The Long Trip Home
by Doug Nowacek -- June 17th, 2009
After an amazingly successful cruise, thoughts turned to homes, friends and families – though we had many miles to travel to get to them.
We left Palmer Station at 1000 on the 7th of June, being entertained by the antics of the Station team as we pulled away…many of them took the big plunge into the icy waters in what seems to be somewhat of a right of passage for those staying the winter. We had a beautiful trip through the Neumeyer Channel with virtually no wind, bits of ice, a few mammal and bird sightings, and mostly reflecting on our incredible experience.
The Drake Passage, however, was not quite as calm with high seas leaving little time or stomach for reflection. Our highest wind gust was 64 knots and for a couple days of our 4-day crossing the seas were 8-10 meters! The seas calmed once we made it to the Le Maire Strait and then out onto the Argentine shelf. The Le Maire Strait (see picture) is located between Isla de los Estados and the extreme tip of Tierra del Fuego and is named for Jacob Le Maire who, with Willem Schouten, discovered the strait while searching for a navigation link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; soon thereafter they discovered Cape Horn. We were not as fortunate on the return either in terms of wildlife sightings on the shelf and along the Argentine coast. In April we were lucky enough to have seen many marine mammals and thousands of sea birds, but the return trip was much less eventful though I was lucky enough to be on the bridge when a small group of Commerson’s dolphins made a quick visit to the ship’s bow wave.
- This map shows the very southern tips of Chile and Argentina, including the Strait of Le Maire to the right and Cape Horn in the center.
During the transit there was still lots of activity on the ship, primarily packing, data backups, and preparations for shipping and travel. There was also a good bit of reminiscing about our adventure as well as speculation about our ‘re-entry’ into our normal lives. For example, a list of ‘Won’t it be strange to…’ sprouted up on one of the message boards near the lab – some of those little things you don’t normally think about but indeed will seem strange after 2 months on the ice. Some of the things on the list included ‘see trees’, ‘walk down a street and see buildings’, ‘drive a car’, and ‘flush a normal toilet’ (flushing a toilet on the ship amounts to opening a valve and waiting for the water to get pumped up from somewhere in the ship – often a long process). So, with anticipation of making landfall in South America, we entered the Straits of Magellan the evening of the 10th and were at the dock in Punta Arenas early on the 11th. I learned later that Jack, my 6 year old son, ran to the computer that morning, looked up our ship track and then ran into the bedroom yelling ‘Mom, Mom – they’re at the dock!!’ excitement was building in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Though we all wished to be teleported home, we still had some work to wrap up the cruise and many thanks to pass along to our amazing ship and science crews. As soon as we hit the dock, the unloading began, with our gear going either to the warehouse for the next cruise, off to Beaufort or back to those that loaned us things (thanks Jeff Condiotty and Mike Jech in particular!). Also early in the unloading process were a rag-tag bunch of scientists – all of us! We couldn’t wait to find a coffee shop, some fresh fruits and veggies (the ‘freshies’ ran out sometime in mid-May!), and the ability to walk in a straight line for more than the length of the ship! During our days in port, Ari, Dave and I got to take a tour of the RPSC warehouse – think of it as kinda like a trip to Home Depot but for field science geeks…lots of cool equipment and ‘toys’ to think about how to use in the future.
Most importantly, our end of cruise days in Punta Arenas gave us a chance to thank the Captain and Crew of the LM Gould for their uncanny abilities to put us where we needed to be no matter the conditions and to make the ship serve as an excellent science platform. Other enormous thanks go to the science support crew from RPSC – their impressive energy, assistance, persistence and skills were a huge part of our success. Finally, from me, one final thanks to our science team, your efforts and enthusiasm are appreciated more than I can say – a special thanks to Ari whose quiet skills, energy and knowledge of our study area and animals were totally invaluable and in many ways responsible for our success.
As I am finishing this note, we are descending into the New Bern airport, where two little boys are anxiously waiting for their dad to get home to go fishing, surfing, sand castle building, etc – waiting with their incredible mom who I can’t begin to thank enough for her patience and strength holding down the fort during our incredible but long expedition