Journal of Monty Compton
Operation Deep Freeze
USCG Staten Island
Monty Compton served as a Marine Science Technician. This is the story of his journey during an annual relief of Antarctic stations.
VALPARISO to PALMER STATION, ANTARTICA
We departed Valpariso after five days of liberty. Some of the guys came down with jaundice. One of the hotel owners threw an all-expense paid party for his group of guys the last evening. During our stay in these countries, we avoided drinking water due the possibility of getting "Montezuma-Revenge"; a parasitical bug that affects the digestive system. It was assumed that the jaundice came from the vegetables i.e. tomatoes etc that was served at that party. The few guys that had jaundice were at that party.
We headed to Punta Arena, Chile - at the Southern tip of South America, to pick up a group of scientists that was to replace the group of scientists for the next year at Palmer Station Antarctica. The transit to Punta Arena required passage of the Straits of Magellan. And true to story, lore, weather and expectations, the Straits were windy, stormy, cold and low visibility. The saving grace in that transit was the wind was on our stern.
Tom Beckham and I started the story to all that would listen as we approached the Straits of Magellan - the Flying Dutchman. Tom being the "story" teller that he could do best, he talked about the Flying Dutchman. As Tom spinned the story it seems that some years in the 17th-century since a Dutch man-of-war was lost off the Cape of Good Hope (Africa), and every soul on board perished; The crew of this vessel are supposed to have been guilty of some dreadful crime, in the infancy of navigation; and to have been stricken with pestilence ... and are ordained still to traverse the ocean on which they perished, till the period of their penance expire. The legendary ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever. This included Cape Horn at the south tip of South America. The myth originated from a 17th-century nautical folklore. Sightings in the 19th and 20th centuries reported the ship to be glowing with ghostly light. If hailed by another ship, the crew of the Flying Dutchman will try to send messages to land, or to people long dead. In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom.
"Fast gliding along, a gloomy bark,
Her sails are full, though the wind is still,
And there blows not a breath her sails to fill."
Tom had some of the younger sailors on the edge of their seats... along with some of the older guys too. Tom continues with the story that he had actually seen it off Cape Horn - the precise waters we were to transit it the next few days. He followed up with the story every chance he could. Right after we arrived Punta Arena several of the crew would approach Tom - much to his delight and "arrgh"ing, he was told how they saw the Flying Dutchman the previous night.
We anchored off Punta Arena for just one day. The helos flew aboard the replacement crew, supplies and mail. Less than a week later we arrived at Palmer Station, Antarctica.
Enroute to Palmer Station from Punta Arena we had to cross the Antarctic Circle. Once again we had a "visit" from "King Neptune" via the PA system as we crossed the Antarctic Circle. We had already been deemed lowly "pollywogs" a month before when we crossed the equator. We had entered the Royal Domain of the Emperor Penguin by this crossing and His Imperial Majesty domain and deemed a "red-nose". We were to be inducted and become a Frozen Stiff, giving us privileges of this frozen realm of blizzards, including freezing, shivering, starving, and any other privileged miseries that can possibly be extended during his stay in this land of answer to a well digger's dream. Now proclaimed as purveyors of the Realm of King Neptune for a second time and once again at that time and moment, all of us Red-Noses were expecting the Crossing ceremony. Once again we were ushered into a lower cargo hold.
Thru the PA system King Neptune informed us that the violation of his domain was duly noted and written in the books of the seas and that horrible things would be done until the Ceremony of Crossing was vindicated. And as before, all became quiet, the lights came on and Sons of Neptune had disappeared. No ceremony was evident that night or the following day. We knew then that our day would come once we crossed the International Date Line before we got to McMurdo.
PALMER STATION, ANTARTICA - Antarctic Peninsula
We anchored off the Station and there was another smaller vessel anchored there too. The Deck department used the cargo boat to transfer the stationâ€™s year supply back and forth. We had opportunity to go ashore near an Adelie penguinâ€™s rookery. We took our cameras and had to walk by this rock outcrop in route to the rookery. As we did so we passed with a few feet of an elephant sea lion that blended in perfectly with the outcropping. You cannot image the reaction once the sea lion moved and grrrr-roared when you are just 3 feet away.
The penguins made their nests out of jagged rocks located all throughout the rookery. They had no fear of humans. Humans, until recently, were never introduced to them. In a defense stance, the non-nesting penguin would make a mock charge by lowering its head and come at you hissing with a small growl. Skua gulls were flying over head. They are a voracious bird that would aggressively enter the rookery and most of the time drive the nesting penguin off the nest and pick the egg or baby chick and make off with it.
After a couple of days replenishing the Station, the group of scientists that had been there a year came aboard and we departed for McMurdo Sound. We would deliver the scientists to McMurdo Station where there is a research station supported by the US Navy and a near-by New Zealand research station. During the Antarcticaâ€™s summer season ( December- March), C-130 aircraft would fly in to the McMurdo stations almost daily to deliver supplies - weather permitting. The scientists from Palmer Station would return to New Zealand aboard one of the C-130s.
PALMER STATION, ANTARTICA to McMURDO SOUND
Our transit from Palmer to McMurdo would take us off shore of Antarctica from east to west through the Amundsen Sea into the Ross Sea. The transit would circumnavigate over 1/4th the diameter of Antarctica along a 2500 nautical mile course.
This transit took a couple of weeks, in and out of pack ice. We had helo ops almost daily in which they would scout for a transit that would avoid any closed pack ice. This allows for a faster and easier transit. Being one of the helo members as an "ice-observer from time to time, I was able to take pictures from the helo.
Before departure in Seattle, a new machine was installed in out O-lab that would receive the polar orbiting GOES (weather) satellite pictures as it passed overhead several times a day. It was my job to receive, grid the pictures and brief the Captain. In a couple of pictures we had seen where the winter pack ice was separated from the shoreline attached fast-ice and a sizable lane had formed. Working our way into the pack ice allowed us access to that lane saving us hundreds of miles of transiting distance and time.
During one of the pack ice transit we came across a few Emperor Penguins, the only time we had seen this species of bird when in Antarctica.
A day or two out from arriving at the fast ice off of McMurdo, we crossed the International Date Line. For us "newbies" this meant our THIRD infraction regarding the Realm of King Neptune. This time the Domain of the Golden Dragon had been encroached and our "pollywog" status had been double-up from the Equator crossing earlier during the voyage. For the third time via the PA system King Neptune informed us that the violation of his domain was exceptionally duly noted this time and all uninitiated were again written in the books of the seas. Blah - blah -blah! But as before, all became quite. No ceremony became evident. We now were perplexed regarding this time honored ceremony. Had the Shellbacks weakened? Had they dismissed the initiation? Only time would tell.
As we arrived the edge of the fast-ice, the helo launched with the Palmer Station scientists aboard and delivered them to McMurdo - nearly 40 miles away. It allowed them to head back North aboard one of the C-130s. The helo pilots came back and we were told no further mail, fresh food or other supplies could be exchanged with the STATEN ISLAND for a month. The ship was placed on quarantine due to the month-ago case of jaundice that we had aboard. Now - - they knew about that before we arrived and before the helos first went inâ€¦ it made no sense to usâ€¦ the jaundice cases aboard had run its course and was no longer evident. But they allowed the exposed scientists and helo crew to "expose" the station. We considered it a "con-pirate-sea". (remember - we were had no internet - email or other such technology .. it was a way to have fun with a sad situation)
A weekly routine and tradition aboard the ship ever since our departure from Seattle was that one Departments on Wednesday evening would take over the cooking facilities in the evening. Handmade pizzas were made and serve up. This would allow the cooks aboard to have one day off a week.
The Morale Officer would stand at the end of the line on these Wednesday nights and hand out two opened can beers - as your name was crossed off the list. There was no drinking of alcohol permitted aboard other than the 2 beers a week. Once again groups of three would gather our resources. Once every three weeks you would receive the other two crew beers. This allowed for a good buzz once every 3 weeks or so.
It would take about a month to bust the fast ice channel into McMurdo. The busting was non-stop - 24/7. The berthing areas were located below the water line and the noise of the breaking and grinding of the ice against the hull became immense. One would become use to the noise after a while â€¦ it became normal. It became so normal that when we did stop it was hard to fall asleep because of the QUIETNESS! Once a week or so (usually Pizza/Beer Wednesday) we would haul the vessel as far forward on the ice and hold up for the day. This allowed the engineersâ€™ time to conduct routine maintenances to the engines - etc.
This "down" time allowed for the crew to stretch their legs off the ship. The Deck crew would stretch out bow lines and dead-head them into the ice as to moor the vessel to the ice. The crew would then venture out on this solid sheet of ice. Adelie penguins would be seen in small groups at a distance. Several of us would head over to them to take pictures and it became evident that the penguins diverted from their trek to come over to see what we were! The penguins would travel on their bellies, propelled by their hind feet that had 3 claw like toes on their webbed feet. Once they got to us they would stand and waddle on their hind feet zigzagging in between us, squawking trying to figure out what we were?
The penguins would allow you to pick them up. Once you had them they would freeze and shiver until you placed them back down. They would run hard away from you for about 20 feet or soâ€¦ and then turn right back around and come right back to you, stop and look up at you. After several weeks of penguin holding, the novelty wore off. We would play soccer on the ice instead. But sooner or later, a group of penguins would show up and run between us scolding us for running about and creating a ruckus.
As we busted the channel several miles towards McMurdo we would see killer whales (Orca) transit the channel. At these times with penguins were in the water, the orca came near them to hunt them. One would see the penguins come flying out of the water ahead of the whales. They began running as fast away from the edge ice as possible. The whales would breach themselves out of the water - half onto the ice trying to snag a penguin. We never witness any orca-catching-eating success, but certain that they must of had meals every once in a while. The penguins were so quick jumping out of the water it reminded us of popcorn popping.
At Christmas the vessel halted the icebreaking for the day. A traditional Christmas meal was planned and served. At the end of the chow line Captain Putzke shook each crewmembers hand. Remember the cases of wine he had brought aboard? He would then turn around and pull out a bottle of wine from one of the many cases he had bought aboard in Chile. He would hand it to the crewmember and wished him a Merry Christmas. Over 100 crewmembers had their very own bottle of wine purchased and personally handed to each crewmember by their Captain. Captain Putzke became a demi-god to the crew that Christmas day.
The icebreaker CGC NORTHWIND joined us to help bust the channels remaining 5-miles. The STATEN ISLAND responded by taking sheets of plywood and marking slogans like "We donâ€™t need a NORTHWIND - all we need is a good south wind" (meaning the south wind would blow the brash ice we had broken towards the north - clearing out the channel). It was all in fun - the NORTHWIND was stationed in Seattle and we were all good friends.
McMURDO US Naval Station, Antarctica
With the help of the NORTHWIND, it did not take long for us to complete the channel inside of Hut Point at the US Naval Station in McMurdo. The permanently frozen ice shelf made in to a make-shift pier to tie up to. We started our 3-day duty watch routine waiting for the 2 US Naval supply ships to arrive. The first scheduled in, the USS WYANDOT (AKA-92), a 460ft freighter style supply ship would bring basic commodities and the like. The STATEN ISLAND and NORTHWIND tied outboard of the WYANDOT during the unloading process. The noise at the make shift pier was significant as forklifts, ships booms and winches along with trucks hauled off the new arrived supplies that would supply the station for the year all day and all night long!
Mount Erebus is the dormant volcano and the producer that made Ross Island in which the pier we were moored to at the location of Hut Point. The hut was built in 1902 by Robert Falcon Scott during the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904. Inside the hut are preserved, artifacts from that era including that of a dehydrated - mummified dog. Antarctica is so cold during most of the year that no bacteria, viruses and many bugs can live or develop. Hence the well preservation of the dog - he was curled up and looked like he was sleeping.
The year before one of the mission for the STATEN ISLAND was to transfer scientists and equipment up Mount Erebus with our helos. As the helo passed the 10,000 foot level they lost air density and crash landed the craft on the side of the mountain. The craft landed with a solid thud and "sledded" its way down the mountain for several hundred feet. The slopes were covered with snow thus making the crash more of an out-of-control landing than an all out crash. Everyone was jolted - but fortunately no one was seriously hurt. They still had communications and the 2nd helo landed about a mile down the mountain where they worked out way down for evacuation. The assessment of the crashed helo was that the frame was bent and the helo could no longer be airworthy. During the next few days, the Aviation guys would travel up to near the spot that we crashed, walk up to the downed craft and stripped her to the frame.
The US Naval Station at McMurdo considered moving the station to a more "ice-free" port several hundred miles North along Victoria Land. They had preliminary scouted out a bay and had asked us to head there to conduct a depth sounding survey. They needed to see if the area was capable of handling the deep port vessels. The Captain and Operation boss, Lt. Bill Potter knew of my abilities as a civil engineer and able to setup transit lines. We planned on setting up the shore with flags that made a series of "ranges" one of our small boats could follow. The STATEN ISAND "Captains Yacht", (a 35 foot cabin cruiser), had a recording sounder on board would provide the depth information. The theory would be that as the boat would run down a course using the ranges set up ashore, the recording would be marked at certain intervals allowing constructing a topographic sounding chart of the bay. GPS had not been invented yet.
After the STATEN ISLAND arrived, the helos took me and three others to set up the ranges. We had been at it for about an hour when we got word to return to the ship. The project for some reason was cancelled. We headed back to Hut Point where we waited another couple of weeks for our departure.
Two weeks before being transferred to the STATEN ISLAND in October, I had been assigned aboard the CGC WACHUSETTS. The vessel had been in the shipyard. One Friday I was assigned a fire watch with a CO2 fire extinguisher. The welders caught a bulkhead on fire and when I went to use the fire extinguisher. It had blown up in my face. It had chipped one of my front two teeth and another on my lower teeth. This story is presented now because before we left Seattle there was not enough time to conduct any further dentistry. While waiting in McMurdo, my upper front tooth began hurting. I was sent to the McMurdo Naval Station dentist office. They took x-rays and determined my tooth was abscessing. They conducted a root canal immediately. The dentist and dental techs were teasing me on how I could brag that I had major dental work in Antarctica.
One of the reasons we had to wait to depart McMurdo is that we did not have enough fuel to go anywhere. There are pictures of me with the vessels in the background at Hut Point. You will note in the picture how high out of the water the STATEN ISLAND is compared to the NORTHWIND. That was due to a lack of fuel aboard the vessel. There is a series of pictures of me and another crewman I believe to be RM3 Anderson. We wandered thru the Naval Station at McMurdo. There was a Chapel, bust of Franklin Ross and that of the McMurdo Playboy Club that are included in my pictures. There was an enlisted club, but the beer tasted bad. Story was that they would put formaldehyde in so that it would last all year long. The taste kind of confirmed that myth.
We were waiting for the 2nd supply vessel, a oiler/tanker, USNS MAUMEE (T-AOT-149). It delivered over 800,000 gallons. Upon its arrival and after we refueled, we immediately got underway for Hobart, Tasmania.
Â© Monty Compton