Goan to Antarctica....

Goan scientist Helga do Rosario Gomes is en route to the icy continent, and is keeping her blog of the journey...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Joaquim almost loses it

Photo: Destruction and mayhem in search of the traps.

In the midst of a very busy week with an almost 18 work day, our group is called to make a very important decision. Should be deploy an array of equipment and leave it floating around for a day or should we wait for open waters and more amiable weather?

Joaquim who fancies himself in the leagues of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus wants to go ahead. Everyone else backs out and I now fear we are the guinea pigs of this expedition. They are going to learn from our mistakes and come out winners.

Let me explain how our 'leader' (although he claims to follow a horizontal model) stuck his neck out. We are now attaching expensive equipment to a line that is NOT
tethered to the ship.

Photo: Sediment traps finally out after three anxious hours.

The line which has to remain vertical and has all kinds of stuff attached to it, also has funnel-like structures at the end of it which will collect sedimenting particles over a day. Remnants of phytoplankton that die and are eaten will fall into these 'sediment traps' as will everything else that can sink.

Two pink buoys keep it afloat while a radio signal transmitter allows us to locate it. With the help of the Raytheon techs, we deploy the array of equipment while everyone else watches and shakes their heads.

It's a very cold and gray morning but all goes well.

Photo: Grapple hooks and pink buoys.

However by afternoon, Alice Doyle, one of Raytheon's superhuman techs who once jumped into these waters in a bikini, thinks that our array is in danger. Large ice floes can come together to cover it and bury it under ice resulting in a loss of the radio signal and consequently the array.

While our Fearless Leader stirs a cup of hot chocolate and mulls over this problem it happens! The array disappears, not a peep from the radio - nothing. All around us is whiteness. Alice barks orders into her radio while Fearless Leader takes his interns and goes to the deck to try and spot it.

I am chewing my nails in my heated cabin. The captain takes charge and moves the ship ever which way, ramming into the ice floes, crushing them - destruction all around us. This 'Godzilla in Antarctica' act goes on for two hours while Joaquim and his interns desperately scan the whiteness like fishermen's wives waiting for their husbands.

Then, suddenly, Eric, another super tech who walks around in T-shirts spots the pink buoys. The radio will be silent for another half an hour. A classic case of low tech winning over high tech.

But retrieving the array proves to be tough work. The floes won't let go - the array is embedded into the ice. Eric hooks it with a flamboyant lasso and the winch manages to drag it closer but because it could hit against the side of the ship it has to be yanked out with brute force. And believe me there is a lot of it on this ship.

Photo: Eric throwing the grapple hook.

Because the shackles are small, Alice often works without gloves even though her hands look blue to me! Finally we get it back with not even a single piece missing.

Can you beat this happy ending?


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