So! How do the zodiacs work, anyway? How does Quark move 100 people off the ship and onto land and back again?
To start with, we were assigned into one of six different zodiac groups, each named after one of Antarctica’s early explorers. We signed up for these one of the days we were crossing the Drake. Allen, Jeff, and I were in the Amundsen group. For each landing, we were called by group to board, so that only a few people were in the boarding area at a time. It took a while to put on all your clothes and get all geared up, and it would get hot in all that stuff waiting inside, so a lot of people would put on all their gear and then go stand out on the decks while they waited to be called. It usually took only about 15 minutes to load everyone.
(Landing times were noted on our daily program, and Alex would notify us over the PA system when they were about to start calling groups, so we knew about when to be ready to go.)
On landings where there was a long hike, the “long hikers” were called first, before the regular groups, so they could get going. Then as soon as they were all ashore they could start hiking immediately without having to wait for the last zodiac to arrive.
I was waiting outside on deck for them to call the Amundsen group when I took this photo.
Before we left the ship, we had to sign out. Quark needed a way to make sure they knew who was off the ship, so they could make sure everyone was back ON the ship before we left. For each landing or zodiac cruise, they hung up a list of passengers by cabin number near the gangway, and we had to sign or X by our name as we headed out.
Here’s what the loading area looked like. You can see along that far wall is a trough, which contains a cleaning solution (called Vikram? I can’t remember the name of it and can’t find it googling…) that we had to dip our boots in before we left the ship, to ensure we weren’t tracking anything onto land.
Zodiac checklist + daily program (where, if you look really closely, you can see the listed disembarkation order of zodiac groups for each landing).
We were always to bring extra warm clothes with us in our backpacks, in case the weather changed quickly, or in case we got stuck on land for longer than expected. (Same reason they told you to bring essential meds with you each time.) Hands had to be free during loading & unloading (because you gripped arms with the people helping you on), so everything had to be in a backpack.
(Also, do you see that cool watch that the guide is wearing on his jacket? Jeff got me one of those as a birthday gift on the ship after I admired them on the guides. I love it!)
Unloading from a zodiac at a landing site. We often had to step out of the zodiac into a few inches of water. That was fairly easy, though it was sometimes slippery walking on the wet rocks into rocky beaches. On one landing, we were stepping out onto some large rocks from some deeper water, and the waves were pretty rough so that the zodiac bobbed up and down by a foot or more, making it tough to get the right footing. The Quark guides held onto our arms and Alex told us when to go as the boat bobbed up to meet the rock. Most landings weren’t that tough, though, and it was just a matter of swinging your legs over and stepping down into the water.
As we unloaded onto land, Alex would tell us what time the last zodiac was returning. You could go back any time you wanted. There were always zodiacs waiting ready to go. I was almost always on the last or the second-to-last—I could’ve stayed on land for even longer. I was never really ready to go back to the ship.
Alex (in the orange jacket) waiting with a zodiac for people to return.
Another safety measure Quark took was having everyone remove their life jackets as soon as they got to land. They had big bags where you piled them near where we’d unloaded. Then before you left, you put on a life jacket again. Hence, they knew whether there was anyone still on land by whether there were life jackets left.
I took this photo once when the zodiac I was on broke down. We sat in the water for several minutes while Jimmy tried to get the motor started again, but finally he had to radio for a tow. Another zodiac towed us back to the ship.
Once you’re back onboard, time to dip and scrub your boots again. Also any other places where you picked up anything. Penguin poop was everywhere, so it was very easy to end up with it on your pants. We used long-handled brushes to scrub those spots. Things I never thought I’d say: “Will you scrub the penguin poop off my butt?”
And then you signed back in. And if you didn’t, you’d get called out over the PA system to come back down and sign in. Once they were sure everyone was back on the ship, we could lift the anchor and set sail again.
Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you want to know about how the zodiacs worked?