Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blog from the Bob Barker Engine Room

Phil Edmondson
3rd Engineer,  Bob Barker

Antarctica, the oft-raging Southern Oceans – a hostile environment for a species so ill adapted to extremes of temperature. And so we bob along in our tiny life-support capsule under the guise of the veteran ex-whaling ship Bob Barker, it’s signature black & yellow paint now showing the odd streak of rust after eight weeks at sea and a little physical contact with the Yushin Maru 3!

Our character-rich little home, our sole means of taking our campaign right to the very door of the Japanese whaling fleet, presents us with a number of practical challenges which, in a very real sense, mirror those which all societies have to cope with to create sustainable communities. We all very much take for granted the services which allow us to lead a “modern” lifestyle, with often very little thought given to the practicalities and the implications - the water comes out of the tap, wastewater goes down the sink or toilet & electricity comes out of the socket in the wall. Hey presto, job done, nothing to think about – it just happens!

The Bob and the Steve are microcosms of a modern community, with all it’s needs and practicalities, with the added challenge of your “world” moving in all 3 dimensions simultaneously; freezing seas and howling winds outside the front door; icebergs small & large nodding at you through the window; and the occasional whaling vessel hosing you down, blasting you with their LRADs, & threatening you with very physical contact. Everything we need for the campaign must be either brought with us or created by us - with a little help from modern technology of course! When our life-support systems falter or fail, it affects all of us directly and immediately, and we have to fall on our own resources to restore the equilibrium – no 24/7, on-call services out here at any price.

And so, technology being what it is, we found ourselves with a temporarily defective water-maker – our only source of fresh water – and much-depleted water tanks. Water restrictions are immediately implemented, water is only to be used for cooking – no washing, no showers, no laundering, no arguments! What to do? Surrounded by fresh water, albeit a little tied-up, but not a drop to drink. (Factual note: 90% of the Earth’s fresh water is locked-up in the Antarctic ice cap) Bright idea, let’s hook an iceberg, crush it, melt it, problem solved. Slightly trickier in practice than in theory, but what a spectacle, Dave in the icy waters in his dry suit

(like a simian sea-lion, snorting included, whiskers excluded) netting the small “growlers” before we crane them on board.

And so it is with all of our day-to-day problems, solve them or suffer, sink or swim! A humbling backdrop to our day-to-day fight to prevent the brutal slaughter of our most enigmatic of neighbors, and a constant reminder of how our experiences here translate in a very real sense to the challenges of sustainability that our whole world faces. Meanwhile our aquatic friends suffer a similar, yet starkly different, set of challenges – we intend to see that the harpoon isn’t amongst them!