Monday through Saturday at 8 AM our group meets in the dining room to plan the day’s field operations. (Sunday mornings we have off and meet instead at 1PM.) Monday, over our serving of breakfast cereal, toast, or eggs we gazed out the windows knowing that the horizontally falling snow and high winds will prohibit boating and hence any diving other than from the shore as we did for our inaugural dive. Tending a shore dive today would be unpleasant due to the driving snow and the limited visibility. There is always indoor work waiting for us.
Foul weather not only impacts our outdoor plans but all the other science projects here that rely on getting out in the zodiacs to sample the water or travel to an island bird rookery. We are all dependent on the weather to get out and do our work , but none of us would go anywhere without the stellar efforts of the station boating coordinator who maintains Palmer’s fleet of zodiacs. This storm was also going to keep him inside. Since we were all held captive by the storm, I took the opportunity to corner him in his domain, the boat house, for an interview. Drum roll, spotlight, let’s give a warm welcome to the talented Palmer Station boating coordinator Mr. Doug Fink!
Actually, Doug should be introduced as the talented and versatile Palmer Station boating coordinator. When we met here two seasons ago Doug was on staff as the hazardous waste specialist. In that role, he visited our chemistry lab regularly to pick up large containers of used liquids we collected. Solvents like methanol or acetone cannot be poured down the drain, but are rather shipped north in big barrels. Doug had a flotilla of barrels to keep track of and a raft of associated paperwork and documentation to fill out. He must have found the Palmer hazardous waste situation child’s play after his six seasons in the “haz” waste facility at McMurdo Station, the U.S largest base in Antarctica where armadas of waste barrels are generated.
Looking for a new challenge at Palmer, Doug’s job title changed to boating coordinator and his responsibility became managing and maintaining the flotilla of zodiacs and arsenal of outboard motors. His qualifications for the job included occasional recreational boating and engine repair expertise centered on keeping his VW bus running. In short order excelled at repairing ice or rock induced holes in the rubber zodiacs. His hazardous waste training must have desensitized his nose to all the dizzying, smelly glues he needs to use. As well as to the odorous cleaners to keep the Evinrudes and Johnson motors purring and powering through Arthur Harbor. Doug is rarely seen without that spark plug wrench in the side pocket of his work pants. A major responsibility of the boating coordinator is training and certifying users like our science group. Kevin’s journal entry described in great detail Doug’s central role in boating instruction.
Doug is quietly omnipresent on our dive days, even on Sunday, which is a day off for the support crew. He is often in the dive zodiac before the tenders have a chance to do the boating pre-checks (Kevin explained this at great length too) of proper air pressure in the zodiac hull and sufficient fuel in the gas tanks. His professional touch means just one or two yanks on the lawnmower-like pull cord start gets our outboard motor humming. If he does not like what he hears, out come the pocket tools for a quick tweak. With other boats to prep for other science groups he always takes the time to lend a strong arm loading or unloading gear.
Today Doug’s weathered-in project would be to continue preparing replacement items for the survival cache barrels. (Again, see Kevin’s previous journal entry for a lengthy description of the necessity of and contents of the cache barrel.) Each year the trio of blue barrels at each of eleven sites around Arthur Harbor are swapped out and expired items like medicine or flares are replaced. Although watertight in theory, the barrels do get wet inside over the course of a year so sleeping bags, tents, clothing need to cleaned and dried and rusted items replaced. Doug meticulously reassembles the required items and as further moisture protection vacuum seals everything in clear plastic bags. One cache barrel down, thirty-two to go!
When not dealing with boats Doug enjoys spending time in the company of fellow station residents, skiing, camping, reading, playing chess, dealing poker and even sewing. He should consider using that Oregon State University marketing degree and introducing retail to his hand-sewn tube sock monkeys. Did I mention already how talented Doug is? We are so fortunate to benefit daily from Doug’s professional and personal talents, which are always accompanied by his genuine, warm grin. His presence and spirit will be missed next year. Doug has decided to retire from on the ice’ contract work. He plans to get a full time job in his hometown of Tillamook, Oregon- the city known for great cheese. In the meantime, he is Palmer Station’s one and only, multi-talented boating coordinator! Applause, applause… take a bow Doug!