This post is from Pablo:
The last day on land before tomorrow’s departure of the Palmer has passed in a flurry of activity. Yet more boxes were unpacked; yet more equipment was set up and tied down. The prospect of high seas flinging delicate and irreplaceable equipment at equally delicate (though eminently replaceable) students meant that the quality of the tying down was closely scrutinized. Some people’s rope-work was efficient and secure, others? knotsomuch.
Another major endeavor of today was moving the science teams into their cabins. Just as the inevitable chaos resulting from giving an ordered list to a group of scientists subsided, the extreme-weather-gear arrived on the helo-deck. These collections of boots, hats, jackets, base layers, gloves and waterproofs were procured yesterday from the dockside warehouse, with clothing assigned to people in sizes statistically indistinguishable from random. Each set of gear had been packed into a duffel bag, with the boots strapped to the outside. We arranged ourselves in a line (in order of scientific competence) and passed the duffel bags along, fireman style. By the time they reached the end of the line with Ian at the bottom of the stairs most of the boots had detached from the outside of the bags, due to a combination of poor initial attachment and the velocity at which the bags reached Ian. This led to a lot of confusion, but eventually everyone ended up with the correct size of boots, and some even had one for each foot.
There was also the all-important introductory briefing, in which the First Mate took us through the safety considerations on board, including the evacuation procedures. This involved a trial donning of Gumby survival suits, which are as flattering as they are easy to put on. They are essentially neoprene onesies adorned with extra flotation flaps, whistles, lights and sewn-in gloves. You can tell if you have put on your survival suit correctly if you can neither see nor breathe easily, and feel as if you would definitely become acquainted with the floor long before you ever made it to the door, let alone into a lifeboat.
Fortunately we were allowed to remove the Gumby suits before touring one of the Palmer’s lifeboats. Otherwise our passage through the lifeboat’s hatch would have been like pressing gummy bears into a coin slot. While not exactly a cheery vessel, the lifeboat seemed reassuringly robust and well equipped. Good thing too, since it could take a matter of weeks to enact a rescue mission to Antarctica.
I’m not saying that this is in any way connected with the extended talks of sea-disaster mitigation, but a lot of people seemed to find reasons to pop back to shore immediately after the briefing. Several of us strolled along the front, glancing up furtively at low, grey clouds rushing by on the ever-chilling wind, which seemed to be rising to the drama of the occasion. Just as we reached a point to look back on the Palmer, the sun dipped under the cloud-deck, setting our vessel’s orange hull aglow. Cameras clicked for a while, but then we just stood there, listening to the ocean and wondering what it held for us over the coming weeks. Next to us, perching on the remains of a ruined wooden pier, cormorants shuffled their black and white bodies to make room as their compatriots swooped in. We watched them, and they stared right back at us; one bemused, wind-ruffled gaggle regarding another.