25 May, 1992
TIME: 2230 hr
LAT: 59.69 S
LONG: 49.77 W
Have experienced things I have never even thought about. First, sailed through entire Straights of Magellan on the morning of 21/05/92; then entered the wildest ocean in the world, The Drakes Passage. This is an area approx 88 km, between tip of South America, Tiera del Fuego and Antarctic Peninsula.
During the day we entered the Drakes Passage, the world's roughest water. Past two times that the Palmer went through the Drake, it was smooth as glass; our luck was not as good, though nowhere as poor as it could have been. Seas are rated on the Beauford Scale from 1 to 17. In reality, a 12, hurricane level, is the highest it can go. we had a rather formidable 8; winds of approx 40 knots, 18' to 20' waves. It was not a pleasant experience! I'd guess 95% of those on board stayed horizontal except when the previous week's dinners were "coming to the surface." I was fortunate until late in the day when I had to go to the bridge to begin my ice observations. I lasted about 20 minutes before I had to make a decision of whether to go down five decks or spread breakfast all over the bridge. I opted for the former. Please note, all this sea sickness took place even though virtually everyone on board was sporting a "patch." I asked Captain Russell his cure for sea sickness. He said that he learned it from his "daddy" (Capt. Russell is a rather large, Cajun gentleman with a wonderful sense of humor). The captain said that the first time his "daddy" took him out to sea, he became ill. "Daddy" gave him a coffee cup into which he was to place the previous meal. Once captive in the cup, said contents were to be immediately drunk. That's right, Capt. Russell suggests drinking your own vomit. I don't think the captain has been sea sick since!!
Worked on iceberg watch from 0400 to 0800. Spotted S. Orkney Islands on radar. Worked with Vicky deploying acoustical sounder.That afternoon, spent a good chunk of time photographing icebergs. They are beautiful; at one time, as many as 70 on the screen and 35 within view! They are huge; 250' tall; please note that other 8/9 of iceberg is below that water line and anywhere from a block to 2.5 miles long and wide. They are truly unbelievable. Colors are spectacular; dozen shades of white, but it is blue-greens that make you appreciate the beauty displayed before you. Many icebergs are also worn down in designs that make them appears as sculptures.
At 1900 hrs, lights from the Russian icebreaker the Akademik Federov could be seen on the horizon. We were finally going to rendezvous with our Russian counterparts! As a team, with the much larger Federov (450') leading, we would move into the Weddell Sea and recover Ice Camp Weddell I.
By 1930 hrs, bridge became a beehive of activity with the captain, two mates, John and me (all this occured during our watch), ASA Project manager John Evans, NSF Rep Bernie Lateau and Chief Scientist Arnold Gordon. The Federov could be seen off in the distance. With the aid of three huge search lights, the Federov was located parked deep in the ice (floes' thickness about 1.5 meters).
At 1945 hrs, orders were given to clear the bridge. I made a dash for my cabin where I put on as much gear as possible. With camera in hand, I ran to the bow of the Palmer. There must have been 15 of us on the bow, most with cameras, waiting to be part of this historic rendezvous between the stately Federov and the new kid on the ice breaking block, the Nathaniel B. Palmer. The Federov was stopped dead in the water, her engine idle as we approached from the north. The sky was crystal clear and filled with constellations totally foreign to this novice Antarctic explorer from a different hemisphere! There was little or no wind and the temp was -30.35 degrees. The Federov, with her orange paint (same as the Palmer) and sodium vapor lights giving her an amber glow as the white plumes of steam billowed straight up in the still might's cold presented a magnificent sight while the ship lay locked in at least 7' of ice.
Captain Russell brought the Palmer in bow first on the starboard side of the Federov. He put her within 4" of the other ship; this caused the group of us standing on the bow to break out in cheers and give the captain a "15 thumbs-up." We waved to our Russian counterparts as we all stood in the cold. As frequently occurs, the plans were changed and the Palmer had to back up and approach from the starboard side. This entire process took another hour. This time, we cushioned the two ships with two large ice floes, each some 8' thick. Finally, after another 3/4 of an hr, the Federov hoisted, in a basket, 10 members of the staff (including the Captain, ice pilot, chief scientist, etc.) and deposited them on the deck of the Palmer to a large round of applause from those of us still standing in the freezing temperatures-not a person had left the area for we all realized the significance of this happening!!!
The Russians proceeded to the conference room where they, in conjunction with their American counterparts, would set the final plans for the recovery of Ice Camp Weddell I into motion. This scene and happening was probably one of the most exciting moments of my life. Two ships totally alone in the absolute middle of nowhere! WOW!!!!!
We then cleared the deck. I joined many of the other researchers in the computer room; in fact, I was waiting for computer time to write this letter to share with you the immediate excitement of this historic meeting deep in the Antarctic ice. This is going to sound like a lot of BS, but it is all true. As we talked and shared our feelings of the two ships meeting (about 2350 hrs), the unthinkable happened. The FIRE ALARM went off. As procedure has it, you are to run to your cabin, get your life preserver and your survival (Gumby) suite and meet at a designated point where roll call would be taken. As we exited the computer lab, thinking it was a drill, the horror struck home! The hall leading to the upper decks was filling rapidly with smoke and the ship's crew was gathering from around the ship with their fire fighting equipment. The call went out: "FIRE IN THE HOLE; FIRE IN THE BOW THRUSTER." Tension was high; but, we all rapidly filed to the meeting point. We were then told that there was a fire and that a decision would be made if we were to put on our survival suites and abandon ship. Fortunately, the Federov was still along side. Roll call revealed one science team member was missing, so searchers were sent to locate him. He was found, after about 10 minutes (which seemed like an eternity). We were then moved to another room closer to the life boats where we were told that the bow thruster had burned up, that there was no visible fire at this time, that the bottom four decks were filled with smoke and that a decision was being made as we spoke as to whether or not to abandon ship. The thought of going over board in the life boat in the dead of night at -31 degrees in the middle of the Weddell Sea was, I think, one of the most frightening feelings I have ever experienced. Thank God, the Federov was along side! I felt confident that I (we) would not die; but that I (we) was (were) very anxious. Thoughts of family filled my mind; thoughts of how we'd get home; thoughts of the personnel at Ice Camp Weddell I who are depending on us to recover them; thoughts of the research projects that these man and women scientists had in many instances spent much of their professional careers working on. After about 10 more minutes, word came from the bridge that the ship was secure; the bottom was being ventilated and we should stay in the conference room until the smoke was cleared. To make time pass more quickly, the ASA rep, Kevin, got a video we might watch. We had the choice of TWINS or BACKDRAFT. We unanimously chose BACKDRAFT. As we joked and watched the movie, it was obvious to one and all that we were SAFE and we were most thankful that the fire was out and all was under control again. By the time the movie was over (0210 hrs), the ALL CLEAR to return to our cabins had been sounded.
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