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Finally at Sea

ABOARD THE USCGC POLAR SEA, ON THE BEAUFORT SEA– After writing the last dispatch, I had a nearly sleepless night in Barrow because I was so worried about all the details involved with getting all the gear and people onto the ship the next day. I finally gave in and woke up early. There had been concern in the community over whether our icebreaker operation would interrupt the opening day of whaling season. However, several whaling teams were successful that morning.

It took several hours to sort, weigh, and tag all of the personal luggage going out to the ship. It took several more hours to ferry the personnel by helicopter, and the luggage by landing craft. I stayed with the luggage to help keep it organized and insure that no pieces were mixed in with the outgoing science party. The day was windy with several snow squalls, and the landing craft rolled and crashed over large swells during the 20 minute ride out – it was a lot of fun.

Wearing a cold-water survival suit, waiting on the beach for the landing craft launched from the icebreaker.

It was surreal to pull up next to the icebreaker (399 feet long) in the launching craft (perhaps 35 feet long). Our little boat was getting pummeled by the waves – I had to brace myself against the handrail during the entire ride – and spray from smashing into waves had been washing over the open deck. However, as we pulled into the leeward side of the icebreaker, the immense ship sheltered us from the wind. I’m not sure, but the icebreaker must be at least 6 stories tall; it was like pulling the boat up to the base of an immense cliff. The Coast Guard personnel threw heavy lines up to the ship and secured the boat then we clambered up a rope ladder and onto deck. A different crew member immediately helped us gather our luggage, and showed us to our rooms.

The rest of the day was spent organizing (no surprise there). We hurriedly unpacked our own gear into our rooms then began the long process of finding all of the project gear in the cargo hold and bringing it up to the lab spaces. Somehow, in the narrow hallways and cramped stairs (more like ladders) of the ship, everyone managed to maneuver their equipment into the labs.

We left the Barrow area and cruised west then north, to avoid the waters near Barrow during whaling season. We then traveled east then north again; by this morning we were passing – and occasionally crushing – large pieces of floating ice. We have not cruised through any solid ice yet, only fields of floating ice. This morning I ducked out onto a side deck before breakfast to take this picture of dawn. Temperatures have been hovering around 30 degrees (Fahrenheit).

This morning we launched for captures for the first time. As we flew to the north, trying to radio track some bears for recaptures, I looked back and saw the icebreaker sitting in the trail of open water it had created. The ship that looked awesomely large from the water looked small from above. The deck from which we launched is visible at the stern. Unfortunately, because we did not encounter large areas of solid pack ice as we flew there were no safe places to perform captures. After short flights, we returned to the ship. We are currently underway and we plan to cruise north for about two days, towards different collared bears, in hopes of working on better sea ice.

The pace of work has continued to be frenetic – our lab is finally up and running, and all of the instruments seem to have made their journey intact. All of the capture equipment was in place for the flight today, and hopefully we will use it soon. Tonight is chance to catch up on some rest.

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One Response »

  1. John,

    so happy you made it safely and things are underway for your adventure! We are curious – what does your “room” look like for sleeping? Is it just a bunk or an actual cabin? We are looking forward to more pictures and further stories of your adventures there in the wet and cold. We hope that you find those polar bears and are able to process them safely. Please take care and we will follow you with excited interest! Christa and Christopher