Happy Belated New Year! Palmer Station rang in the New Year with a masquerade party. With the aid of Kristin, the un-doctor, many station personnel made plaster casts of their faces. The casts were then uniquely decorated to suit the wearer and voila! — masks for the masquerade party. I did not get 'plastered' for the party, I already had a mask. My dive mask looked marvelous with purple and blue feathers and colorful cellophane butterflies fluttering across the faceplate.
January heralds the start of the tourist season along the Antarctic Peninsula. Warmer temperatures and relatively ice-free waters draw penguin-seeking adventurists of all ages in a variety of crafts. In a short period of time, nine ships and one helicopter have visited Palmer. The station hosted visitors from all but two of those ships.
Four sailing yachts have dropped anchor in our harbor waters. Three of the yachts were chartered by people on vacation. Those yachts averaged 50 feet in length with an average of 12 people aboard. During lunchtime visits to the station I chatted with tourists from Switzerland, Germany, France and Australia. All were enjoying their holiday at sea but found Palmer's motionless and spacious dining room with new faces to meet and a bounty of delicious food a treat. I listened with envy to stories of silently cruising through scenic passages under sail. That envy was tempered though hearing tales of very cramped living below the decks. The 260-foot L.M Gould may be noisy but she is most comfortable!
Our most recent masted visitor was the John Laing, a 72-foot steel-hulled ketch charted by the British Army. On board were 16 crewmembers on leave from their usual assignments to participate in an opportunity to develop team skills through sailing and mountaineering training. The group was also doing a survey of historic sites in the area as well as collecting biological and geological samples for the UK. Station personnel were invited a-ship for a tour. As with other yachts I have visited, I marveled at the efficient use of space and how much one can stow below deck with a little forethought and creativity. The 6-bunk cabin/passageway was a little too creative for me though. There were 3 bunks on either side of the ship. The bunks were essentially stair stepped such that the person on the top had to climb up the middle and bottom bunk to reach his. The bunks also got narrower toward the top and each had a canvas sling the person sleeping would tie across himself (or herself — there was one female aboard) to prevent being tossed out in rough seas. This sleeping area lead directly forward to a storage compartment and aft to galley — no doors for privacy or quiet. Despite the lack of elbow space all aboard were enjoying their adventure.
The station also has hosted several large cruise ships carrying anywhere from 50 to 125 adventure seekers. When tourist ships visit, passengers come ashore in small groups and are lead through select areas on station. Included on the tour is a stop at the aquarium building to see tanks alive with colorful plants and animals that have been collected by divers in surrounding waters. A stop at the station store, Pal-Mart, for a t-shirt or hat is always popular. The tour ends in the dining room where hot beverages and yummy, fudge brownies are served. Station personnel are encouraged to come to the dining room if time allows to meet and greet our visitors who are always anxious to speak with someone living and working in Antarctica. I have met several visitors from Birmingham!!!
Two of the cruise ships were too large to get safely close to Palmer. They also had far too many passengers for our tiny town to handle. One ship was 578 feet long and had 450 passengers; the other was a monster ship at 718 feet long and had 1,200 passengers plus another 1000 crewmembers. Station representatives went aboard with slides and videos to show about life at Palmer.
A giant, red M and M cruised into Arthur Harbor! Secured to the bow of a 237-foot cruise ship, the inflatable candy was not the only unique passenger on this cruise ship. The passenger manifest included 75 high school students, 12 of their teachers and Mr. Mars (as in Mars Bars) who sponsored the trip for the students and members of his family. Now that is what I call a field trip!! After the students toured the station and visited a local rookery, station scientists were invited aboard the ship to meet students and talk about careers in sciences. The dreary weather cleared to calm and sunshine, ideal for a lavish barbeque on the back deck of the ship. Snickers and Three Musketeers for dessert!
The British are coming! By air then by sea!! A helicopter from the HMS Endurance a Royal Navy research vessel dropped in one evening just as a cruise ship was departing. Aboard the whirlybird were 2 pilots and the captain of the HMS Endurance. Their short mission was one of reconnaissance for a visit by the ship the next day. After landing and greeting some station folks, the chaps agreed to take a station digital camera up and snap some aerial photos of our neighborhood. The following day the 296-foot red and white icebreaker was in sight. Ship and station tours were swapped. Years ago I toured the Endurance and I was pleased to hear that the historic photos of the Shackleton's Endurance and even a photo that Shackleton carried with him throughout his ordeal still hang in the officers' lounge.
So Palmer has not been lonely lately! Several more ship visits are scheduled between now and the time I leave aboard the L.M. Gould. Guess I better get back to work because that ship will be arriving only too soon....