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Crossing the Antarctic Circle

Turned back by the ice in Crystal Sound

Marguerite Bay and Rothera Station

 

November 19, 2008

 

Ship's Program Quote of the Day-"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." - Helen Keller

 

0700 Hrs

Jonas made sure we would not miss the crossing of the circle by giving us an early wakeup call, so we had time to wake up, get a cup of coffee and head to the bridge.

 

0723 hrs Crossing the Antarctic Circle

6633'39"South by 6725'West

As we crossed this significant line of latitude, the Capitan and Officers of the bridge celebrated by sounding every horn the ship had, while many of us clustered around the port side radar console watching the latitude displayed there.  I thought I took a photo of the console as we crossed the circle, but I must have bobbled it, as there is nothing in my camera to commemorate the event.  The Antarctic circle is the northernmost latitude where the sun does not set at the Austral Summer (December) Solstice.

 

After crossing the Circle, and getting breakfast, most of us found a place to watch as we entered Crystal Sound.  Our plan for the day was to enter this sound between the northern end of Adelaide Island to the west and the Peninsula to the east, visiting Detaille Island in the morning and then proceed south to a narrow channel between Adelaide Island and Graham Land called "The Gullet".

 

 

 

Soon after entering the north part of the sound, we began to encounter sea ice and snowfall.  In this picture, you can see the snow beginning to stick to the deck near the bow.  I found it is very difficult to take pictures of sea ice from above and have them look like anything other than white.  The glare is significant, and the contrast is poor, but the human eye can see a lot of detail that the camera cannot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This photo was taken on the navigation bridge as we were navigating the ice in the sound.  The gentleman in the chair is the helmsman and he is searching for a good path through all the ice.  You will notice that everyone who is looking out the windows are wearing dark glasses.  The intensity of the light from the ice, even on a cloudy day can lead to snowblindness even when looking through a window, so sunglasses are a must have item.  Passengers were allowed on the bridge as long as we did not interfere with operations, and that we stayed on the port side of the helm.

 

 

 

This photo is a shot looking forward from the bridge toward the ice.  I've tried to push the contrast and exposure to pull some details out of the ice, particularly the iceberg that is in front of us surrounded by sea ice.  This is the sort fo thing the helmsman is keeping an eye out for at the same time he is looking for leads (openings) in the sea ice that we can maneuver through.  Radar is some help, but a steady eye is all important.  When snow kicks up into a blizzard, and creates a white out, sometimes the only thing to do is simply stop.

 

 

 

When the ice finally stalls the ship, it is common to back up and the push forward in a different spot, to try to work the heavier ice to the side, or even under the ice sheet.  In this photo, we have backed up some, and you can see a large piece of ice on the port side that we had run up against.  It appears quite a bit thicker than the other ice, so may have been a bit of a berg.  For a hour or so, we worked at this ice, and made some progress, but it was slow.

 

 

 

 

1030 Hrs  We turn back due to Ice

6637'South by 6727'West

 

This photo shows what a peek over the rail showed next to us.  Lots of big chunks of sea ice well over a meter thick imbedded in pack ice.  We probably could have battered our way through it, but it could take days to get to Marguerite Bay and Rothera Station this way, and we need to be there tomorrow. so it was decided to bypass Detaille Island and The Gullet and turn northwest to the Open Sea and cruise down the West side of Adelaide Island in order to make our schedule.

 

 

 

1200 hrs At Sea

6636'South by 6734'West

By our noon fix we were out of the ice and rounding the north end of Adelaide Island.  Since we were not going to be making any landings this day, we had time to kill on board, and I'm pretty sure from my notes that this is the day Norm Lasca gave us an informative and timely lecture on "Ice Forms We'll See in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean"

 

 

 

 

As we entered the open ocean, we lost the protection of the islands and we got acquainted with the moods of the Southern Ocean in the Screaming Sixties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I usually had to dog the portholes in our cabin down very tight in seas like this, because the spray hitting the front of the superstructure would force its way around the gasket, creating a mess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at the horizon in this shot.  The bow is so dark because it is in the shadow of the spray arching over it toward the bridge.  It was common for the bow spray to hit the flying bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About an hour after these pictures, we had about a 35 degree roll that dumped everything off the desk in our room including the phone and antislip mat.  None of it was large or breakable, (mostly some papers and books) but it had stayed put across the Drake.  John swears he saw it all jump up in the air before it took off sideways.  I slid around the cabin on the carpet on my butt chasing the stuff for several minutes.  Chasing unsecured objects and searching for what was rolling and thumping at night were popular open sea games for passengers.

 

Before I turned in this evening, I took some Quark stationary and wrote a letter to Linda so that I could post it from Rothera Station the next day, using some of the special British Antarctic Territory stamps the station Post Office sells.

 

November 19, 2008

 

Ship's Program Quote of the Day-"The land was gone, all but a little streak away off on the edge of the water, and down under us was just ocean, ocean, ocean - millions of miles of it, heaving and pitching and squirming, and white sprays blowing from the wave-tops, and only a few ships in sight...and before long there warn't no ships at all, and we had the sky and the ocean to ourselves, and the roomiest place I ever did see and the lonesomest." - Tom Sawyer Abroad, by Mark Twain

 

0630 hrs Wakeup Call-Marguerite Bay, just offshore of Rothera Station

6734'South by 6807' West

 

We eat breakfast early as we will start our Zodiac operation to Rothera Station at 0800 hrs, starting with groups one and two.  Since I'm in group two, its a quick bite and then grab my gear and get out on deck. 

 

 

 

 

The first thing of note is there is a light coating of snow on everything, and there is more snow in the offing from the appearance of the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Tim Lane knocking the snow off the Zodiacs as he prepares them to be launched.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0800 Hrs Zodiac Operation to Rothera Station begins

 

 

Here are our trusty Quark Staff in their blue parkas (and Jana from Antarctica New Zealand in the orange and black parka) getting ready to make the trip over to Rothera to check out a landing place for us. 

 

Below is a photograph of Rothera taken from the ship.  At the left, you can barely see the runway as a slight dark line in the snow.  Our landing is on the snow bank just below the runway.  In the middle, you can see some of the station buildings, and the Operations Tower.  To the right, you can see the antenna arrays, and just barely, the U.K. Union Flag.  The dark rectangular shape at the waterline is Biscoe Wharf, named after the RRS John Biscoe.  This is where research and supply vessels tie up.  You can just see a couple of rubber tired loaders on the wharf.  They were moving snow from around the station and dumping it off the wharf.

 

Rothera station is part of the British Antarctic Survey

Excerpt from the BAS-Rothera web site

"Station Personnel
    The station is open throughout the year, in the summer the population will peak at just over 100 people. In the winter months, April to mid October, a compliment of around 22 will be continuing the science work and looking after the station infrastructure.
    The work disciplines represented on the station include marine & terrestrial biologists, meteorologists, electronics engineers, dive officer, boating officer, chef, doctor, vehicle and generator mechanics, electricians, plumbers, builders, field assistants, communications managers and of course a station management team.
 

Science
Marine and Terrestrial Biology, Geology, Glaciology, Meteorology and Upper Atmospherics.
    Rothera is the principal BAS logistics centre for support of Antarctic field science. There is a 900m long crushed rock runway allowing an air link with South America and the Falkland Islands, the Biscoe Wharf provides safe mooring for ships.
    Once personnel and their equipment have arrived at Rothera they can be transported to field locations through the use of ski equipped de Haviland Twin Otter aircraft. Additionally a de Haviland Dash 7 aircraft is able to land on wheels at the blue ice runway known as Sky Blu. Field work is concentrated in the summer months from November through to March.
    Field science programmes currently being supported from the station include glacial retreat, ice coring for the study of atmospheric chemistry and climate as well as the collection of geological data to support computer modelling of the historic movement of ice sheets.
    There is also a considerable science programme being undertaken at the station itself."

 

Special Thanks for the landing steps!

Due to weather conditions and snow conditions, the kind folks at Rothera had to carve a landing place out of a snow bank for us.  Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of that excellent example of frozen improvisational civil engineering, but it made the landing effortless!  Click here for the "BAS SaltWater Support blog" picture of the effort  Thanks guys for the hours of hard hand work!

 

 

Once we got on shore, we were met by our guide for the morning, Crispin Day.  Crispin met us at the landing and gave us a quick orientation on what to expect during the tour, and some basic rules for the visit. 

He then divided us into groups of about 8 to be led by different escorts.  Crispin continued as our group's escort.

 

Behind Crispin is the airstrip, and beyond that you can see the base buildings, with the operations tower in the middle.

 

 

 

 

Here we have stopped in the middle of the runway for a little more information.  This runway is an important logistics link for most of the BAS stations and projects, taking incoming supply flights, supporting other stations, as well as supporting field camps directly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walk down the runway toward the Boat Shed (the Quonset hut style building) and the Biscoe Wharf.  The ship is in this direction, but the snow has gotten too heavy to see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then cut across from the runway to the service road that runs from the wharf and Boat Shed to the rest of the station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first stop is here, at Bonner Labs, which is the Marine science facility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once inside, the first place we visited was the aquaria.  Bonner is located near the wharf and boat shed, making transport distances short for live samples that have been acquired.  Birgit, the marine biologist at Rothera is showing us around the lab.  She is part of the wintering crew, and yes, they continue to do marine biology all year long at Rothera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of Bonner's local residents, a sea squirt and a brittle star (If I remember correctly...I'm a better electrical engineer than I am marine biologist)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few more shots around the aquarium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Aquarium, we saw a part of the facility where specimens can be prepared for storage and shipment in different ways, such as cryogenic storage.  I did not get any particularly good photos there, so you have to take my word for it.  They have very nice equipment that I would have loved to have had when I was doing environmental testing.

 

 

 

 

Since marine biology and diving go hand in hand, Bonner is also home to the divers and all of their support gear.  Here is our group listening raptly to a discussion on diving in the Antarctic, and some of its particular hazards, such as leopard seals, who can and have killed humans by drowning them.  We were told that after much research and deliberation on what the best defense against leopard seals a diver could carry, considering a number of weapon technologies, the final result was a somewhat modified mop handle.  (At least I remember it was a handle, pretty sure it was a mop).  One pokes the seal with it I assume.

 

 

 

 

Underwater science is not complete without underwater documentation of course, and here we are shown a variety of underwater housings and cameras. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a most important part of the dive support facilities at Bonner.  I managed to mess up my photo of the hyperbaric chamber, so I borrowed this picture from the British Antarctic Survey.  It is captioned on their site as follows:

"The recompression chamber at the Bonner Laboratory diving facility. A chamber is a necessary precaution against incidence of decompression sickness (the bends) when diving. Proximity to a chamber is especially important when working in remote environments."
If I recall correctly, there are only two other hyperbaric chambers in Antarctica, one at McMurdo(US), and the other at Casey(Aus).

 

 

We then left the warmth and shelter of Bonner Labs to trek on up the hill to the Operations building.  I have some confusion on the name of this building.  I know it has been called Bransfield House, but I think I was told the newest building that contains the new dining facilities, lounge, post office and such is called New Bransfield House, so until I get it straight in my mind, I'll just call this the Operations building.  Any reader who knows the right name, let me know.

 

You can see the tower on the far end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are three important buildings in this picture.  At right is the aforementioned "Operations" building with the tower at the far end. 

 

In the middle, with snow drifted against its gable is Fuchs house containing the field equipment stores and shops. 

 

To the left is Admirals House, which is the main accommodation building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here on the front of the Operations Building is the most welcome sign letting us know we are indeed not lost, but have found this fine outpost of the British Antarctic Survey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went inside, and then up to the operations tower.

 

 

 

Here is where all aircraft operations are coordinated and controlled from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view over the runway and toward the hangers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A discussion of the air charts, and base locations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our knowledgeable and entertaining Quark historian Bob Headland enjoying his day back on BAS stomping grounds, on the front deck of the operations building. 

 

Bob is an old FID from way back; he has been awarded the Polar Medal among other honors. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We've walked down the hill a bit and are getting ready to enter Fuchs House on the right.  You can see one of our yellow parka clad fellows stepping down into the hole where the door is.  On the left, is Admirals House (accomodations), and there is an entrance pit next to the black flag and the shovel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuchs is mostly dedicated to field equipment, but there are other things of import in this building.  The area Crispin is showing us in this photo is the "old Cold Stores".  There are several large coolers for perishable foods here, that are still used, even though the galley is some distance away now.  Notice the bundle of black flags standing by the door.  Guide flags are pretty ubiquitous in Antarctica, insurance against losing one's way in whiteouts.  The wind and extremes of weather wear them out pretty quickly too.

 

 

 

 

Another important facility in Fuchs is the Music Room.  Several station staff gather here to sing and play musical instruments, and frequently put on concerts for their fellows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

To the left is the ski shop

 

 

 

 

To the right is a climbing wall

 

 

 

These skills are survival skills in the field, not simply recreation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tall objects in the picture at left are Scott tents stored and ready to go to the field.  They have not changed much since the days of Captain Scott.

 

 

 

You can see a couple of plastic sledges stored in the rafters.  Just about every cubic centimeter of space is utilized in an Antarctic station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More gear stores... I liked the sign on the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some things, like the Scott Tent, have not changed much in Antarctic exploration.  Another of those is the Optimus Stove which is very similar to the Primus stove of a century ago.  They work in bitter cold, and are rugged, simple devices, but they do require maintenance.  Here in the sledging store you see lots of spare parts for keeping those vital heat makers going strong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then left Fuchs and went outside where Crispin showed us a Nansen sledge laden with a typical set of equipment and rations for one man.  I'm sorry that I did not remember how long the rations would last that one man, perhaps a reader can remind me of that.  Notice the Scott tent in the background.  Nansen sledges are yet another thing that has changed little.  The leather bindings can flex in the cold environment, and they are easy to repair in the field.  Originally designed to be pulled by dogs, or men, they are usually pulled by snow machine now.

 

 

Our tour now takes us to the New Bransfield House, which is just beyond the "Span" or vehicle store building that looks like a Quonset hut.  New Bransfield is the newest building on the station and it now serves as the main commons (dining room, bar, library and TV rooms).  These functions moved from the old Bransfield House, which now is mostly dedicated to operations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Bransfield has a nice changing room by the weatherlock where we were able to take off our flotation vests, parkas, rain pants and boots and walk around the facility in our stocking feet feeling like human beings for a change! 

 

Our first stop was the new library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obe and Alexandra enjoying the new library's open and light feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next we visited the new lounge area, once again a nice open feeling.  I was trying to avoid using flash inside, so the pictures are a little dark due to all the nice outside light coming in the windows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we were passing down the main corridor of New Bransfield House, we encountered the  winter over group photos.  I spotted this one and had to take a picture of it, because our esteemed Nigel Milius, Ornithologist for Quark is in the photo.  He had the most high pressure job in a winter over crew...he was the cook!  He is circled in the back row.  Nigel wintered over at Rothera two times, but I did not manage to spot the other photo in our haste, as time was beginning to run short.

 

 

We then headed to the new dining hall where there were some very delicious scones awaiting us, and some welcome coffee.  I then took the opportunity to run up to the Store and Post office where I bought a Rothera tee shirt and also purchased a British Antarctic Territories 65p stamp and posted my letter to Linda.  Mail from Rothera goes out on the supply flights.  It arrived in Mancos January 7th.  The cover is shown below.  Most of the wrinkling probably occurred in my parka on the trip from the ship to shore.

 

 

Reluctantly, we got back into our weather gear and flotation vests and left the comfortable environment of New Bransfield House.

 

As the weather is beginning to clear up, you can see the Kapitan Khlebnikov beyond the Zodiac landing.  We are standing at the runway activity warning sign.  If a plane is coming, the light will blink, and wise persons will take heed.

 

 

 

 

 

When we returned to the ship and after our lunch, we went to the lecture room where Crispin Day gave an interesting slide presentation on BAS and Rothera, followed by Boatman Jim Elliot presenting some of his videos he has made at Rothera.  You can find more of Jim's videos on You Tube if you search for videos made by icecoolwaterdevil .   I particularly like this one Southern Elephant Seal fancies a ride in a 'Humber' RIB 

 

Jim also maintains a blog called "BAS Saltwater support" and you can read his impression of our visit to Rothera here Saltwater Support Blog - Kapitan Khlebnikov

 

 

 

 

 

While Crispin and Jim gave their presentation to us, several of the winter-over crew came out to visit the KK, and take a tour of her.  Here they are all getting ready to head back to Rothera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our friends from BAS heading back to Rothera, bearing a donation of fresh fruit from the Kapitan Khlebnikov.

Thanks so much to the fine folks at Rothera Research Station for their hospitality!! 

I know we disrupted your work schedule for a couple of days at least, but we really appreciated it.

 

1708 hrs Heading into Bellinghausen Sea

6746'South by 6833'West

We now leave Marguerite Bay, heading south west past the southern tip of Adelaide Island and out to sea.  Here we leave the Antarctic Peninsula behind and head toward Peter I Island.  I'll leave you with a last look at Adelaide Island.

 

On to Peter I & Ice