November 25, 2008
Adrift in the pack along the Phantom Coast
72°25'South by 115°01'West (morning position)
Ship's Program Quote for the Day- The Southern Half of the horizon was enlightened by the reflected rays of the ice... The clouds were of a perfect show whiteness and were difficult to distinguish from the ice hills... The edge of this immense icefield was composed of loose or broken ice so close packed together that nothing could enter it. It was indeed my opinion, as well as that of most on board that this ice extended quite to the pole or perhaps joins some land to which it had been fixed from creation.- Captain James Cook, 1774
Morning finds us still adrift in the pack ice. Our original intent was to get to Siple Island today to see our first Emperor Penguin rookery. However this morning, our goal has now changed to simply getting free of this dense pack ice, and heading back along our track until we get back to looser ice as 70 degrees South, where we hope to be able to make decent progress westward toward the Ross sea. The Phantom Coast is aptly named. It is known to be there, but few ever get close enough to see it by sea.
Our first order of business is to get free of the ice, particularly to get through the pressure ridge in front of us.
During the "night" (It never is really dark anymore) this crabeater seal became curious as to what we were on about. It would hang around the ship, then go off some distance, only to be overcome by its inquisitive nature, and it would return for another look at the action.
Here is a shot looking forward from the bow as we back up for a run at the ice. You can see the loose ice we have broken up in the foreground, and the ridge we are trying to break through isjust before the dark streak of open water just below the horizon. We will use five of our 6 engines to ram this ice several times before we break through.
Here we have just come to a stop after hitting the ice. You can see the large tilted block of ice just ahead of the ship, and the crack forming in the ice leading toward the open lead. The little black "dash" looking thing just to the right of where the crack meets the lead is our crabeater friend, who just can't leave the show.
As we make progress through the ice, our audience increases. Our crabeater seal is still with us, of course, but just beyond the crack you can see several Emperor penguins who popped out of the sea onto the ice to join in the fun of watching this strange metal animal struggle along.
Here you can see the penguins a little better. Keep in mind that these birds stand about 40 cm or better tall. You can see over a meter of ice above the water at the thickest point; there is at least twice that underwater. As I took this photo looking to starboard, we were finally pushing the large floe in front of the ship out of the way, so with the Emperors cheering us on, we headed back north.
The picture at left is of one of the navigation screens on the bridge. It shows the GPS track log of where we have been and where we are. You can see the squigly black track as it starts in the upper right, then it heads southwest, then turns southeast, then ends at a darker black blob, which is where we were just drifting with the ice. Then we got loose and were backtracking northeast when I took this shot.
We had to maneuver around a number of large icebergs as we backtracked. The light was not that great as we were on the edge of a low pressure system and it was overcast.
Underway again, we returned to the routine of life on the ship, if life on an icebreaker in pack ice can ever be described as routine. Our morning lecture from Kara was "Life in the Cold" teaching us how life in the Polar regions has adapted to the severe cold, such adaptations ranging from physiological differences that prevent tissue from freezing, to behavioral adaptations such as torpor to reduce metabolic energy expenditure. I think I and my fellow passengers were beginning to adapt torpor as our own strategy at times, but NEVER during a lecture!
David continued in his ongoing art education, teaching several fellow passengers how to draw ice forms realistically and convincingly. Our afternoon lecture from Bob was on "How the Kapitan Khlebnikov does its job" which was quite timely, as we had just seen a good demonstration during the morning. The bow is designed to ride up on the ice, and the weight of the ship then causes the ice to crack and buckle, and in good ice breaking conditions, the hull is designed to push the broken ice down and sideways under the adjacent ice. If the ice does not break from the weight of the ship, there is a huge casting near the keel called the "ice Knife" that is a vertical steel cutting edge which rams into the ice, hopefully starting a fracture in the ice. I had no doubt in my mind when the Ice Knife was at work...you felt the bow rise, and rise, and rise, then WHAM and the ship suddenly stopped for a moment (or longer). If the ice had cracked, the bow would then settle, and the ship would continue forward. And sometimes it would just slow down and sort of feel like it stalled when the ice pressure was too much. When the ice gets thicker than about a meter and a half, it becomes difficult for the ship to push the ice over or under the surrounding ice. Then we just had to sort of chip at the ice, and use the prop wash from 24,200 horsepower engine set to push the broken bits behind us.
[I will add some photos and figures here later on icebreaking]
2100 hours We get off the ship for a bit
70°56'South by 115°41'West
After dinner, the weather was getting much nicer, so it was decided to cure the rampant cabin fever by taking the helicopters out for some sightseeing! As our groups were called we would go to the muster area back by the lifeboats and wait our turn to go up on the helideck and board our flight. Here are some pictures from the ship of the helicopters, and some pictures from the helicopters in flight.
To be continued....