Wednesday, August 20, 2008

SNAFU!

As I've mentioned before, this station is resupplied by the LMG, the R/V Lawrence M Gould, a 230-foot icebreaker that ferries people and cargo to and from the station and Punta Aranus, Chile. It generally visits once a month or so, to bring in new people, take off other people, resupply us, and often putter around for a few weeks doing 'Science!' in the waters up and down the peninsula.

Well, the ship did arrive, as scheduled, on August 18th, at around 15:00. But we couldn't tie it up to the pier. This is as close as it would get (maybe 500 yards away);



I've tried to figure out the best way to explain this whole situation, and I've settled on a "Q & A" method. Whereas I propose the questions that you no doubt are asking, and then answer them.

Q: Why couldn't the LMG tie up?
A: Because there was a rope in the way.

Q: Huh?
A: Last week, one of the science teams decided to lay a 900-foot line out into the harbor, tied off to the peir. This line has, scattered along it's length, about 50 fishhooks and traps, with various sorts of bait on them (or something). The line is weighted at various points so that the hooks are at various depths. It stretches out to sea for most of it's length. Of course, they didn't ask the station manager, or boating coordinator if they could do this, or even tell anyone about it until the day the ship was going to try and dock.

Q: Okay, so why does this mean the ship can't dock?
A: As you can see from the first time-lapse video I posted, the ship has to reverse up to the dock. This would probably get this fishing line tangled in the ships propellers.

Q: Won't the massive props make mincemeat of the little fishing line?
A: It's not your average fishing like. It's braided high-strength nylon with a 1/8" steel core. Strong stuff. And while this line would in no way damage the propellers, it would get wrapped around the prop shafts, and could/would get ground into the shaft seals and bearings. Which is very, very bad.

Q: Why is that so bad?
A: Well firstly, ships are expensive. But also, we're 700 miles away from the nearest dry dock, across the roughest seas in the world, in the dead of winter. If something like that went wrong, a shaft seized or a seal gave way . . . it would be bad. Very bad. Thta isn't something you fix with a torque wrench and duct tape.

Q: Okay, so . . . why can't you pull the line out of the water?
A: Because within the last week, the wind has shifted to come out of the west/southwest, and blew a ton of sea ice and icebergs into the harbor. And then it got cold, we've been hovering between 5f and 10f most of the week. And the wind hasn't dropped below 35mph for a week, and at times has pushed 60mph. Long story short, the line is completely ice over. Like, four feet of ice.

Q: Can't you get in those zodiac boats and pull the line out from the other end?
A: The whole harbor has actually frozen solid. All the sea ice and icebergs that got blown in have solidified into mostly solid mass.

Q: Can't you get the ice out of the harbor somehow?
A: The LMG tried turning around and using it's propwash to break up the ice, but the wind just blows it all right back into the harbor.

Q: So what have you been doing?
A: Standing around and waiting, mostly.



The ship got in on the 18th. And for most of that day, it simply sat a few hundred feet off the pier, while communications went on between the ship's captain, engineer, our station manger, our boating coordinator, Denver HQ, the boats owners (Raytheon doesn't own the boat, it's leased from the owners), and the Prime Minister of Argentina. Okay, I lied about the last one. But everyone was talking to everyone, and therefor, nothing got accomplished. By the end of the day, the decision was made that the ship would pull out into deeper waters for the night, and we'd deal with it the next day.

The next day came (August 19th), and still, no one had much idea what the hell do to. A station meeting was called, and we all put our heads together to try and determine a course of action. Pulling the Gould up to the peir just isn't going to happen while this fishing line is in the way, and we have shit that needed to get off the boat, and people that needed to get on (science stuff). Including freshies. We ran out of lettuce and fresh veggies a few weeks ago, and have maybe two days worth of milk left.

To top it off, the weather took a turn for the worse. It stayed cold (7f) and windy (35mph sustained/50mph gusts), and added a little bit of snow. And by a little bit, I mean three feet. Literally. It started snowing at around 4am on the 19th and still hasn't stopped at the time of this writing (although it has lightened up some).

It is getting late, though. I'll continue this tomorrow with heroic tales of what we eventually did. (Hint: it involved rockets)

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