Travel Update - Land Ho

    Early this morning, we passed the tip of South America, the island known as Cabo de Hornos (or Cape Horn). Our captain, Brandon Bell, took a screen shot of our position early this morning, just after passing by the southern most set of islands. Cabo de Hornos marks the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and the northern most boundary of the Drake PassageStrait, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between Tierra del Fuego and the South Shetland Islands. Located about 100 mi (160 km) north of the Antarctic Peninsula, it is 600 mi (1,000 km) wide.. From the 18th to the early 20th centuries, the waters around Cabo de Hornos were sailed by clipper ships on trade routes. Unfortunately, this area claimed many of these ships due to its notorious weather conditions. The area is known as a sailor's graveyard. We passed by "the Horn" without issue and continued our course to the Le Maire Strait (situated between Isla de los Estados an the Argentine portion of Tierra del Fuego). By mid-day, we passed through the Le Maire Strait, leaving the Drake PassageStrait, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between Tierra del Fuego and the South Shetland Islands. Located about 100 mi (160 km) north of the Antarctic Peninsula, it is 600 mi (1,000 km) wide. and entering the Atlantic Ocean. We will spend the day traveling along the coast of Argentina before entering the Straits of Magellan sometime Friday morning or mid-afternoon.

    The Horn
    The small blue triangle indicates the location of the RVIB Palmer on the morning of 10-13-16. The small group of islands to the left of the ship are part of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. The southernmost island is the location of the infamous Cape Horn. Screenshot courtesy Brandon Bell.

    Packing Update

    Lab rooms are looking a bit empty these days. All of the pumps and large pieces of equipment have been removed from counters and boxed up for shipment or storage. Smaller items like bottles, pipettes and filters are packed into boxes and moved to the hold. All of these supplies will be packed into large pallet boxes that will be off-loaded from the ship early Saturday morning and prepared for their shipments to the U.S.

    Pallet boxes
    Numerous pallet boxes fill the main hold of the ship. These boxes wiil transport lab supplies and samples to four laboratories in the U.S. (Univeristy of Rhode Island, Old Dominion University, University of South Florida and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution).c

    The trace metal lab or bubble is gone. The bubble was torn down before dinner yesterday. The aft dry lab looks completely different without the plastic bubble that housed the trace metal equipment for five weeks.

    Bubble shards
    The last remaining pieces of the trace metal lab or bubble hang from the overhead in the aft dry lab.

    Engine Room

    It is tradition on the RVIB Palmer to open the engine room for a tour on one of the last few days of the trip. Yesterday, 2nd engineer Richard Johnson, took a handful of science team members below deck to learn more about the engineering department on the RVIB Palmer.
    Richard has been working with Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO) for the past 9 years, but he started working on ships approximately 40 years ago. For this research cruise, Richard works alongside Chief Engineer JP Pierce, 1st engineer Carl Largan, 3rd engineer Steve Buker (a Massachusetts Maritime alum) and 4 oilers to maintain the ship's engines and other equipment. Remember, once the engines were turned on in Punta Arenas in early September, they run until non-stop until we are again at the dock. The engines and generators work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the trip. The constant upkeep is a vital part of a successful research cruise.

    Main Control Room

    Richard started the tour in the main control room where monitors regularly update the fluid levels, pressures, and other conditions related to the engines, generators, water-makers, etc. The main control room is also an ideal location to begin because it is quiet and Richard could go over the route for the tour. Beyond the doors of the main control room, the generators and engines produce enough noise to drown out conversation. Richard made note of some interesting facts before we started the tour. For instance, the RVIB Palmer is fitted with over 75,000ft (14 miles) of pipe. In the engine room, these pipes are color coded according to the type of liquid. There are 2,700,000ft (511 miles) of wire running through the ship and approximately 4,000 light bulbs on the ship. These numbers are impressive. What I found truly impressive was the size and cleanliness of the engine room compartments. It is obvious that the engineering department work very hard to maintain these machines and the many other pieces of equipment in their charge (water makers, glycol heating systems to heat the main deck, bow and stern thrusters, fuel purifiers, etc.)

    Main Control Room
    Second engineer Richard Johnson goes over the engine room tour in the main control room. Because of the noise of the engine and the need for ear protection, Richard does not talk during the actual tour.

    With ear protection firmly in place, we entered the engine room area and went to the machine shop. This area is used by the engineers to work on repairs. Welding equipment, powerful drills and other tools are scattered about the area. The RVIB Palmer is generally equipped with one full year of parts at all times, but, like any piece of machinery, repairs are sometimes necessary. The machine shop provides a location for those repairs or for fabrication of necessary items.

    Machine Shop
    Richard Johnson points to equipment in the machine shop. Large drills, welding equipment and tools are located in this area of the ship. It is a bit quieter in this area, so it was possible to hear Richard explain the use of the shop.

    Caterpillars on a Ship??

    The four main generators are located on the first level of the engine room. Two generators are used at a time in order to provide power for the ship. One of these massive generators could hold the entire load, but two are generally used. The working generators are rotated to maintain equal work hours. There is an additional emergency generator on the 04 deck in the event of a total power loss.

    Two of the four main generators used on the RVIB Palmer. Two generators are run at a time and rotated to conserve hours. One generator is able to hold the load of the ship, but two are used. An emergency generator is housed on the 04 deck.

    You must descend one more level to reach the main engines. Here, four Caterpillar 3608 diesel engines sit two per side. These engines produce 13,000 horsepower to power the ship. The engines stood well about my 5'7" height when I stood next to them. The RVIB Palmer generally uses two of the four engines while underway. The two engines will each generate power for the two shafts that spin the propellers. When more power is needed, all four main engines are used. In this case, two engines will power each shaft to increase the power. This scenario is used during ice breaking operations. In open ocean, however, two engines are used in order to conserve fuel.

    Catepillar engines
    One of the four main engines on the RVIB Palmer. Catepillar 3608 diesel engines are found below deck. Generally, two engines are used, however, all four are turned on when extra power is needed. Four engines were used to break ice during this research cruise.

    These engines are maintained throughout the trip, but receive a more detailed service call once every two years. In March, while in dry dock in New Zealand, the ship will undergo a 25-year maintenance, which includes detailed work.

    Shaft Alley

    As you continue to move aft (towards the back) in the lower level of the engine room, you reach a room called shaft alley. This is the compartment that holds the two main shafts for the ship. The shafts are housed within a casing (the black and yellow striped cylinder in the picture below). These shafts spin at 142 rpm, while the engine spins at 900 rpm.

    Drive shaft
    One of two drive shafts used to provide torque for turning the propellers. Two of the Caterpillar engines supply the power for each shaft. Either one or two engines is used, depending on the job.

    The shafts provide torque for the two large propellers. Each propeller consists of four blades totaling 13.12ft in diameter. These propellers sit approximately 15ft below the surface of the water.

    Extra propellers
    One of eight extra propeller blades that are stored in the main hold of the ship. Four blades are used for each propeller. When assembled, the propeller measures 13.12ft in diameter.

    I have been anticipating the trip to the engine room for quite some time. You do not truly understand the size of the ship until you see the size of the engine room and the machines that provide the power. A special thanks to Richard and JP for taking the time to show us around!

    Love From Little Landlubbers

    Last, but not least. Ross (and his sister Sarah) live in Richmond, KY. Ross made this picture of SpongeBob just a few weeks before my trip. Thank you Ross!

    SpongeBob from Ross
    Ross - thanks for the great picture of SpongeBob!

    Le Maire Strait/Coast of Argentina
    Weather Summary
    Partly cloudy and windy, occasional rain showers
    Wind Speed
    25-30 knots


    Cara Pekarcik

    Michael - as long as the engine has a source of fuel and is properly maintained with oil and other lubricants, it can run for a long time.  

    From: PolarTREC
    Sent: 10/21/2016 9:03 AM
    Subject: Re: Michael Comerford G-block commented on 13 October 2016 Engine Room Tour


    cara lew

    were you allowed to enter the engine room by yourself? or did you have to be with someone at all times? how often did you get to visit the engine room?

    Cara Pekarcik

    Hi Cara - the engine room was not generally a place that you could just randomly go to hang out. I only visited the engine room during the
    door. I did go to the main control room one other time in order to ask
    the Chief Engineer JP some more questions.

    On 10/18/16 4:39 PM, PolarTREC wrote:


    Were you nervous to enter an area known as a "sailor's graveyard"?


    were you nervous to enter an area known as the sailors graveyard?

    Daniel J-T, block E

    how long did take you to get used to the ship's layout?


    Did you feel scared or anything knowing that about Capo de Hornos? Its sort of like the Bermuda Triangle. Does it feel bitter-sweet that everything looks empty?

    Shane Mitchell

    Have you asked what 2nd engineer Richard Johnson what he had to do to start working abored the ship?

    Cara Pekarcik

    Not long at all - there are only so many places you can go on the ship, so it is pretty easy to navigate your way around after a day or two.

    From: PolarTREC
    Sent: 10/20/2016 7:01 AM
    Subject: Re: Daniel J-T, block E commented on 13 October 2016 Engine Room Tour

    Cara Pekarcik

    No - this area was called the sailor's graveyard back when large wooden sailing ships were used.  With the current technology for predicting weather and the sturdiness of the ship, I had no worries.

    From: PolarTREC
    Sent: 10/20/2016 6:58 AM
    Subject: Re: Sam commented on 13 October 2016 Engine Room Tour


    Cara Pekarcik

    Hi Shane - when I was able to speak to Richard aboard the ship, he said that he started working on ship quite some time ago and learned by doing.  In order to be an engineer on a vessel like the RVIB Palmer, however, he must be licensed.  Now a days, most engineers complete a program at a maritime academy in order to begin working as an engineer (like the 3rd engineer Stephen Bukar who graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy)

    From: PolarTREC
    Sent: 10/20/2016 7:31 AM
    Subject: Re: Shane Mitchell commented on 13 October 2016 Engine Room Tour


    Cara Pekarcik

    No - I was not scared.  This ship is very well equipped for rough seas.  The sea conditions that we experienced were easy for the boat to handle.

    From: PolarTREC
    Sent: 10/20/2016 7:26 AM
    Subject: Re: Marvisa commented on 13 October 2016 Engine Room Tour


    Michael Comerf…

    how is it possible for an engine to be running 24/7 non stop?