November 6, 1995
Location: Northern Bransfield Strait/South West Scotia Sea near the Drake Passage
It was a day of incredible contrasts. I woke to calm seas and sea of white and blue. The
brash ice made a mosaic of blue and white geometric patterns over the surface of the
calm sea water. What strikes you most is that the scene is awash in only two colors, the
blue of the sky and sea and the white of the ice and snow. These two colors blend to
create fascinating patterns of light and motion. Sitting on the deck watching the bergs
and ice is like being hypnotized by the flames of a crackling fire. The sparks which add
interest are the wildlife that flit into and out of this white world. The most common
visitors are birds. I haven't learned as of yet to identify these small creatures, but their
aerial dances are a joy to watch and their silent companionship in this otherwise
lonesome region is a blessing.
We saw about two dozen seals today. They are entertaining creatures. Some taking
protective stances against our orange monster of a ship invading their territory. These
seals sit up on their front flippers bobbing their heads toward the ship gesturing in a
strange and humorous way their displeasure with our presence. Others simply continue
to lay on their sides looking carefree as they catch a few rays in the springtime sun of
Antarctica. Despite a high temperature of 32 degrees at midday, the sun was very
bright and warming and if I were a seal, you would probably have found me on my own
private berg sunning myself as well. Occasionally we would encounter the fearful or
antisocial seal. These animals would quickly make their way as far away as possible
from us by sliding down the ice into the water and away to solitude.
From the perspective of the science team, crew and support staff on the ship, it was a
day to play tourist. People were constantly out on deck taking pictures and videos, and
mostly just talking about how beautiful this place is. Conversations varied from the
comical analysis of our seal friends, to more poetic discourses about the serenity and
beauty of this ice covered place.
For most of the day we crashed through fields of brash ice making our way toward open
water for the second test of the seismic streamer. It was the brash ice that provided us
with the brilliant scenery for the day, but it had also protected us from the seas and
wind. As we left the ice fields, the weather continued warm and sunny as we entered
open water and began to deploy the seismic streamer. It takes about two hours to let
out the 1200 meter length of the streamer from its station wrapped around a three meter
winch on the center of the aft deck. In this two hours, the ship travels at a speed of
about 2 knots. The sea helps drag the streamer off the winch and away from the boat.
At regular intervals, devices called levelers or "birds" are attached to the streamer. The
birds enable the ships computers to communicate with the streamer and allow the
scientists to position the streamer at a depth of about 40 feet below the surface.
Unfortunately a major change in weather and increasing large seas, reduced the
chances of doing any significant seismic surveying. We were back out on deck at 11:00
with winds of 30 knots, snow and swells of 8 to 10 feet. It took almost 2 hours to get all
the gear back on deck and secured. Everything that moves on deck has to be lashed
down so that it does not get washed off the deck in high seas, and to prevent things from
having free reign to crash about the deck.
It was a day of contrasts. A beautiful warm spring day followed by a night like a
Midwestern blizzard. Calm seas were replaced by crashing waves and swell. The last
thing that I saw as I headed down the hall to my bunk was:
Expect High Seas - Is your gear tied down?