Xuelong: 2.5 Weeks on an Icebreaker
We left the Xuelong for Zhongshan station a month ago, but we've been so busy since then it feels like much longer. I've finally gotten enough time to put together some pictures from our remarkably enjoyable and relaxing time on the boat.
We departed from Fremantle, Australia on November 22, a few days ahead of schedule. Most of the people on the Xuelong had boarded in Shanghai a few weeks earlier.
The ping pong table was centrally located just outside the first floor dining room. This was the leisure activity of choice on board the Xuelong, and we had the treat of watching Dr. Sun win the ship-wide tournament. Dr. Guo was kind enough to play against Jamin and I and give us pointers, and we quickly got into the habit of staying up late so we could play when everybody else was asleep. (It helped that they always served noodles or dumplings at 11pm.) The door in the background leads down to this passage
which makes it possible to get from the front (where all the bedrooms and common areas are) to the back (where the engine and helicopters are) without having to go outside into bad weather.
Both Dr. Sun and Dr. Guo gave me a tour of the engine room (I forgot my camera the first time!)
I was surprised by how comfortable the ship was - three of us shared this room (I had the top left bunk), and we even had our own private bathroom, complete with shower.
I consistently felt welcome and accepted on the Xuelong. I really like being in a place where everybody says "hello" or "ni hao" with a smile when passing in the hallways.
We spent a lot of time hanging out in the second floor dining room. It was the main social gathering spot - I learned to play a popular card game (5-10-King) and Chinese Chess. At night, it was peaceful, and I really enjoyed working in a spot with natural light and views.
In general the food was good - our colleagues were endearingly but needlessly worried about this. I got to try some things I'd never had before, including eel and bullfrog. One of the big social events of the trip was the dumpling making party pictured above. We were eating them for days afterwards.
I also spent a fair bit of time outside on the various decks, just enjoying watching the ice pass by. We were allowed to wander pretty much anywhere, and the Xuelong is big enough I never felt cabin fever. This view was nice because it was usually out of the wind, and it gave me a good look at the Xuelong. It never stopped being surreal that I was in the middle of the ocean on a Chinese icebreaker. All of the drums of fuel on the deck are meant for the airplane that we'll be using for our data collection. Our instruments are in the hold - once the fuel was removed, massive doors swung up and the cranes lifted out the shipping containers.
Of course, the best views on the ship were from the bridge. One floor down, in the weather office, there were also great views and an open invitation to stop by for tea and snacks.
The only place the satellite phone reliably worked was on the very top deck, amidst the antennas and various science equipment, exposed to the wind.
Once we broke through hundreds of meters of ice and parked, this was my favorite view on the ship. The penguins loved this bit of open water, and we could almost always see a few somewhere nearby.
After we were parked, we were allowed off the boat. Here I'm posing with my roommates. You can see our window - we were on the 5th floor (2 below the bridge), second from right in this view. One morning I was baffled by an almost-dead cellphone, until I discovered a text message "Welcome to China! Your roaming rates are ...". Surprise! Not only does Zhongshan station have 3G coverage, but it occasionally reached us on the Xuelong.
The penguins were entirely unfazed by the humans.
However, they skedaddled in an adorable panic when the helicopter appeared. There was a large crack in the sea ice near the station, so the entire resupply was done by helicopter, rather than driving the ~20km over the ice.
And, we're leaving! This was my first helicopter ride, and I was lucky enough to have a window view. Given that we were in the hold of a cargo helicopter, most people didn't.