31 December 2007
15 December 2007
I received a much unexpected kudo from Raytheon in the mail yesterday:
Please accept this coin, pen, notepad, and safety kit as small tokens of appreciation for making the 2007 winter one of the safest seasons the U.S. Antarctic Program has had. Your awareness of hazards and eagerness to continually improve the work environment is critical for everyone's safety.
Just as the emperor penguins work together to protect their young, we too must work together to protect each other.
Program Director, Raytheon Polar Services
06 December 2007
The last few weeks have been filled with many small adventures, including the picture at left, where I took Gwen's nephew Damon fishing up at Lake Cuyamaca near San Diego, and last night's venture up to the Marine Mammal Center near Sausalito, where Gwen and I assisted with the care and feeding of a few pinnipeds. As most people are now aware, there was a fuel spill in SF Bay a few weeks ago, which sent approximately 58,000 gallons of low-grade bunker fuel into the Bay, just in time to mess up the crab season, migratory bird season (there are few things more sad than a bird flying thousands of miles only to be caught in a layer of oil) and the general atmosphere of what I consider to be one of the best places to live in the world.
Well. The best way to deal with this sort of disaster is to help, when you can. So we went to the Marine Mammal Center to assist our friend Lia with care and feeding of some seals . None of the seals there were victims of the spill, but help was needed, nonetheless. We had a nice time, and lo and behold, I ran into a veterinarian there who knew another vet from Santa Cruz (Dr. Dave Schuman, D.V.M) who was my temporary roommate at Palmer Station back in April 2007, where he assisted with anaesthetising seals for Dr. Dan Costa's work. A small world, indeed.
12 November 2007
This blog has been a really great exercise in writing for me, and though I thought about letting it stay as it is, an imperfect record of my time in Antarctica, I've decided that I want to maintain it so that I can keep up with the practice of writing.
Oh. And I also want to keep in touch with my people.
So here goes, an abridged version of the last month, with pictures, ta boot! Let's start with November 10th, and go backwards from there. It all started at the Swearing Festival at the Edinburgh Castle Pub in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco. Gwen and I were working the door at this annual literary event hosted by Alan Black, the proprietor of the Castle. Basically, the event is pretty straightforward: Local writers get up on stage and swear/curse in what is (generally speaking) a creative manner. My job (volunteer, of course) was to rubber stamp everyone with an identifier and assist Gwen, who was collecting the cover charge, with a bit of crowd control at the door. Easy enough, but all of the sudden there was a huge noise that sounded like a shotgun going off, and like the good First Responder that I am, I ran up Geary St. to the intersection at Larkin. An accident had taken place:
It had been raining all evening, and the driver of this vehicle had somehow forgotten the Cardinal Rule of Driving: Shiny Side Up. When I got to the accident scene, I sized it up and crossed over to the car to look for the victim/s, but the victim was all ready out of the car and walking around with his cell phone to his ear (probably the cause of the accident in the first place). I asked him if he was alright (he was), then waited for the FD to arrive.
Back to the Castle, and more swearing/cursing. The evening went well with lots of funny monologues and short skits demonstrating the human need to use the seven words you're not allowed to say on television (unless you're on cable, of course).
Earlier that day, I gave Gwen the beautiful engagement ring that I had bought for her, officially sealing the deal in her efforts to make me an honest man. We went out for a walk in the rain at Crissy Field, and standing near the Bay under our umbrellas, I placed the ring on her finger and told her once again that I love her.
10 October 2007
It's been a whirlwind the past few weeks, and I'm once again astonished and in awe at the places and experiences that living life can present. Just a few weeks ago I was living life at Palmer, and now I'm back in California, happily swimming and reacquainting myself with life in the good 'ol USA. The pictures here are a testament to how much things change:
This is me (above) at the satellite dome at Palmer Station. The picture was captured by the PRIMO webcam, courtesy of Phil Spindler, on 21 Sept. 2007. Now, here I am at Half Moon Bay (4 October 2007) wondering, "how cold is this water?
HAH! The water is about 52F, but as you can see I'm testing the waters before I jump in. I recommend jumping in.
03 October 2007
My fellow winter-overs and I left Palmer Station via Zodiac last night and spent the night aboard the LMG. This morning we all had breakfast, and then the ship went close to the Palmer pier so that our friends from the summer crew could do the traditional Polar Plunge as each boat leaves station. Lots of jumpers this time, including winter-over Station Manager Eric, who has to stay behind and help train the new Station Admin., Chris.
The forecast for our crossing of the Drake is bad. Definitely going to have a rough crossing, but since I’ve usually had easy crossings, I’m up for it. We may make a stop at
It’s going to be a really rough crossing. We’re not even to the Drake yet, and already the waves are above 5 meters. The weather forecaster for our voyage back in
After the LMG got situated in Whaler’s Bay, we launched a Zodiac, and most of the people on board got taxied to the landing on the beach, and we all walked around the ruins for an hour or so as the weather began to deteriorate. In 1969-70, numerous eruptions occurred in the caldera, and the British base was abandoned, and some of the buildings were destroyed. It was amazing to walk around and see a bit of Antarctic history. Just as we arrived a small group of Gentoo penguins was arising out of the water as if to greet us. They walked up onto the shore about 100 meters or so to lie down for a break. We also sighted one emaciated looking fur seal sleeping under the hull of an abandoned whaling ship, and one indifferent immature elephant seal. We left just as the weather took a turn for the worse, and carried on into the Drake.
The weather forecaster was right. We are getting into some rough ocean. Today at lunch the captain of the LMG got up from the table and said, “well, lets go get our asses kicked” as he proceeded to the bridge. He wasn’t kidding. The waves are anywhere from 5-10 meters, making it difficult to walk around, or sit down, for that matter.
23 September 2007
In about a half hour I'm getting on board the Gould and sailing home. I'll be out of email contact for the next 4-5 days. You can follow the boat's progress through the Drake Passage using the cool web utility from an earlier post. I can't wait to see all of my friends and family, and hope that you're all doing well. I have to go now and say goodbye to all of the great friends I've met here.
22 September 2007
Well, the R/V Laurence M. Gould arrived at Palmer Station on 19 September, and it was a beautiful sight to see as it came around Bonaparte Point. However, while we were tying the ship up to the mooring pins during some heavy sea surge, not one, not two, but three mooring pins snapped off. As I was assisting with installing the gang plank, the stern pin (the pins are 4" diameter steel embedded into solid rock. It takes ALOT of force to snap one off) snapped off, and we quickly disconnected the gangplank and the bow lines and the LMG went back out to sea while we scrambled to rig up a spare stern pin. The LMG came back to the pier, and we repeated the docking procedure...then again, while we were installing the gang plank, the two bow pins snapped off simultaneously, and we again quickly disconnected the pier lines and the stern lines and the boat set out to sea again. This whole series of events was unheard of, and the bottom line was that the boat was unable to dock at the pier because we couldn't tie it up with only the pier pins.
Plan B was set into motion.
All of the cargo was to be sling loaded onto Zodiac boats and carried to station, then sling loaded onto station with a Skytrack. SO, I went to work with our Boating Coordinator, Ryan, and two Marine Technicians from the LMG. We spent two days loading and unloading vital cargo. Call it Dave's idea of a perfect end of winter day: running around in a Zodiac playing Fed Ex Antarctica. Serious "Only in Antarctica" style activities. Below are some pictures which tell a little bit about my experiences over the past 4 days, which ended tonight with a birthday party for our station doctor, Shawn, and me in the lap of an old friend, Chris Hush, who started in the Antarctic Program the same year I did: 1992. Time flies by. For the last four days I've been performing turnover with my summer counterpart, Phil Spindler, and hauling cargo around by Zodiac. I'm truly exhausted, as many a winter-over can appreciate, but exhilarated at the same time, and I still have to pack up all of my belongings and get ready to get on the boat tomorrow. We leave for Puenta Arenas on 24 September, if all goes according to plan. But the plan is subject to change, as the past four days attest. This may well be my last blog entry from Palmer Station, but I'll update this whole story later when I get back to the States. I hope to see all of my family and friends soon, but I'll miss this place and the new friends that I've made here.
18 September 2007
Linked here is a cool web utility that we use to track where the R/V Laurence M. Gould is located. Right now they're about 90-110 km from Palmer, but they're sailing through the Gerlache Strait, and there may be some heavy sea ice built up around that area. At any rate the boat was due to arrive here today, but has been postponed till tomorrow morning. It's slow going for them, but they'll be here soon, and some happy but tired Palmer winter-over folks will be sailing home next week.
Oh. And here is a link to the Polartrec website. The teacher on board the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer for the SIMBA cruise, Ms. Sarah Anderson, interviewed me for her ongoing journal while the Palmer was here last week. It sounds like the SIMBA cruise will be able to carry on once the soot is removed and the damage repaired after the devastating fire the boat had.
16 September 2007
15 September 2007
Tonight we had our last Saturday dinner together, and as I do every Saturday evening I hosted "Science Happy Hour". The bar here at Palmer is self-serve, but on Saturday nights I get to play bartender and serve up some adult beverages in the galley, while our chef, Diane, makes some great appetizers. Usually I try to have a theme of some sort for the occasion, so tonight I decided to whip up some Pisco Sours, which is a traditional Chilean beverage consisting of Pisco, lemon juice, sugar, egg whites, and bitters. Since we'll be back in Chile in a couple of weeks, it seemed like a good idea, plus we made sushi tonight, and Piscos are a light beverage which went well with it. The sushi was incredibly tasty, and reminded me of my favorite sushi restaurant back in San Luis Obispo, Tsurugi's.
We also have a pool going, to see who can guess what time of day the LMG will call us when it gets close to arrival. Usually they call about an hour or two before arriving in here. I chose 11:00...
11 September 2007
09 September 2007
The past few days have been busy, with the normal end of winter frenzy involving cleaning/tasking/reports and trying to tie all the loose ends up, and then, all of the sudden, there's an emergency.
On Tuesday, 9/4, I got up a bit early and went down to BIO to get a cup of joe and write a little bit before work. However, things changed when I opened my email and found out that we were going to be getting an unexpected visit from the Nathaniel B. Palmer, which had left Puenta Arenas on 1 September bound for a two month cruise in support of a science project called SIMBA ( a great acronym: Sea Ice Mass Balance in Antarctica).
Enroute to their destination in the vicinity of the Bellinghausen Sea, the expedition took a turn for the worse as there was a fire in one of the science labs. Thankfully, no one was actually in the lab when the fire started, and no injuries occurred as a direct result of the fire or the containment of it. The vessel was going to carry on with the cruise, but needed to stop here at Palmer to refill their SCBA's and get a few things that had been forgotten or had not otherwise made it onto the boat.
When the ship arrived, Arthur Harbor was packed with ice, and as the NBP isn't able to actually dock at our pier because of its draft, the captain tried to break up some of the sea ice so that a Zodiac boat could attempt to make it into the vicinity of our sea water intake, which was not a good choice for a landing area. The picture above shows what they were dealing with, and a rubber Zodiac is not a good vehicle for breaking through ice when it's 6"-9" inches thick. Anyway, eventually the NBP came into Hero Inlet to break up the ice next to the pier, and then the crew released the "Cajun Cruncher", which is a steel-hulled boat that looks like a mini-NBP. After some serious effort, the Cruncher made it to the Palmer pier, and the SCBA's were passed up, along with the first new faces we've seen in 2 months.
I met the Marine Projects Coordinator (MPC) from the vessel, and after hauling all of the SCBA's up to the Dive Shack where the compressor is located, I assisted with the compressor, and then Stian gave me a list of some additional science supplies they would like to get for the boat. That done, there was then alot of conversation about what had happened and what was going to happen in terms of the rest of the voyage. It became apparent that the air quality aboard the boat was not good. So the SIMBA cruise was put on hold as a judgment was made regarding whether or not they should continue. Meantime, the scientists and crew came here on station and we all got to hang out together. On Friday night we had what is known down here as "Cross Town Pizza", and the NBP provided us with fresh lettuce and tomatoes and we all pitched in to make pizzas and dine together. I got to see a few folks who I haven't seen in years, and met a few people who I had heard about but had never actually met. It's a small world here in the USAP, and it's always good to see and meet folks for the first time or see and catch up with people who you haven't seen in years.
Long story short, because of health/safety issues, the SIMBA cruise was postponed and the NBP left yesterday to head back to PA. In such an enclosed air space, where the soot from the fire got into everything/everyone (including all of the servers on board), and the crew is breathing this in all day, the ship needs a thorough cleaning before it can carry on with the cruise. The cruise will be attenuated, but when it gets to PA a cleaning crew will be waiting to come aboard and get the boat ready to carry on with the expedition.
In a way, the unscheduled arrival of the NBP was a dry run for the scheduled arrival of the Laurence M. Gould on 17 September, that being the boat that will carry me and most of my fellow winter-overs back to Puenta Arenas and the rest of the world. I can't wait.
One last note, we finally decided upon our Official Palmer Station Winter 2007 picture. It's been a good winter.
05 September 2007
31 August 2007
You work with what you have, and though there aren't always the freshest ingredients to work with down here, it's possible to create some seriously delicious dishes.
Antarctic cuisine has had its ebbs and flows, from OAE (Old Antarctic Explorers) who brought food down here in the form of lots and lots of canned goods, to those who consumed seals and penguins, to the ones who brought dogs down here to help them get around by sled and then ate them.
Yesterday, with help from Diane (who in my humble opinion is one of the Best Antarctic Chefs ever), I made one of my favorite Thai dishes, called Larb. Those of you who know me well know that I love to cook this dish, and though the name rhymes with lard, Larb (or Larp) is a very refreshing, light meal that I learned how to make in Thailand, back in 2003.
At Mais Quiet Zone, on Khao Lak beach.
Mai owned a small, low-key resort with her husband, Gerard. In February 2003 I went to Thailand for the first time, and one night sitting at a table for dinner, I asked Mai what she would recommend. "Larp", she said. "Larp, of Chiang Mai. You may like it". I loved it, and asked her to show me how to make it.
Larp is a chicken or pork-based dish (or fish, if you want) that is, of course, made with liberal amounts of lemongrass, cilantro, fish sauce, and the addition of some spicy peppers, to taste. The trick is to mince the chicken or pork well so that the spices permeate it.
Every time that I make this dish I remember Mai and thank her for showing me such a great recipe. Every time I make it tastes slightly different. It's an ongoing experiment. Though we're out of fresh cilantro and lemongrass until the boat gets here on the 17th, it tasted great, and was devoured at our station BBQ. And no penguins, seals, or dogs had to be sacrificed to make it.
Just added at left: Palmer residents Sara Russell, Dr. Shawn Vainio, Dan Simas, Karen Malesky, and Bede McCormick hard at work making cookies and prepping garlic at last Saturday's House Mouse.
29 August 2007
Nota Bene: On 9/11/2007, there will be a partial eclipse of the sun.
23 August 2007
must. get. sleep.
will. update. soon.
However, before I fall asleep, here's a picture that's a candidate for our official Palmer Station winter-over pic. We may do a re-shoot, as the mountains in the background didn't turn out the way we had envisioned. Goodnight.
14 August 2007
08 August 2007
A synopsis of current events:
- All of the octopi in the garden except one ( who I will from now on refer to as "Lovely Rita") have succumbed to whatever it is (anemone, disease, hunger, water temperature?) that suddenly started claiming them a few weeks back. I tried feeding them and rescued the biggest one from an anemone, but the attrition rate has been cruel.
- Lovely Rita hasn't taken food in five days...
- My hair is growing back pretty fast. But I might just shave it all off again. It's an easy thing to wake up, get out of bed just wash my face/bare scalp, brush my toofs, and walk out the door.
- I wake up at around 0330 most hard days/nights lately, then try to fall back to sleep. I'm only sleeping, or trying to sleep. Usually I succeed in falling back to sleep, but last night I didn't and all I wanted was a nap today.
- All day.
- TRAUMA TEAM: ANTARCTICA ~~~~Yesterday our excellent physician, Dr. Shawn Vainio, MD, demonstrated proper techniques for stitching wounds, and then we got to practice sewing up wounds inflicted upon a nice piece of mahi mahi. It was fascinating, and another thing that will help out for nursing school.
- LOST is still one of the best shows EVER, at least here at Palmer Station.
- I have been asked and have agreed to stay here until October. I thought that I would be leaving on the first boat, which arrives approximately 17 September, but I was asked to stay on to help. My contract runs through October anyway.
- So. I'll be here, (there,) and (everywhere) until I re-deploy.
05 August 2007
01 August 2007
This weekend the Antarctica 48 Hour Film Competition is scheduled to take place. My skills of filming/scheduling/editing will be tested. Here's an example of what I'm up against:
Pretty funny stuff.
And pardon the blogspot confusion. I'm changin' templates.
29 July 2007
Temperatures here in the winter are almost always below freezing (though currently it's a balmy 0.5C) but nothing too intolerable in comparison to Pole or McMurdo. Even when taking windchill into account I haven't experienced anything here like some of the temperatures at those stations, where it can get mind-numbingly and dangerously COLD. Mother Nature is serious trying to kill you at Pole, and without lots of warm layers and an abundance of caution, frostnip or bite is always waiting for you. Here, the greatest cold danger is falling out of one of the Zodiac boats into the sea, where the water temperature is actually slightly below freezing, and it feels like you're being stabbed with one million tiny knives. Panic quickly sets in, and you can't get out of the water fast enough.
One fact about Palmer Station and the Antarctic Peninsula in general is that the temperature has risen 3C over the last fifty years as a consequence of global climate change. The peninsula is truly becoming the "banana belt" of the continent. Here is a link to a good article about what's happening to the Marrs Piedmont glacier directly behind Palmer as a result of the increase in average yearly temperatures. As I look out of my office window some days to witness the glacier calving, I can't help but wonder if there will be any of it left in 100 years. Or if humanity will still be in Antarctica.
27 July 2007
Two months to the day, I've finally got this video put together. The goodwill trip from Palmer Station to the Ukrainian station Vernadsky. I have few skills of video composition or editing, the beauty and/or pain of which was doubly compounded considering that I:
A: Borrowed a friend's video camera. (Technical difficulties. Upload was horrific.)
B: Asked Dave Wiemer to be my cinematographer. (He's got a good eye, and he's a great actor. He was supposed to be in my movie SAFETY SLAPDOWN: A Rage of Safety, but he's in Alaska now, manicuring his property in preparation for Sara's arrival and their eventual wedding. I'd better get an invite Weimermuns!).
C: Thought about the context of the trip and actually wrote a speech for it. Which got translated into Ukrainian.
This video is not for everyone.
However, it is BENEFICIAL FOR ALL MANKIND.
As is this:
And this. Part II of the Vernadsky Trip. Teh Race to the Laurence M. Gould:
24 July 2007
Just a quick update this morning. The pipefitters here had to dig a meter deep trench through the permafrost near the boathouse to lay in some new piping, and someone had the great idea to place a time capsule in the trench to be opened sometime in the next 50 years. We took pictures of everyone in their work areas and of all the buildings here to be placed in the capsule, along with some other odds and ends (including a vial of someone's blood...not mine). Anyway, here's a slideshow, and the pics are also posted full-size on Picasa. Thanks to Phil Troska for taking all of the photos.
21 July 2007
13 July 2007
After the drill, Shawn and I cleaned out the jacuzzi, and when we went back into the aquarium later to put all of the cleaning stuff away, Phil, our electrician, mentioned to me that one of the four octopi was missing from one of the tourist tanks. After looking around for it, I came to the conclusion that it must've crawled out and went down the floor drain (octopi are very smart, and have been known to climb from tank to tank looking for food). Then I noticed that one of the anemones in the tank looked much fatter than it did in the early morning. The Trauma Team (myself and Shawn) went to work, and retrieved the largest octopus from the Belly of the Anemone using a pair of forceps and a bit of traction. The little fella had a very unlucky Friday the 13th, and I don't know if it will survive, but it's respirating and doesn't look much different than normal.
Oh. Did I mention that I shaved my head yesterday?