Green Wave : A ship for all reasons

By Kristan Hutchison

Sun staff

Everybody's been waiting for their ship to come in, the one that will bring a year's supply of frozen food and building materials and take out the trash and ancient ice from Vostok.

Today it did. The motor vessel Green Wave arrived at McMurdo Station this weekend with about 85 percent of the cargo coming through the station this year, said Derrold Burnett, the U.S. Antarctic Program's logistics manager.

The supply ship's voyage started 8,266 miles (13,303 km) away in the more temperate climate of Port Hueneme, Calif.

"We load it and then we get the pointed end headed toward south and it goes out the gate," said Lee DeGalan, port manager at Port Hueneme.

Vessel loading started Dec. 26, but purchasing began much earlier. Even now cargo is arriving for next year's shipment. By September most of the cargo is due in the Port Hueneme loading yard.

The food has to be there by Nov. 5. Each item is inventoried, weighed and usually repackaged in stronger containers. Frozen food is repackaged in wooden boxes so it can be stacked five pallets high in the McMurdo warehouse.

"Generally speaking, domestic packaging is not suitable for Antarctica," DeGalan said. "Most people don't package with the idea you might have it sit outside for a month."

Most of the cargo is loaded into 8-by-8-by-20 foot shipping containers, called milvans. Each weighs 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) empty, up to 40,000 pounds (18,100 kg) full, and holds the equivalent of an airplane load, DeGalan said.

The early deadlines are needed because it can take a month to figure out how to safely balance the load in the ship, where containers are stacked four deep below deck and another four deep above. Too much weight high up could put the boat at risk of tipping in stormy weather.

"Those of us who travel on the sea know that the ocean is a fickle environment," Burnett said.

It's a three-dimensional puzzle fitting in all 391 milvans, along with 659 items too big to fit into the container, Burnett said.

In one load, the Green Wave carries everything that would normally come by truck, train, plane and boat over a year to a small city with a research facility. Books, tires, Ghirardelli chocolate, compressed helium, beer, a mandolin, an entire sewage plant in pieces and the all-important toilet paper it's all onboard.

"If you can think of it we've probably bought one each and put it on the Green Wave ," said Lee DeGalan, the Port Hueneme manager. "It's just staggering the diversity of the things you see...One minute you're looking at material for a beauty salon, then you're looking at 10 cement blocks for a footing and then you're looking at scientific equipment."

This year they had to load on 350 panels for the South Pole, 160 pieces of concrete slab as a foundation for the McMurdo wastewater treatment plant, seven trucks, two Caterpillar 966 loaders with accessories, a D8-R Caterpillar bulldozer and six sled-mounted fuel tanks.

The load has been increasing because of the South Pole construction project, from 10 million to 11 million pounds (4.5-5 mil. kg) on average from 1997 to 2000 to 14.8 million pounds (6.7 mil. kg) last year. This year the Green Wave brings 12.16 million pounds (5.5 mil kg) of cargo. When she leaves about 6 million pounds will be waiting in McMurdo to be flown to the South Pole, Burnett said.

The Green Wave is up to the load. She's a 10,000-ton cargo vessel, launched in 1980 by a German shipyard as the Woermann Mira. Four years later the ship was sold to the Central Gulf Lines, where she was renamed the Green Wave and chartered to the Military Sealift Command. She's traveled to Greenland with supplies for Thule Air Base and floated ammunition across the Atlantic Ocean, but the roundtrip to McMurdo and back is her regular route as primary supply ship for the U.S. Antarctic Program.

This year the Green Wave set sail Jan. 6. She stopped in Christchurch, New Zealand, to pick up cargo for New Zealand's Antarctic program and is expected in McMurdo today.
By the time the Green Wave reaches McMurdo she is often coated in ice.

"I've seen it when the vessel comes in and it looks like one huge ice cube," said Darrell Kimmes, supervisor of supply operations.

All hands for offload

The Green Wave 's arrival marks the climax of the logistics season at McMurdo. During vessel offload the station will be at its most crowded, with 72 members of the Naval Cargo Handling and Port Support and 20 New Zealand Defense Force Longshoremen on station to unload the Green Wave .

"They (the NAVCHAPS) are a very qualified, very trained group that has provided us great support over a number of years," DeGalan said. "If the program ever had to find another group to support us that would be difficult."

This week the McMurdo population is expected to reach the population cap of 1,100 residents established by the National Science Foundation. In preparation, the housing staff pulled new beds out of storage and added them to rooms in building 155, going from four to a room to five or six for the NAVCHAPS, said Housing Coordinator Debbie Lisman.

The signs of a full house are everywhere. There are lines for food in the dining hall and the phone lines to dial off-station are regularly busy. South Pole winter staff coming to McMurdo for a break before their seven-month isolation are four to a room, separating couples.

"At this point we have beds. We do not have rooms," Lisman said. "People jokingly even say to us 'Do you have tents you can rent?'"

They don't.

On top of the NAVCHAPS and longshoremen, 150 Raytheon employees will set aside their regular jobs to help unload the cargo, Burnett said. Half of the 242 people working vessel offload will be on night shift, as the unloading continues around the clock. That will make midrats, the midnight meal, a busier time than usual.

With people working 12-hour shifts and the entire station focused on offload, all recreation comes to a halt. The bars close and the store goes to very limited hours. Lectures and sports stop. Only the Coffeehouse will be open at all, Wednesday and Saturday mornings, serving coffee only.

"We don't have employees, because all the employees are generally involved in offload," said Bill Meyer, recreation supervisor.

Recreation has plenty to offload this week, with about 20 milvans of beer, wine and soda coming, including a year's supply of Bass Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. There's new gym equipment, a new stereo for Southern Exposure and new instruments including a keyboard and the mandolin people have been asking for, Meyer said. Southern and Gallagher's will also get high-pressure glass washers. For the literary, there's new library shelving and $5,000 in books, "a whole new library basically," Meyer said.

During vessel offload, bulldozers and other heavy equipment have the run of the station, carrying the milvans. In general longshore ship work is a dangerous profession, DeGalan said.

"You have people wearing bunny boots walking on containers maybe four high that may be icy in the wind trying to pull heavy chains," DeGalan said. "It's just inherently dangerous.

Over the years there have been a couple of serious accidents during the vessel offload, but in the last few years the most common injury has been fingers smashed as people tried to adjust the tines on a forklift. Kimmes said it's only because of the increased safety awareness on everyones part and the emphasis placed on safety that there aren't more injuries.

"It's a tremendous amount of activity in such a small area," Kimmes said. "You constantly have vehicles backing up all the time with material."

The goods

The cargo is delivered to all parts of the station. It's a winter's work just organizing everything that arrives. The store has 130 items coming in, from the regular toiletries and snacks to new shot glasses, insulated mugs, soy milk and long underwear. Only a few of the new items will appear on the shelves immediately after they arrive.

"A lot of things will be saved for next year," said Kelly Knight, one of the store clerks. "If we brought everything out right now it just wouldn't be as exciting. We bring something new out every week or two weeks."

Eventually everything will be put out with a price.

"We never send anything back, even if we get the wrong stuff or it's not to our specs," Knight said. "If it's here, we sell it."

The refrigerated warehouse made room for 36 containers of food coming, said Amy Pashov, the supply senior for food service. The most pounds come from meats. Another 17 milvans of non-refrigerated food is on board too.

The kitchen is waiting anxiously for a new supply of paper plates, chocolate and butterscotch chips, decaf black tea and waffle mix, Pashov said.

"Thanksgiving morning they woke me up to come and try to find waffle mix," Pashov said. "We've been out of waffle mix and pancake mix since then, so what everybody eats is homemade."

Other items Pashov would rather not see come off the vessel. There's still a "wall of curly fries" in the warehouse, enough to last three years, Pashov said. Ten 40-pound buckets of tahini are left and enough croissants to feed a French battalion.

"We've got 10 crates of croissants untouched and probably more on the way," Pashov said.

As quickly as the Green Wave 's emptied, she will be refilled. Some of the northbound load looks to the untrained eye like nothing more than carefully labeled and packaged rocks, dirt, snow and ice.

"We have a seal carcass that came in, penguin carcasses, air samples, water samples," said Summer Snow, an administrative assistant for science cargo. "Glacier ice from the Dry Valleys as well as lots of rock and soil samples."

At their home universities in the U.S. scientists are waiting for the samples to arrive in April to continue the research they started on the Ice. Some of the items will ship back in the refrigerator containers the food traveled in, including the carcasses of a seal and several penguins found dead by researchers. The most precious cargo are ice cores from Vostok and the International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition. The Vostok ice cores will switch ships in New Zealand and head to Marseilles, France. They must be kept below (-17C) the entire time to keep the 450,000-year-old ice from melting into a puddle.

The rest of the milvans will be loaded with items USAP is throwing away, selling or donating with the National Science Foundation's approval. Almost half the 278 waste containers are loaded with wood scrap and construction debris, according to Waste Operations Manager Mark Furnish.

Another 19 milvans are full of food waste. Used cooking oil and lard alone fill an entire milvan, as do old television and computer monitors. The trash will be taken to a landfill while full containers of aluminum cans, cardboard, metal, paper and plastic are recycled.

The contents of 29 milvans will be auctioned in mid-March in Oxnard, Calif., along with 33 items too big for the milvans. Reuse/Resale Coordinator Helen Trujillo has already had about 10 inquiries from people in McMurdo interested in buying some of the military trucks, sprytes, track loaders and a bulldozer named "Fuzzy."

"Those seem to be the most popular items to date," Trujillo said.

Many of the items have clearly put in their years of service in Antarctica. The oldest vehicle is a U.S. Army trailer from 1959. Information on the sale will be at

"Once these items get posted to the Web site and people start viewing the Web site I think there will be some interest there," said Trujillo, who initiated the culling of heavy equipment after walking into the heavy shop at the beginning of the season and asking about all the old equipment.

Many of the items leaving on the Green Wave originally arrived on the same boat, which provides a vital link to the world.

"Without the Green Wave the program is stopped," DeGalan said. "This is what allows people to operate year-round."