Saturday 24 October 2015
I’ve heard it referred to as being “bipolar” – being among the people who get a kick out of journeying to both north & south polar regions on a regular basis. I don’t quite qualify among the obsessive but last year Beverly and I both had a couple of weeks in Norway which included 10 days on the Hurtigruten Line coastal supply and passenger ship (300 people) and took the opportunity to call in on the polar museums – very rewarding and fascinating for some real insights into their polar heroes. So this year finds me journeying south again in a very different guise. After wintering at Wilkes many years ago, I am looking forward to comparing the facilities, programs and particularly the science and communications at Casey with those I remember from Wilkes. I was electronic engineer with the Cosray (upper atmosphere) program then and after initial studies at Heard and Macquarie Island particularly, biological and oceanographic sciences weren’t really on the map in the sixties on the continent. And the penetration of the blizzes into our packing case timber corridors at Wilkes will I’m sure, be a very different story to Casey.
My thanks to the Antarctic Division for its on-going support of the ANARE Club and its annual award of a berth for the purposes of promoting the Club, and in turn my appreciation of the Club for my selection which is a great honour. Apart from the Club’s most familiar face for its organisation of mid-winter dinners within Australia, it works to support past expeditioners, maintain contacts and record much of ANARE’s (and now AAD’s) history and stories.
To date, I have worked through the medicals and forms for AAD. Neil Brandie, last year’s berth rep, and I are compiling some notes and guidance for future berth holders and to anticipate a few FAQ’s as there is quite a lot to work between nomination as berth holder and sailing south. Hopefully, I will see many people I meet this summer again at a mid-winter in Australia next June.
Saturday 5 December 2015
Back again in Hobart and staying coincidently in Davey Street not far from where I stayed over 40 years ago whilst working at the Uni of Tassie with Geoff Fenton and Attilla Vrana on the Cosray program prior to wintering at Wilkes. Memories of the beautiful Georgian styled buildings and reminders everywhere in this area of its convict past. It’s been a hectic couple of months preparing for the trip including digitising much neglected ektachrome slides of many years ago and preparing material for the ANARE Club and I appreciate the assistance of many people.
I have been following the aurora’s webcam and sitreps. Following the additional round trip of 6-7 days to Macquarie island, the time has evidently been made up by a good trip for V1 through pack ice to Davis, at least one day cut off cargo discharge and load and a fast return with a SW wind behind. Congratulations to leaders Leanne and Mick for their efforts.
I’ll be at Kingston on Monday for the outdoor clothing kit, meeting people and picking up info for the trip. It would appear that V2 will now leave on Tuesday (as originally planned) or perhaps a day later.
I visited the Mawson’s Huts Replica museum and was extremely impressed by everything that has gone into this project and particularly the care taken to reproduce as accurately as possible the items that were part of Mawson’s huts. Of great personal interest to me as a radio/electronic design engineer was the first spark transmitter that I had seen (as either a genuine artefact or a replica) although I had known of them as the beginnings of radio communication so my congratulations to John Gillies for his research and construction of it.
Wednesday 9 December 2015
After two delays in the embarkation time, we were away at 10 pm. Winds have been strong and the ship was rolling and pitching as soon as we left the Derwent so it has been a subdued day for many. The Aurora Australis is set up for 114 expeditioners in 40 cabins but with only 28 expeditioners we all have the luxury of a cabin each. Nearly half of the expeditioners are watercraft operators and there is some biological oceanographic work. For the first time though, the Casey 2015 expeditioners have been flown out and 2016 expeditioners flown in at Wilkins aerodrome with inaugural flights of the C17 Globemaster which means contact with the wintering personnel will have to await our arrival at Casey
Thursday 10 December 2015
I didn’t make extravagant plans for the first day at sea. I felt fairly woozy until late in the day and had a quiet time. Seas have been moderate. There have been some enthusiasts for two sessions of “car racing” using wii’s in the cinema; it appears to be turning into a regular pastime. AAD people, other expeditioners and crew all interact well with each other and I have enjoyed talking to various people. I had expected to have to explain my role here as ANARE Club Rep but found that most people were well aware that I would be part of the ship’s contingent. Last night, Paul showed an excellent conservation film “Black Fish” which centred on the issues of keeping orcas (more commonly called “killer whales”) in relatively small pools for stunt performances; not unlike the issues of using the big cats in circuses.
Friday 11 December 2015
Feeling good and confident, I ploughed into some work on the laptop, arranging slides, writing emails etc but I paid for it a bit later in the day. A rolling ship and eyes fixed on a screen don’t necessarily work well together but another couple of hours on the bunk fixed that although I resolved not to push my head so much until I really had my sea legs. We had another interesting talk/movie clip show on Friday evening, this time on rescue helicopters presented by a “swimmer;” he is the guy who goes down on the winch cable into the drink to haul people to safety. There is more to keeping helicopters in position than I realised.
Saturday 12 December 2015
We had another muster on Saturday in full antarctic survival gear with lifejackets. The Sat night show (following oysters and pasta for the evening meal) was the film “Snow Petrol down under” of Ben Tucker’s 6 week voyage in his 34 foot yacht (3 crew – Ben, his brother Matt and father Jon) from Hobart to Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison and then on to Dumont D’Urville where they were feted for a few days before returning to Hobart. Very well produced film mainly by Matt with assistance from various people and some input from organisations including AAD but largely a solo effort nevertheless – an inspiring effort. Jon and Matt have worked on Mawson’s Huts at Commonwealth Bay and Jon was principle builder of the replica huts in Hobart.
It is becoming competitive to grab an evening spot although I have now lined up Monday night for an historical Wilkes show. A number of expeditioners have led some very interesting lives. Not really surprising given that most of the expeditioners are water craft operators, air support crew or with supervisory backgrounds from other Antarctic trips. Cheers Geoff
Sunday 13 December 2015
Quiet often there is some scientific work of interest. Every 450 km or so, the plankton recorder/sampler (CPR) is hauled in onto the trawl deck, the spools are replaced and then the CPR is putt back to sea again. It is on a long cable. The work is tricky – only trained people are allowed on the trawl deck which is open to the sea except for a wire gate across the end. The trawl deck is for dropping or retrieving items directly from the sea which is frothing behind the ship and sometimes washing over the trawl deck.
Meetings are on in earnest this coming week – planning for operations at Casey and beforehand and checking out each person’s work agreement and activities so that everyone understands what is expected of them at Casey. It seems that quite a few people want to see old Wilkes and there is some survey work to be done of the old Wilkes rubbish dump. I will need to work quickly at Casey as I only have that time to make contact as Club representative with 2016 & summer expeditioners and possibly some Davis people in transit. Most of the returning expeditioners will be flown back with the C17 from Wilkins Aerodrome behind Casey.
I have spent quite a bit of time blending in some additional slides for my historical Wilkes presentation scheduled for Monday evening. All told, everything is going well. We may be in ice by Tuesday.
Monday 14 December 2015
Seas a bit calmer than they have been although there is still the odd rogue wave. I finished preparation for the Wilkes slide show and could relax a bit more. Visited the gym this afternoon and spent 20 minutes on the cycling machine. The bike machine is anchored laterally across the ship and has a friction brake to regulate the effort. Problem is that as the ship lurches one way it throws your body against the handlebar and the slight distortion of the frame increases the braking of the wheel. Then it lurches the other way and throws your body weight partially off the handlebar. So you have to cycle with the ship’s rolling. Some would say it’s all good training but personally I find it easier to hop on my bike at home and ride 70-80 km with the Club than the joyless chore of a gym machine. Twenty years ago, I would rather run 5 miles than spend 10 minutes stretching.
Most people including myself met with Andy, Voyage Leader, to discuss work agreements and work at Casey – all good.
The slide show went over well and seemed appreciated particularly by people who had been to Casey previously but knew little of Wilkes beyond the seeing the old station almost buried in snow and ice. I opened with a few historical slides of Wilkes 1956-58 and then mostly my slides of 1967 including a few mainly indoor shots lent by Jeff Stickland from our year. I also ran a youtube video of an ASR33 teleprinter (communication at 110 bits per second) and a voice recording of amateur single-sideband (SSB) radio. I was one of two people with a “ham” ticket in 1967. All great stuff in those days.
Tuesday 15 December 2015
We passed our first iceberg in the early hours of this morning. The third iceberg which was the biggest so far brought out all the cameras in the afternoon. There are occasional small floes also floating by. We are not into regular ice yet. But now the ship is rolling only slightly so travel is much more comfortable.
We had a tour (in small groups) of the engine room. Certainly a warmer place than outside. There are two main engines but both are coupled through one gearbox to the propeller drive shaft which runs almost half the length of the ship. Either engine or both (as in heavy ice) can drive the shaft. Quite something to be standing beside this mighty steel shaft turning at about 175 rpm only a couple of feet away.
And then on to the big ANARE event after lunch – sale table of the Club merchandise. I sold quite a few things but am up against the small numbers of expeditioners (27) and the fact that a lot of the expeditioners are regular summer contractors or leaders and so have “been there – bought that” before.
The era of meetings is well underway and all expeditioners attended one on watercraft operations – how it is done, what to take, packing anything in waterproof bags etc (nothing is guaranteed). The watercraft operators themselves have numerous detail meetings in addition.
Wednesday 16 December 2015
We awoke to a foggy morning and a damp cold outside which remained for the rest of the day. But the wind had dropped almost completely and it was not difficult to shelter from it even at the bow of the ship. Later in the day the fog lifted and visibility was very good. We passed floes of all shapes, sizes and orientations continually and the cameras were out in force.
After my first session of shutter-bugging, I reviewed yesterday’s sales and fortunately the cash tin and the stock balanced.
We had another compulsory session this time on the environment and the need to avoid contaminating the mainland, particularly with grass seeds or anything that might possibly take root, plus the rules for avoiding disturbance to penguins and other wildlife. There has been significant recent research in quantitative measurements of stress among penguins and birds when approached. And then the afternoon was spent putting that knowledge to work, vacuuming bags, clothing and boots and scrubbing any footwear which could carry contaminants.
I joined Tim’s now regular gym stretching class this afternoon. More fun than a solo bicycle machine.
The ship stopped for a few hours to locate and pick up the whale audio recorder and release a new one. James took advantage of the stop to do some work with his drones which he will be using for survey work ashore.
There have been spottings of whales and Orcas (“killer whales”) by the lucky and the quick. So far, I’ve just caught on camera one whale diving.
Somehow, this voyage is no picnic. I seem to be getting busier and busier as we get closer to Casey although I have to confess that with the calmer seas and the fantastic scenery of bergy bits floating by, the camera and I have spent quite a bit of time working together.
Thursday 17 December 2015
Very overcast all day. The sun made a feeble attempt to break through at one time but gave up discouraged. Ice has still been in the form of flat floating floes but at times have been packed a little tightly. The ship has stopped two or three times while an ice reconnaissance with the drones has been carried out. But this evening, we still have a mix of fairly open water between floes and for the most part the ship is progressing steadily. However, the floes are now typically up to 1 metre above the surface and some are quite extensive – up to football field size. They seem a mix of older and first year ice. We are seeing at least a couple of large icebergs each day. Many people were still up late last night watching the ship work through the ice. Whales, penguins and various sea birds are being sighted.
More short meetings and info – using radios and this evening, Andy talked on operations for Casey tomorrow. It’s all happening. The gym exercise class continues to grow and at times I surprise myself.
Friday 18 December 2015
This was it. At about midnight Thursday the Aurora Australis stopped about 24 km from Casey and then later nosed into Newcomb Bay off Casey and dropped anchor around 7 am. Well before then, I joined other enthusiasts and let loose with the camera. Most touching was moving past the Clarke Peninsula where the old yellow radome still stands sentinel over the ridge above Noonan Cove at Wilkes. I spotted the riometer aerial frame which I hadn’t known still existed and the receiver aerial masts still erect. Several people have asked through the day how I felt about it. I left on this trip fairly open minded about expectations but there is a sentimental attachment to Wilkes with its leaky timber passages, its raw accommodation and simplicity of purpose[GP1] . But then, my profession has been about changing things and I’ve seen too many people wallow in sentiment. Still, it was a place, a great year there and a wonderful memory.
The day was still and clear apart from some light snowfalls. Boating and cargo operations were underway immediately. After lunch about 10 expeditioners including myself went across to Casey. We explored the red shed and some areas of specialist interests and then a walk to Reeve Hill. We returned to the ship in the late afternoon.
I will be going to Casey tomorrow (Saturday) in the morning and then on to Wilkes with several others in the Hagglands (tracked vehicles). We intend to stay at the Wilkes Hilton (the old transmitter building) overnight. I am scheduled to remain at Casey at least for the next two nights. The Wilkes 1967 slide show is booked for Monday night and a Club merchandise sale probably Tuesday. At this stage, the weather is expected to break up around Monday and cargo operations may be put on hold in which case the sale might be brought forward. Emails to me until Tuesday morning at least should be directed to the @aad address instead of @aurora.aad. Probably best to CC: the other address just in case of changes and missed emails.
Many containers and equipment were moved ashore today and the leaders expressed their appreciation with the progress.
Saturday 19 December 2015
A day of high expectations. About 10 “round trippers” plus Rachel, the medical doctor, who will winter here, came over to Casey after breakfast with gear for a stay of at least 2 nights. Six of us were to go to Wilkes later in the day and stay overnight at the “Wilkes Hilton” but not until after several inductions which took until after lunch. Others from the Aurora Australis were involved with drones surveys and science work.
Along with the other five from the Aurora Australis plus two field training officers (FTO’s) destined for the Hilton, we loaded two Hagglunds not only with food and other supplies and needs, but three tents; we were going to experience the “real Antarctica” – well, sort of, because the forecast was for reasonably benign weather. Each Hagglund consists of a passenger vehicle towing a cargo unit. Interestingly, they use rubberised tracks instead the steel plates of the D4 tractors and Nodwells of yesteryear. They are hardly less noisy though as the engine and gearboxes let you know that they are working hard and effective communication amongst passengers and driver really requires a headset.
We first drove to the Mitchell Peninsula several km in the direction of the Vanderford Glacier. We chanced on a pair of Emperor Penguins (an uncommon site on “East” Antarctica). Leaving the Hagglunds at a distance we sat quietly while the two curious and seemingly unconcerned penguins approached us to within about 15m. Then after a couple of look-see stops, we turned for Wilkes and set up tents outside the Wilkes Hilton. There I found that “Chompers” Currie had written a note just inside the door, I suspect quite some years ago, to the effect that this was the remote transmitter building from 1960 to 1969 (when Wilkes was closed). Graeme wintered here in 1963 and 1967 (my year). Whilst much of the USA facilities and equipment was retained when Wilkes came under Australian control from 1959, practically all the scientific and communications equipment was replaced by Australian built and sourced equipment shortly afterwards. Much of the radio gear was made by AWA, once and Australian icon.
With restrained impatience on my part, we finally headed down the hill around 7:30 pm to the main Wilkes complex. I began recording photos not only of buildings and sites for my own edification but also of spoilage such as dumps of tins and alignments of posts and markers for the completeness of Wilkes’ history and current state. I confirmed the identity of the building which was originally the Geomagnetic hut and later (in my time) the location of the amateur radio where I conducted many “skeds” with family and with the global amateur radio community. This building, along with others, suffered from severe winds and blizzards in 2013 and was now little more than a shell. Some remains of the cubical quad antenna were lying around. We continued around all the major buildings where I became a default tour guide. The auroral tower which was still present during the big melt of 1992 and in later photos had gone completely. The only building we could enter was the yellow radome, still intact and ice free on the top of the ridge. Practically all buildings in the main complex were snowed and iced in up to their rooftops but the building outlines were clear enough. I could pick locations from all sorts of clues such as the array of steel posts which once held the microwave channel to the Cosray building.
Enough of all that or I’ll never stop. We returned to the Hilton for our meal from dehy’d meat & veg. Five of use slept in the tents and three on the bunks inside the Hilton.
Back at Casey and the ship where the real work was being carried out, there was another successful day of cargo movement including two huge tracked vehicles in benign conditions although the forecast is still for the weather to break up by Monday.
Sunday 20 December 2015
A planned rude awakening. The Hagglunds were needed back at Casey by mid-morning so we were awoken either by the alarms we had set for 5 am or a little earlier as a ghost outside could be felt pulling out the pegs. Our very capable field training officers (FTO’s) had us back to Casey before 7 am but alas, not immediately for brekka but for our sign-offs and tour of the rubbish waste disposal units and equipment returns. Work, training, OH&S and environmental processes take precedence over all else and with good reason. We had seen the spoilage still lying around at Wilkes and at the old rubbish dump up the hill.
I am still asked by all and sundry how it felt to have seen Wilkes again and the truth is I don’t really know. In one sense, I take it in my stride, knowing that many others have also revisited places. In another, I feel a quiet ecstasy at seeing it and knowing that I was there is the “early” days. But I accept that time has moved on and it is one thing among many that I have had to leave behind. Still, I hope to have time to blend in a few “this is it now” photos among the other slides planned for Monday night at Casey.
The remainder of today has been fairly quiet. I found that the telephone link to Australia was excellent and any signal delay barely noticeable. In the evening, James repeated his excellent talk on drones with the addition of the video records taken since his talk on the Aurora Australis. We are anticipating that the Aurora Australis will leave the immediate area of Casey for a safer anchorage before the forecasted blow tomorrow.
Monday 21 December 2015
Following the trip to Wilkes, I spent a while picking some photos to add to the slide show for that evening. Before getting very far, Brad Collins put his head in to ask me if I would like a tour of the engineering side of Casey. Would I what? Jumped at it. And so I was taken through the engineering marvel that is Casey with its massive waste processing, storages, workshops, laboratories and data processing. In sense, not overwhelming as I have seen similar works through my career. But in another, a tremendous contrast with the facilities at Wilkes where much of what existed in 1967 would fit into a small corner or perhaps a mezzanine of the respective counter-parts at Casey. It would certainly be a different winter with less people than we had at Wilkes; yet at Casey one would be surrounded by all this infrastructure to keep comfortable and safe whilst also protecting the environment which suffered only for a sketchy mention in early years.
Much of what exists at Casey is there for the large summer parties and I have realised that many people, although never having wintered on a base or perhaps only once, return for summer after summer as part of the building and operations that intensify during that part of the year when the weather and sunlight make it possible.
Wind gusts up to 60 knots (over 100 km/H) blew on and off. However, there was very little snow carried or precipitation and perhaps this says something of climate change. Consequentially, the horizon and visibility remained clear. My memory of Wilkes was that any blizzard at any time of year carried considerable snow. The first hours of a blizzard picked up enormous quantities of snow dumped since the previous blizzard. Visibility might be a few metres in the next couple of days while we commenced shovelling snow out of the passages and away from essential exits. By the third day or so, it would be clear enough to take some interesting photos from the top of the auroral tower of the low level snow drift as the blizzard petered out.
The evening slide show was well attended and received. It was basically the same show that I had on the Aurora Australis but I added a photographic “walking tour guide” more or less following our walk on Saturday so that other people could identify the buildings and their purpose.
Tuesday 22 December 2015
With the ship back at Casey and the wind down to a zephyr again, cargo operations recommenced and we saw some of the Aurora Australis people back at Casey.
Having spruiked it the previous evening, I had a sale for the ANARE Club in the late afternoon. It seemed to start slowly but people kept coming in, particularly as some finished their day’s work and I was then kept fairly busy. Overall, it was a very satisfactory sale and at last the bag of merchandise was significantly lighter. Quite a number of people took advantage of a 6 month free membership of the Club and we hope to see them at midwinter dinners in future years.
Brad had a few more places to show me including the hydrophonics lab, electrical power, fire station and water system. To illustrate one point – despite the fire risk that Wilkes was, we had only basic extinguishers and hoses with a very limited water supply; Casey has a fire station with a Hagglund especially fitted out with pumps, breathing apparatus, tanks, hoses and generators as well as other vehicles and equipment which would make many Melbourne metropolitan fire stations envious.
Before knocking off for the evening, I had a stocktake and was relieved that despite the full on pace at the table, it all balanced and I could go to sleep happy.
Wednesday 23 December 2015
Wednesday was a computer and catch up day more or less after the merchandise sale. I rehashed the spreadsheet somewhat and much of the morning was occupied with some report writing particularly with respect to sales of merchandise and then a Christmas email catch up. After that, I felt that I could escape the job list for a while. I seem to have lapsed into busyness somewhat and it was a change to catch up a little with some reading in the late afternoon.