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USF scientists catch a break on ocean crossing, arrive in Antarctica ahead of storm

We made it.

The journey from Chile to Antarctica began with a 12-hour trip through the protected waters of the Strait of Magellan, just like the old tall ships did. We popped out into the Atlantic just north of Cape Horn, the tip of South America.

A few hours later, we entered the Drake Passage, the body of water between the cape and the Antarctic peninsula.

In the Drake, we would be at the full mercy of wind and wave -- I've experienced 45-foot seas in previous crossings -- but this time we were spared.

After a rough start -- 40-knot winds and 25-foot seas -- a high-pressure weather system moved in and flattened the swells.

In a calmer ocean, we made good time. Our vessel, the Nathaniel B. Palmer, is an icebreaker, and it can use more than one engine on each propeller to give it the extra power it needs to get through ice. In the open sea, the extra power means speed.

We were hurrying to get into the protected waters near the Antarctic Peninsula ahead of an approaching storm.

Each crossing has its own personality, but there are always spectacular oceanic birds for company.

The wandering albatross and the giant petrel, with wingspans up to 8 feet, flew above the waves nearby, sometimes lagging behind, sometimes going around the boat in an an effortless circle. They glided just inches over the water, so close you think they might crash into a swell, then they soared just over the top and into the next trough -- truly masters of the air.

We beat the bad weather to Palmer Station, where we were protected on one side by the Antarctic peninsula itself and on the other by the many islands that lie to its west. We picked up some cruise essentials and dropped off some cargo for the base.

Our boat is too large to dock there, so we had to ferry people and cargo using zodiac-style inflatable boats. No visit this time – it will have to wait for our return trip, something to look forward to as we head offshore to begin our science operations.

USF scientists catch a break on ocean crossing, arrive in Antarctica ahead of storm 03/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 22, 2010 11:59am]
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