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


From Pullman to the Polar Duke, Project SANTA CLAµS December 1994
by Ken Mopper
Washington State University

The flight down was a mess.  In Seattle, I was supposed to meet my
Chinese grad student, Jian-guo, at the airport and fly down to Chile
with him.  When I arrived at the airport, he wasn't there, and all that
I could find out was that he had gotten on the plane in Pullman.  I
never saw him at the SeaTac airport, so I thought he got on the wrong
plane and was on his way back to China.

Anyway, my flight to Miami was delayed so United put me on an American
Airlines flight, so that I wouldn't miss my connection in Miami to
Santiago.  But, the American flight got canceled due to mechanical
problems, so they put me on yet another flight.  The only problem was
that this flight arrived too late in Miami and I missed the Santiago
flight anyway!!  They put me on a Lan Chile flight for the following
evening and booked me at a local hotel in Miami.  Meanwhile, I couldn't
find my checked luggage in Miami, so I didn't know if it was still in
Seattle or lost en route to Miami, or was put on the space shuttle to
the moon.  I got to the hotel at 2 a.m., took a shower, jumped into bed
and tried to sleep, but couldn't, thinking about lost luggage, lost
students, more possible delays, and all the problems of the world
(Nobody knows the trouble I've seen).  The next day after a refreshing
one hour sleep, I put on my grimy, disgusting clothes and went to the
airport, managed to find my luggage after many calls, threats and
contortions, found out that Jian-guo actually made it to Santiago (they
apparently re-routed him to Miami via Boombassa, NJ or some other weird
connection).  What was left of the day in Miami, I rented a car, drove
to the Marine School in Miami and visited with my former colleagues.
That was actually enjoyable, even though I was feeling a little
ragged.

I got back to the airport to check into my flight.  Compared to the
United flight, Lan Chile Airlines uses a small jet plane, so it was
packed with people, almost all Chileans.  Hardly anyone spoke English,
including the flight attendants.  The man next to me to took up one and
a half seats and had terrible body odor.  The food was indescribable
and inedible.  My headset didn't work, so I couldn't see the lousy
movie.  The toilets seemed to be continuously occupied.  Otherwise, the
flight was quite enjoyable.

I arrived bright and alert in Santiago to find Dave (the other PI on
the project) and Jian-guo (my student) and the Chilean agent waiting
for me.  The flight down to Punta Arenas was as crowded as a cattle
car, but otherwise uneventful.  The weather was good so we got a
beautiful view of the Andes Mountains and the Torres de Peine National
Park.  The agent again greeted us at the airport in Punta Arenas, where
we found out that one of our vital boxes of equipment, that we had
checked in as luggage, got separated and was not on the plane with us.
The agent made some calls and tracked it down, got it on a plane to
arrive the next day in Punta Arenas.  The only problem was that it was
due to arrive in the afternoon, but our Nation Guard flight to King
George Island base, where we were to board the Polar Duke, was
scheduled to depart at 6 a.m..  After many calls, some involving NSF
officials, we were able to get the flight delayed until our box arrived
in Punta Arenas.  Breathing a sigh of relief, we went to our hotel to
check in and get some sleep.  When we arrived at the hotel, we were of
course pleased to learn that they had not forgotten our reservations and
that there were no more rooms.  We found a small hostel close by and
checked in.  The room was a bit on the small side and somewhat
primitive, but the beds were good and it was freshly painted (that
morning) and the people friendly.  They even supplied us with cognac in
the evenings.

The next day, the agent sent around the bus to pick up all the people
at the hotels and take us to the airport for the last leg of the trip
before boarding the Duke.  The C-130 cargo plane was waiting, ready for
us on the airstrip, and after loading our gear and putting in our
earplugs, we climbed on board and strapped ourselves in.  The inside
was tastefully painted in olive green with splashes of bright orange.
The decor was equally as tasteful, including two rows of
straight-backed, meshed seats, fold-out latrines, wires and conduit
everywhere, and piles of wooden crates.  Larry "the Loadmaster", a New
York State Trooper doing his Guard duty, was our flight attendant,
caring for our every need and whim.

After about two and half hours the plane descended for landing on King
George Island, but in the final approach the pilot pulled up abruptly.
PULL UP!!!  PULL UP!!!  Poor visibility.  We spent the next three hours
circling the island, waiting for a good chance to land.  It never
came.  To keep our spirits high, Larry "the Loadmaster" led us all in
camp songs, "100,000 bottles of beer on the wall" etc., which was
tolerable because we all had our ear plugs in.  After about eight hours
in the air, we landed back in Punta Arenas and the bus took us back to
the hotels.

The next four days were same old, same old.  Up at 3 a.m., get on bus,
wait at airport for good weather that didn't come, drive back to
hotel.  Eat dinner, drink Chilean beer, watch soccer on the tube,
wander around the city, sleep a few hours.  And wait.  As a break we
visited a nearby penguin colony even though it rained the whole time.
The penguins didn't seem to mind.  The mommy penguins were in their
dugout nests minding the eggs, while the daddies were out fishin'.
Penguins were fun to watch, especially waddling along the beach.

At last on the sixth day in PA, we made it to King George Island, but
it was tight.  The first approach was aborted.  Heavy fog.  But,
suddenly, with less than 40 minutes left until we had to return, the
fog lifted enough for the pilot to sneak us in.  We got off the plane,
but were disappointed by the reception.  We expected at a minimum a
ticker-tape parade.  But, it was just business as usual.  The boxes and
luggage were off-loaded to trucks and transported, along with the
people, to the Polar Duke by Zodiac.  Within minutes the Duke took off
and our cruise started.

After chatting with the scientists on board for a while, we began to
unpack our gear.  It soon became apparent that the box with our vital
equipment, the one that caused us to delay the flight the first time,
was not on board.  Our worst nightmare had come true.  We couldn't do
about half our planned work without it.  If it was still on the C-130
there was no way we could get it because the plane wouldn't return to
King George Island for at least two days, even if it could land.  The
Marine Project Coordinator (MPC) on board made some calls and found
that the box was on King George Island in the hanger.  Captain Karl
made a quick U-ee and after a few hours our elusive box was in our hot
little hands and WE WERE FINALLY READY to start our work.


Stuck in the Ice in Crystal Sound

We're in the middle of the ice now, doing experiments.  We're getting
results despite all the problems with equipment, weather and long
hours.  Some of the scientists are diving under the ice to get samples
for their work.  The seals swim around them, they are so curious and
funny.

The sun came out about midnight
casting deep dark shadows in a white winter wasteland
crash, crash, the ship is free
the pounding, booming, breaking of the ice
is over, for now
towering white angular buildings with no windows
jut up through the blanc plane
Dali's been here and the seals laugh as they sliver into the icey
pools


Night Meals on Board

I looked in the mirror the other night
to find my tummy and butt an awful sight
I'd better stop eating the bread and goodies at night
my blue jeans are already too tight