It is rare to not have an event to celebrate here at Palmer Station. This week is, as usual, busy with celebrations and gaiety. A fellow scientist added another notch to his birthday belt and as is custom, requested a special dinner. Dan asked the cooks to mimic offerings from an Italian restaurant he frequents at home including noodles alfredo, a red meat sauce and he contributed hand made crepes! Happy Birthday Dan and keep the years coming, wherever they find you!
Of course we did not overlook the 17th of March – St. Patrick’s Day! Sure and begorra I danced a little jig and reel whilst no one was looking. Overtly, I wore green, as did many others. Fittingly, lunch was corned beef and veggies (the fresh cabbage supply was long ago exhausted). The morning dive with Chuck and Jason was not exactly ideal as leprechauns warned them off both the first and second dive site choices. Huh?? OK, standard operating procedure before diving is to do a reconnaissance of the area for leopard seals. We shorten it to “lep re-con”. Get it?? ;-) The third site was not exactly charmed either, as once our intrepid lads were in the water, a seal magically appeared and the divers were summoned out of the water. Obviously Chuck and Jason were not experiencing any luck of the Irish. Palmer was blessed with calm winds for the entire day allowing an afternoon dive, which I tended and captained the zodiac. A few rays of sunshine escaped from the clouds shining onto a seal-free dive site and productive collecting. Our kind of pot o’gold.
Two other celebrations this week will happen on Saturday. 20 March is the Equinox where the length of the night (“nox”) equals (“equi”) the length of the day. This is due to the way Earth orients on its axis and twice a year (spring and fall) the earth is essentially sitting up straight, neither leaning toward nor away from the sun. As such, at a particular time of day, the sun will be directly vertical overhead on the equator. According to a NASA reference, the exact time the sun will be in that position is 1:32 Palmer time, which is 11:32 UAB time. Here in Antarctica and all throughout the southern hemisphere, our event is the autumnal equinox, leading into the fall season and increasingly shortening days. By contrast, in Alabama and the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox will be celebrated for its promise of trading snow shovels for garden spades and longer, warmer days of spring.
The other celebration on 20 March will be to honor the forty-second ‘birthday’ of Palmer Station. On that day in 1968 two buildings on a rocky outcropping on the southern end of Anvers Island were officially commissioned. Presiding over the event was Rear Admiral J. L. Abbot, Jr., U. S. Naval Support Force, Antarctica, and Mr. Philip Smith, National Science Foundation representative. This christening team arrived aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Southwind. The Coast Guard played a major role in the formative years of Palmer Station’s life bringing in construction materials and members of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion Center know for short as SeaBees to build this marvelous station for science. The two main buildings Biolab and GWR were complete and ready for science business in March 1970.
Numerous Coast Guard vessels supplied Palmer Station during the late 1960s and 1970s. Most notable for me personally is the Coast Guard cutter Edisto which supported operations here in the late 1960s. Chiseled into a granite boulder in the backyard is the name of this vessel. Four decades have not eroded the deeply scribed uppercase letters. The boulder overlooks Arthur Harbor and boy if rocks could talk Edisto boulder would have quite the story to tell about the changes in its neighborhood over the years.
I promised a friend of mine that I would send him a photo of Edisto boulder. Ken Barclay, at the time I met him informally, worked at my favorite nursery – Myers in Pelham. Though I had chit chatted with him on my many frequents I had no idea our lives shared a commonality, other than love of gardening. One day I was wearing a fleece top with a Palmer Station logo on it. Ken remarked “Palmer Station!? – Is that that little base south of Chile?” I was stunned to learn that Ken served as a bosun on the Edisto and had been to Palmer as it was being built! Small world isn’t it! Ken is now retired from Myers, but has his own pond business and volunteers as a greeter at Children’s Hospital. He visited me at UAB one morning and we swapped pictures and stories of Palmer. A vivid memory of his time here was scrambling when the General Quarters alarm rang. The wind was suddenly roaring down the glacier into Arthur Harbor pushing on the Edisto and she started dragging anchor. Ken and his team put on harnesses, tethered themselves to the ship, and braved the fierce winds in order to pull up the anchor so the ship could be moved to safety. Imagine, sudden high winds at Palmer, some things never change.
Palmer Station is named for the 1880s Connecticut sealer Nathaniel B. Palmer who is credited with the first sighting of the Antarctic Peninsula, also known as the Palmer Peninsula. Captain Nathaniel plied the peninsular waters in search of fur seals, their thick brown pelt a valuable commodity, in a 30 foot sloop called Hero. I first sailed to Antarctica in 1980 on a 125 foot wooden research vessel of the same name. I have included images of the R/V Hero docked at Palmer Station and a recent image of the station and our current research vessel the Laurence M. Gould taken from Arthur Harbor, perhaps near where the Edisto had anchored. Comparing the images, you have to agree with the old slogan: “You’ve come a long way baby!”. Forty-two and going strong supporting science in Antarctica. That is indeed cause for celebration!
For an in-depth, jam packed Palmer history site maintained by a fellow oae (old Antarctic explorer) check out: http://www.palmerstation.com/