April 20, 2005
Funded by the
National Science Foundation
Office of Polar Programs
Location: 64 16.639 S, 61.54.865 W
Temperature: 0 C
Wind Chill: N/A
Port Wind: 10-50 knots
Dynamic Positioning and Other Excursions
It is past midnight. The drilling was to continue through the night. All of a sudden winds are gusting, the ice-covered waters of Lapeyrere Bay now resemble a boiling pot. As the ship is heaving there is almost 400 meters of pipe strung between the ship and the ocean floor. The drillers are working on the deck and high up on the rig's rooster box. The Palmer's thrusters are roaring trying to keep the ship on site. On the bridge, in the labs, and in the drill shack eyes are fixed at the screen showing the position of the ship. The winds are getting stronger and the icon on the dynamic positioning system screen is moving fast from the center of the bull's-eye toward the danger zone. There is a commotion on the boat. The radio announces that we are coasting off the target. The driller on the rooster box of the rig is ordered to come down. Then, there is a grinding and scraping noise. The pipes are being dragged across the ocean floor. The screen shows an excursion of about 140 m from the target. The drift occurred over just a few minutes. Everybody remained calm in spite of the overwhelming gravity of the situation. The dynamic positioning system resumed control. Like all good stories, this one has a happy ending. Everybody was safe. The pipes have been pulled on deck one last time and amazingly there is almost no evidence of the accident. I have obviously tried to end the account of the SHALDRIL saga a bit too prematurely.
The rest of the night was short and restless. I woke up as the ship was leaving the bay. It was sunny and calm again, the snowdrift on the decks being the only reminder of the last night's storm. I got dressed hastily and armed with not one but two cameras to run up to the bridge. There, I found many of my likeminded fellow passengers already in awe with some of the most spectacular scenery that the Antarctic Peninsula has to offer. We passed the steep cliffs of the Schollaert Channel, ice-capped mountain crests of the Arctowski peninsula, and advanced toward Plata Passage, Nansen and Enterprise Islands. We were followed by Adelie penguins, crabeater and leopard seals. Humpbacks came again in great numbers and gave a dazzling performance, breaching high up in the air before an appreciative audience aboard the Palmer.
The day was crowned by another excursion. This one was planned, but not less exciting. At sunset, and what a spectacular sunset it was, zodiacs were lowered to take us to an abandoned whaling station at Foyn Harbor. It was hard for me to contain my delight. Anywhere I looked there was a breathtaking sight. On the starboard side there was a stunning bright moon, low on the horizon, which would cause the least romantic of us to weep. On the port side there was a large iceberg glistening under the setting sun. We approached it and for the first time I could appreciate its true size and the might. We circled an abandoned half-sunken whaling boat. It has been sitting there hidden and undisturbed since 1922. We landed on a small island where the whaling station once stood. Two wooden rescue boats peek under the snow inviting us to imagine the life on a whaling station a century ago. As we were leaving the island a curious seal swam to the zodiac to wish us one last farewell.
We are heading north tonight, toward Drake Passage.
Steep cliffs and snow capped peaks on the way to Enterprise Islands
On the way to the whaling station
David Heroy, Fred Weaver, Katie Kirsch (photo courtesy of Kristy Milliken)
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