ANTARCTICA PART 3

 

 

Pure Miscellany, Cod Man, Geology Lesson, Snippets; Penguin Sighting, Sick as a Dog, Wu-Wu

 

HAPPY DAY!! HAPPY DAY! The mail arrived today. Two pallets full of it. There were a lot of happy people here today. And tomorrow we should see the results of 2 more pallets and another 20,000 pounds is at Christchurch waiting for us. Not sure how hard it would be to manage not getting anything from late February through late August—which is what the winter-overs do here. Even worse at the Pole.

Lucked out and was able to get my computer upgraded from 24 Meg RAM to 64. Sweet deal. (NOTE: just think, this is 2004, 5 years later and anything less than 512 Meg of RAM is considered not enough!) The computer guys took my case away and also installed some image editing software for me. Now I can do things with the images I pull down off the intranet.

It had to happen eventually so I guess sooner is better than later—I fell down today. Headed to lunch I took a shortcut down a little hill and slipped. Recovery was very rapid but I was caught in the act. This gal looks at me and I tell her she didn’t see anything; just me performing some Antarctic ice-walking tricks.

My roomie is busy decorating the room. I am amazed at how much stuff he has and seems like every day he gets more. So I told him he could start working on my side if he wanted to. He has a nice CD collection and I am enjoying going through it for new music. Took him all the ones I had and soon I will be bringing his into work for diversion.

As time goes on, the weather keeps getting warmer but the wind blows to beat all get out and it is cold. However, whenever the wind disappears it is almost warm out. Very nice and bright with the sun actually causing the skin to feel hot in its radiance.

The work pace slows a bit on the days we have the store closed so we are actually able to get caught up on all our paperwork. Yet the very next day it’s as if the levees breaks and people drown us with their requests for goods and services.

What I like during the day is to see the moon circling overhead and being to notice its change of shape as the days roll into one another. Since the moon never seems to set, as I assume the sun is relatively weak and never able to outshine it in the heavens, I enjoy looking for it in different parts of the sky during the passing of the day.

In an effort to enrich my knowledge of this area and its fauna (so to speak) I attended a lecture on the cod caught in these waters. It was given by the “Cod Man”, Art Devries, who has been coming down here since 1961!!! What a racket!! He’s spent 38 years studying fish here. What a narrow focus. When he tried to get conversational in his lecture he’d stumble, hem and haw. But when he got technical with words and equations that had us reeling (pun intended), he’d be on a roll.

The water under the Ross Ice Shelf at depths exceeding 500 meters is under tremendous pressures and does not freeze (one of the characteristics to keep things from freezing.) It actually does not freeze until it reaches –3.2 degrees Celsius.

As it passes under the ice shelf it rises to the surface and nucleates, forming ice crystals which then form sub-floor ice under the normal surface ice that exists. It attaches itself to the surface ice and increases the ice depth by a considerable amount.

When the scientists fish here they pull up their lines to find them full of attached rime ice down at the 30-60 meter level. Further from McMurdo, the ice forms up to a level of 160 meters. The mystery to be solved is how the fish can take in this water, which is cold enough to form ice crystals, through its gills yet somehow they do not freeze solid.

In experiments, the scientists would take some of these fish and when their serum is cooled and the fish returned to water they’d flash freeze. Yet if their serum was warmed and the fish returned to the water and the water slowly cooled to below freezing, they’d not freeze. So something in the fish’s serum reacts to temperature and this is the mystery—what is in the fish’s serum and the DNA. Somehow I imagine there will be years and years’ worth more study on this. To read more about this, check out this article that goes into detail about the scientist who’s devoted most of his life to researching this fish.

Today is the last day the sun sets. It does so at about 1 AM and rises again at 2. Tomorrow it stops setting. Imagine, one hour difference per day! From now on the sun will circle overhead in a slightly tilted angle (higher in the east than the west) through the skies, all the while gradually increasing in height until December 21st at which time the tilt will shift to the west and it will eventually set sometime in February.

Geology Lesson

 
In the evening I went to a lecture about the divorce of Gondwanaland and Antarctica. Quite good as usually the Wednesday night lectures tend to be very dry and technical, geared to the community scientists. But I went anyway.

During the mid-Cretaceous period, three plates, the Phoenix, the Pacific, and the Antarctic, began moving such that it caused land masses to shift. Antarctica started heading south and New Zealand and Australia started separating.

At about the 105 million year point there was some crustal extension and rifting. This caused the south island of NZ to get stretched apart and made wider. By the late Cretaceous period (85 MYA) the sea floor spread and subsidence occurred. At the 70 MYA point a new rift system was formed in New Zealand and began stretching the islands apart.

One of the projects going on now at Cape Roberts is to drill down through the ocean into the sea floor to discover exactly how New Zealand and Antarctica separated as the above info is merely very educated guesses. One of the things the scientists want to determine is if the soil they dig up is oceanic or land based.

The lecture was made interesting by the presentation skills of the presenter—a New Zealand Doctor of Geology.

Leaving the lecture, I realized I still have not adapted to having to go hunting for my sunglasses so late at night. Strange.

Snippets of Info

 
A McMurdo factoid: whenever I go to the galley to eat, my clothes smell like greasy onion soup for hours afterwards. I thought maybe it was some sort of strange body odor but then I grabbed the clothes to smell them and that’s when I discovered this little nugget. And I am not the only one it happens to (as I thought it may have been from the material the clothes were made of. Others noticed the same thing.)

Some more observations about life here: I’ve mentioned it before but after a month you realize it all the more: there is absolutely NO greenery here. Nada. Zilch. No plant life. No trees. No shrubs. No leaves. No insects. This continent is barren. Devoid of life except underwater life and the occasional penguin or seal that pops up to say, HI!

One really notices it especially when viewing news on TV and there are flowers, trees, etc. in the background. It can be depressing after a while if one is not prepared for the shock of it.

Today is the Halloween party and everyone is scrambling to find stuff to make their costumes from. When I went back to the dorm I pretty much decided I was not going. I really had no desire to go and felt it was somewhat silly. Plus it will be loud, crowded, and full of drunks.

In the hallway, preparing to go to the festivities I was able to see a guy dressed up with a figure of a sheep attached to his front. I asked him if he was dressing as a Kiwi. This other guy had built a kayak that he strapped to his waist. It came complete with beer holders. Elvis showed up, too.

A young lady summed it up well when we were discussing going to party after party: “All parties tend to run into one another with the same music, the same people, the same drunks, the same wigs and goofy outfits that somehow these folks think they need to wear.” No matter what the reason for the party, people put on these goofy outfits and act stupidly. WHY! Shouldn’t they be tired of it by now? Isn’t it boring yet?”

The Penguin Sighting

 
Took a trip to Scott Base after work to see if my pictures had arrived. No such luck so I dropped off a couple more rolls and bought the Geological survey map I was looking for.

On returning to Mac Town, my afternoon took a different turn than what I had intended. What I had meant to do was rest a bit but upon leaving Bldg 155, I ran into a guy who told me his wife had advised him she’d seen a penguin out on the road to the runway. So I decided right then that this was an opportunity not to be missed. Since she was a shuttle driver and due back soon I ran to the room and got my camera gear and warmer clothes before hopping on the shuttle out to the runway.

All morning long I’d been watching this storm moving in but it looked like there was still time to make it out to the runway before it hit. Early in the AM it was behind Mt Discovery and now it was just in front of it. However, by 3 PM, when my little penguin hunting escapade was at an end, it was almost on top of us.

Made it to the runway with no penguin in sight. We decided to walk back to town from the runway in hopes of spotting it at a slower walking pace. It was a beautiful afternoon for strolling and we enjoyed just listening to our shoes crunch the snow. Occasionally we’d stop and let the silence surround us. Then from the far distance (about one mile) we’d hear the sound of the huge power generators for the station.

All of a sudden I heard a squawking sound, pivoted quickly and spotted the Adelie penguin! He was just standing there doing an imitation of the robot on the old TV series Lost in Space. Then he’d fall on his belly and begin moving pretty quickly. At first I thought he’d popped back into the water as I imagined this long crack in the sea ice where he’d come up from.

Then I set off after him, going off the trail, all the time hoping I’d not fuck up and step into some crevasse hidden by snow or fall into a pressure ridge. The area was not marked off as prohibited—I’m not THAT stupid. But you never know what lurks under the snow. The sun was not out but I still had sunglasses on for the glare. Even they did not help the strange feeling of not knowing where my feet were. It was almost as if I was suffering terrestrial vertigo. One step it’d level, the next would be down and the one after that a rise up. Made for strange walking.

Got about as close as 25 yards and was getting my camera out (it was inside my parka to keep it from freezing) when Mr. Adelie decided to do his stomach slide again It was here that I realized he was using his flippers to paddle along on top of the ice. How unusual! And the little bugger was quick, too. I gave up the chase and went back to the road to be picked up by these guys heading to the station. But not before I captured some long distance shots.

One thing is certain—I was not dressed for long outdoor exposures as my feet got very cold walking on the ice road. It’s bizarre to think about the fact that underneath all that ice I was walking on was several hundred feet of very cold water! However, the ice color was a beautiful light blue.

The following season I had a chance to take another trip to see penguins. I was invited to go along with some friends to check out the area around the Pegasus Runway for emperor penguins that were spotted there earlier in the week.

We took one of the new Ford six-pack flat bed, 4 wheel drive, V-8 pick ’em ups. What a blast. The new trucks are amazingly quiet considering we were going on an unimproved snowpacked road.

Yep, we got to see two of the penguins, too. Way cool looking birds. We all got downwind of them and spent an hour taking pictures and chatting amongst ourselves about how neat it was to be able to get out and do this. We were able to get as close as 15 feet to them and then they started waddling away. Everyone had a good time. Not sure where these penguins were headed or what they used as a food source since open water was miles away. Incredible feats of evolutionary survival skills make these amazing birds.

Bitten by the Crud Bug

 
It snowed all night and we are in condition 2 again. Damn, this sure is better than all the sunshine we’d been having.

I got mail!! 6 packages!! Amazing how people’s moods are so much better since that one airplane made it in Friday night with mail. Life is good again.

I’ve been hearing comments that today was coldest and windiest day so far this season. Not sure I agree because I think it was worse when I first got here. But it is still cold, though!

However, my attitude is, that while I am in Antarctica, it better live up to its name and have all this bad weather I keep hearing about. None of this wimpy, pansy-ass nice sunny weather. Of course, I do not want bad weather all the time as I want to be able to see some sights here! J

Started giving some thought as to what I want to do for New Year’s. So far I have two ideas: one is to spend New Years on top of Observation Hill and the other is to do so at the top of Castle Rock. Ob Hill, owing to its proximity, might be fun since it undoubtedly will be more crowded so I’ll have to pack a snack and a book and climb it well before anyone else so I can stake out my spot.

Just when I thought I was getting better and could breathe properly, I get knocked down by a vicious little cold. They call it the crud here. I woke up with a bit of a sore throat and within two hours I was sneezing and hacking up a storm. A full fledged, knock you on your ass cold.

Decided to stick it out until early afternoon. When I walked back from lunch I noticed the temperature was 10 degrees. 10 minutes later when I went to my room the clouds moved in and the wind picked up considerably. Goes to show how quickly weather changes here. I know it does the same in the states but never with such frequency.

I couldn’t handle it anymore so finally at 130 I went back to the room. Since my roomie was gone to the Pole (he left yesterday) I had the room to myself,.. It was nice. I took a two hour nap and did some reading and listening to music.

Got a great line from one of my new books, “The Worst journey in the World”, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard where he starts with, “Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised.” What a great quote!! Or this one, “Take it all in all, I do not believe anyone on earth has a worse time than an emperor penguin.”

Norbert Wu

 
Saw Norbert Wu give a presentation on diving in the Antarctic. The hall was PACKED!! I doubt any more people could have been squeezed into the galley. After listening to him and seeing his photography, I understood why there were so many people.

Norbert is a world renowned underwater diver and does work for all sorts of agencies including PBS and National Geographic. Got to see shots he’d taken of penguins shooting through the water leaving vortexes of air bubbles in their wake. No one knows why they do this as they are fully capable of cruising at 25 MPH without leaving a wake. Wu suspects they are showing off to the humans. Also saw images of sunlight filtering through the edge of the ice pack that were magnificent.

After watching his images it is evident that man is truly an ungainly animal when filmed within the context of sea life.

Station Pecking Order, Random Thoughts, Outer Space, Aerial Wildlife, Two Parties and a Hike

 
Maybe it’s time now to get the lowdown on some of the different jobs here on station.

I may have written earlier about the difficulty in getting experienced trades people. That is true. I am not sure why it is so difficult as they are paid quite well for their skills. It could be the demand for their abilities is much higher in the states. Or it could be the misperception that many of those jobs require outdoor work, which is not true. Even last year when I was checking the job vacancies, the trades were always trying to hire whereas the other jobs were all filled.

There definitely is a pecking order (if you will.) First you have the support side, then the operational side, and lastly the scientific side.

On the support side are the General Assistants who are the jacks of all trades and get to do all sorts of jobs. Whereas they are at the bottom of the pay scale (about $350 a week), they have the greatest possibility for getting into different job fields by helping out and possibly coming back in future years in that specialty. Then there are the janitors, also at the bottom of the pay scale, but like GAs, are given flexibility in their schedules to allow them to volunteer for fire department, fuels, dive tender, lab assistant, etc. Lastly we have the Dining assistants, also at the bottom of the money bucket but having less opportunities as their schedules are really screwed up. If they are lucky enough to get an odd schedule like 9 PM to 7 AM, then they can volunteer for a couple of hours at other jobs at a time when all those folks are just coming to work.

Support people are also the fire department, skilled trades, info sys folks, personnel/finance/recreation folks, materials people and cargo handlers with the last two among the lesser paid of the group.

Moving on to the operational folks you have hazardous/safety/waste, medical, air traffic controllers, air terminal operations, helicopter and twin otter pilots and crew, and so on. They get paid relatively well for their skills.

The science side is where we find the doctors, scientists, divers, and people that work in the Crary Labs. They make REALLY good money . (except interns or grantees)

So there you have it. The fiefdom at Mac Town.

Here it is, the 4th of November already. My, how time flies! It happened again. As I was leaving the Coffee Bar late at night I was expecting dusk or something similar but walked right into a brilliant sun. Immediate eye squinting ensued, I stop dead in tracks and put on sunglasses. Bizarre! I guess after a while this will get fairly ordinary but I am not sure it ever can. No matter what time you go out, the sun is high up in the sky maybe not necessarily “high” but the closest analogy I can come up with is to take a plate, stand it on its end, and spin it. There will be a point where the plate will begin to stop its horizontal spin and its orbit will decay. Just short of completely stopping its spinning, it reaches a spin cycle that causes wobbling. There! At that point, it’s ondulations resemble the sun here, higher near mid-day and lower near what we normally expect late night.

The very next day: BIG STORM! BIG FLAKES! BIG WIND!

Very placid and peaceful. All sound is muffled.

We were out at the outdoor warehouses pulling stuff and studying the feasibility of inserting a fire truck inside one of those warehouses for the winter when all of a sudden nature gave notice that we were not in Kansas anymore Toto! The wind picked up considerably and blew shit all over the place. Incredible! I thought to myself, “Now THIS is more like the Antarctica I keep reading about!”

Random Thoughts

 
The past several days have been very blustery. With these kinds of winds, lack of attention to detail can treble one’s workload. For example, some fuel folks took lots of our barrels from under our netting and were going to get them washed out for use as fuel containers for the camps but when they palletized them in their staging area, they forgot to tie them down. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened next. When we when out there to get some gas cylinders for another customer we noticed the barrels were blown all over creation. What a pain in the ass that will be for the those fuelies to round them up. I can almost imagine this cowboy scene where, instead of cattle, a bunch of guys are roaming around attempting to corral wayward barrels on the high plains of Mac Town.

So far I’ve heard people commenting on how this might be a cold year like three years ago when not all the snow melted off the hills. I somehow doubt it as the temps are reasonably high enough (and to me, unseasonably high) that much snow is melting especially the snow on the hillsides exposed to the dark rocks and stones.

In reading “The Worst Journey In The World” the weather we’re having now is a piece of cake compared to other years. The latest weather pattern of high winds and cloudy skies finally broke on the 8th but it did not go down without a fight. Early in the morning we had peak winds of 66 mph and at that speed sand grains and blowing snow crystals sting the hell out of your face.

On those days when things are slow and I am approaching boredom, I sometimes wonder just how many people have come here to Antarctica since the beginning of time. Surely it can not be much more than 150,000. 200,000 tops. Although there are over 1000 people here at McMurdo every year, the station has only been operational for a few decades. Assuming 1300 people per year for 40 years, we’d still be at 52,000. Then there are the Italian, Argentinian, Russian, Brazilian, Kiwi, etc. bases but their populations measure in the low dozens for the most part. Given the fact that since the mid 1800s this continent would go decades without seeing a visitor, it is very conceivable that since man discovered Antarctica, the total number of human beings can be that low. Of course, I am talking strictly of the continent and Ross Island for if we were to include the sub-Antarctic islands that number would increase as many of these locations harbored seal and whale camps.

As for little old Mac Town, here are some numbers for you:

–Average age of people working on the Ice: 37 years

–Number of workers too young to legally drink in the U.S.: 16

–Age of the youngest person on the Ice: 18 years

–Number of workers who qualify for senior citizen discounts: 6

–Age of the oldest person on the Ice: 72 years (back in 1999/2000)

–Percent of South Pole employees on the Ice for the first time: 56

–Number of first-year employees at McMurdo Station: 234

–Longest someone currently on the Ice has been here: 22 seasons (again, back in 1999/2000)

People

–Total Antarctic population last summer: 3,687 people

–Number of acres per person in Antarctica last summer: 938,297

–Number of ice-free acres per person: 18,765

–Ratio of men to women on the Ice this season: 1.8 to 1

–Best odds for guys: Palmer station with 13 women to 18 men

–Best odds for gals: South Pole with 105 men to 44 women

–Odds at McMurdo: Almost 2 to 1, with 414 men to 237 women

Fuel Consumption

–Fuel carried on tanker headed to McMurdo this month: 6.5 million gallons.

–Fuel to be unloaded at Marble Point: 35,000 to 40,000 gal.

–Fuel for McMurdo: 4 million gal.

–Fuel use of Kodiak snowblowers 425 horsepower engines while working: 18 gal. per hour.

–Fuel use of the R/V Gould and Palmer in open water: 4,000 gal. per hour and 6,000 gal. per hour.

–Palmer when breaking ice: up to 10,000 gal. per hour.

–Fuel use by the Polar Star while breaking sea ice on the way into McMurdo this year: 30,000 gal. per mile.

Antarctica’s Links to Outer Space

 
This continent is a place of constant amazement. Lots of countries do research here; among them, Russia. Speaking to some folks who have been here a while they mention that the Russians used to come through and trade for all sorts of stuff. Conditions at their camps are abysmal and they often had to stay there for 2 years at a stretch. Considering where their camp is, that could only be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Vostok is the site where the lowest temperature in the world was recorded ( -89.2 C (-128.6 F) on the July 21st 1983) and where the highest wind speeds were ever measured. Sitting on a plateau at over 11000 feet in elevation does not help the situation considering there are no natural barriers to stop the wind from just whipping through the place.

Given the remoteness of their locations and the spartan manner in which they survive, I wonder how they maintain their sanity. Our guys at the Pole are limited to one shower every 3 or 4 days. The guys at Vostok have no such luxury so as soon as they arrive here they begin to thaw out and BOY HOWDY are they ripe. Folks have to stand upwind of them.

Interested in just what sort of conditions they live in, I searched the web and was not able to find much of anything but I did find this study on Lake Vostok that was very interesting. It deals with the absolute purity of a lake under the ice that, since it has suffered basically no contamination from humankind in millennia, may prove to be a good test bed for life in outer space.

Lake Vostok may teach us about Europa (Taken from various websites.)

Four kilometers (2.4 miles) beneath the ice of Antarctica lies a body of water the size of Lake Ontario. Isolated from light and from the surface, Lake Vostok might be inhabited by microbes unlike anything known to science.

Similarly, Lake Vostok, may be our terrestrial equivalent to Jupiter’s moons Europa and Callisto which may hold liquid water beneath a thick, icy crust. Lake Vostok may hold clues to whether life could survive in a dark extraterrestrial ocean, and may allow scientists to practice looking for it.

Researchers have already drilled to within roughly 120 meters (400 feet) of the lake, but have stopped in order to avoid contaminating it. A National Science Foundation study now recommends that investigation of the lake proceed, using new procedures to gather samples without introducing surface organisms.

An essential approach to astrobiology is the study of Earth analogues — places on Earth that resemble other planets. Earth analogues will help astrobiologists find the limits of life, the range of conditions life can survive. Knowing these limits will, in turn, point scientists to where to look for life elsewhere in the solar system. And Earth analogues afford the opportunity to rehearse planetary protection techniques to prevent cross-contamination.

Lake Vostok was discovered in the 1970s by radio-echo soundings and later confirmed by radar mapping from spacecraft. The true nature and scale of the lake, however, has only become clear within the last few years.

Water below the ice, which has been cut off from the outside world for hundreds of thousands of years, may have a unique chemical composition. There may also be an active tectonic rift below the lake, which may be warming its waters. Or sediments at the lake bottom may contain a record of ancient climate conditions.

Robin E. Bell, a geophysicist and a co-editor of the report, says it “illustrates the emerging importance of the lake for understanding the processes which may have triggered the evolutionary explosion on earth and perhaps on other planets as well as deciphering the geologic history of Antarctica.”

To read more about Vostok, check out the Science Page. Then, if you want, read this one, too.

Aerial Wildlife

 
Take a rat. Make it as big as a cat. Have it smart as the smartest dog. Give it feathers. What do you have? A skua!

Skua birds have been described as large rats with wings, and will swoop down to take food right out of people’s hands.

They are amazingly intelligent and resourceful birds that take up residence on our little island during the summer months. Fiercely defensive, they will continually dive bomb you if you happen to stumble into their nesting area. At Palmer station, people walk around with sticks held over their heads as the birds tend to do aerial attacks and the sticks divert the bird’s attention from the stick holder’s head to the stick.

I remember it well. November 11 was when I saw my first bird here on Antarctica. They are a sure sign that the weather is warming up. Although not totally anachronistic, to look up into the sky after 6 weeks and see a bird soaring overhead tended to throw me off a bit as I was not used to seeing any avian life forms.

Technically speaking, SKUA is the common name for members of the bird genus Catharacta, the largest of the subfamily Stercorariinae, of the gull family, Laridae; in Britain the name also applies to birds of the genus Stercorarius, called jaegers (see JAEGER) in the New World. The number of skua species is uncertain; there are five kinds, two or more of which may be the same species. All are large, brown, gull-like birds, fiercely predatory, 53 to 58 cm (21 to 23 in) long, with powerful hooked bills. Only the great skua, C. skua, nests in the northern hemisphere, in western arctic Eurasia, spending the entire non-breeding season at sea, as far south as northern South America. The other skuas nest on coasts and islands from southern South America to Antarctica.

Two species of skuas breed on islands and lands in the Southern Ocean: the south polar skua (Catharacta maccormicki) which breeds on the Antarctic Continent, and the brown skua (Catharacta lonnbergi), which breeds further north on sub-Antarctic islands. The south polar skua is the smaller of the two species and the ones we have here.

South polar skuas arrive at their breeding colonies in late October to mid-December. The eggs hatch in late December to late January after an incubation period of 24-34 days. I’ve been told they nest on the other side of Ob Hill. I shall go looking for them soon.

During the summer months, south polar skuas prey heavily on eggs and young of Adélie penguins near the coast, while other skuas feed solely on fish and krill. South polar skuas will even follow ships at sea. All of them get the hell out of dodge after the breeding season.

Although both species are winter visitors to Australia, and the South Polar Skua has been recorded as far north as Greenland and the Aleutian Islands. The south polar skua is the more sociable of the two skuas and gather in small groups to bathe in freshwater ponds. They nest socially and only rarely nest colonially.

Groups of breeding skuas nest in close association with their prey. The nest sites are a shallow depression on the ground and are generally found in sheltered locations on rocky outcrops, moss covered cliff sides or valley floors.

When you realize how far away we are from the nearest land mass, you begin to gain an appreciation for how far these birds actually come.

Two parties and a hike

 
As my seventh “weekend” approached, the day before, day of and day after were filled with all manner of activities and events. These days were preceded by lots of snow and wind – another gentle reminder of where we were.

I’ll start with the Supply party held at Gallagher’s. The theme was “hats” and anyone wearing a hat into the party was eligible for a drawing for a day off. Then there was a contest for the best made and innovative hat. People showed up in all sorts of strange contraptions they called a hat. I was not unduly impressed but the winner got to go on a boondoggle later on in the year. They’d either get to go to Happy Camper School, or to Room With a View – a trip out to the base camp at Erebus, or some other adventure.

Several of the supervisors contributed to the bar fund and the first couple of drinks were free for all. Things went well until one guy threw $100 into the pot and then the shit-faced behaviors began. Last I heard folks were doing shots and competing with one another to see who could get the drunkest. Guys were puking, gals were puking, people were passing out. Amazing how your body tries to tell you to stop doing something stupid yet you insist on forcing it to do those things. As it turns out, the next day dawned miserably on those “in-duh-viduals.”

I just can not see spending that kind of my own money contributing to the bad habits of others. For that short period of time you are the leech’s best friend but as soon as the money runs out…..goodbye transient drunken friends. So I wonder what this guy’s motivations were. As a supervisor I’d think he’d not want his folks to get too drunk but maybe there’s a false sense of security in knowing there are really no cars to drive nor police to nail you for public drunkenness.

On to the FMC party. At first I was tempted not to go for reasons I’ve listed previously. But then I thought, “what the hell, I may never be here again and I could just as easily be pleasantly surprised.” So I rousted my ass out of my room and headed out there about 830. The theme was Outer Space and I was hoping the theme would make for an interesting evening.

What I found was that many folks were not dressed up plus I saw very little of the goofy wigs and “men in women’s clothing” weirdnesses I’d seen at other parties. One thing they did have was a “Tin Man” that the sheet metal shop had made. This was really a nice piece of work as the Tin Man doubled as an anatomically correct margarita pouring device. Unfortunately, as the evening wore on, our Tin Man became dysfunctional and his “tool” wasn’t quite “up” to the task thereby no longer pouring out “stiff” drinks. But before that happened someone was able to capture a picture of the Tin Man and a lady getting herself a drink during one of his more potent moments.

As to why folks weren’t dressed up I have no clue. Could it be they are tired of the whole thing or was the Outer Space theme too weird for everyone? I’ll never know.

The music being too bizarre, I made tracks for the outdoors where I had my first close encounter with a skua.

Next to the FMC shop was a Milvan into which was dragged one of the biggest and fanciest meat smokers I’ve seen. This beast was a project of two winter-overs’ undertaking and had more bells and whistles on it than a computer. Outside the Milvan was a regular barbecue grille over which were being cooked to perfection more of the Antarctic cod I’ve grown to like. This was a wonderful piece of fish. It was not as greasy as the last bit I had at the carp shop and it definitely was not as charcoal tasting since the fire didn’t have to be so hot due to the elevated temperatures we’ve been experiencing relative to last month.

The skua was quite the bird. Absolutely fearless. Aggressive. Confident in its ability to abscond with any goodies that befell its path. So we humored it by “accidentally” dropping pieces of frozen cod, chicken bones, bits of steak. He ate it all up. Could have been a “she” but I am not an ornithologist. Of course, our actions violated the Antarctic Treaty but…..

On to Sunday where the day was replete with productive activity. I finally figured out where the ceramics shop was located so I checked it out in order to see how complicated it would be to make a few items. It looked like it was not too bad so I’ll just have to see if I will enjoy it enough.

I also found the greenhouse. I walked in and was immediately blinded by the humidity clouding up my sunglasses. Lots of different plants are growing in there from tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc. All of it hydroponically. They even have a couple of hammocks in there for relaxation! So of course I lay down in one. I will have to return there, that’s for sure.

Did a fair bit of walking around, too. I strolled on down to the road that leads to the ice runway and located the aquarium. Did some playing with the fishes, checked out the huge cod swimming around in large tanks, and observed many other species of underwater life brought up for study.

Upon leaving the aquarium I walked back towards the station hoping to catch the runway shuttle so that I could get unobstructed views of the Royal Society Range. The driver picked me up and after wandering around a bit out there I realized the views had even more shit in the way that was not visible from the station. So I gave up and walked the three miles back to Mac Town. A nice walk that looked much closer than it actually was. Good exercise, though.

All was not lost in that little escapade because I now know where to go, when to go, and how to go for fabulous photos opportunities if the weather is good. And all the more reason to winter over for the sunsets and sunrises!

Later on in the evening, an aircraft came in with about 20 passengers. As Ivan the Terra Bus was returning to station, his rear axle sunk in the transition area (the zone where the ice forms up on the beach) and he got seriously stuck. Took two pieces of heavy machinery to get him out. The passengers were quite surprised at the event and I wonder how many thought they were going to go swimming?
 

 
 
Continue reading Part 4 here.

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