R/V Polar Duke Farewell Tribute
in the Laboratory for Microbial Oceanography
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Beset in ice
University of California at Santa Barbara
The Polar Duke, under the able command of Captain Sigvald Brandal, set sail from Punta Arenas on August 16 1995, for the opening of the Antarctic Spring season at Palmer Station. Aboard was the turnaround crew of the Antarctic Support Associates, and two science parties. One of the most experienced still-practicing Antarctic biologists, Art DeVries and his team, was on board, along with one of the greenest rookies then starting out in polar research, Ed DeLong and two graduate students, Alison Murray and Chris Preston. It was an unusual year. The Polar Duke hit pancake ice at about 55'S in Drake Passage, one of the most northerly ice sightings the Polar Duke had seen in many crossings. Though ice was thick on approaching the Antarctic Peninsula, there was enough clear water for ice fishing by the DeVries group in Dahlman bay. After successful fishing, the Duke departed for the final leg into Palmer Station. Within sight of Anvers Island, the Duke attempted to make headway into the Gerlache Straight and Neumeyer Channel, but it was not to be. In between Brababt Island and Anvers Island, about 20 miles from Palmer Station, the Duke came to a near standstill in the fast ice, which was covered with 2 to 3 feet of snow. After 24 hours of constant ice ramming the Duke had made only 1 km headway, so Captain Brandal decided to head back North. But Mother Nature had other plans for the Polar Duke: the pack ice had grown in thickness and extent behind the Duke, and on August, 23 , on the west side of Smith Island, the Polar Duke ceased to any make headway in her northbound journey back to Punta Arenas. Though no one really mentioned it at the time, "beset" was the appropriate term for the Polar Duke's condition. She remained in this condition for about the next l2 days. Despite their uncertain condition, the Captain, crew, ASA and science parties adapted and responded professionally and with a great sense of humor to the uncertainty of the situation. No one really knew how long the Duke would remain in its beset condition. But all aboard were extremely optimistic, and worked hard to keep morale up and boredom down. Knot tying sessions, basketball, custom Antarctic icefish T-shirt print making, numerous (yawn) science seminars, and abundant after dark social events helped to keep spirits up on the immobilized ship. Several of the science and ASA parties (an appropriate term) collaborated to keep all abreast of daily events, and lighten up the atmosphere of the ice bound ship. This collaboration resulted in the establishment of the "Dukie News" a daily rag which suddenly appeared after the Polar Duke ceased to make headway, every day in the mess right before dinner. Lines were long to get a copy hot off the press. The Dukie News kept all informed of recent developments, provided regular interviews, and biographic sketches of illustrious officers crew of the Polar Duke. The daily even offered an advice column for those not coping well with the Duke's beset condition. Eventually, the Captain and crew of the Duke took quick advantage of an unanticipated window of opportunity, which Nature kindly provided. On September 3, after almost 2 weeks of of immobility, the winds shifted, blowing the ice-bound Duke around southwest side of Smith Island. The Captain and crew of the Duke instantly responded, and led the Duke into the open waters off the eastern shores of Smith Is.. Finally free of the confining pack ice, the Duke promptly headed due North, hitting open water in the Drake Passage, for a rough ride back to Punta Arenas. After a normally scheduled Reiber crew turnover, Captain Karl Sanden took charge of the Polar Duke. The Duke again departed Punta Arenas on September 10, 1995, with an intitial stop for operations at King George Is., to initiate field ops at the legendary Copa Cabana. Mother Nature won this round again however, as ice conditions precluded Copa operations on this leg. But under the skillful command of Captain Sanden, along with a lucky shifting of winds and movement of pack ice, the Duke finally docked at Palmer Station Antarctica, at 16:00 hours on September 19, 1995. One month off the scheduled arrival, thanks to the heavy pack ice, but safe and sound! It was a great adventure for all involved, and an appropriate initiation into Polar research for rookies on board. Lesson #1 : Mother Nature calls the shots. It was absolutely clear, especially to ASA and science parties, that we would not have had so positive a detour, if not for the worthy vessel Polar Duke, and her dedicated, professional, and personable captains and crew. The Duke will be missed by all who had the good fortune to sail on her. She's irreplacable.