Dispatch #6

It's now Tuesday, 03/04/2003.

Thursday we set off for that northern acoustic mooring at a great rate, and during the night we got into open ocean and started “rocking and rolling,” as mate John would say. We arrived at the mooring Friday afternoon, got it up with no trouble, put out a replacement, and on the way back south put out two directional sonabuoys to try to find a large whale to investigate.  I've been programming to set up the comparison of the salinity measurements from the bottles and from the CTD instrument itself, and that is going okay. Friday night Bob and I went in the lounge for the tail end of “Men in Black II”.  When it ended we decided to watch the entire thing. The ship made for Deception Island, and once there just steamed slowly back and forth the rest of the night.

Saturday early before breakfast we approached Deception Island cautiously with Captain Robert at the helm.  It is part of the South Shetland Islands, and is notable for its shape, its whaling and military history, and its recent volcanic activity. The island is more or less round, but the inside of the crater is a great bay two miles by three miles across.  There is a very narrow entrance channel that is somewhat disguised behind two points of land. Just inside to the right is Whaler's Bay, which was a Norwegian whaling station early in the 1900s, then a British military base with an aircraft hanger. There was major volcanic activity in 1967, 1969, and 1970, and researchers had to leave. Parts of the island were completely destroyed, new areas were created, and others covered by varying depths of ash.  The land is all very dark volcanic rock, with dark sand beaches. When we arrived, a Russian cruise ship was sitting in Whaler's Bay.  After breakfast, the Gould put out both Zodiacs and many of us went exploring the shoreline around the bay, landing at the abandoned Chilean base, then passing the current Argentine camp to visit the Spanish research station Gabriel de Castilla. They were expecting us and had laid out an elegant spread with wine and beer, croissants, ham, sausage, fish salad, and other goodies. We tore ourselves away, but wish we could have spent longer with them.  The scientists had all left the day before on one ship. The men remaining there were military men supporting the station who were about to leave on another ship in a day or so.  The research included seismology (volcano activity), biology (penguins), and some other geophysical studies. They were great hosts and we were just getting some conversations started in Spanish, but we had to leave. The Gould had moved closer to the Spanish camp in support, but most of us continued in the Zodiacs behind the Gould back across the bay to the abandoned British camp at Whaler’s Bay, as the Russian cruise ship had just left. Another Zodiac load gave some more people a chance to walk around. There were seals, fur seals, and penguins here and there. One large group of penguins was occupying a snow slope out of the wind.  They seem to like to get very high up on the slope to stand around.  A portion of the beach had warm water vapor rising up from still current seismic heating. The odd penguin came walking past on the beach. Reluctantly we headed back for the ship with full Zodiacs so we could get under way for Palmer at 1500.

After a magical day at Deception Island, we came in to the harbor just after breakfast. There was a brief reorientation for the scientific crew, then some of us left to explore the base, etc. This time I wasn't going to miss a chance to hike up the glacier, and I had prearranged to go with Alan. He was ready to go, and Mike joined us, for reasons that will become apparent.  We signed out on the white board with our destination and estimated time of return, and we took a radio.  Then we went to another building to borrow crampons and ski poles.  When we got to the foot of the glacier, it was evident that the crampons would not be necessary, because it had snowed a little, and the steepest part is right at the bottom where we could check it out.  Two lines of poles extended up the broad expanse of ice, indicating where it was safe to go.  One small problem, however, after being on the ship, I had the sensation that the ground was moving, otherwise it was wonderful to be walking uphill in the still air with the spectacular view all around us.

Once we reached the end of the line of poles, sort of a local high point, we could see the mountains behind the glacier, and of course the view back down of Palmer Station and the harbor was pretty fine. Mike fished in his pack and brought out the remains of a bottle of white wine and three paper cups. Then he brought out a big banner from his child's school in Sebring, Florida, Faith Lutheran School, signed by every kid in the school, and finally an American flag. From the photo session that followed, you would have thought we had climbed Mt. Everest.

After we came back down the glacier, Alan had to report to work, so Mike and I thought we would visit the Bonaparte Peninsula, taking the little hand-operated trolley across the inlet.  We had been warned that it was a stiff pull, but that was an understatement.  By the time I got across with Mike doing most of the work, he had decided that he would never make it himself, so I looked around briefly, got divebombed by a few skuas, and then with his considerable help again went back. Just as we were finished, Zan and Jason showed up on the far side, having walked down from the glacier.  They wanted to traverse back also, so we sent them our float jackets to make them legal. They said the peninsula was covered with seals and birds.

After lunch Rick was generous enough to take some of us on a Zodiac trip around the bay. We were a little late for the penguin rookery, but did see a few young ones just about to fledge. There was a cautionary shipwreck, just the bottom of the hull visible, where someone tried to take a shortcut. This was a great treat. We got back in time to visit the store for souvenirs.

Meanwhile the morning was spent transferring cargo and the afternoon refueling the base from the ship. The base was celebrating Mardi Gras; unfortunately I missed the parade and found everyone eating the wonderful dinner. Afterwards, we presented three talks. Bob presented the results of the 2002 drifter study and a brief report of this cruise, then Deb showed slides from their whale work, and I showed slides from the 1978 climb up Annapurna. Scott presented Captain Robert and the base manager with plaques to thank both the ship and Palmer Station for their great help and hospitality over the last two years. This was followed by a great party with lots of dancing.  People were just getting in the hot tub as I made my way back to the ship.

The next morning Bob woke me up for a 0630 trip to the hot tub, which we had to ourselves. Then back to the ship to get ready to leave. As the scheduled departure time of 1000 approached, there was a big sendoff as the returning Palmer Station folks said their goodbyes and came aboard. The lines were then cast off, and the LMG got underway a few minutes after 1000. There is a tradition that just after the departing ship leaves the dock, those remaining, or some of them, jump into the icy water for a swim, some bouncing and sliding down the inflated rubber bumper that hold the ship off, others just taking the plunge.

We had excellent weather Monday as the LMG steamed through Neumeyer Channel into Gerlache Strait and then turned at the Waifs to head north through Schollaert Channel. The British research vessel, James Clark Ross, and two cruise ships were seen in Gerlache Straits. The Ross was conducting trials with their autonomous autosub. We encountered many whales in Dallman Bay, mostly humpbacks and some minkes and some orcas. As we approached the Astrolable Needle, Deb spotted two groups of orcas near 3-4 humpbacks.  One of the humpbacks appeared to be a calf. The humpbacks were showing their fins, making occasional tail splashes. They may have been keeping the orcas away from the calf. John launched a sonobuoy, and the ship stopped and declutched for 10 minutes. They recorded three orca calls and more humpbacks before the LMG continued north.

Monday night we entered the rougher waters of the Drake Passage again. Dry land is starting to look better and better.  I think there will be nonstop movies in the lounge the rest of the way.  For some of us, particularly the returning Palmer people, there is a sense that the work is mostly over for now.  However, Bob is writing reports and the whale people never stop working.  John, Mark, and Sue say that this is their best chance to talk all year, away from university distractions. The Debs have an infinite amount of record keeping to catch up with. I have finished all the work I can do for Bob on the weather and the salinity calibration for the CTDs. As with any similar venture with a small group, I will miss the wonderful folks on this cruise, scientists, and also Raytheon support group and the crew of the Gould, who have done so much to help us get the work done and to stay safe.

Irene Beardsley