By Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
April 17, 2012
The trip begins, for me, with a call from Taylor around midday on Monday 16th April. Taylor has just been picked up in the shuttle van and is headed in my direction. The GPS in the van isn’t working great, but happily we are replete with iPhones and we can all help the driver navigate; we circulate around the houses, picking up me, then Tim, John (just back from celebrating his 50th Birthday in Jamaica), and finally Dan before heading off to the airport. Soon after we arrive, we intercept Carl, Al, and Jason from the Sentry team, who came up in a second car. Suddenly we are eight, making up most of the advance party heading to Punta Arenas. We will be ready when the ship arrives to start preparing Sentry and the TowCam as soon as we can get access to our gear, load it aboard ship, and start setting up. But before that, we have 24 hours of air-travel ahead of us (and we are the lucky ones - we learn later that Ko-ichi Nakamura has to start his journey with a non-stop flight from Tokyo to New York City and THEN start following in our footsteps).
After a three-hour flight to Miami, we have two hours to kill in the departure lounge, where we meet up with Greg Kurras, our second Tow-Cam operator, flying in from Chicago. The next flight is the longest, overnight from Miami to Santiago, Chile; once there, we have to collect our bags, go through customs, trail along to the domestic terminal and re-check for Punta Arenas, our final destination. All goes smoothly, although we find that there is a time-zone change in Chile that we hadn’t been ready for, so our connection time isn’t quite as relaxed as we might have liked. At the bag-drop desk for that flight, I meet up with Dana Yoerger, flying in, on a different airline and now we are ten. The final flight goes by in something of a blur. I’m stuck in a middle seat in cattle class, hemmed in by a pair of neuro-biologists... I don’t think they know they are in this blog. The one sitting in the window seat planned ahead and has his digital SLR ready, so that on the occasions that the snow-capped Andes do peek through the extensive cloud cover, he is ready to take his photo. I would like to tell you I got a great view too, but I would be lying. Actually, I did get a pretty good view through the viewfinder of his camera. Maybe I should have used the phone to photograph that for you – sorry!
Eventually we land; by the time we have assembled at the baggage carousel, Dan is already ahead of us, out on the street, negotiating a small mini-van to take us and our bags to the hotel. Greg and I are impressed by the Cossack-style hats sported by the local police and declare a Quest to track one down and buy it. We drive to the Hotel Cabo de Hornos where we will spend the night, facing the main square in town and featuring a statue of Magellan (the guy the straits are named for that we will be sailing through later – sure beats going all the way round the outside in the open waters of Cape Horn!). After a quick shower, and a trip to the bank, I test the vendors on the square to see if they sell Cossack hats – no dice. But it wouldn’t be a Quest if it were easy. Back to the hotel to catch up with Andy, who flew out the day ahead of us; there we hang out for another hour or three trying to stay awake long enough to eat late, like the locals. Eventually it is 7pm and we are starving – we head out, eat well in a great restaurant down by the water, and then head for home (or, at least, the hotel), just as the first locals arrive. By 10pm I am done, but Greg assures me that from our room he could hear when the bar closed up and folks headed for home – around 4am.
By 6:30am it is time to get back up, shower and pack what little of our bags came out thus far. 7am for breakfast and then by 7:30 I am checked out and in a fleet of taxis with the Sentry team (Carl, Al, Andy, Justin and Dana); by 7:45 we are standing in light rain on a bitterly cold and windy pier watching the Melville being tied up and the gang-plank lowered. Not long later it begins to get light. That does something for morale. So does sheltering behind the SUV that the customs folks are sitting in, snug and warm with the engine running. They go aboard ship to clear all the necessary paperwork before we are allowed to board, while we consider what the etiquette would be for sitting in their car while we wait permission to board. Happily, by 8:30am, we’re allowed on board and head first for the main lab to dump all our luggage and then next for the mess for a warming cup of coffee. We have officially arrived!