R/V Polar Duke Farewell Tribute
in the Laboratory for Microbial Oceanography


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.