- Written by Chuck Amsler
I always look forward to going to Palmer. I'm sure that you can see why from our posts over the season. I always look forward to being home again too, but in the seasons like this one where I am leaving before the season is winding down for the rest of the group, it is a lot tougher. I suppose you could say it is a bit more bitter than sweet.
Other obligations call me north, though. Fortunately I leave knowing very well that Maggie, Kate, and Julie have our project very well in hand and know that it will continue to be successful.
It is only about once a month (or even less often) that the ship sails north for Chile, taking people away from Palmer. That makes it an even bigger event for both those leaving and staying. Sailing time is usually in the morning; today it was 11:00 which meant that we had to be aboard by 10:30. The ritual is that 15-30 minutes before boarding time, most of the people both leaving and staying gather in the galley for goodbyes. Lots of handshakes and hugs. Lots of words of encouragement and well wishes for the rest of the season at Palmer or the crossing to South America. One final moment for UAB in A to be a 4 person team.
The half an hour difference between boarding time and leaving is the time it takes to unbolt the ship's gangway and lift it up to one of the upper decks and then to undo the mooring lines holding the ship up against the pier. About 15 or 20 minutes before sailing, a team of about ten folks from station come out to help with the unmooring. The team is called the "line handlers" and the station manager traditionally goes onto the station public address system and announces "line handlers to the pier, line handlers to the pier, line handlers to the pier."
The mooring lines have loops on their ends that go around huge metal pins called bollards which are firmly anchored into the granite bedrock of Anvers Island. When the ship ties up, the line handlers have to pull the huge mooring ropes over and loop them around the bollards. When the ship leaves, upon radioed instructions from the Captain the line handlers "only" have to use a smaller rope to pull the loop up off each bollard and then make sure that the lines do not get caught in the rocks as they snake down to the shore. But even that takes a lot of muscle and requires multiple people per line. The ship's crew then has the task of hauling the lines back over to the ship.
Soon after the line handlers are called to the pier, most everyone else comes down to the pier area to wave and bid a last farewell to those on the ship. Sometimes there are snowballs thrown back and forth. There was plenty of snow available, but no one was in the mood for that today.
Until the ship is completely untied, almost everyone has to stay off the pier proper. So folks congregate next to the boathouse. Maggie in her black fleece jacket - blended into the shadows of the boathouse deck waved and took photographs while I waved back. Kate and Julie joked around with friends off the boathouse work platform (I couldn't hear them of course, but could tell they were having fun). With the last of the lines finally off, the ship pulled quickly away while the assembled Palmer folk came out to the pier proper for the final farewell waves.
As I usually do, I stayed out on the deck of the ship until the station was no longer in sight. We passed by islands I know so well from a Zodiac boat during our dive ops, but from the height of the ship they always look different. When the Terralab, the building highest up the hill on station, was no longer visible, I headed in to my cabin to settle in.
In our posts this season both I and others have used terms like wondrous and magnificent to describe what it is like living and working at Palmer Station. And I've told you how privileged I feel to be able to do so. Part of that privilege is being able to describe some of the magnificence with you through these posts. Maggie, Kate, Julie, Kevin, Jim, and I all hope that you have enjoyed them, learned a little from them, and in so doing shared in the wonder.
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