It was the place I was heading for from New Zeland. It took me two month.(Actually first idea was Deception Island but after closer look I found it out of the way). Why Palmer station? Why any station at all? Arent you sailing to the Antarctic to see the last unspoiled continent and experience its wildlife and remotedness? Good questions. Why bothering about the small fortressess of the civilization which look more or less like their maternal countries? I should find an empty bay, drop anchor and listen to the deep silence. Or a screaming wind later. It would make sense. But on the other hand the stations are part of the Antarctic and even they do not outnumber penguin colonies their work is not without importance. And by the way, after two month I am not that radical about getting lost in the wild. It can wait a bit.
Walking around the flag post I thought that the station was having visitors from New Zeland. I was told later it was meant to be a courtesy flag for Waterbird. I liked the mistake - I could not find a better way to thank to the Kiwis who were helping me at Tauranga. And also no flag of a country where I have friends is foreign to me.
Palmer has the easiest entrance from the ocean and without experience and detailed charts it is the easiest place to go. However the main reason was that it was a landing place of a first singlehanded yacht visiting Antarctic. One early morning a man in a small yacht (both in a disasterous condition) asked for permision to tie along. He was helped by a surprised crew of a famous ship: Calypso with Jacques Cousteau on board visiting at Palmer that day. Still unnoticed by the Palmer station crew he fell asleep, dead tired in his bunk. His name was David Lewis. His yacht, 31 ft long steel boat Icebird was capsized twice on his way from New Zeland, dismasted and among other things, the steel deck was broken by furious seas, everything on board was constantly wet.. He came to Palmer in January 1973 from Steward Island (NZ) in 88 days. As far as I could find, Waterbird was the seccond singlehanded yacht arriving toAntarctic Penninsula straight from New Zeland. From this point of view, I did not have any ambitions, nobody remembers the secconds anyway but I found his story fascinating and I could not imagine going somewhere else. My reasons to visit Palmer vere kind of sentimental.
This glaciar behind the station was braking every day. It is louder than all engines and generators together. Pieces af ice scratch the boat when they are taken by the wind. As the glaciar is constantly retreating, new small uncharted islands will be discovered.
Do not think I was expecting something I could read in David Lewis´s book: "Around mid-morning I awoke to find note from the base commander propped up on the cabin table saying simply - "Your room is ready for you." What a welcome! In one phrase it summed up the warm-hearted American hospitality that was to illumine my months at Palmer". Well, things have changed at Palmer. I should say some rules have changed because when I was able to see people behind these rules , I found that the same thing has not happened to them. I arrived in the evening - nearly time to hit the bunk for any well behaving sailor and polar man and polar woman. The base commander did not have to sent a note, my radio still working I was invited for a tour around the station next morning. There was only one problem: The holding by the station is very bad. I could not anchor. I spent more than hour ploughing the bottom uselessly. It was deep and the inlet quite narrow. I was thinking about going out of the bay again to get some time, to put another (fisherman) anchor on the chain. I was glad that somebody in Zodiak came to help me, to tie my lines to the shore and to take me to the station later. And the biggest surprise of all: it was not just somebody but two nice ladies Meggie and Louise, who become my friends at Palmer. They completely ruined my stereotype about long beared polar man sticking ladies´ pictures torn out of the magazines on their walls.
Eating at Palmer after two month on the ocean must be close to eating first time in heaven if I happen to make it to get there. If not, I have enjoyed this extraordinary delight here. The tour around the station was exactly this kind of experience. Thanks to Raydene. She took me around the station from the galley (what a custom to call kitchen the same way as sailors do on ships) to generator room with many stops in between: biology labs, aquarium, sauna, hot pot, carpenters, offices, a bar, a big gym where you can exercise looking out of a huge window or at a same size screen if the weather is too boring, a station souvenier shop , storage room (which is much bigger than Waterbird lockers and also much better organised.), firemen "armour" in several corners around the station, living appartments. There is a separate house for weather, radioactivity, seismic activity observation and a long antena is able to detect lightining from another world´s end. I was surprised that walking between the various buildings in snow, Raydene was wearing shoes which did not look very Antarctic. They were rather summer Florida shoes but saying that she was barefoot would not be a complete lie. But first of all I got a feeling that thanks to her the life at Palmer must be more pleasant for residents and visitors alike.
Just the fact that you walk outside to go for meals shows that Palmer has a different climate than South Pole station for example. But nothing wrong with sauna - small building in the center (left) and hot tube (right).
Base commander Eric gave me a welcome and explained the rules. I can not expect any help from the station because its funds come from taxpayers pockets and they are meant for scientific program. Rule number two: "we are not here to help those unprepared". Which meant something like no service, filling and laundry station for sailors at Palmer. I was quite happy I did not need anything urgently and with little detailes I did not even dare to ask. I still had enough drinking water for about a week. I also realised that the shower I had the night before was kind of illegal, but it was too late. If any taxpayer ever complains, send me the bill and I will put it right. Thinking about it I could take these rules (I am not being sarcastic). I regreted only one thing. No chance to join Palmer´s crew on Zodiacs when they went to visit little islands around in Arthur harbor. I had to go on my own. (Landing was tricky because of the swell.)
Some corners have an industrial look. The advantage of being at Palmer is that if you do not like it, just turn your head a little bit. --- Firemen drill woke me up in the morning via the radio. My firt idea was that is was not just a drill.
A friend told me his oppinion later: "David Lewis become a nightmare for Palmer station in the end". I could imagine it: his boat hauled up for winter, hundreds of hours of work to make her seaworthy again, big material support. Somebody wrote on his bulkhed: "Repaired in Antarctica by trained penguins". You can read about his days at Palmer in his book Icebird. It seems that his departure was still more than friendly: "My stomach gave a sudden lurch of emptiness at parting from such loyal friends, who expressed their own feelings after the manner of man everywhere. "Piss off Limey and don´t come back". Some people think that he changed Palmer´s attitude which lasts until these days. If it´s true I wish could leave a different footprint for another 36 years but I did not know how. So I left soon. The goodbyes I had were really nice and in less ambiguous manner. Thanks for giving me more than the rules.
This was not built for babies but I am sure they would love it.
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