Monday, September 30, 2013

And so it begins; the "AWWWWW!" has arrived

The weather has been schizophrenically alternating between "Do NOT go outside" and "Do NOT stay inside!" all week, and yesterday a pack of us took advantage of a beautiful day to wander into the backyard behind station, in search of something specific.

It didn't take us long to spot it; a mother Weddell seal, and her week-old pup.

The pup is fine; that's the remnants of the umbilical cord.

This gave me a chance to break out my newest toy, my Canon 100-400mm zoom lens.  It allowed me to take nice close photos while still remaining quite a long distance away.

We've been keeping track of this guy's progress with telescopes and binoculars; even in the week he's been born, it's amazing how quickly he's grown and how much smaller mom has gotten.  It's almost like she's deflating, and he's inflating.

We need Kayaks!

I think our station manager was hoping for some more useful/practical suggestions when she put up this idea board. Apparently, she hasn't met any of us before. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Calming down, finally.

8 degrees and calm yesterday morning, a welcome break after a few days of atrocious wind. Fog banks have been rolling though the area, blanketing the outer islands as the sea starts to freeze together once again. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Palmer Station Bar

The station has a long history of people forming emotional bonds with it, much more so than with the larger bases on the other side of the continent.  It's a result of the small size and high degrees of personal autonomy and a strong emphasis on individual responsibility; if you treat people well, they'll reward you in spades.  There's hundreds of tiny bits of graffiti artwork everywhere, and often in the most out-of-the-way places you can find decorations and accessories that obviously had extensive time and effort put into them.

But nowhere is this caring for the station more apparent than the Palmer Station Bar; a decade long labor of love.

Every crew, from every season, has manged to add a little bit to the bar, to put a bit of themselves into it for future generations of Palmer-ites to enjoy.  There's no signatures, no plaques  proclaiming who it was build and added by, and when.  People have put their work, often extraordinary amounts of work done outside of work hours, turning whatever scrap materials they can find into beautiful works of craftsmanship for nothing more than the future enjoyment of station workers.

The bar operates on vaugly open bar, partially BYOB system.  Individuals buy bottles of whatever they like in our little store, or bring it down with them on deployment and add it to our shelves of stock.  And while sometimes people label their bottles, politely indicating that they'd like to save it for themselves, most of the bottles on our shelves have no names.  They are for communal usage; the rule is to just make sure to replace what you've used. 

This applies to the piles of snacks under the bar as well.  Help yourself, just be nice enough to run down to the galley for more if you finish the last of something.

 The closer you look at the bar, the more detail work stands out. .

As you would expect, almost all of the decorations are about the ice, or the animals that live in the vicinity of station.

The top shelf has the silhouettes of a mountain range carved into it; if you move all the bottles and glasses out of the way, you realize that it's the mountain range that can be seen on the eastern horizon on a clear day.

The amount of elbow grease that was put into many of the backings is extraordinary. 

People usually work on these projects outside of work time; in years past when there was a budget for such things, we might occasionally get nice hardwoods sent down as part of the "Recreation Budget", which would invariably get used in things like this.  But times are leaner now, and now we make do with whatever nice wood we can salvage out of the scrap bins. The foot rest is some lengths of leftover copper plumbing pipe from a building renovation years ago.

Around the walls of the bar hang flags and tokens of appreciation from other stations that we have visited, or ships that have stopped by over the years. 

This portrait of the Faraday Station crew was gifted to us in 1985; it's almost as old as I am and will likely be here for the rest of the life of the station.

Some of the additions to the bar are more functional; these can crushers were put in last season by our carpenter, who made them out of some scrap wood and leftover bits from our floating dock project.

We still don't know what our contribution is going to be; it's too early in the season to know how things will play out, and what we'll have to work with.  But in some small way, we'll leave it nicer and more functional than when we found it.

Palmer Station Webcam

Just a heads-up to any reader that doesn't know, but Palmer does have a live webcam mounted on one of the radio towers in the back yard.  It updates every minute, 24 hours a day, and can be seen here:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Another beautiful day in paradise

Hrm, just a little bit breezy today.

I wonder if I'll be able to do any work outside today?

Uh . . . no.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Moving back in

The winter crew has moved off, we've moved in, the ship has left and now finally the place is settling down enough to properly write.

The trip down from PA on the LMG wasn't as bad as some years past, but it wasn't great.  The first day of the Drake was reasonably rough, and while the next two days weren't quite as bad, we ran into a lot more ice than we were expecting.

The LMG isn't technically an icebreaker; it's official classification is ice-strengthened.  It doesn't have the horsepower to plow through ice at speed, and it's not nearly as well armored as dedicated icebreakers like it's larger cousin, the Nathanial B. Palmer (The "Natty-B").  Endless fields of pancake ice such as this don't pose any threat to the ship, but it can't safely make more than 5 knots through it and it added a solid day to our transit.

Even after we got to station, we were thwarted again by the weather; sustained 50mph+ winds with gusts over 80mph forced us to stand off the station in deep water for another day, waiting for the winds to die down enough for us to tie up. 

As soon as we did tie up on a Thursday, it was almost non-stop work for everyone on station.  There was the crew changeover, the emergency team changeovers, and quite a number of milvans and cargo that had to be slung off the ship and onto station, and not much time with which to do it.  It was a busy and stressful few days, with almost three times the amount of people running around station that we're accustomed to (winter crew, summer crew, and the ships crew).

But finally, at 10am yesterday, they took off.  We un-tied the LMG and it took the winter-overs north, back to PA, and left us alone in peace and quiet.  We got another six inches of snow last night, and the temps are sill in the upper 20s; we won't start to lose most of this snow for another month or two.

Now we finally get to start settling in; doing the final bits of unpacking, getting back into the routine of station life.   I've already started shooting time-lapses of the ice flows moving around; until I get a chance to get them edited and uploaded, here's a panorama version of one of my favorite pictures that I've ever taken of Arthur Harbor.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back on the big orange thing

Made it down to PA after the usual haul through four different airports and airplanes, and almost zero sleep for the whole trip.  When I finally got to my hotel in PA last night I fell asleep almost before my face hit the pillow, so grateful was I to have someplace to sleep that was horizontal. 

We got issued our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear this morning, and in a few hours we'll move about the LMG, our home for the next week-ish.  Current plan is to depart PA mid-morning on Friday, and getting to station Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the weather.  If we're lucky, we get the "Drake Lake".  If we're not so lucky, we get . . . something else.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Once more unto the breach

Dear friends, once more...

(For someone who really doesn't like Shakespeare, I seem to quote him quite frequently)

Today finds me poised to re-enter the frozen world that I left behind six months ago; I type this from my hotel in Denver, where I've just been through day one of corporate orientation and training.  Getting back here was a very strange roller coaster ride of potential unemployment and uncertainty, and it's with no small amount of surprise and joy that I head back to Palmer Station for the 2013-2014 summer season. I fly tomorrow for Chile, and then board the LMG for a ride back down to the western Antarctic Peninsula. 

 It will be almost all the same crew from last season; out of all the support staff, only a few (2, by current count) are new to Palmer and none are new to the USAP.  As we all met at the various traveling choke-points, first bumping into each other on the shuttles from the airport and then at the hotel, I'm always astounded by how natural and instantly the friendships re-ignite.  It's like returning to summer camp after a long spell back in the real world; you're seeing all your old friends again, swapping stories about what you did in the off season, re-forming the bonds forged by many months crammed together in strange situations. 

We head back to a world free of many distractions and worries; there are no bills to pay, no traffic jams to fight with, no grocery shopping or cooking or daily commutes or the thousand other annoyances created by modern society.  A world where you're free to let most of the things that don't matter, truly not matter.

So I apologize if my writing is overly flowery and verbose; I'm sure to many people on the ice, it's just a job with some interesting benefits.  But for myself, and likely many of my work-mates, Palmer Station and the USAP is much more than that.  I'm eternally grateful for the friendships I've made down there, the lifestyle that it's given me, and the things I've seen and done.  I've bounced around the planet a fair bit, and been on every continent except Africa, but it's with a group of ~40 other misfits on a spit of land at the base of a glacier, 700 miles of treacherous seas away from the nearest civilization, that I've ever felt the most at home.

So back south we go.  Back to the penguins, the seals, the whales and the routine of station life.  Back to the Ice.