The R/V Araon, ship of dreamsApril 16, 2013
After preparations in Punta Arenas, including shopping for comfort food (cheese, bread, peanuts, breakfast cereal) that we thought we might not see for a while, the LARISSA glaciology team boarded the Araon, South Korea’s new polar research vessel. The Araon is a large ship, and very clean—it was commissioned in 2010. I noticed something right away walking through it—a new icebreaker smell, a bit like a new car. The labs and especially the cabins are quite spacious, and very comfortable.
With a late party on the night before departing (April 10), we boarded the Araon on the 11th and sailed out the Straits of Magellan, eastward, and then south. One of the first things we did was listen to a safety briefing video introducing us to the ship’s systems. At the end, the announcer told us that the Araon was “the ship of dreams for polar research,” and we had to agree. It was large, powerful, well-equipped, and new.
The food on board is indeed Korean, although on some occasions they have treated us to some western favorites: spaghetti, pan-grilled steak, eggs and bacon for breakfast. But in fact the best treats have been the Korean-style sushi and Korean barbecue: thawed fresh-frozen fish or grilled pork with lettuce leaves and rice and wasabi. And the soups have been very good; different, but very good. The chicken soup had a kind of dumpling made from rice paste, very soft and white and it had absorbed the taste of the stock very nicely. They allow a little beer or wine with dinner about every other night. Life is good; oriental, but good.
Sailing across the Drake Passage south of Cape Horn, we made very good speed, and the ocean was not very rough. We spent the time preparing the equipment: the K-AMIGOS systems (similar, but newer and upgraded versions of the AMIGOS systems we installed in previous years), and the “Balog Cameras” as we called them, for the project by James Balog known as The Extreme Ice Survey.
By the morning of the 15th we were off the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula at 65 degrees South in Beascochea Bay, just above the Antarctic Circle. This was the best location for flights to our target locations for instruments, all on the eastern side of the Peninsula. But it meant flying over the ridge of the Peninsula, a tricky thing both for the weather and for the helicopters (lots of climbing and shifting winds).
Still, we’re set, with a huge and capable ship, instruments ready to go, and plenty of things to do while waiting for a good weather window in the fjords of the Antarctic Peninsula.