Southbound Again


“Southbound again – don’t know if I’m going or leaving home…” -Dire Straits

They say that you go to Antarctica the first time because you’re curious; you go the second time for the money, and the third time because you don’t fit in anywhere else anymore. While this is my third deployment, I think there’s enough evidence of me breaking the pattern that I don’t have to worry too much about not fitting in anywhere else. Still, for how little time I’ve actually spent on the ice, the USAP seems to have become a surprisingly large aspect of my life. Thank you, Beth, for talking me into giving it a try. Thank you, Devon, for letting me.

I remember packing that first time, how frantic I was about whether I’d fit in, what to expect, and what to bring. (“Good socks,” Beth counseled wisely, “Get the best socks you can buy.”) The second time was just as panicworthy, because instead of a station, I was going to be on a boat. A boat. And I’d never really been on a boat, if you know what I mean.

But now, third time, it feels frighteningly…routine. Two days ago, I popped open my Google Docs checklist, pulled out the big pink rolly duffle, and just put my stuff in it. Yeah, I still need to stock up on iTunes movies and chocolate, but in terms of actual packing, it took me only a couple of hours to throw things together, and I’m pretty much ready to go.

Of course, there are tons of differences with my previous deployment on the NBP. Last time it was Austral winter and we worked in the shelter of the Bransfield Strait: penguins, glaciers, towering ice-covered mountains and simmering calderas. This time will practically be full summer and we’re spending the entire month bobbing around mid-ocean in the Drake Passage.

I know you’ve got a lot of questions. Here are a few that folks have asked me already:

Question #1: Do you get seasick? Answer: Dramatically, impressively. But I’ve got the best anti-seasickness medication in the world.

Question #2: Tell me again, what exactly you’ll be doing? Answer: Other than trying not to get seasick, I’ll be supporting the Ocean Observatories Initiative as a systems/network administrator, soothingly asking their scientists things like “Have you tried rebooting?” when they come to me with smoking pieces of hardware. And trying to keep the fleet broadband running.

Question #3: What is the Ocean Observatories Initiative? Answer: Frankly, I don’t really know any more than you do at this point, assuming you’ve clicked through to their home page. But it does involve autonomous undersea robots (“open ocean gliders”), so it can’t be that bad. Unless you’ve seen too many James Bond movies, in which case it could be really, really bad.

Question #4: What’s the nudge, nudge, wink, wink thing about “not being on a boat” – is that some weird geek reference? Answer: Absolutely. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead had a profound and traumatic influence on me in high school:

ROS: Do you think death could possibly be a boat?

GUIL: No, no, no … Death is … not. Death isn’t. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not-be on a boat.

ROS: I’ve frequently not been on boats.

GUIL: No, no, no – what you’ve been is not on boats.

Question #5: Dates, pictures and updates – that sort of thing? Answer: That’s not really a question. But I head south for Punta Arenas December 1st and return January 14th. Once we’re at sea (Dec 7-Jan 4), I’ll have very limited web connectivity, but should still be reachable, with delays, by email. I’ll try to keep posting, with as many pictures as I can squeeze into my daily satellite quota. In the meantime, here are some helpful links:

Other questions? Email me at Your message will get sent out into space, bounce around a couple of times, then, via the magic of Google+Internet+Iridium, find its way to me within an hour or two. Assuming, of course, I’m able to keep the fleet broadband running.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 6.30.17 AM

SFO->DFW->SCL->PMC->PUQ: 23 hours and 40 minutes, assuming no flight delays.

One response to “Southbound Again

  1. Bon Voyage!! (More Q&A please!). (And R&G excerpts are cool, too!) Looking fwd to your dispatches and stories and what wonderful&curious experiences await you. Safe travels.


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