February 6, 2003
I'm standing on the upper deck of the Laurence Gould along with a couple
dozen other passengers, looking down at Palmer Station. The ship's two
5,000 diesel engines are throbbing. The station's entire staff are
assembled on the pier below to bid the ship adieu. Moments earlier old
friends and new acquaintances said their goodbyes with kisses, hugs and
handshakes. After a month on station I had my share of emotional
farewells and expressions of gratitude.
Depart from Palmer Station
The previous several days were incredibly hectic. The Gould returned
after a month-long scientific cruise along the Antarctic peninsula. For
disembarking researchers there was equipment and other cargo to unload.
For departing staff, there were offices and labs to vacate and luggage
to board. There was a big bash the night before ship's departure. A
welder in the maintenance department had built a huge steel oven for
roasting a suckling pig over a wood fire. The aroma of smoked pork
enveloped the station for an entire day. In honor of the roast, the send
off feast was dubbed the Luau. The meal also included roasted trout,
baked beans, sweet and sour meatballs, potato dumplings, cabbage salad
and pineapple upside down cake. Two men performed a humorous skit
dressed in grass skirts.
It has been an amazing four weeks stimulating all my senses. I was
astounded by sight of Donna Patterson handling her petrels, I heard the
underwater bang of icebergs cracking, and I smelled the sour stench of
elephant-seal wallows. There's a simplicity and timelessness of the
rock, ice and water of Antarctica. Yet if you watch and wait there is
change as well: glaciers calve, birds nest, leopard seals stalk
penguins. I discovered there's a new kind of change as well. Climate
change is making glaciers recede and penguin colonies fail. Fishermen
are poaching Chilean sea bass and, inadvertently, hooking giant petrels
and albatrosses. Penguin researcher Bill Fraser says he expects the
Adelies around Palmer Station to be gone within a decade. As I leave the
place that has been my home for a month I'm sad to think that if my
children ever visit, some the sights I experienced may be gone.
Now line handlers are casting off the thick lines securing the Gould to shore.
Suddenly about a dozen staff members begin stripping off their outer clothing,
revealing bathing suits underneath. As our ship departs they dive into the frigid
waters, a Palmer tradition whenever the ship leaves. Our return trip to Chile
will be the exact reverse of our arrival a little more than a month ago. We'll
sail past glacier-covered mountains in the Neumayer Channel and Gerlache Strait.
Then for two days we'll cross the infamous Drake Passage. Finally, we'll round
Cape Horn and steam into the Strait of Magellan, back to Punta Arenas.
Read the February 5th entry
Read the January 31st entry
Read the January 27th entry
Read the January 22nd entry
Read the January 17th entry
Read the January 14th entry
Read the January 13th entry
Read the January 9th entry
Read the December 29th entry
Read the December 23rd entry