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UAB in Antarctica

Addie, Chuck, Maggie, Hannah standing on the concrete dock in front of the bright orange hull of the Laurence M. Gould.When our group (Chuck, Maggie, Hannah, and I) boarded the LMG, more formally known as Laurence M. Gould, the ship which would take us from Punta Arenas to Palmer Station, I thought that it felt much more like a boat than any other boat I’ve been on.

Maggie, who’s made this trip many times, gave me a quick tour of my and Hannah’s room in the berthing van down in the ship’s hold, the galley where we eat, and the common areas like the lounge where we can watch movies or read. From the doors that lock in place to prevent swinging to the non-slip mats lining almost every surface, the LMG makes it hard to forget that you’re at sea. The bookshelves have removable bars locking the books in place, the cabinets snap shut, and most walls have rails. Being on this boat has made me realize how much I take for granted gravity always going in the same direction back home.

Shortly after boarding, we went through a series of introductory and safety talks from the boat staff where they stressed the official motto of the LMG: “one hand for you, one hand for the boat.” We also went through an emergency evacuation drill and tried on our water-tight gumby suits to make sure they fit.

Addie wearing her full neon-orange gumby suit in front of bookshelves. Once we settled in, all of us began working on building the amphipod enclosures that we’ll use for our experiment once we get to Palmer. They are made from a fine flexible mesh cylinder and a sturdier plastic support with wider holes. Hannah assembled all the supports, while everyone else worked on sewing the mesh into them. After three days of sewing, we finally finished all 114 enclosures that we planned to make.

Wearing facemasks, everyone sits around a table making enclosures. A small artificial Christmas tree sits in the center of the table. In the middle of our sewing marathon, the LMG departed. Despite all the warnings, I was still surprised by how rocky the boat could be. I started feeling seasick on our second day and had a hard time eating, but luckily the hold of the ship where I’m sleeping has much less movement than the upper decks. I was taking medicine for seasickness, so I can’t imagine how bad it would be without it. Still, being on the bottom level didn’t stop the boat from throwing every life jacket and emergency pack on the shelves at Hannah and me whenever we let our guard down. It also seems that the anti-slip technology throughout the boat has its limits, and there were several instances of chairs going sailing across the room.

On Christmas Eve, all the researchers on the ship got together to do a white elephant gift exchange. Our group didn’t find out about the plans until we were already on the ship, so we didn’t have any presents to contribute. One of the other labs came up with presents for all of us to use, which was really nice and thoughtful, and, thanks to them, we were also able to participate. We played holiday music and even set up a tree made from a wood pallet, complete with lights and a garland, to put the presents under. The wrapping for the presents was also quite creative; some of my favorites were a trash bag and duct tape and a used world cup bracket. I ended up with a nice journal and some pens, which will be great for taking notes and jotting down my thoughts while I’m here. On Christmas day, we played Christmas and winter themed movies including White Christmas, Love Actually, and Frozen.

UAB crew sitting on couches watching White Christmas, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye on the large tv screen. We’ll arrive at Palmer in a couple days, if everything goes according to plan, and get started on zodiac boat training and setting up the experiment. Everyone on the LMG has been super friendly, so it’s unfortunate that a lot of them are staying on the boat and won’t come to Palmer with us, but I’m sure everyone at Palmer will be great too. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone!