By Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
April 18, 2012
We joined the ship around 8 am Wednesday morning. By 9 am, we had confirmation that our vans full of gear were in port and ready to be delivered. This would mean we could unload some of the smaller boxes, the slide TowCam, and the Sentry out of their containers and then lift each system and their now partially emptied container vans aboard ship. So far so good – the containers were expected at the ship within the hour.
We settled down to other subtle niceties of being aboard, hooking up our computers to access email, working out where our cabins were going to be and that happily killed an hour. One email from Donna (Chief Scientist) confirmed that she had missed her connection in Santiago by five minutes. So, instead of getting the early-morning flight to Punta Arenas, she would be catching the mid-morning flight and would be with us by mid-afternoon. Meanwhile, still no containers.
Some more calls ensued, we met with the Captain and he joined in the communications on our behalf, explaining that we needed to get the containers delivered so we could get to work.
Another hour passed, still no containers. Suddenly, it was 11:30 am and time for lunch. Noon came around and a new development from discussions with the ship’s agent: According to the paperwork accompanying the two 20-foot container vans from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, it was not permissible to unload any of the equipment from the containers on the dock before lifting them aboard ship. But, getting the Sentry and TowCam out of the containers beforehand was necessary to make room for the equipment and their use on board the ship. What to do?
Around 2 pm, Carl (Sentry Expedition Leader), our Captain, Dave, and me (as Donna’s stand in on behalf of the science party) went with the agent to the major container port, Mardones, on the outskirts of town (our ship had tied up at the smaller Prat port, a short walk from the old town of Punta Arenas). On the way, we commented on the fantastic new development of promenade with sculptures, public exercise equipment, and striking ocean views all along the water front and the vast amount of work clearing up all the mud deposited by the extensive flooding Punta Arenas suffered recently.
At Mardones, things resolved themselves happily, all while Dave, Carl and I were left waiting in the car. After 10-15 minutes of discussions with “The Big Boss” at the port, it became clear that while our paperwork meant that we couldn’t do what we wanted all the while we were tied up at the Prat port, but that all would be just fine if we relocated and tied the ship up within the security perimeter of the larger Mardones port.
Unfortunately, there was a container ship already tied up at the pier, but unable to unload its cargo due to strong winds that had been blowing all day. On the good side, they had just begun unloading the ship that very hour as the wind abated, so the estimation was that they might be done by around 7 pm.
So, back to the ship we went to relay the good news. With time to kill and little else to do, Tim, Taylor and Greg all headed into town to track down improved weather-proofing of hats, coats, and gloves to protect against the adverse weather. Around 4pm, Donna arrived with a subset of all the people she had been flying down with. Now the Captain, the agent, and Carl all had a real Chief Scientist to work with (the official point of contact between the science party and everyone else), so they didn’t have to make do with me trying to avoid making any irreversible decisions until she arrived.
By 7 pm, we had everything lined up – the ship was due to sail to the new port at 7:30 and as soon as the ship started pulling alongside, we were going to be allowed to start unpacking the vans. Despite the fact that it would be late in the day by then for port workers and the ship’s crew alike, we had an agreement that an eight-wheeler, 70-ton crane with operator, a 40-foot truck carrying our 20-foot long containers, and a fork-lift truck with driver were standing by.
Carl, Andy, Donna and I piled into a van just before the ship cut loose from the pier and drove to the main port, stopping to collect Dan, Tim, Taylor, and Greg who get one more night of luxury before joining ship. So there we were, around 7:45, in the cold and dark, on a wet and windy pier. Happily, by learning from our mistakes, and then choosing not to repeat them exactly, this time we stayed put in the van and declined to get out until the other ship left and the Melville pulled up alongside.
But once the fork-lift had arrived, the crane had arrived, and a truck with both our vans was at the end of the pier waiting to make delivery, we got out of the van. But what’s this? Suddenly a small white bus pulled up and disgorged our missing science party members. Quick as we could, we got them off the bus and stowed their luggage in a safe place out of the way so we could get on with the job at hand – a whole bunch of heavy lifting where safe operations are at a premium.
Eventually, the gangplank was in place, our newest science party members were safely aboard, and the containers were lifted off the back of the truck and onto the dock so we could start work. It was just after 9 pm. Through an organized swarm of activity, by just after 10:30pm, everything that needed doing by the time we called it a night was done. Both sets of vans had their boxes unpacked and numerous boxes of gear lifted aboard ship. Working with the fork-lift driver, we also slid both Sentry and TowCam out of their vans and lifted each of those, using the ship’s crane, into their designated slots out on deck. Finally, the container vans were loaded back up with any remaining gear and were lifted aboard ship.
By 11 pm, we were pretty happy. Despite 12 hours of frustration, including an hour or so wondering how we would get past a seeming impasse, we had at least achieved the bare minimum of what we wanted to get done today. And tomorrow’s another day.