March 4, 2006
Funded by the
National Science Foundation
Office of Polar Programs
Location: Latitude 58° 40.7' S, Longitude 63° 51.8' W
Air Temperature: 5.6°C
Battling Across the Drake
Midnight came quickly, and the beginning of another night watch aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer started off with a bang -- literally, as my alarm clock flew, mid-beep, across the room. Not yet adjusted to the night shift's 12am to 12pm schedule, I blearily swung myself out of the top bunk. Fighting to stay standing as the ship fiercely pitched and rolled, I managed to avoid the cascade of falling items from the medicine cabinet, and after the most exciting shower of my life, succeeded in making it down to the galley for a midnight breakfast. Tucked in the front of the vessel, the galley was rocking even more violently - indeed, breakfast was a hastily thrown together affair as the original entrée had been an early casualty of a previous wave set. As I tried to keep my plate and mug from sliding off the table, the view out the portholes was often obscured as one wave after another pounded into the side of the ship.
The day shift, looking a little green, handed over the watch at midnight with a brief explanation of the situation at hand. A low-pressure storm system had moved into the Drake Passage, and to avoid taking on its full brunt broadsides (as would have been the case with the original S-SE course), Captain Mike had instead turned the ship southwest, into the waves head-on. This would add some time to our voyage, but after numerous items were loosened on deck with the intense broadsides of the day before, it was a necessary move. While the head-on approach had decreased the Palmer's side to side rolling, the ship's end to end pitching motion intensified as we climbed up and over the mountains of water. The night shift's numbers were a little thin this evening, as two members are down for the count with seasickness. However, as the majority of our work doesn't begin until the drilling commences, everyone chipped in to pick up the slack. The night ticked slowly away as the Palmer inched (on the map at least!) forward in the face of strong 25-30 knot winds.
Around 0840 GMT, the swells began to subside somewhat, and the Palmer made a 90° turn back to the southeast. A general sense of relief settled in amongst those awake as the sun came out and the unaccustomed stomachs of the scientists began to return to normal. By 1200 GMT, the Palmer had rejoined its original route to the first drilling site off of Snow Hill Island. At our current rate we expect to reach the site in roughly 40 hours, but as the weather of the past few days has shown us, nothing in the Drake Passage is a certainty. As the day unfolds, spirits are high, buoyed by blue skies, calmer seas, and the promise of Antarctica ahead.
Joel Cubley (Middlebury College)
Weakening seas made the drillers' lives much easier as they made last preparations on the drill core apparatus. Photo by Nicole Evans
Janelle Homburg (Rice) and John Anderson (Rice) keeping an eye on things while on watch.
Photo by Joel Cubley
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