90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
February 14th Entry
February 10th Entry
February 6th Entry
February 5th Entry
January 31st Entry
January 27th Entry
January 22nd Entry
January 17th Entry
January 14th Entry
January 13th Entry
January 9th Entry
December 29th Entry
December 23rd Entry

View images in a collection of Photo Galleries.
Watch video of penguins at play.

Antarctic Journal

January 9, 2003

Aboard the Laurence M. Gould in Drake Passage

Daniel Grossman
The bow of the ship
see more pictures
We board the Gould the night before departure so everyone will be ready to leave first thing. In the morning all the passengers are given a safety lecture. We try on our survival suits and get in a tiny, 44-person lifeboat that reminds me of the "yellow submarine," though it's orange. With no fanfare, the ship glides away from the dock. The Strait of Magellan where Punta Arenas is located looks like a broad river twenty miles across. We begin seeing wildlife soon after departing: petrels, albatrosses and sheerwaters. Some of them circle around the boat, perhaps looking for food kicked up in the wake.

There's a lot to see inside the ship. The Gould is 230 feet long and has seven levels, not including its "science mast," a tall tower holding weather monitoring and other instruments. The vessel was built in 1997 by North American Shipbuilding in Larose, Louisiana; specifically for scientific research in polar waters. It has a "wet lab" for for the soggiest experiments, such as research on live krill and a "hydrographic lab" for chemistry studies as well as cranes for hoisting scientific apparatus and decks designed for giving researchers access to the sea. The Gould is not technically an "ice breaker" but it is "ice strengthened" and can cut through up to three feet of solid sea ice. Captain Robert Verret, a native of Louisiana, operates the ship, with assistance from three mates: Alan Arrigoni, John Snyder and Jim. Except in
Daniel Grossman
Joe Zaborny
see more pictures
especially treacherous waters, when Captain Verret takes the helm, the three mates operate the "wheel house" or bridge. They have two kinds of radar with different ranges and a Ground Position System (GPS) screen that continuously plots their position with information from satellite signals. Joe Zaborny, a crew member in the engine room shows me the boat's two 2200 horsepower diesel engines.

We leave the strait for the southern Atlantic Ocean by late in the evening and a swell starts to kick up. Soon we round Cape Horn and are in the infamous Drake Passage. In the 1830s Charles Darwin sailed these same waters in the HMS Beagle. The 5-year voyage was the inspiration for On the Origin of the Species, where he explained his theory of evolution. Reportedly, Darwin was seasick most of the time. In the diary of his journey he wrote of the awful seas he encountered here. "The sight," he wrote of the waves breaking on the tip of South America, "is enough to make a landsman dream for a week abut death, peril and shipwreck." I am ready, with a medicinal patch to prevent sea sickness, which I had applied in the morning. As I walk around the ship I notice the circular ban-daid-like patches just behind the ear of a number of my shipmates. Before long, we hit 8-foot waves. The crew is unfazed by the rocking but my anti-seasickness patch isn't enough and I spend the night watching videos and hold down my dinner in my bunk.

Daniel Grossman
Neumayer Channel
see more pictures
The ship has been outfitted to accommodate extra passengers in the hold. Two great big shipping containers-the kind used to haul commerce on ships and train-beds, have been converted into bunk-rooms. That's where I've been assigned. There are six bunks in each one, which is a tight fit. Fortunately, the ship is not full, so there are only two passengers in each steel box. I'm told these bunks are the best place to be during a storm as they're right in the center of the ship's length and near the waterline (and thus don't move as much as others when the ship rolls). Still, sleeping in the basement of a storm-tossed ship inside a steel box takes some getting used to.

Daniel Grossman
Neumayer Channel
see more pictures
After a day the swell subsides and I feel better. We see our last real sunset for more than a month. The sky is deep crimson with horizontal bands of black clouds. On the third day, we reach the South Shetland Islands, one of the mountainous archipelagos between the Drake Passage and the Antarctic Peninsula. I watch our progress from the wheel house. A ship passes in the darkness but, mysteriously, fails to return our greeting. When the sky brightens we have reached the Gerlache Strait, a fjord-like channel between the Antarctic peninsula and the Palmer archipelago. Snow-capped mountains rise from the sea on either side of us, though only the bases can be seen beneath the clouds. We pass icebergs the size of small city blocks. Some have square sides and tops, like pieces of cake. Others are sculpted with arches, pointy peaks and crazy curves. These probably broke off an ice shelf somewhere hundreds of miles away and may have taken years to get here. There are also bands of ice chunks-pieces between softball- and sports-car-size-called brash ice. Brash ice forms when hunks of glaciers and icebergs "calve off" and explode into hundreds of bits.

The Gould noses into Neumayer Channel, a narrow barely a mile wide between Anvers Island and Wiencke Island. Anvers is one of the larger islands along the Antarctic Peninsula and it is completely covered by an ice cap. Mount Francis, towers almost 10,000 feet above the channel. Rounding a corner, the Gould approaches a spit of land, a tiny grey patch of rocks at the edge of the great glacier. We have arrived at Palmer Station.

In the Teacher Guide section, look for these related projects:

  •  Journal Jeopardy
  •  Antarctic Explorers

  • Read the December 29th entry
    Read the December 23rd entry