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10 March, 2000

Boating Two Course

Question 20: How many species of penguins are there?

We spent most of today getting things unpacked for the laboratory spaces that have been assigned to us and getting the tanks ready for organisms. The weather calmed down enough at noon for our group to go out and finish our schooling with the Boating Coordinator (BC).

The Boating Two course focuses on operating the boats, a fleet of Zodiacs with 45-55hp (horse power) engines. All members of our group got dressed in wet weather gear with rain pants, float coats, and heavy boots and trooped down to the large Mark V Zodiac that is assigned to us. We went through how to moor the boats at the station and on islands, how to operate the motors, motor trouble-shooting, radio protocol for divers in the water/weather checks/emergencies, tricks for better operation with high winds or surface ice, and wildlife to watch out for.

Then everyone took turns starting up the motor and taking the group out for a spin in Hero Inlet and Arthur Harbor. The wind beyond Gammage Point (where the station is situated) was whipping up choppy whitecaps so, although Boating Two usually includes it, we did not do a tour of the open boating area. Boats can operate only within a two-mile radius of the station. This area is determined primarily by where a search and rescue (SAR) team could reach boaters in distress in a reasonable amount of time. With water temperature here ranging a degree above or below freezing, a person in the water has approximately 12 minutes until serious hypothermia sets in. The boating range is not parcticularly limiting for the science groups operating in the area as it includes all the islands except the Outcast Islands (at the extreme lower left of the map). The weather currently is keeping everyone within sight of the station.

Other things we have to be aware of while boating are staying at least 200 meters away from glaciers and icebergs because of the risk of calving (chunks of ice falling off the glacier) or turtling (iceberg turning over). If we sight the local pod of killer whales, we must either pull up on an island or return to the station. We must also watch for leopard seals, which are large and curious. The BC warned us that if a leopard seal is in the water with penguins, the penguins will hop up on anything including a boat to get out of the water!

Boat use priority here goes first for SAR, then scientific use, then support work and finally recreation. During the highest use time during the summer season, the Boating Coordinator was keeping 18 Zodiacs in the water. Since then they have been breaking them down and storing them for the winter and will continue to do so until they reach the winter fleet of 3-4 boats. Currently there are 8 in use. Our group has a dedicated Zodiac as does SAR. The third winter boat will be for general-use work or recreation. Normally, the station staff (not scientists--we work whenever we are awake) has Sunday off. However, during the winter season, the first weekend of every month is a two-day weekend. We celebrated the first one tonight (last weekend was too busy to take time off), as well as a birthday. They brought out tablecloths, napkins and candlelight for the King Crab or Prime Rib. The birthday cake was a Baked Alaska. The food both here and on the boat is very good normally, but that is due to the skill of the cooks rather than the basic content. Tonight it was fancy food, though still served cafeteria style.

Answer 19: It is fall. The short change-over seasons (fall and spring) here have the most volatile weather. Storms blow up quickly and frequently. The temperature is hovering around freezing, giving us some rain, some sleet, some snow....but not lots of anything. The wind has been blowing from 10 to 60 knots, icebergs are actively melting and the glacier is actively calving.

Part of the Palmer Station fleet of Zodiacs.

Boating Coordinator Ross with our scientific group in the Zodiac.

Palmer Station vicinity.

Upper end of Hero Inlet.

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