Dispatches from an Antarctic co-op: Boating
My name is Jake Grondin. I’m a rising junior in the College of Science, majoring in Biology, with minors in Physics and Math. I am one of two co-ops currently residing at Palmer Station, Antarctica working in Professor Bill Detrich’s lab. In this blog I am sharing my experiences on this incredible continent, and I hope you will continue to read along.
This co-op is one of the reasons I came to Northeastern, and I’ll start by saying it is most definitely not for everyone. As a research assistant, I work in the labs and stay on station through the Antarctic winter. Even though I’ve only been here for a short time, Palmer Station has become a very special place to me, and I am thrilled to be able to share this continent with the rest of the University and beyond.
If you haven’t already, read Jake’s previous posts here:
Throughout the winter a lot of people have been asking if I get to visit the South Pole, or the Dry Valleys, or hike a glacier or an iceberg. Unfortunately the South Pole is quite a ways away, and we don’t have any planes on station to take us to any of the other stations. What we do have, however, are boats.
As many of you know, the entire continent of Antarctica is highly protected. One of the ways we try to keep nature unchanged are through ASPAs (Antarctic Specially Protected Islands). On the map attached, you’ll see all of the islands we can boat to, and the areas we cannot.
As a few rules, we can never stray close to the main glacier, as it could break apart at any time, nor can we land on an ASPA. Boating hours are also only during main daylight hours (really only a couple hours a day this time of year), and will be called off for the day if wind speeds exceed 25 knots. The area has recently been expanded to house the Outcast Islands, which present quite the view of Antarctica, the glacier, and the mountains. The following picture was taken on Outcast.
There are two types of boats in station; Zodiacs and Solaces. Each have their own downfalls and benefits, depending on your needs! A Zodiac can hold up to 10 people, whereas a Solace holds only 6, yet Zodiacs take longer to launch, and perform poorer in icy waters.
Regardless of the boat you choose to take, you must be certified to take a boat, or even ride in one! Our boating coordinator, Joe, teaches us how to be a passenger (Boating 1) and how to operate the boats (Boating 2). I was just certified in Boating 2 last week, so it’s a much more intensive class than just being a passenger. Boating 2 consists of knot tying, some operation, docking on the islands, and even a little bit of ocean rescue in case someone goes overboard.
As I mentioned earlier, Joe manages all the boating on station. I asked Joe to give me a quick history of his life on the ice, and this is what he had to say! He’s been all over the continent, and is such a valuable asset to have on station:
“I first started my journey in the USAP at McMurdo station in 2015. I spent a handful of summers in the Mechanical Equipment Center (MEC). I main task was keeping the Ski-Doos in tip top shape. I really enjoyed by job and the opportunities that came with it. I was able to travel to field camps all over, from the Dry Valleys to the top of Mt Erebus and to deep field camps. You never did the same thing twice, so every day was an adventure. Being from Florida, I always had my heart set on getting on the water as part of the USAP program. When I learned about the Marine Technician position at Palmer, I knew it was meant to be. So even after spending 8 months this past summer at McMurdo and it meaning only having a few weeks at home, I accepted the offer to come to Palmer for the winter. At Palmer Station, I get to work on the boats, their engines and just about everything boating related. This gets means I get to work closely with the scientists to conduct their research in our coastal waters and members of the SAR team to ensure everyone on station is safe and prepared. I am excited to see what adventures the rest of the season holds.”
Without Joe at Palmer, nobody would ever get to boat, and I cannot thank him enough for teaching me how to navigate the Antarctic waters, break through pancake ice and land on the icy shores (and of course fix the boats in case any parts freeze up). He is a huge reason why this place is so much fun.
When you want to launch a boat, you need to ensure that at least two people in your crew have completed Boating 2. When you do, you may sign out (during boating hours) and launch. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the edge of the boating area, and any of the islands (besides Lichfield (outlined in red because it is the ASPA) is alright to land on. There’s plenty to do on the islands, whether it be hiking, sightseeing, visiting landmarks or observing wildlife. Interestingly, it never gets old to visit the same islands because the Antarctic landscape changes quite rapidly. One day you might get a new iceberg in your waters and the next day the water may be covered in ice.