Marine Technician onboard the Gould, to take a trip in a Zodiac to Astrolabe Needle, a rocky spire that juts off the coastline of Brabend Island. The needle stands like a giant tree trunk, 100 meters straight out of the water. As we approached, a humpback whale was rolling around in the shoals around the monolith. Idling, it came to us and spy hopped a bit, showing fins and spouting.

Back at the boat our evening finished up leisurely, with scrabble and a dramatic sunset. The next morning we received word that someone at the nearby Ukranian station, Vernadsky needed to be medevaced. We took a lovely morning cruise through the Lemair Channel, one of the most scenic places in Antarctica according to the captain. A Zodiac was sent to the station as we parked off shore.

Now, back at Palmer I find myself on the edge of some great change. It was an ideal trip, as I struggle to find an ideal path at a strange crossroad. Trying to understand someone who seems to have misunderstood me. And hoping that the sights and sounds of uncertainty are not as overwhelming as they sometimes appear.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wild Life

Most of the time it's easy to take the wildlife here for granted. In the summer in particular, there are penguins by the thousands, whales spy-hopping boats, giant petrels circling over head and seals battling on bergy bits. Yesterday was a great day for wildlife by any measure. First, there was the crab-eater seal that I discovered floating on a piece of ice as I began my morning boat maintenance. It had two deep gouges on it's belly, possibly having come from a battle with a leopard seal. The seal was lounging as the Gould came into port and hardly bothered by the orange monolith crashing into its bed and spinning it around, sounding horns, casting lines. It was definitely alive and kicking and I have often seen them with large scars on their bodies.

Later that afternoon, thanks to a tip from the divers, a couple of us were lucky to spot a wayward king penguin on the shore of Torgersen Island. These penguins are very cool and dive to depths of 1000 feet. The king penguin is the second largest species of penguin at about 3 ft tall, second only to the emperor penguin. The first I have ever seen and a very rare sight around these parts. Why was he there? Alone? Contemplative? The world may never know.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Life Interrupted

It's hard to write about all the things that happen here. Partly because much of the excitement at Palmer Station comes from interpersonal relations, conflicts, forbidden love and the occasional daring adventure. But the surface Palmer can also be thrilling. Last night the Gould returned, after two weeks of population 26, we are back up to 41. The winds are blowing at 40 knots with gusts of 50 making unloading freshies (vegetables, eggs, etc.) from the ship to our station galley a dramatic ordeal. The station is full of newbies, and our simple lives are interrupted by rookie mistakes and people who don't yet realize how important it is to refill the coffee machine if you happen to be the one to finish it. Of course, we have all been in this situation before and in a few days they will be part of the family.