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Staying Afloat at Palmer Station

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

We are a fortunate station here at Palmer Station, because we have the ability to go boating! It is such an awesome experience boating on the waters around Palmer Station, getting to know all the awesome islands around us, and collecting zooplankton for our krill. Of course the summer season has many more boating days and longer boating hours than the winter, but we are still able to get out to do science or explore on a semi-regular basis, assuming the weather permits us. Surrounding us are many small islands such as Dietrich, Humble, and Amsler Island to name a few, but there are many more we can explore in the 2 mile boating radius.

Over winter we have one RMT (Resident Marine Technician), Ken Block, who singlehandedly keeps boating possible for us during the winter time. Here he gives us an overview of what he does as a Marine Tech at Palmer Station and a bit about the vessels we have:

“As the Palmer Station RMT my job description is quite broad. To put it simply I am the boating coordinator for station. My primary function is to facilitate all boating needs of the scientists here on station. I also coordinate any recreational boating done by the station residents. When I am not in a boat, or getting a boat ready, I spend most of my time in and around the boathouse servicing engines and maintaining the fleet of 12 vessels we have here at Palmer.
Our boats range in shape and size depending their function.
The work horse of the fleet is our Zodiac F580. We employ many of these boats throughout the program both on station and on our two USAP ice breakers, R/V Nathanial B Palmer, and R/V Laurence M Gould. With an overall length of 19’, a ridged floor and inflatable frame, these boats have a large carrying capacity and can be folded up and stored quite easily. I typically keep one of these in service through the entire winter.
The SOLAS 4.8m RHIB is a tough boat that handles ice much better than the Zodiac due to its ridged aluminum V-shaped hull. We have two of these boats on station that I keep operable throughout the winter. These boats are commonly used for search and rescue/support. Depending on the sea and ice conditions, I may also choose to take a SOLAS out for science or recreation.
The Marine Landing Craft is a heavier work boat with a name that reflects its design. Equipped with a bow that opens like a drawbridge, this boat is made for easy shore landings and transfer of cargo. The Landing Craft is used to haul heavy loads of science equipment and scientists to remote locations on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Leading the Fleet we have two 32’ Willard Marine Coastal Research RHIBs. Equipped with an A-frame, hydraulic research winches, a large open deck, the latest electronics, twin Volvo diesel outdrives, and a heated cabin, these boats have expanded our science capabilities at Palmer Station considerably.”

The Marine Landing Craft was vital in getting our krill safely to land when first arriving on station for our season! We also used one of the Willard Marine Coastal Research RHIBs to collect much of our zooplankton that we use to feed our krill on their carnivorous diet.

The Willard Marine Coastal Research RHIB, SOLAS and Marine Landing Craft, and the Marine Landing Craft carrying our krill to shore. Pictured left to right.

Ken continues to tell us what it is like to be a Marine Technician for the winter season:

“The winter-over RMT is unique position within the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). Throughout the summer months the boathouse is staffed with two to three RMTs for an average deployment of 3 months. With over 21 hours of daylight, and around 40 residents, the small station becomes a hive of activity. In the winter months the boat house is staffed with one marine tech for a duration of 7 months. With close to 3 hours of daylight and half the residents compared to summer, the pace changes significantly. I find myself pausing often to appreciate the scenic views, spectacular sunsets, and harsh conditions here in Antarctica. That alone is enough to bring people back time and time again. Additionally, I have found with such a small, remote community, every member is equally invested in the experience. Being part of this community is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job.”

One of the other jobs Ken does here on station is facilitating boat operator training, assuring that those using the boats can do so safely. Palmer Station also has a Search and Rescue (OSAR) team, of which Ken serves as the lead. Thanks to Ken for keeping the station afloat… literally!

Wintering at Palmer comes with many bad weather days that limit boating. Due to this and short daylight hours for boating, the time we get out on the water is valuable and not taken for granted. It is always so exciting to see and experience the wildlife and beautiful scenery the Western Antarctic Peninsula has to offer…no one is complaining when we see a penguin!

Ken, Kim, Kirsten, and me (Julia). Pictures 1-4.

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