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Mr. Pastirik's Daily Log 27 November 2005

November 27, 2005

I worked as a DA at the 5:00 pm shift after Thanksgiving feast (which was great!) last night. DA is an abbreviation for dish room assistant. I wore two layers of gloves, a full length rubber apron, and a paper hat. I think I looked stunning. Cindy, my co-DA, and I got the frontline positions. People who are done eating, after scraping and sorting food waste and burnables, separate plates, bowls, cups, silverware, etc. at our window. You have to be fast, not mind splatters and splashes, and keep your footing on the slippery floor. After prewash of bowls and plates, an automatic dishwasher is loaded up with everything. If you have ever seen the “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel are in the candy factory at the assembly line than you have a good image of the job of a DA. It was all good natured work and fun. Nearly every diner thanked us and wished us Happy Thanksgiving. The regular crew seemed very appreciative for our efforts. It always feels good to help others.

At 11:30 AM today, a number of the ANTCI team and I joined others on a boondoggle (a trip out of McMurdo Station with fun as the intention). Our boondoggle was a Delta trip “To Nowhere”. A Delta is a vehicle with a cab that can hold 18-20 people and their gear and has huge, wide tires allowing the vehicle to travel easily over snow and ice. It is a little rocky in the cab, but seatbelts hold one in place. “Nowhere” turned out to be “Somewhere” 50 minutes northward past the airport near the Erebus Glacier Tongue.

We drove north over the location of Seabee Richard T. William’s death due to drowning as the sea ice broke below his tractor and he plunged to his death in 800 feet of water. Seabees are the construction and engineering personnel for the U.S. Navy. Their job is important, and often dangerous. Seabee Williams was participating in Operation Deep Freeze I at the time of his death, and Willie Field is named in his honor and commemorates him.

The frozen sea of McMurdo Sound is beginning to show some wear. There seems to be solid wave forms being created as pressure builds, and shifts. In some places, the pressure builds to the point where ice is thrown up to form pressure ridges, and in places cracks appear. It is at these cracks that Weddell Seals are found. Weddell seals are the mammals found farthest south (except for humans!). The books describe the seals as rotund, I would call them chubby. They grow to a length of about 10 feet, weigh nearly 1200 lbs., and may live for 20 years. Today, the weather was beautiful (clear and sunny, a balmy 20 degrees F, with a very light breeze), and they were lounging on the sea ice. Holes and cracks in the ice allow access to and from the sea. If necessary, the seals will use their teeth to chip away the ice to enlarge the opening. Weddell seals can dive to a depth of 1800 feet, and hold their breath for an hour. They eat fish, squid, and crustaceans. Seal pups are born in colonies during September and October. Weddell seals and Adelie penguins are the animals most of us think of when we think of Antarctic animals. Generally, I was told one can approach the animals up to about 50 yards before they are disturbed. I am here to say that the information given me about this is true.

After taking our pictures with Mt. Erebus, pressure ridges, and seals in the in the background, Kelly (a Coloradoan summering here as a van driver) and I took a walk. We were pretty far out there when we were flagged back. On the walk out across the sound were Mt. Discovery and the Transantarctic Mountains with their glaciers and surrounding snowfields clearly visible. It was beautiful.

At this point, I am writing you from the Jamesway (a kind of small Quonset hut) used by team to work on their instrumentation and to warm up. The Twin Otter sits just outside. Work is continuing on the instrumentation for the plane. Since power to the plane is on, someone must be in attendance to deal with fire, etc. It is my turn. When the van returns, I will head off to dinner. I will get to drive the van for the first time (completed driving school the other day). I am looking forward to the experience like a 16 year old getting the family car for the first time.