Expedition plans changed

Neumayer Shelf ice edge +++ 70°31’ S – 08°50’ W +++ Air temperature  -4°C
7 January 2015
(by: Jan Andries van Franeker)

In between Christmas and New Year, during our attempts to break the fast ice to make a way to the ice shelf, a technical problem came up with our port-side propeller. Polarstern regulates forward or backward power by changing the pitch of the propeller blades. On our left propeller, the blades at some stage became firmly fixed in backward position and could no longer be controlled. With all capacities the crew has attempted to fix the problem, but this proved only partially possible. They managed to shift the propeller blades to the forward position, but they had to be fixed as such and can no longer move. So, the good news is that in open water it’s no problem to use both propellers to steam ahead. But the ship is poorly maneuverable and can hardly move astern, both highly important functions for an icebreaker in heavy ice conditions.

For proper repair, Polarstern has to be dry docked, which at such short term was not really possible in 'nearby' African or South American harbors. Therefore, in the end the decision had to be made that after the Neumayer resupply we should abandon our plan for heavy sea ice work and ending our cruise in South America. Instead, we will steam along a reasonably ice-free track to the north and then back to Cape Town. There we will be dropped, with Polarstern moving on to Bremerhaven to be docked there for repairs.

On our way to Cape Town we do hope to realize some research stations in relatively open water conditions. However, also for those our time is running out. We now plan to arrive in Cape Town early February. That date hardly differs from our original time schedule. In time for research we may lose about half of our expedition. But the next team, expecting to go on a geological research cruise from Punta Arenas in Chile, can stay home. We are still the lucky ones.

Meanwhile, on board and at home, many are busy with the reorganizing flights and hotels. Evidently, we are trying to make optimal use of our waiting time here. Several ice stations on fast ice were added, and we made an additional trawl with the RMT net. On the ship, while some are sorting out earlier samples, others are computer processing and analyzing their data.