16 November 2004

"The Skidoo is not the Antarctic taxicab; the helo (helicopter) is the Antarctic taxicab"

Jennifer here- today was an epic.

Has anyone mentioned the sea ice conditions? One word: bumpy- OK, maybe two words: VERY bumpy. The weather has been exceptionally warm the past few days (+34į F!) and the sea ice is melting rapidly. When I say rapidly, I donít mean that the 15í sea ice is breaking up and there is open water anywhere, I mean that the top layer of ice is melting and creating large meltwater pools. To accentuate the conditions, there are thick layers of dirt from last winterís storms that blew all the sediment onto the sea ice. These dark patches absorb the suns heat and are melting faster than areas without dirt, so you are left with honeycombed ice that is melted in deep channels surrounding hard pockets of solid ice. This all contributes to an uneven surface that is difficult to walk and drive on. To exasperate the situation, the surface freezes at night leaving a thin layer of ice that appears thick enough to walk on until you plummet through the thin surface uncertain of how far you will fall. In the split second that you are falling, you wonder, will the water go over my boot or will I twist my ankle. When neither happens, you begin to ask the same questions as you put your next foot down. This is just the sea ice.

Kathy demonstrating her offroad vehicle skills

Bob, wondering how he got the nose of the skidoo stuck in the snow bank and in a deep puddle of water

Mike carefully walking across the moat hoping that the water level is still below his boots
We have mentioned the moat that separates our camp on dry land from the 15í sea ice. The moat is simply a shallow area of water that freezes (essentially a frozen intertidal zone). The past couple of years, Stacy has been here a week or two earlier and the moat has remained frozen. However, this year, because of the dirt blown on the ice and the unusually warm temperatures, the moat has completely melted into a 10Ē deep swimming pool. This not only makes getting onto the sea ice (where all of or work is conducted) difficult, it makes hauling all of our heavy dive gear nearly impossible. So, now, we have the skidoos (most apt for snow and ice travel) staged on the sea ice and the 6-wheeler (most apt for dirt and water travel) staged on land. We then shuttle our gear from land to the sea ice and then to wherever it needs to go. We are currently working on building a hovercraft that can levitate above both water and ice. We will keep you posted on our progress.

After filling tanks, fueling the Hotsy, fixing the skidoo, and cleaning up loose ends that were left the night before, we prepared for our journey out to Cape Bernacchi to finish off the site (fence removal). The day before, we had a horrible time driving on the moat out to Bernacchi so we decided that today we would travel over the sea ice the entire way. There was much hesitation about this considering Andrew got the skidoo stuck three times when hauling tanks around camp. Remember, the sea ice is BUMPY with deep pools hiding everywhere. We had broken the runner on one of our sleds the day before and we were still uncertain about one of the skidoo skegs, so after much deliberation and space organizational skills, we managed to pack two skidoos towing two sleds (one with a person), and four sets of dive gear. With our heads held high, and my headphones plugged in so tunes were pumping through my ears, we set off at 1230.

Andrew and Bob slowly picking their way through the rough ice

The surface didnít seem all that bad and we all thought this would be smooth sailing. Although, the skidoo towing 8 SCUBA tanks with Andrew as the passenger and Bob as the pilot, kept getting stuck. We wondered if they didnít have enough weight? Was it the driver? After an hour or so, we stopped to look at the skidoo and the skeg was completely bent back against the ski. Aahah- thatís why they werenít going forward. Despite having been on the road for over an hour, we could still see camp in the distance. So Bob left us at 1330 to head back to camp for more skegs. At 1430, he returned, we put the new skeg on and we were off again. The ice was fairly smooth for a short while until I was continually catapulted from the sled. Every once in awhile, I saw running water come precariously close to overflowing my little cocoon on the sled, but I knew Mike was taking all precautions to keep me as dry as possible (I was carrying his camera).

Not the recommended operating position

The bent skeg (it is supposed to be flush with the ski)

The sledging party awaits the new skidoo skeg

We arrived at Bernacchi a couple hours later (albeit a little shaken up). Bob and Mike dove first to pull the fence up and to my and Andrewís amazement, we received the signal (rope tugs) to pull the fence up after they had been down for only 10 minutes. The fence came up without a hitch and we were thinking that we might make it back for dinner.

The recovered fence

One of the strange sea creatures we wanted to get video footage of
Andrew and I went in to clean up any remaining bits that might have been left on the seafloor and to take a few more pictures of strange creatures.

After the dive, we broke down the gear, conducted a plankton tow and headed home. We still thought we would make it for dinner; however, we did not make it back to camp until 2230. I guess the perpetual daylight plays tricks on you. We knew we were hungry but we didnít realize just how late it had gotten.

Just another long day in the Antarctic. Good night.

Lets see the next day!