Saturday, April 05, 2014


And so we took to the boats!  Our rigging work requires us to go to some islands a few miles away to service weather equipment and radio repeaters, so we had to do some boat work.  Yesterday we finally had good enough weather to take a spin, check out the local area, get briefed on procedures and the like.

Soon after we left the dock, our trainer asked if anyone wanted to take the helm.  I volunteered and at last I was doing what I have dreamed about for more than a decade - I found myself steering a boat through the ice!  It doesn't sound like much, but after reading so many antarctic sailing stories, though we were not in a sailboat, I was very excited to finally be able to share this task, small as mine might be.  Palmer Station is small, there are no outside runs to be had.  I run on the treadmill and have been gazing longingly outwards to the islands across the sea.  We took to the boats and I found my freedom.  

We go slow through the brash ice, but are able to go full steam ahead when there's little ice chunks.  Sometimes they require weaving about, sometimes you can surf down the swell at the same time.  I love the task and steered for as long as I could morally steer before asking if someone else wanted to share in the task.  I came to realize, perhaps more than I ever have, that I love driving boats! 

Along the way, Antarctica did not disappoint.  We saw 50 gentoo penguins swimming at us, a huge leopard seal (we have reinforced tips of the stern inflatable tubes because these types of seals have taken to biting the zodiacs there), fur seals, carcasses of penguins that leopard seals have eaten.  The training offered many times that we relished in the fact that we were getting paid for this.  One of those amazing Antarctic days.
Palmer Station.
To be followed by another.  I was elected captain of the boat, three of us riggers and three others who came along for the ride out to Halfway Island to replace a wind anemometer.  Bashing our way through the brash ice, then weaving through the larger chunks, then more brash ice.  It eventually was snowing and visibility dropped at one point where we couldn't see land in any direction.  I love it.  They were all content to ride as passengers, I couldn't believe my luck.  Penguins again swimming to investigate us.  A huge leopard seal napping on an ice flow upon our return.

In my suit, I was ready for more, so I went out again with some others to see the sights.  We stopped by a few islands, the old Palmer Station, saw many many seals, a few penguins, and some glorious ice bergs.  All in all a fantastic few days of boating.  I love the sea, I love being on the helm.  And I'm happy to be here.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Arrival to Palmer Station!

Day 4, 2130 hours.

Day four, and thankfully not Day 3 anymore.  Overall, Day 3 was not too bad, but I’m glad it’s done.  Glad I have my body feeling normal again.  We are only miles from the first Antarctica islands.  On the same chart with Shackleton’s Elephant Island.  It’s now just around freezing.  Snow has started to fall, some have seen icebergs.  I have seen seals.  We are getting close.  We’ll be there tomorrow at 1100 hours. 

Day 3 had 6-10 foot swells with some twelve footers.  The wind peaked in the morning at 60 knots (I think while I was asleep or trying to sleep).  The rolling, the pitching…as I lay in my bunk, with each big roll my internal organs would shift and then my mattress would follow.  I spent the day reading, watching a movie, sleeping.  I got on the rowing and bike machines during Day 2 for a good bit, but when I tried the bike machine again yesterday, after a few turns, I thought, I need to get off this thing. 

Most of the time, I loose track of time.  Not sure what day of the week, what day of the month, what time.  I eat, sleep, read, watch, and experiment with some electronics. 

I am now on the station, having safely made it here.  It is nice to be here, finally.  I awoke early on the last day to see the islands of the Antarctic.  They are beautiful. 

So now I have been here a week.  We’ve been collecting our gear and equipment, scouting our towers and antennas, doing trainings, and settling into the routine. 

The ship, and the noise of it’s generators, finally left this morning.  I partook of the tradition of when the ship leaves and is northbound, people jump off the pier into the water.  It is cold!  But then…to the hot tub!  Yes, Palmer Station has a hot tub.  It felt excellent and a dunk and a tub seemed to be an excellent way to start the day.

So far, it’s been grey and windy for all but one day that I’ve been south of Chile.  Icebergs float by.  Seals are our neighbors.  Today on my day off, I worked on my electronics kit (making an infrared sensor to alert me if my roommate beat me to bed in a dark room).  Then ran on the treadmill, skied up and down the glacier in the “back yard.”  Learned a bit about soldering from the comms guy.  Cleaned the kitchen (our turn for the week).  That’s about it.  Got to hit the sack soon. 

The beautiful conical monipole antenna.  We call it a Coni Moni.

Bye Bye! 
Just before jumping in!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Approaching the Drake

21 March 2014
Drake Passage
Day 1, 1900 hours

Smooth “sailing” so far.  I’ve taken a meclizine for the first time to keep the green faced sea sickness at bay.  I do get sea sick if in rough conditions.  It is miserable, indeed, and I want to be able to enjoy this passage as much as possible.  We’ve been underway for around 7 hours or so, very little rocking.  Maybe 5 degrees to one side or the other, maybe less.  We’ve had our safety briefing and even got to get into one of the little orange rescue boats that was featured in the movie Captain Philips.  I really hope I never have to get in one of those. 

And so I wonder, will it get really rough, is this the calm before the storm, or will it be like this?  I try my best to keep tabs on my body, to stay healthy and keep all systems working properly.  Anything to avoid being seasick.  There are many factors: food – type and amount, exercise, hydration, sleep.  Got to stay functional.  So far so good.  A run yesterday and this morning, granola for breakfast, rice and veggies for lunch and dinner with a little cheerios for snack.  Not too much, not to little, no sweets.  A nap this afternoon, and lots of water.  So far so good.  Tomorrow may be another story…

Most folks hang in their bunks or the lounge or take a quick visit outside while we still can.  Right now some folks are watching Anchorman 2 in the lounge as others read or check their email.  Not being part of the ship’s crew, we don’t really have work to do, and so the most important messages from the Chief Mate are Don’t get hurt, Take your sea-sickness meds, and Don’t leave the toilet running!  Basically our job seems to be survival. 

Day 2, 1700 hours.

We’re now almost to the Drake Passage.  Much of the day was beautifully sunny and calm.  Continued rollers from behind, gently roll under, gently roll through, little motion on the ship.  No placemats needed in the galley.  Sunny outside.  A bunch of us gathered on an inflatable dinghy, some in tee-shirts, as if we were out for a little cruise in a small boat.   A group of mostly Antarctic veterans, many know how to make the most of good weather, and always in the back of our minds is that we’re headed for cold, ice, wind. 

Now, however, we are near the horn, the seas no longer only come from behind.  We have turned further south and the seas seem more confused than the quiet rollers from the stern.  Beautiful land masses on both sides now as we skirt as much south as we can through the southern end of Argentina.  The rolls are bigger, but mostly we’re pitching now, which is better than rolling.  The frequency is shorter, I imagine some are starting to feel queesy.  I can feel the accelerometer in my stomach and brain…measuring the G-forces both higher and lower than our normal 1.0.  I must be careful now.  Pay attention to the body.  Be on the lookout for the burps…, often my first sign.  Had an afternoon nap, feeling a little zonked.  But soon for dinner.  The endless stream of movies have taken a break, I imagine as people nap.  Today’s highlights included The Dark Knight and Office Space.  I busied myself by making a little sonar unit with my electronics kit.  It now lights one LED if it detects something less than 4 feet away. Two LEDs if it’s something less than 3 feet away, and three LEDs for less than 2 feet, and the all four if it’s under a foot.  Very entertaining for me.  Two burps. But still feeling alright.  Walking the corridors becomes a game.  Walk through without touching the side rails.  No V8 for me today.  Pictures come later.  Shipboard data allowance is 50MB a day.  Words for now. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bound for the Antarctic Peninsula

I sit now in the back of a 767 flying over South America for the first time.  I’ve made it through another overnight flight and got a relatively decent amount of sleep at times trying to wedge my body into the empty seat beside me and my own, feeling like a contortionist.  But at least it got me horizontal until some body part lost circulation.  I have not actually seen South America yet with my own eyes, but I will within an hour or so as we descend through the clouds.  I am flying to Santiago, Chile then on to Punta Arenas.  There I will board the research vessel, Laurence M. Gould ( for a voyage I have awaited for many, many years. 

Ever since reading of Shackleton’s voyage to the Ice, I’ve wanted to see for myself what the actual passage was like to get to the frozen continent.  I eventually started flying to Antarctica, many years after reading Endurance, but it always felt like cheating.  It was too easy, I hadn’t really earned my arrival – all I had to do was sit in the back of a relatively comfortable military cargo plane for 5.5 hours and presto! 

This time will still be greatly easier than in Shackleton’s day, but still I will I have to pass through the Drake Passage, across the stormiest and coldest ocean in the world.  I like to think of this passage on the research vessel as a scouting trip for when I sail – just like Shackleton and Amundsen – to the continent.  I’m not sure I actually will ever sail there, but it’s still worth scouting if only for the imagined adventure (for the actual misery might far outweigh the adventure.)

I am bound for Palmer Station, Antarctica (station population ranges from around 20-40) on a short Antenna Rigging contract.  I’ve been on the waitlist for this stint many times, and my number came up this year.  The station being short on real estate, the only way to get there is by ship.  I’ll be on the station for about 7 weeks and our tasking includes inspecting all the communications and scientific towers and antennas, and building a few towers for science groups/projects.  Palmer is heading into Autumn and when I get there, close to the equinox, we’ll have about equal hours of daylight and sunlight, but by the time I leave around mid May, we’ll only have about 7 hours of daylight and it’ll be getting colder.  The average temp while I’m down there will be around 30 degrees F.  Darker, and colder, I feel as though I’m going in the wrong direction after a long and cold New England winter that is just about to burst into Spring. 

Hark!  Land Ho!  A break in the clouds show the mountains of Chile, of South America!  In Santiago, I will rendezvous with other Antarctic folks including the two other Riggers who I will be working with.  We set sail in two days in the spirit of all Antarctic explorers who have crossed the waters before us.  One of the things I’ll need to do is find a certain statue in Punta Arenas and rub its toe which apparently gives good luck to those who travel across the Drake Passage to Antarctica.  Until then!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Downeast Maine

A little late, I know, but I now must make room for further adventures, and I've let things slide too long.

Downeast I headed last August in my little but strong boat named Daphne.  I sailed alone with Daphne, but had a cast of characters who managed to make their way onto the boat and into my head.  George, the autohelm, Frank, the self steering wind vane, Jimmy, the GPS.  We would converse when I wasn't talking with "Daph."  Of course, I also found Wilson on a small island...

The Downeast voyage was a test of the system.  Since buying Daphne a year before, I hadn't had a significant voyage but wanted to see how we of the system would do together.  Contrary to when my friends and I bought Crazy Horse, I did not have a specific voyage in mind when I bought Daphne.   I just knew she was the vessel I had been looking for and figured the voyages would present themselves in due time.  So going Downeast was the best place to go, close by.  With good winds, fog, strong currents, and tides, it would do.  And I wanted to know if I could handle the boat by myself.  This was a big question.  While having crew is preferable, I wanted to know if I had to depend on crew to move the boat.  

And so off on my voyage I went.  What followed was some of the best weeks I've ever had.  I loved my days.  Weather was king, and the first thing I would do upon opening my eyes would be to slide the hatch of the aft cabin open and look into the sky.  The sky would tell me what kind of day I would have.  Where there clouds, fog, sun, was the anemometer at the top of the mast spinning?  From there I would take a dip in true Outward Bound style, and then have my breakfast which usually consisted of yogurt, fruit and granola.  After breakfast I would make a plan for the day, looking where I wanted to get to and figuring out what was possible with the daylight, tides and winds and exploration opportunities on land and sea. 

Sailing alone means there are no one else's hands to do work when I'm at the helm, so it took an extra half an hour to plan through in my head and then ready every little thing so that I would be spared the little tasks when I needed to be doing other things.  On the list:

George on
Frank ready and working
Check fuel
Trumpet accessible (my fog horn)
Ladder up
Downwind aft life lines down
Check sunset time
Check tides/currents
Pee bottle handy
Instruments/radio on
Sunscreen on
Water handy
Snacks handy
Chart on deck
Log book on deck
Head door locked
Destination info handy
Nav plan ready
PFD w/ radio, PLB ready
Warm clothes accessible
Hatches closed
Sail plan ready w/ respect to weather conditions
Weather forecast written down

After completing the list I would sit below decks and meditate for five minutes to let my mind remind me of anything else I forgot, to take a few moments to remind myself of what I was doing, of the dangers of being forgetful or distracted.  

Around Schoodic Point, officially having made it to Downeast Maine, I was becalmed.  But I had time and so I let Billy Bob, the engine, take a rest.  I was content with bobbing about as I had options and didn't have a schedule I had to be on.  I like this type of sailing best, as I find it puts me most in tune with the wind and the water around me.  And the feeling of going from the bobbing about in the calms to a little steady push through the water is amazing.  

Sometimes I would have my little stereo going, sometimes I would sing loud and proud as I sailed, sometimes I would dance, sometimes I would talk to myself, lots of times I would talk to Daphne.  I had no schedule, I had no anchorage plan, I would just make the day fit the conditions.  I explored islands for hours on end either bushwhacking through the brush or running on the island roads.  I made it to 20 miles south of the Canadian boarder to magical Cross Island.  Endless exploration there was to be had.  Sometimes exploring islands, sometimes donning my wetsuit to explore the underwater world of rockweed.     

I love my little boat.  She took me where my soul seems to like it best.  Living with the moon, the sun, the wind, the waves, the islands.  I'll let the pics say the rest.  Thanks for reading.