R/V Polar Duke Farewell Tribute
in the Laboratory for Microbial Oceanography
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To the Rescue of the Bahia Paraiso
by Mahlon (Chuck) Kennicutt II
Texas A&M University
My most memorable trip on the Polar Duke was my "close encounter of the first kind." We had been contacted to respond to the now infamous Bahia Paraiso spill in Arthur Harbor. As you remember, a quick response team was on the scene within a few weeks (March,1989) of the grounding of the Argentine ship which released about 600,000 liters of diesel fuel arctic into the Palmer Station harbor. I had not previously been to Palmer Station and my lone Antarctic experience was on the Islas Orcadas (the old Eltanin) many years before. We were instructed to bring "everything you need" and needless to say we did! We finally arrived at King George island on a C-130 after an aborted attempt and began to offload a cargo bay full of equipment. I was under the assumption the Duke would be waiting and we would quickly offload the sizable packing crates and be on our way. The Airguard quickly dumped our cargo at the end of the runway and flew off into the distance. As I was standing in a mounting snowstorm I asked the seemingly simple question "Which way to the dock to board the Polar Duke?" I got this quizzical look from the Chileans that met us. An unidentified person said that the Duke was waiting and pointed in the direction of the Bay. At first I couldn't see anything in that direction, but with further guidance I saw this little white and red dot bouncing in the harbor. That was the Duke. As I looked at all of our cargo and the intervening hills and gullies I had a sinking feeling. It was getting darker and the rate of snowfall appeared to be increasing. Never to be ones that dawdle, we were able to get the Chileans to load our equipment on half-tracks and at least get us to the dock. I use the term "dock" loosely since the one that was available looked more suited to canoes than oceanographic research vessels and was in dire need of repair with several planks missing. It was at this point I first encountered ASA and Duke personnel. They were huddled around a less than professional piece of woodwork that had been sent to serve as a stand for our grab sampler. In haste it had been made of two-by-fours and nailed together with ten penny nails. As you well know, the skill level of the support personnel you meet in Antarctica is awesome and this work of art particularly caught their fancy. To add to their delight, the stand had an air cargo sticker emblazoned on it telling all the world we had air-shipped this from the US. In addition somebody had written the name of a then-famous animated character on it. It was labelled "Roger Rabbit." As I approached the crowd, that was now in quite animated conversation themselves, they turned and asked "Who framed Roger Rabbit?" Having had significant experience at sea and knowing that first impressions often set the tone for the expedition I decided to assert myself and stepped forward and declared "This is my piece of equipment and I will hold anyone damaging it responsible!" Needless to say the group was somewhat taken aback but must have figured this guy is almost strange enough to fit in with the program. After several hours and heroic efforts hand-loading massive boxes into the zodiac and ferrying them to the boat we got all of our equipment onboard. During these operations the seas and snowfall continued to increase. Everyone proceeded to get wet, the loading was quite strenuous and the zodiac shuttles were anything but fun. I waited on the dock for the last piece of equipment to be loaded and I knew this was going to be a good trip. We had very quickly become part of the team and we all worked shoulder-to-shoulder to get the job done. The people from the boat and the support personnel went far beyond their duty and even overlooked our naivity to be sure that the job was done and that everything and everyone was safely onboard, including Roger Rabbit. We transitted to Palmer Station and our group continued to work off the Duke in close proximity to the islands developing a comprehensive sampling plan to monitor the effects of the spill. The Duke's crew were expert and maneuveured the ship quite close to the rocky and forboding islands ensuring that stations were accurately occupied and that we were able to get the samples we needed. I was lucky enough to participate in three more trips to Palmer Station (most times being met by a Roger Rabbit refrain!) and always found the Duke and her crew to be effective, professional and extremely helpful in all facets of our work. I will truly miss the opportunity to work with them again and will always cherish the memories. Thanks to the Duke and the wonderful times you allowed me to share with you.