January 17, 2011 Finally At McMurdo - Heading Home?
The Oden finally reached, the pier at McMurdo Station the afternoon of January 16, carefully breaking the ice up to the pier. Here the ice was different than the ice we had seen. It was thin and very clear in some places, almost like the ice on the top of a frozen lake.
The pier itself is an "ice pier," basically a large rectangle of thick ice that has been anchored to the shore with cables and a bridge, and covered with gravel for easier movement of trucks.The ships tie up to the ice pier to unload passengers, cargo,and fuel.
The Oden is the first ship since February, 2010 to be at the ice pier. Remember, she is breaking the channel for tankers and supply ships coming in a week or two, as well as the NB Palmer in the channel following us. And by late February, the summer season comes to an end and 90% of the people leave McMurdo until next October ( their spring). Because the sea ice increases so much in their fall and winter, all ship traffic near the continent stops for 7-8 months, generally from late February to October.
After breaking up the ice near the pier, the Oden got a call that the NB Palmer, out in the shipping channel, was stuck in the thick ice debris. So back out into the channel we headed. When the Oden reached the stranded ship, the captain manuevered her to make a 180* turn in the channel (quite challenging because the channel was only cut wide enough for straight ship traffic) and the Palmer was able to follow us back in to the area near the pier.
Onboard, we were busy completing paperwork, reports, journal entries, downloading and sharing photos, videos, contact information, as well as repacking and recleaning our cabins. Now we were scheduled to dock at the ice pier at 5:00 am, disembark the ship after breakfast, have a few hours to tour McMurdo, eat lunch in the dining hall there, then meet at the transit station at 1:30 pm to be taken the Pegasus Snow Airfield for our 4:00 pm flight to New Zealand.
But, guess what happened next? Yes, we were RESCHEDULED! Just before breakfast, Captain Mattias met many of us in OdenPlan, the ship's central lobby and announced we would NOT be flying out at 4:00 pm as scheduled, but instead at 4:00 am on Tuesday morning! Apparantly, the snow runway had gotten too soft and needed cooler temperatures before the plane coming in from New Zealand could land, which was also the plane we would fly out on.
So we had a relaxed breakfast and walked up to the McMurdo Post Office to mail some postcards. Did you know that it only costs .29 cents to mail a postcard and .44 to mail a letter to the US all the way from Antarctica? It's the same as military mail - pretty cool huh? We did a little shopping at the station gift shop, then headed back to the Oden for our scheduled bus to Scott Base, the New Zealand Antarctic base. There we did some sightseeing and MORE SHOPPING!
Then it was back to the Oden to move our bags off the ship, say goodbye to the officers and crew, and head for the McMurdo Transit Center for our "Bag Drag." "Bag Drag" is when the departing passengers and their luggage get weighed and check in for their flight home. We each kept a bag with a change of clothes and overnight items in case the flight was delayed or canceled, as we would have no access to our checked bags again until we arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand.
In the next journal, I'll share what we saw around McMurdo, and our flight off the icy continent!
Lesson Learned: Patience is important when traveling in Antarctica.