December 14th update from Operation Deep Freeze
by LT Marshall Branch
Howdy from the Southern Ocean!
As you all recall, my last update had not included anything about the Initiation Ceremony for the Crossing of the "X" yet. Well, before we made it into Australia, the ceremony took place. As I mentioned before, the purpose of the ceremony is to honor "King Neptune" and receive his blessing as "Golden Shellbacks." It is a time-honored tradition among sailors.
King Neptunes Court
We awoke EARLY in the morning to the sound of crashing pots and pans and much yelling. The "Honorable Golden Shellbacks" hurried all of the "Wogs" down to the Mess Deck (where we eat) for some cold green eggs and Spam. Yummy. Then it was up to the bow of the boat (front) where we received our "shower." Actually they hosed us down with sea water...Brrr. Then it was back to the flight deck for some glorious exercising followed by a trip back below decks to a space just below the bow of the boat.
We all waited as they called us up onto the decks in groups of 5. There we were blindfolded and led through several stations. One of them was a "haircut by the Royal Barber." There, a set of shears (without the blades) was applied liberally to the heads of the blindfolded Wogs, making them believe they had just been shorn. (No hair was actually removed, it just felt like it). Then we had to drink the "Grog," a concoction that tasted like grits, pina colada, and salad dressing. Wasn't too bad, but I won't order it again.
Then came the true test. We had to climb through the belly of the "whale." In this contraption was a fair amount of food items and other slimy articles. Crawling through it was less fun than a day at the beach, but it wasn't too bad either. After we had done all these things, we had to stand before "King Neptune" and his court (three Honorable Golden Shellbacks that were in costume) and recite a seafarer's poem to illustrate our worthiness. With that complete, we were hosed off again and blessed as the newest crop of Golden Shellbacks.
I also mentioned that we were having Thanksgiving underway. The Thanksgiving feast was actually quite good. We had turkey and ham, corn on the cob and potatoes, yams and hot rolls, salads and cranberry sauce, and a wide assortment of fresh pies. The cooks went all out and we had a great time. The crew was also able to read many of your Thanksgiving greetings and felt a little closer to home as a result. THANKS!
We have just completed two wonderful weeks of port calls and transits around Southeast Australia. We were lucky enough to visit two ports, Sydney in New South Wales, and Hobart, on the island of Tasmania. Both were beautiful and unique in their own ways. Sydney is world renowned after their wildly successful Summer Olympics a couple of years back. The Sydney Opera House and Sydney Bridge are icons that greet the world similar to our Statue of Liberty. The crew took many different tours and visited a wide variety of social functions including shows at the Sydney Opera House, the Taronga Zoo, Bondi Beach, Harbor Cruises, and even climbed the Sydney Bridge! That's right, several of us (my wife included!) enjoyed a guided tour where you walk up the super structure of the Sydney Bridge, right to the top!
Sydney Opera House
After departing Sydney, the POLAR SEA set sail for Hobart, Tasmania, an island state to the southeast of the continent. The seas get much rougher down here and will continue to build as we approach the frozen continent. Tasmania is a beautiful island, populated by many farms, wineries, and a few pockets of industry. Hobart is a smaller city, much smaller than Sydney, and has more of a local port community atmosphere.
One of my favorite things about Hobart was that the Cadbury Chocolate Factory is located there. Needless to say, I took the tour of the factory and left the gift shop loaded down with a TON of chocolate. The Wildlife Preserve there also offers travelers the opportunity to get up close and personal with Australian wildlife. We were able to pet a Koala Bear and a Wombat, see the Tasmanian Devils run around and chase the zoo keeper out of their pen, and we were even able to walk up to kangaroos and wallabies and feed them from our hands. The echidnas were pretty impressive as well.
Me and the Koala
Kangaroo and Joey
Some of us took the opportunity to hike up the mountain and enjoy the views of Hobart from altitude. As you can imagine, since we are so far south, it got quite cold up on that mountain.
The Australian people were some of the friendliest and warmest people I have met in my travels. Their "No Worries Mate" attitude and affinity for Americans made it a perfect location for port calls. Their history is extremely interesting as well. Did you know that Australia started as a prison colony? Did you know that if America had not achieved her independence, Britain might never have cared about Australia? When we won the war, they had to look for new colonies.
When we left Hobart, we had embarked about 20 scientists, mostly from the U.S. Their studies will cover the entire spectrum of scientific study in the Antarctic. One of our scientists from the University of Miami has been launching weather balloons and recording weather information since we left the U.S. Another interesting study will be that of the penguins.
The icebergs that have surrounded Cape Crozier have blocked the access of the penguins to their rookeries (nesting places). This decimated their population last year as none of them could get to the beach to mate. One of our jobs will be to find their new nesting site (rookery) and see how the population is affected. We will be servicing Antarctic Weather Stations along the Antarctic coastline and studying a recent discovery of algae on the bottom of the ice coming off of the glaciers (a unique discovery since it was believed no living organisms survived there).
We will be participating in the IVARS project (Interannual Variability in the Antarctic Ross Sea. The study will be conducted in an area characterized by so-called hypereuthrophic productivity, where high nutrients and nearly 24 hours a day of sunlight cause some of the highest rates of carbon dioxide fixation by phytoplankton measured in any of the world's oceans. The IVARS project will look at climate effects on the water column nutrient chemistry and productivity. You can do this by lowering a device into the water that takes samples at many different depths.
POLAR SEA will also be deploying ARGOS drifters. These buoys will provide weather and oceanographic data from all over the Southern Ocean in real time to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Additionally, we will have an author and photographer aboard as part of the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program.
Thank you to everyone who sent their best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!
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