Questions and Responses #2
Posted October 25, 1999 Previous set
When people are cooped up in small spaces for long periods, especially in dangerous remote places such as Antarctica, they experience stress that can cause them to "flip out". What coping mechanisms, successful and otherwise, have been used in the past to alleviate stress in Antarctic research stations and expeditions?
Hi Sonja, I am co-ordinating the field safety and support side of the filming. I have spent three winters at Antarctic research stations so I guess I have some experience of what you are asking!
The best way to help people regain a sense of balance if they find the stress of living cooped up together is too much is to find a way to give them some space and time to themselves. On a research station, there are always jobs that need to be done outside, maybe a short trip away from the station itself, if possible. Those fortunate enough to be on a station where there is a penguin colony are the luckiest, and I have often taken a day off to go and unwind watching them go about their business.
It may be that news from home, or even lack of news, has caused somebody to become distressed and then, of course, a sympathetic ear is often the best help.
I have to say that during the ten years that I worked on Antarctic research stations, there were very few times that stress reached to the levels you describe. The sun coming back after winter is usually enough to lift most hearts.
Best wishes, David Rootes
I recently read "Endurance" and I never quite figured this out. How they were able to sail the James Caird to the second landing spot on South Georgia considering they broke the rudder on their first landing.
Chris, What apparently seems to have happened is that they sailed into King Haakon Bay with the James Caird, and the first place that they came to was a place that they called "Cave Cove." When they pulled the boat up on the beach, you can just imagine that these guys had been all crumpled up in the James Caird. They had been cold and running out of food and water for 16 days and had not been able to stretch their legs out, so they basically fell ashore and stumbled up to get some water. The James Caird was rolling around on the beach in a little bit of surf that was there, and during that next night the rudder got bounced off. The way the rudder is fixed onto the boat, you can pull it up and it comes out of its hinges, or what we call the gudgeons and pintles.
So, the rudder got bumped off and no one realized it and during the night it floated away. They were a little apprehensive about what they were going to do next. Well, they pulled the boat ashore that night and they rested up and were actually taking some parts of the James Caird deck apart to make a fire to cook up some albatross chicks that they had found.
When they were ready to go they knew they had to cross King Haakon Bay to get closer to where they thought they would be able to access the interior of the island. And then, the miracle of miracles, the rudder came floating back into their cove! So they got the rudder back and they were able to use the rudder and they rowed rather than sailed across to the other side of the bay.
I'm interested in learning about the social life and activities on the ship. While the crew has a mission, oftentimes when you put a group of people like this into confined quarters over a length of time in adverse conditions it is the day-to-day activity and interaction that intrigues me the most. Is there a television on board for entertainment? If so, is there more than one channel? Is the crew able to communicate with their families back home?
Response from Chris Ralph:
Hi, I'm the Hotel Manager on board the Akademik Shuleykin. Our ship has three main seasons per year: November to March in the Antarctic; April to June sailing across the South Pacific; and July to October in the Russian Far East. Typically, we each work two seasons of the year and spend the third at home with our families.
Because we spend so much time in remote places there is no television reception here and very little news from the outside world. I and the other 29 permanent crew members on board occupy ourselves in a number ways. We have a great library of English and Russian books, an extensive video selection, and a sauna where we spend time every evening laughing and telling stories. Since 99 percent of the crew speaks only Russian, I spend much of my free time studying the language and learning about their homes, and they in turn, love to ask me questions about my country (Canada). The chefs and I also play a lot of computer golf!
The hardest parts of the job are the rough weather (of which there's a great deal) and the lack of privacy. There's no getting away from either of those two problems, and crew members who have difficulty dealing with them simply don't return. But as for the rest of us: We consider ourselves extraordinarily lucky to be here, and the thrill of running away to sea and visiting every remote corner of the globe far exceeds the inconvenience of bad weather and close quarters.
Best wishes! Chris Ralph
What will happen if, when you get into the smaller boat, the James Caird, things get too rough? What is "too rough"?
Dear Emily, Those are great questions and I ask myself the same ones sometimes. I have built and sailed small boats about the size of the James Caird before and sometimes in rough weather. When it does start getting rough and windy we reduce sail by reefing or taking down some sail. When it gets too rough, which means the boat is overpowered, hard to steer, or the waves are crashing around us too much, we can run off with the wind (but sometimes that can be the wrong direction). Or, we can "heave to" which means we lie to the wind with just very little sail balanced so the bow is mostly into the wind. Or we, like Shackleton, can put out a "sea anchor" which doesn't hook into the bottom (it's too deep here). This is really more of a drogue anchor that creates a lot of drag in the water and, because it's attached to the bow by a line, causes the boat to drift more slowly and under more control. It also keeps the bow pointed into the seas and waves. I hope that answers your question and thank you for your interest.
All the best, Captain Bob Wallace
What will the crew do for entertainment? Surely someone on the film crew is a musician. With all of the cargo did anyone bring along musical instruments - or were they banned?
Dear Randy, So far there has been a lot of work to do and not much time for playing. I did bring my daughter's guitar down with all the gear, and it made it without a scratch. I brought down an Ovation guitar which has a plastic back piece, I thought it would withstand the cold and dry climate better than my wood guitars. The guitar is not banned yet, but once they get a load of my playing ability it may be banned to my cabin only. I've been working on some Bruce Cockburn tunes. If you don't know his stuff, check out his last two albums—really good stuff.
Cheers, Dr. Steve Santora
Hey Kelly, What kind of ship are you traveling in? How long did it take you to get there?
Sunnie Morris Oxford, MI
Response from Kelly Tyler:
Hi Sunnie! Our expedition ships are the Laurel and the Akademik Shuleykin. The Laurel is departing Punta Arenas today, carrying our aerial shooting team and helicopter. The Shuleykin, which I'm sailing on right now, carries the balance of our crew. It's a Russian-registered vessel, 236 feet in length, weighing 1,754 tons. It's going to take us almost five days to travel from Montevideo to South Georgia Island. Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, was a wood barquentine weighing 300 tons. Our maximum speed is not much more than the Endurance: We can travel up to 12.5 knots, while Shackleton could reach 11 knots with his coal-fired engines.
How large a team does it take to produce the IMAX/IWERKS documentary on the Shackleton Odyssey? How long is the total production of this work? When can we expect to view it in an IMAX/IWERKS theatre?
(name withheld by request)
Response from Kelly Tyler:
Check out Meet the 1999 Team to see a photo of our crew. All their names and job titles are listed there. We have two crews on board—one to make the large-format film for IMAX and IWERKS theaters, and another to film a documentary for the NOVA television series. The large-format film will premiere in IMAX and IWERKS theaters around the world in early 2001, and the NOVA program will be broadcast in Spring 2001.
What do you think will be the most difficult part of this trip for you? Understandably you did research before going. Which was the most interesting detail or story that you discovered?
Response from Kelly Tyler:
I've been interested in Antarctic exploration for 15 years and did quite a lot of research before this project came along. There are quite a few people with us who are very knowledgeable. An indispensable part of our team is the field support staff from Poles Apart, headed by David Rootes and Nick Lewis. Rootes, Lewis, and their colleagues have decades of experience in polar expeditions as scientists and filming consultants. They'll help us cope with the most difficult part of the trip: Working in the severe Antarctic environment safely. The other difficult aspect for us is the inaccessibility. If we've forgotten anything, or if anything gets broken, we have no chance of replacing it. So we pack multiples of everything, from personal gear to camera equipment, to make sure we're self-sufficient for 37 days.
One of the most interesting stories for me is that of the Ross Sea Party (see Shackleton's Lost Men). Shackleton's expedition also included a team sent to the opposite side of the continent, in the Ross Sea. It's a story of incredible courage and sacrifice that's not often told.
Dear Friends, We are very excited about your trip and wish we were with you. The very best of luck from your Irish- Vermontees- Shackletonees fans! I hope that you are all swimming daily in the true Antarctic tradition.
Charlie, Miranda, Sophie & Hugh Shackleton [Editor's note: The Shackleton family are cousins of Sir Ernest Shackleton]
The Vermont Shackleton Family Bridgewater, VT
Response from Kelly Tyler:
Dear Charlie, Miranda, Sophie and Hugh Shackleton, We wish you were with us too! A Shackleton's place is in the Antarctic! But I have to say we're leery of the polar swimming!