With winter fast approaching and the days on the western Antarctic Peninsula growing shorter by the week, it was time to turn my thoughts to my return to South America and onward to Birmingham where both my personal and UAB family awaited. And so it was with some mixed feelings that I learned just a week or so before our departure that our ship would not be returning directly to Punta Arenas as planned. Instead, we were to head entirely the wrong direction, due south, to perform both logistical and humanitarian missions prior to our homeward transit of the Drake Passage.
Our logistical call to duty centered upon paying a port call to Rothera, the British Antarctica station located on the southern tip of Adelaide Island. Our goal was to retrieve a suite of plane skis left accidentally behind by members of the German Antarctic program who had used the airfield at Rothera for their Antarctic field program. Without our assistance the entire summer Arctic research program was at stake, as the German program could ill afford to purchase new skis for their entire fleet of planes.
And so we found ourselves pulling away from the dock at Palmer Station, waving to our many friends who had so excelled in their support of our scientific program over the past months. Most of them would be staying on for the entirety of the winter. As evening approached we lost sight of land and settled into our 36 hour trip to Rothera, and it was not until late the next day that the coast of Adelaide Island appeared out of the mist. A spectacular ice shelf framed by precipitous peaks and glaciers welcomed us to the British station. And a 30-40 knot wind made docking exciting and a bit stressful for the captain and crew.
Following a short welcome speech aboard ship by the British station commander we were all invited to tour the station. I especially enjoyed a personal tour of the new science facility, a state of the art building that housed research equipment to support a variety of different scientific disciplines, but with a decided emphasis on marine sciences including an extensive dive support facility that even included a decompression chamber, one of the few on the peninsula. The visit to the new science facility was especially interesting as the entire facility had burned to the ground in high winds only three years earlier, the result of an electrical short. Moreover, the laboratory had been home to a young scientist who had tragically lost her life to a leopard seal, the first such loss in the history of Antarctic marine diving. A special monument on the hill top overlooking the station celebrated and memorialized her life.
Departing Rothera early the next day we finally turned out ship to the north, but rather than heading out in to the Drake Passage we clung again to the peninsula, off to carry out the humanitarian segment of our cruise. Specifically, we had been asked to stop at the Ukrainian Station to pick up a station member who needed to be medically evacuated due to a chronic bleeding ulcer. 30 hours later we arrived just after dark at a site about one mile offshore the station and were met almost immediately by a small boat carrying our medivac passenger along with his doctor and a translator. All three leapt aboard our ship, and after transferring some fresh food supplies to their small boat, we were off! At long last, three days into our trip we finally turned towards Chile.
Over the next four days there was ample time to work on a grant proposal, read, catch a DVD movie or two, and get to know our Ukrainian friends. It was with some pride that I was chosen to represent Palmer Station and make a small presentation of search and rescue ball caps to our three Ukrainian guests. They were genuinely touched. Coupled with my recent visits to the Korean and British Antarctic stations, it was a poignant reminder of the truly multinational bond that transcends politics and ethnicity and unites all of us that pursue or support science on this amazing continent we call Antarctica.