Christmas at Sea

Christmas and the Holiday Season is a time most often spent with family and loved ones, so being at sea in the cold waters of the Antarctic make that impossible. Many different reactions occur among the various people on the ship, and each of the IVARS group has written with his/her personal reactions to having Christmas at sea:Christmas at Sea


This is my fifth Christmas in a row spent away from family and friends, but each one is different. You are with people that you enjoy, and we always pre-arrange a small gift exchange. Each person contributes something different to the festive spirit, such as an Advent Calendar, Santa Claus hat, or a mini-tree. For me it is truly a time for giving, as I honestly don't worry about what is given to me. It is a time to say "Thank you" to all in the group for making the commitment to the project that causes some personal loss. I also take time to think about others in my life that I am missing: children, parents, loved ones, and distant friends. The time to reflect on the importance of friends, my upbringing, and how I live my life is important to me on this day. We do have a massive meal, but it always strikes me at how much more I like my own Christmas cooking! It also is snowing hard outside now, and it reminds me of my youth in Buffalo, New York, where it was not uncommon to have a white Christmas (and January, February, and March). But reality intrudes as well; two fishing boats are following us in to the Ross Sea, one of the few (only?) areas in the ocean that has had no fishing pressure, and I find myself angry at the thoughtless disruption of such a pristine ecosystem for trivial economic gain. And because I understand how the food web works in the Ross Sea, I know that the loss of such large fishes is bound to generate a serious alteration in the region's ecology. I can only hope they have terrible luck in fishing.

So, Christmas at sea for me is a time for reflection, of being thankful for friends and family, and mentally preparing myself for the hard work ahead.


Christmas at sea in Antarctica is definitely the whitest Christmas I've ever had. For the past three years on Christmas day I have been on ships breaking ice in the Southern Ocean, and it is always been very special. It is definitely different from the traditional Christmas celebration at home with family and friends, but special bonds and solidarity are quickly established between people on board, and I still consider spending this holiday working in such an extraordinary and extreme location an incredible opportunity.


This Christmas has been like no other I have ever experienced. I woke up to the bright shining light coming through the porthole. Wow, what a blinding brightness as the sun reflected off the ice, the snow and the water! It was bright white and bright blue. Our group gathered to start the day off right. We exchanged presents and laughter and holiday wishes. I was the lucky one. I got flashing reindeers antlers to be worn all day. More people came from their rooms dressed in Santa Claus hats, twinkling lights and smiling faces. Merry Christmas cheer was spread with each greeting and my reindeer antlers got a nod of approval. Lunch came soon and what a feast. Afterwards, just like home, a nap was due. But the best was yet to come. Later, I put on my wool socks, boots, wool scarf, leather insulated gloves, and bright orange parka and made my way to the bow of the boat. What a magnificent sight, the endless ice, crushed and melded into figures you could pick out, and the water so blue. It was snowing. To top off the day I saw my first seal in the wild as well as three frolicking penguins. They played and slid on their bellies on the ice. They were so silly and soon they were out of sight. Yes, this has been a joyful and magnificent day, one probably never to be repeated, filled with jolly good cheer and a satisfying peacefulness at sea.


Christmas at sea is a unique experience that is full of festivities but also full of longing. All around the ship, there are decorations and blinking lights that let us know Christmas is near. As I look out on the horizon, all I can see is a vast ocean of ice and white. It is indeed a white Christmas and I have the feeling of being at home since I grew up in Alaska. We awake in the morning and like children with their eyes shining bright, we assemble near the Christmas tree (granted a miniature one) and survey the gifts before us. One by one they are opened and there is an assortment of games to entertain and chocolate to soothe. I am thankful for being here and thankful for the great friendships I find in the people around me but there is a hint of sadness as we are spending Christmas without our family and loved ones. We each try to call home from the satellite phone and some are successful and some are not. The voices break in and out but they are what keep us anchored and give us some peace since we are amazingly lucky to be able to call at all. Lunch is a warm welcome of turkey and all the trimmings and it is just like home (without a few small comforts). Most people head off for an afternoon nap and I head outside to breathe in the Antarctic air. As I look out at the ice and ocean before me I realize that these memories are one's that will not be forgotten. It is hard being away from those closest to us but there is also something to be said to being in the middle of one of the most remote places on earth.


Christmas this year on the NBP Palmer has been a mix of work and play as we continue to underway sample. This year we can actually talk with our loved ones on Christmas—it's amazing. The NSF has purchased an Iridium phone that will allow any of us to call home for a couple of quick minutes. What a nice change from shooting an email off at the stroke of midnight! In all reality, we do our best to keep in the holiday spirit; we hang lights, buy presents, and decorate the tiniest of plastic Christmas trees (that are well secured to our work surface) with the smallest of ornaments. We even adapted our non-denominational holiday countdown this year (like an advent calendar) to feature pictures of our loved ones. Although we all certainly miss our families, being on this ship has provided us with an opportunity to share stories of holiday tradition and spirit from not only around the country but also from around the world.


Best wishes for a Happy Holiday Season from us all!—The IVARS Filtering Fools