Note from Emily: I can't find Part 1...if and when I do, i'll post it here, but for now...Part 2.
Dispatches from then Ice-Year 2
Today is February 15, 2004 and Dispatches part 1 just hit cyberspace. I hope everyone enjoyed it. Things are winding down for the winter season and station closing is just around the corner. Can’t come soon enough for us winterovers.
First off I just scored a VCR bound for the Skua shack. It is a brand new Phillips that someone apparently bought in New Zealand because it has a New Zealand power plug on it, but didn’t realize it can work from 115 volts AC that we all have. Somebody didn’t read the tag on the bottom of the cabinet. All I got to do is change the cord.
The ice pier is exactly what it sounds like. The pier is about 750 feet by 300 feet and it is made here from scratch every few years using frozen seawater. It is anchored to land by a series of interlaced one-inch cables frozen within the ice. Stanchions are place in the ice to moor the vessel. Then holes are bored into the ice and seawater is pumped up from below and is allowed to freeze on the surface of the pier. Several layers are applied then a layer of fines (remember, fines are simply crushed stone here) is spread on top of it all to provide traction to wheeled vehicles and foot traffic.
The annual oil tanker has already come and gone and dropped off 7 million gallons of fuels for the station. They also stopped off Marble Point and dropped off 100,000 gallons there as well. Marble point is the jumping off point for scientist to go to the McMurdo Dry Valleys. This year they had no problems sailing right up to the pier here in town. The Coast Guard Ice breakers kept the channel open for traffic. There have been 2 Russian cruise ships dock at our pier as well letting tourist walk around our little town and spend their money. The Russian tour ships are converted old Russian icebreakers and the cheapest fare that I heard is fifteen thousand dollars US for the cruise that starts in New Zealand.
One tour boat that docked here offered a cruise that, in a 6-week period circumnavigated the entire Antarctic continent for $25,000 USD!
After the tour boat we had both USCG icebreakers, the Polar Star and the Polar Sea tied up. Then the American Tern finally found her way through he ice
The US flagged “American Tern”, a 556-foot long container ship tied up at McMurdo’s ice pier midday February 5th.
Just as important as the tanker is the cargo vessel. This years supply vessel delivered and removed 20 million pounds of materiel for the McMurdo station and the South Pole station. After new materiel is offloaded then the ship is reloaded with everything to go back to the states or other places for disposal. Over 400 shipping containers, called cans, were offloaded.
It takes all the trash of all descriptions including hazardous waste, used oil, food waste (refrigerated), scrap metal, scrap wood and building materials, even solid waste filtered from the waste water at the waste water treatment plant (called pressings). Everything is containerized, that can be, and loaded aboard the vessel.
Time is not wasted during this evolution. As the ship is docked the Coast Guard icebreakers keep the shipping channel open so the ship can depart. The seawater can freeze a couple of feet a day. The entire town goes to shift work providing 24-hour coverage in support of the offload. We up at the VMF went to three eight-hour shifts because we have the most personnel on station. I was on first shift 7am to 3:30pm with a half hour lunch. (HEY that sounds like normal hours.)
The US Navy NAVCHAPS I flew in with finally went to work with offload. They actually handle the containers and cargo off the ship and place it on our trucks, trailers, or loaders. Then handle our stuff heading north for the reload. 5 ½ days later, the American Tern was untied and departed the station. The supply ship only comes once a year. All other shipments are by air from New Zealand. ALL shipment to the South Pole is by LC-130 cargo planes only. Everything pole gets is flown in. So even though the boat is gone, there is a heavy load for the Air Force to fly down to Pole before Pole closes.
Frantic Movements, End of summer.
No sooner had the ship sailed from McMurdo Sound, flights were lined up to send everyone home, who was going. Remember, the population swelled to 1100 people when my flight arrived. Well, 900 have to leave. Station closing was scheduled for February 21st and station closing for South Pole was scheduled for February 15th. There was a C-141 flight on for just about every day, carrying no fewer than 130 people per flight out and bringing in the last of the winterovers. Also on every flight manifest were crates of fresh fruits and veggies (freshies), and mail for the winter crew.
The Post Office closed on February 18th, except for incoming mail. Anyone mailing stuff out had until then to get it done. The Coast Guard departed with their icebreakers and helicopters. After South Pole closed, Williams Field closed. Willy Field is named for the first Navy aviator who was lost his life in Antarctic service, and is the airfield where the LC-130 ski planes fly back and forth to Pole or field camps up on the Antarctic Plateau. Willy also supports the smaller Twin Otter ski planes that fly into closer field camps.
Everyday, fewer people were in town. This was especially noticeable at the galley, but not so much wandering around town when everyone had to be in work.
There was one flight delay for mechanical problems on February 16th, which shook everyone up who was leaving town. It also messes up the Air Forces flight schedule, which got back inline a coupled days later. However, last flight was delayed for weather at Pegasus Field for 2 days. Everyone was getting real tweaked up by the delay. The Galley didn’t plan to feed the extra 130 people, housing didn’t plan to house 130 people as some winter people already moved into their winter rooms, work centers had former workers drifting around and kinda being a pain in the ass. Departments like those who were in direct support of flight operations who were supposed to close down couldn’t, they too were waiting too. We at the Heavy shop was also waiting for Pegasus to shut down so we could get equipment back to town, and we also had vehicles to winterize that still needed to be used. Just a mess all around. The flight finally got in February 23rd and picked up the last of those departing.
VCR from Skua.
Oh that VCR from Skua, not so great at all. Besides having the wrong power cord attached to it, it also has wrong coax connectors to connect to the cable and television. It has what the industry calls F-81 connectors where in the US and here on station have our standard F-59 connector. Those whom didn’t know the cable TV connector has a specification, well it is known as an F-59 connector. So…from the Skua shack to the construction material scrap dumpster it goes. I got a 13 inch TV with a built in VCR anyways, that works fine.
Palmer at the Dock.
The Nathaniel B. Palmer docked at the ice pier after the American Tern sailed off and another visit from the Polar Star. The Nattie B. is a research vessel operated by the National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, and is picking up a scientific party for a cruise around the Antarctic continent. The scientists are coming in on last flight, which we all are waiting for.
They offered up tours of the research vessel on Sunday February 22nd for anyone who showed up at the appointed hour. It was quite interesting to tour the 308 foot ship as I have never been on an ocean going vessel before, much less a research ship. We were shown the labs, displays of the science they were doing, living quarters, the bridge, and all the usual stuff I suppose. Some of us wanted to see the inner workings of the ship but were denied.
My own room.
I suffered through my first roommate here and when I got rid of him, had the room to myself in dorm 203. This dorm has a communal, bathroom, which meant I had to traipse down the hall at night or find a pee bottle! Well, I couldn’t find a pee bottle so I traipsed down the hall. I was only there for 3 days when my winter room opened up dorm 208. I immediately moved in (stole a van from the shop!) that night after work. It is great. This week I got my computer working from my room on the network so I can do THIS nonsense from the comfort of my own room now. Cool!
February 23rd at 4:00pm we were let out of work to watch the last flight depart Pegasus and over fly town on the way north to Christchurch. It was something to see a C-141 buzz town at about 1000 feet up, and bank north and disappear over the horizon.
There is no doubt a certain feeling of isolation that comes over you knowing no other human being is going to come into town until WinFly at the end of August. Wildlife is gone since the sea ice sealed itself to the cold after the ship sailed. Commercial aviation don’t fly this far south, so you won’t even catch the lights from a high altitude jet passing overhead unheard. We can see polar orbiting satellites pass as a distant white speck in the darkness of the 24-hour night soon to come.
First sunset came on February 19th for 11 minutes around midnight. Now we race towards March 21 and the equinox, losing 24 minutes of daylight everyday, not the 2 or 3 minutes we hardly notice at home. Darkness is still a ways off though. The sun skirts the southern horizon and it stays pretty bright until mid March. I will let you know when the stars begin to shine.
TODAY is February 29, 2004. A cold wind is ripping through town but the sun is shining brightly through a few high wispy clouds. The wind has dropped the wind chill to –45F at noontime. Brrrrrr! I have my name in for the first Black Island traverse coming up. Want to get out there while it is still somewhat light and go back in the extreme darkness. That was so cool!! Until Next Time…
McMurdo Station, Antarctica