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.