R/V Polar Duke Farewell Tribute
in the Laboratory for Microbial Oceanography
|» Home » R/V Polar Duke Farewell Tribute » The Iceberg Incident|
The Iceberg Incident
by David M. Karl
University of Hawaii
Despite all the known navigational hazards and the high probability for inclement weather in Antarctica, it is remarkable that there are so few marine mishaps in the Southern Ocean. of course, we all know about Shackleton's ill-fated expedition on the Endurance and the loss of Nordenskjld's flagship Antarctic, both victims of the crushing pack; however, nearly all modern day Antarctic expeditions are completed without serious incident. The RACER-2 research cruise (November 1989) was fairly routine until -- believe it or not -- the R/V Polar Duke collided with a large iceberg during plankton net tow operations in Gerlache Strait. I remember that day well because, for me, it started with an impact that literally rocked me from my bunk. I was working the night shift on that cruise so I was below, in the rack, when the incident occurred in mid-afternoon on a bright, sunny, austral summer day. The impact left the R/V Polar Duke with an estimated 20 tons of solid glacial ice on the bow (estimated by Terje Fjelle, the ship's Chief Engineer), a large dent in the forward port quarter and a twisted anchor (see accompanying photos). Those are the facts ... the cause of the accident is less well known, and still open to wild conjecture. The mate on watch certainly had some explaining to do to his brother, the ship's Captain! Needless to say, the moments immediately following the collision were tense. The ship was steaming at about 2-3 knots one minute and was dead in the water with a several degree list the very next. Everyone aboard, including all those previously asleep, ran to the main deck just in time to see the red paint-stained iceberg drifting past the ship and the mountain of bar ice on the bow (photo). Without instruction or even a coherent plan, the entire ship's crew and scientific party began to clear the deck of the newly acquired frozen payload. A pick-axe and sledge hammer were required to break some of the larger pieces of ice and finally the firehose was used to mobilize the remainder of the mound (photo). It took nearly three hours to uncover the anchor winless at which time we steamed to Charlotte Bay and lowered a zodiac to make a visual inspection of the hull. I was with Captain Flight in the inflatable when he declared the R/V Polar Duke "fit" for continued service despite the dented bow and twisted anchor (photo). The remainder of the cruise was uneventful, by comparison. Cosmetic repairs to the ship were effected within a few days of arriving back in Punta Arenas, and to this day I still have not heard a full explanation of what really happened on the bridge. Things could have been worse, much worse ... after all, remember the Titanic.