Lucinda Coates – ANARE Club Representative 2016-2017

Voyage 3 Aurora Australis – Mawson Resupply, Davis Summer Retrieval

Blog 1 – Sydney pre departure

Monday 17 December 2001: The Southern Ocean rocked me to sleep on the best Sunday in a decade for me. Aurora Australis slipped her lines at 20:00 hours last night as we started our resupply voyage (V5) to Casey Station. Our small complement of passengers includes the 14 expeditioners of the 2002 ANARE to Casey and 25 round-trippers like myself. There are a couple of science projects happening on board (sampling for krill and kelp) and also at Casey station (Law Dome glaciology and measuring and rephotographing various moss and lichen sites at and near SSSI 16, about a kilometre from Casey). This last task I am involved with but my main reason for appearing on the passenger list was to represent the Club and promote membership.
Thus read the first paragraph of my report on my previous Club Berth – some 15 years ago. I scored that gig through my involvement with and work on behalf of the NSW Branch of the ANARE Club, for a decade after first joining the Club. And, holy guacamole, it’s happening again! Thanks to the generosity of the Antarctic Division in supplying an annual Club Berth to the ANARE Club, and to the Club Berth Subcommittee of that same club for accepting my nomination, here I am, typing up my first blog, and hoping like anything that my Medical will be a “Clear to Go” and that I don’t shoot off the end of the treadmill during the stress test!

My introduction to the Great White South occurred some ten years prior to that first Club Berth trip. I was working for the Antarctic Division’s plant biologist, boldly going where no lichenologist had gone before, to parts of the northern Prince Charles Mountains, during the summer of 1991-92. My brief was to collect – well, anything living that couldn’t run, crawl or fly away (ie plant material: moss, algae, lichens) – from different micro-environments and, as this meant exploring each nunatak that the helicopters landed me near from bottom to top (with fine views to be had there from), that suited me perfectly. I enjoyed every moment of my fieldwork and also life on station – both at the Dovers summer camp and back “home” at Mawson – the premier Station. But that’s another story.

Who am I? Well, my job title, Catastrophe Risk Scientist, possibly leaves it wide open but nowadays my task is to collect and analyse data on historical natural hazard events with respect to impacts on human health (fatalities, injuries, near misses) and to the built environment (damage to buildings, infrastructure, the economy etc). I work for a natural hazards research group called Risk Frontiers based out of the Environmental Sciences Department at Macquarie University, Sydney. My latest work, for the Bushfire & Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre (BNHCRC), has involved looking at trends of the most vulnerable groups of the Australian population in terms of flood fatalities.

The BNHCRC work is unique in that each of the large number of projects being carried out by researchers across Australia have a group of end-users who guide that particular project (within the parameters of the initial scope of work) such that the end results can be utilized in a practical manner, rather than just having lovely reports gathering dust, unused, on a shelf somewhere. The work I have been involved in has assisted emergency response/ management groups in knowing who to target their campaigns towards and also in gaining grants to support them in that task. Most lately, I have just handed in a draft report of recent (~1989 – 2015) fatalities due to earthquakes, tropical cyclones and severe storms (wind, rain, hail, tornadoes, lightning).

I still enjoy working on the NSW Branch of the ANARE Club and currently hold the position of Secretary. Our main task is to organize the annual NSW Midwinter Dinner – and being able to attend these, in company with a variety of expeditioners, is the main reason I joined the Club. I did this, by the way, through the offices of the Club Berth holder (Max Corry) on my return voyage from Antarctica in 1992. So it works! I hope to be able to offer that very same service to all expeditioners either intending or returning.

My first trip down South was via the fairly newly commissioned Aurora Australis – the return trip via the Icebird. In 2001-02 it was the Aurora Australis there and back and at that stage she was looking pretty good for having spent eleven years or so voyaging one of the roughest oceans in the world. I am very much looking forward to reacquainting myself with that vessel and of meeting the crew and of course the expeditioners. But… let’s wait for the results of that Medical!

Blog 2 – Sydney pre departure

Well, it has been a while since I last blogged but I can report that yes, I passed my medical, and I didn’t do anything embarrassing like shooting off the end of the treadmill during the stress test. Excellent stuff! I think I have now filled out most of the forms, have done the most pressing preparatory tasks and am up to preparing a few after-dinner shows and compiling a packing list. The days are running together and going, in one way, too fast but, then again, I am getting very excited about my forthcoming trip! It’s all systems go.

As I was sorting through my slides to illustrate presentations I realized that, the first time I went south, I had been so struck by the thought of icebergs, icesheets, glaciers, snow, Antarctic rocks and animals… that I sort of forgot to take any photos of Mawson Station! I took some of Ice Station Dovers but the current Mawsonites won’t be as interested in that as in The Premier Station. The only shot of buildings I found was one someone took of me and a few fellow PCMers as we were sipping G&Ts in the late afternoon (night!) sun on the deck of the OICery, where I was bunking for the few nights before heading out to Dovers.

But – what to do? If I am lucky enough to disembark at Mawson Station, I can show the Mawson winterers of 2016 and 2017 some shots of my 1991 trip down (but everyone does that trip, right, and icebergs don’t change over the years!), the dogs (whose last year at Mawson was the one just after my summer), lots and lots of the Prince Charles Mountains and even some of Heard Island, as we were doing the final supply for the party of five men who over-wintered there in 1992. But – not many of Mawson Station! Luckily, the redoubtable Charlie Weir (W67, C69, D85, M87, MI89, M91 (which is when I met him) and MI93) is coming to my rescue. He has very nicely agreed to send down a CD (or similar) of Mawson Station, post-haste, and I will make a copy of it and maybe get some prints off it too, send the treasured original safely back to Charlie and carry the copy with me to show to the good people down at Mawson. Brilliant! Thanks Charlie! We will drink to your good health at the Mawson bar!

Here’s some extracts from my 1991-92 diary on Mawson Station and the dogs:

14th Dec. … We eventually reached Mawson and walked to our abode – [another female] and I are in Dovers/ the OICery, next door to the gym where all the boys are. The OICery is a bit overheated. We have separate rooms, only 2 x 2.5m and ~3.5m high… I went with [a glaciologist] to the West Arm, a promontory of rock jutting out btn Mawson Bay and the one to the left. On the way back we stopped to pat the dogs. There are two lines of them, in the snow, and a few in cages… If you pat one you have to pat them all! They get so excited about being near humans! They jump all over you, planting their huge paws with precision to knock you over. They even take your hand gently in their jaws, like [a cattle-dog I once knew] used to. …

19th Dec. … [a dieso] asked me along dog running with [another dieso]. What happens is, you get a lead from the shed, clip it on your chosen dog (after checking they’re all compatible, with [geophysicist/ dog person]) – if you can, with the dog jumping all over the place in sheer excitement, then unclip the chains and you’re off! The trick is to swap arms every so often in order to keep the length the same. My dog Tom was only a pup, born last year. His two brothers Sprocket and Lowbo were (of course!) the same age. I was constantly pulling back on the lead – Tom didn’t let up one bit, and even melt streams didn’t phase him! I was too well rugged up – Caribou boots and chains were okay, woollen trousers, yes, but ventiles and woollen shirt – no way! I think thermals and a t-shirt is the go. We worked up a bit of a sweat, occasionally breaking into a run, and went a couple of kilometres to a fuel depot than had a break while the dogs gobbled snow (especially Tom) or gambolled about. Lowbo is a real character and kept playing with Sprocket (he doesn’t like melt streams at all and kept refusing to jump them!). Got back ~9pm…

21st Dec. In the evening – dog sledding! [Geophysicist/ dog person], [glaciologist] and I, with a team of 8 – it should have been 9 but they forgot to harness one of the older females. [Radio operator/ dog handler] helped me get a dog into harness – no easy thing with an excitable dog jumping all over you! Then you lead the dogs to the sled, in the correct order. You have to be careful not to put “enemies” together – the dogs love humans but fur literally flies when the dogs have a blue! Even leading dogs down the middle of the two lines starts a near riot. When hitching dogs to the sleds, it is necessary to have one or two people yelling, “SIT! SIIIIIT!” and generally attempting to keep the dogs from attacking each other. Finally they’re ready, a person stands on the brake, the front and back pegs are knocked loose, and you’re off! One person leaps onto the sled, the braker lets the brake off and the runner attempts to run at the head of the dogs to lead them more or less in the correct general direction.

[Geophysicist/ dog person] ran first; I was on the sled. When we slewed left, between the lake and the rocks above Mawson to our left, we had to lean left (the uphill side) but we were still precariously close to a wetting! [Geophysicist/ dog person] soon tired, and as I took that place I soon saw why! We raced across meltstreams no problem, bar a few bumps. The dogs slowed a lot going uphill through heavy snow and needed a bit of encouragement. At one stage they went straight towards a crevasse because there were two humans there, and they LOVE humans! But we managed to avoid accidents.

We pulled up at GWAMM (~3km from the station) but didn’t stop for long, because the dogs were getting a bit growly at each other. I foolishly offered to go on the brake on the way back downhill – I had the pedal to the metal – or, rather, the brake to the snowflake – almost all the entire way, and still the dogs pelted along! We were almost home, the sled was sloping to the left, I had my right foot on the brake so hard my thigh muscles were killing me. We almost tipped, leant a bit more to the right, but finally did a brilliant face-plant. Oops. I should have had my left foot down, to lean even more, but I probably would have upset the balance by doing that anyway…

9 Feb [after fieldwork; back at Mawson]. … I said g’day to the huskies, who have all been moved to a snowier location. It has been quite balmy here at the coast! [Dieso] even had to bulldoze a track to GWAMM so the dogs couldn’t cut their feet on the ice during the dog run. They seem happy enough, and with a speccy backdrop that made a great picture! And then, of course, I had to pat them. All of them. They don’t seem quite as big as the first time I did that! They seem to belong at Mawson and even though I haven’t spent much time with them, I will miss them. This coming winter will be their last on the southern continent.

Blog 3 – Sydney pre-departure

As I write this I am doing a “soft pack” to see what, if anything, I need to make a mad dash to obtain tomorrow, before my flight to Hobart on Sunday. I cannot believe the time has flown so fast!

I have a prepared a stack of after-dinner presentations in case interest is there – on two trips to Antarctica, a couple of caving expeditions, a few travels overseas and of course the Club presentation, which relies strongly on Denise Allen’s excellent effort, with a few slides from Charlie Weir thrown in just for good measure. Oh HOW I wish I had scanned my slides years ago because 1) they would have been already scanned in time to compile my own presentation, and 2) they wouldn’t have collected mould from the lovely kind of weather Sydney-siders have been experiencing just recently.

I also have a couple of presentations from my work at Risk Frontiers, a research and development company operating at the forefront of gathering data to inform a range of users from insurance companies to all three levels of government and also NGOs. One on some of the results from investigations using our fabulous natural hazards database, PerilAUS, and one on heatwaves in particular. And possibly a couple of others. Speaking of work…

I turned up last Thursday morning to be greeted by a morning tea to celebrate my imminent, though temporary, departure for parts South. Not so unusual, I guess: Risk Frontiers puts on morning teas at the drop of a hat, but not usually when someone is going off on a jolly! As per usual, the selection of viands was innovative as well as delicious.

Our fruit bowl that morning was in the form of a spouting whale (a watermelon in fact), with a top/ side section cut away to reveal the smiling mouth. There were tiny penguins crafted from black olives, cream cheese and carrot slices. The pavlova we have come to expect from our amazing admin officer (and in fact there have been tears the very few times a pav doesn’t turn up at a morning tea) was decorated with blueberries on top and surrounded by a sea of blue jelly. The whale was also sitting in a blue jelly ocean. And there was even coconut ice – blue and white, of course. Look at these photos and weep!

Blog 4 – Sunday 22 January 2017 Hobart

After weeks of preparation – getting all the paperwork together, preparing some presentations (with a few collateral trips down Memory Lane – or was that Iceberg Alley?!) – I’m finally free of Sydney and its humid fog of stress, and in beautiful Hobart. Which certainly turned on its best weather for me! A corker of a blue sky day. And what looks better against that sky than an unashamedly red ship at dock, flying its colours bravely? Yes, the Aurora Australis had made it into safe harbour after V2 in good time, despite fitting in a couple more required research days than planned. Which means the lucky expeditioners of V3, including yours truly, will set out as per schedule this Wednesday.

After my flight from Sydney I had a pleasant stroll around the Hobart wharves, gravitating to Macquarie no. 2, to the definitive strains of a jazz band playing just across the way from the Mawson Huts replica. Of course I paid the nominal fee to the Hut keeper and had a good look around, being firstly slightly amazed at some rather colourful penguins painted up by local artists and for sale to assist in raising funds for the Mawson Huts Foundation. And secondly amazed, again, at the derring do of Mawson and his band of men: the conditions they endured in the “home of the blizzard” in the name of science and exploration, and the primitive (by our tech-savvy standards) equipment and clothing they had in which to do it. shots of the men in Mawson’s Hut adorn series of corridors surrounding a replica of a bunk-lined room, with a central bench that served as social centre, work area and dinner table.

Leaving Mawson’s Hut, I continued to the continued melodious jazz tunes to Macquarie Wharf no. 2, which is the Division’s own, and finally I spied the distinctive red of the Aurora Australis’ turrets. I took a shot or two through the wire fence of the operations that were ensuring she is fully provisioned with everything from fuel to food and in ship-shape condition to once again brave the Southern Ocean. Roll on Wednesday!


Blog 5 – Monday 23 January 2017 Kingston, and Hobart

Today I had my kitting out appointment at the Division HQ in Kingston. I rocked up to reception, picked up my visitor’s card, had a bit of a look around and then made my way to Stores. Here is where I met Luka, the stores officer. We found out we had both been to Macquarie Uni in exactly the same years for our undergrad courses and had probably shared a lecture or two. Oh, it’s a small (Antarctic) world, isn’t it?! I was so glad it was lovely Hobart weather, not hot and sticky Sydney weather, because I had to try on my thermals and then over that try on first the windproof coveralls, then fleecy clothes, then the work clothes. Big socks for big fleecy lined boots (sorrels) and then other work boots. The sorells and all the vital clothes went into my red survival kit bag; the other items like work boots, even a drink bottle, went into another bag. The weight of this latter bag counts as part of one’s 30kg allowance; the contents of the red survival bag do not. So, I may just be okay with what I brought down from Sydney. For example, I would hate to leave behind my Dr Who trivial pursuit game, or my boxing kit. These alone represent so much potential fun and activity for everyone on board! It would also be a shame not to bring the calendar my sister bought me from New Zealand, in return for a Christmas pressie I had given her (and several of my female colleagues) – The Australian Firefighters calendar…

Back in Hobart, having completely forgotten about actually TAKING WITH ME the said red survival and the other bags (it’s okay, I’m back at the Division on Tuesday for pre-departure training! I’ll pick them up then!!) I visited the Tas Museum/ Art Gallery. Not only is 2017 the 60th anniversary of the founding of Davis Station (hooray!), it is also, on a sad note, the 50th anniversary of the destructive 1967 Hobart bushfires that caused such devastation in terms of human lives as well as homes and other buildings. This is of interest to me on a professional basis as a Catastrophe Risk Scientist for Risk Frontiers at Macquarie Uni, so I visited said museum and took in their very well-curated exhibition. So long ago and no personal involvement on my part and yet still I shed some tears. For some reason, bushfire events nearly always do that to me, despite the fact that I have worked in this arena since the mid to late 1980s.

I then visited the Maritime Museum, a most interesting series of displays over two levels of yet another of Hobart’s lovely old buildings, run by volunteers. There was a small section devoted to Antarctic exploits and in the bookshop afterwards I had to stop myself from buying half a dozen books. However I am still thinking about them and on my return in mid-March will most probably no longer be able to resist the one on early Antarctic exploratory vessels. In fact, depending on how the weigh-in goes on Wednesday I may have to make a quick trip back there. What a good addition it would make to the AA’s library!

I also managed to finish my slightly frantic dash to various Hobart camera and HiFi shops to ensure I have just about every type of connector (from ethernet to iPhone), memory card reader, spare camera batteries etc so that I can not only have the time of my life for 6 or 7 weeks, but prove that I did by way of this blog and of course photos!

And, dear reader, here is where I put in an advance apology – just at the very moment when one would think Antarctic photo opportunities are coming thick and fast – and they would be – there is when I will be a little restricted in terms of the number and size of photos I can attach to my email blogs to Webmaster Col Christiansen. So you may have to use your imagination a bit and I will have to do some vivid Word Smithery in lieu of lots of lovely big details photos.

Regards Lucinda

Blog 6 – Wednesday 25 January 2017 Sailing day

As I write, departure is imminent! Bags are packed and weighed (and yay! mine was well under the 30kg limit!), telephone pin numbers issued, ZoIP app downloading instructions imparted and we have had our on-board pre-departure briefings. The previous day was pre-departure training at AAD HQ Kingston, where I think the very best presentation of the day was on manual handling and how best to pick up and carry loads – something very important for resupply ops! So this morning we turned up at 08:30hours at Macquarie Wharf no. 2 for the weigh in. At anchor, half hidden behind sheds and containers, was the little red ship – little only in the sense that it was anchored near a behemoth of a cruise ship that looked more like an array of apartment buildings than a ship!

Important messages about safety on board were communicated, by the voyage leader, the ship’s Master and the AAD medico. We were introduced to our doctor for the trip down, and also to the IT/ Comms person, with whom I will be liaising for the best way of getting photos out to you lot! After the main briefings we had our first emergency muster. On hearing the 7 short sirens and one long one, we went up to the heli deck, picking up lifejackets en route from our cabins. Whilst at the muster point we wriggled into immersion suits – the sort of attire one would wish to be seen in only if one expected the possibility of being immersed in very cold seawater. The third officer ran this muster and then took us on a tour of the ship, pointing out lifeboats – we clambered into one. I’m so glad they no longer lower them and put about on the water for a while – the first time I went south (25 years ago! Where did that time go?!) this happened and there was a little trouble getting them hooked back up to the ship. It was a hot day, there were lots of people on board – not very happy people – I think you get the picture!

We then saw the liferafts (we didn’t have to get inside one!), the bridge, noted where the laundry was and ended up at the mess. This latter has changed in layout from when I last looked, some 15 years previously but, from what I can gather, the food served is still top quality. One now needs to be inducted before one can help out in the mess. I fully intend to do this; I had such fun making friends with the crew last trip this way.

In the training the previous day I met a few people who were not on V3: they were getting to Davis or Casey via aircraft instead of ship. So an A319 (similar to a Jetstar airbus but with more fuel) and then, for those that need it, a connecting LC130 ‘plane from Wilkins runway to Davis.

Much of the science at Mawson Station, such as Cosray physics, Ionospheric prediction and Geoscience Australia projects are remotely controlled nowadays and so Mawson is one of the quieter stations as well as, of course, being the loveliest AND the premier! As to the science on board the Aurora Australis, there will be the Continuous Plankton Recorder, of which more later on when, instead of being in the Hobart library typing this whilst keeping my eye on the clock, I will be safely on board…

The main raison d’etre for this voyage is the Mawson resupply. We are delivering a fine band of expeditioners to overwinter 2017 and also 460,000 litres of fuel (Antarctic Special Blend).

There are an entirely new set of procedures around this latter. For example, it’s highly unlikely we’ll enter Horseshoe Harbour: refuelling will most likely be done from Kista Straits, else via West Arm (this has not been done often – last time 2008). In the best scenario all the fuel gets unloaded. If we can only manage half of it, that still gives the station two years’ redundancy of fuel. If weather conditions are such that no unloading is able to be carried out in the ten-day window allowed at Mawson, then refuelling MUST happen in the following season. No fuel means the station cannot be manned.

Okay, I’d better dash now – this is one connection I definitely am NOT going to be missing!

Blog 7 will be from the good ship Aurora Australis.

regards Lucinda

Blog 7 – Saturday 28 January 2017 At sea

The word was a bit of a swell would be encountered once we left the protection of Hobart’s harbour. Never was a truer word spoken. Now I’m not saying we ran into “weather”: in fact the ship’s navigators did some rather fast legwork to take us southerly rather than via the planned south-westerly route, in order to avoid a brewing storm centre or two. However, we have experienced an average 3m swell from Day 1 (25 Jan; it’s now Day 28 so you do the math!) and the Aurora Australis is treating us to an ever-changing mix of rolling (that’s from side to side) and pitching (when the ship dips its nose into then up over the swells). Certainly sufficient for a couple of sleepless nights for me and an extended period of unwellness for some. I feel fine – but asked the doc for sleeping tabs: he recommended phenergan (for sea-sickness) from the “self-help counter” and it worked a treat.

I lol every time I walk along a corridor, or up and down steps from deck to deck (one does a lot of that when continually moving from the mess (E deck) to the bridge (A deck)!), or work out in the gym because I’m still getting my sea legs. It’s more like a continuous controlled fall. I am very envious of the crew, who make movement on board seem effortless. How do they do that?! I spend a lot of time on the bridge and on the open deck above it – my kinesiologist did say I needed more negative ions! A few more things are rolling off tables now and sometimes even the chairs move whilst one is sitting at a meal or writing at one’s cabin desk…

The voyage has been

great so far, yes, including the initial briefings which were really just emphasising safety in our new unfamiliar environment and also just how to get around the ship e.g. where the laundry is. Having showers is excellent fun, with one hand hanging onto a sturdy handrail at most times. Using the gym was interesting too, with all the core muscles being switched on! I am in charge of organising after dinner presentations, possibly because I was the only one who volunteered; possibly because I have buckets of presentations. We had our first last night: one of the Mawson winterers gave an illustrated presentation on Casey Station, where he wintered in the 1986. It was fascinating stuff, especially for the other expeditioners who will be experiencing Antarctica slightly differently nowadays. This was followed by the regular movie slot. One of the met guys had chosen “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” – a wonderful New Zealand film with some laconic as well as almost slapstick humour and well as “majestical” scenery.

Everyone on board is so friendly and helpful; it makes all the difference to a voyage. Myself and nine other expeditioners were inducted into the mysteries of the galley operations yesterday morning so we can now rock up to the galley any time and help out as slushy. This will be most necessary on our return trip where, instead of 30 we will have 107 passengers. Our complement at present is voyage management, the incoming Mawson winterers, a large complement of chaps in charge of refuelling and water ops and myself. Coming home we will have the winter and all the summer personnel from both Mawson and Davis stations. It will be crowded but lots of fun I’m sure.

The meals on board are as good in both quality and quantity as I recalled. Even with my fussier eating habits nowadays there is plenty of choice. It will also do me a power of good to have very regular meal times instead of wolfing down whatever was quick to make whilst trying to get done all the work that needed to be done before I left. And now I see why the Aurora has two well set-up (although small) gyms and a sauna.

Last evening I sidled past the”Window of Death by Dessert” cowheartedly facing the other way, and muttering, “Get Thee behind me, Satan!” Let’s see if I can go against the odds and actually lose weight on this voyage…

To try and help me sleep at night I have been reading “Antarctica: a biography” by David Day – a “comprehensive and thoroughly researched historical account of the last continent” that I picked up from the ship’s library. I discovered the fact that, 197 years ago on this day of 28 January, Russian naval officer Captain Gottlieb van Bellinghausen sailed within sight of Antarctica (although maybe an ice-shelf off it, not the actual land?) on the good ship Vostock and with sister ship Mirny. This was only the second expedition ever to cross 60 degrees south, the Antarctic Circle. The first was Captain James Cook on 17 January 1773 in the Resolution (and with sister ship the Adventure).

More on everything later!

Blog 8 – 30 January 2017 day 6 (counting our departure day, 25 Jan at 5pm, as day 1) At sea

Tonight we wind our timepieces one hour backwards – for the third time. This is very pleasant on the southward leg as we get to sleep in without missing a delicious breakfast! I’m not thinking about the northward leg. Last night, apparently, a second aurora australis was seen above the Aurora Australis and this one, by all accounts, was spectacular, coloured red and green. Yours truly has now put her name on the “aurora list” for being rung by the officer f the watch! Let’s hope there are more where those came from! Then I will be all set to dash from my bed when my phone rings, with all my cold weather clobber ready to scramble into. [News flash: there was! night of 30th, just before 11pm ship time. A green and wavering line snaking across the sky. Yay!]

We received our 5th Sitrep from our voyage leader today. By that, we are currently cruising at 12 knots on a heading of 225 and (at least at 2pm our time, 30 Jan) are 2115 nautical miles from Mawson. The air temperature is 3 degrees; the water 5 degrees. The sea swell is now 0.5 to 1.5m and so we are on a gentle roll, which should make getting to sleep easy! A couple of Continuous Plankton Recordings have been collected, and we are currently en route to try if we can retrieve the whale mooring – hence the rather westerly heading. We are currently at latitude 56 degrees S so it will be a few days before we reach the Antarctic Circle.

The after-dinner presentations continue, as do movie sessions – today being a mammoth Game of Thrones fest. Last night your Club rep gave short (11-15 min) presentations of her two previous trips South: the PCMs 1991-92 and the Casey resupply roundtrip of 2001-02, which was enlivened (and lengthened!) by a surprise rescue of the (then) Polar Bird, who had been beset by ice for 36 days with her complement of summer fieldwork personnel. Tonight, for somethings completely different, Caving Expeditions are the order of the day with, again, your Club rep showing what she used to get up to. The photos are from a couple of expeditions to the Nullarbor Plain and one to Christmas Island (before even the casino was built).

Tomorrow night I will show the Club presentation, which is basically one put together by ANARE woman Denise Allen (Q85, M86, D88, C92, M05, D07) for her Club rep trip, with some slight changes and the addition of photos by kind permission of Charlie Weir (W67, C69, D85, M87, Q89, M91, Q93). Yours truly didn’t quite get her old slides scanned in time to include in a presentation but that’s okay, everyone on board has seen the best of them now. I will also open the Club shop the day after that presentation for both Club memberships and sales of Club merchandise.

I got up for sunrise this morning and went back to the bridge for sunset after the day was done. There were some lovely clouds about – including, maybe, some snow flurries – and I gained the officer of the watch’s permission to go to the monkey deck to take photos. On my way back, looking at the eastern horizon, I saw what appeared to be the antithesis of the western horizon, where clouds around the sun had the effect of “rays of God” emanating from the sun. In the east, there were also rays but these seemed to be converging at a point a little distance below the horizon. Back at the bridge I was informed that those seemingly emanating from the sun were crepuscular rays and those in the east anti-crepuscular. Thus said the Third Officer and the Mariners’ Handbook!

Blog 9 – Friday 3 February 2017

It has been a few days since last I blogged. Too many icebergs!

~1 Feb we were informed that the flight to Wilkins via A319 aircraft had been successfully accomplished, and that those expeditioners continuing to Davis Station had made their connecting flight okay. These were some of the people I met 10-11 days ago at the pre-departure briefing at Kingston. It’s nice to know their various research projects can now commence.

The iceberg sweep came to a, to me, unexpectedly swift stop, with our first bigger-than-ship berg sighted by the Officer of the Watch at 20:46 hours, 31 January, at about 58 degrees south. This was a lot earlier than I had thought, as we have been steaming just slightly south of west as we head to the whale mooring, after heading almost due south for the first few days to avoid some nasty weather. After we retrieve the whale mooring, tomorrow, we once again head due south. Yay! The winner of the sweep kindly donated his winnings to Camp Quality, the charity sponsored by the ship’s crew.

1 Feb we retarded our timepieces by 1 hour, for the fourth time. We reached the Antarctic Circle sometime during the wee small hours of 2 Feb. As we are doing a fair bit of training and Saturday is devoted to whale mooring retrieval and redeployment, the ceremony to welcome those expeditioners for whom this voyage is their first time below the latitude of 60 degrees south will be held this Sunday, 5 Feb.

During 1 Feb we experienced small flurries of snow, fog, lots of cloud, in fact all weathers but not quite enough blue sky to satisfy those wishing to take photos of all the amazing icebergs. Fog does lend a certain atmospheric quality, but the sun’s rays do bring out the lovely blues that can be sometimes seen in interestingly-shaped ‘bergs. These have been randomly decorating our passage through the Southern Ocean. The wind shifted to behind us, which made it seem as if we were moving more slowly (we weren’t!). It did make venturing outside more pleasant, although now that the temperature is hovering between one and zero degrees, it’s not really a place to linger unless dressed up in all of one’s cold-weather clobber.

I opened the ANARE Club shop the day after my presentation and had a nice steady stream of interested customers, and signed up a few members. it was also nice to just have a chat to people. Now if only I can sell those two very efficient (read: heavy-to-carry-back) vests…

Field training has continued – first was sea ice travel: the Field Training Officer (also one of the water operations crew) gave some excellent advice on what to do, and not to do, more importantly, when travelling on sea ice. This year the Mawson group has a FTO overwintering, and she will be giving more training on station to the group. Yesterday we learnt the basics of using VHF radios, which is how comms will be undertaken, mainly, during the resupply process. Today it is how to use map & compass, and tomorrow GPS training – these latter two just for the Mawson crew, although there was space if others were interested in sitting in.

The 7pm presentations just keep getting better and better. Two nights ago one of the Mawson group gave an incredible presentation, by video and photos, of a 3,500km canoe trip he did from Condamine, Qld to the mouth of the Murray River, SA – a feat not done since 1976 and possibly not for many a year to come. This was in 2011, after the prolonged rains had fully saturated the soils and the rivers were (just) navigable but not too boisterous – to intrepid canoeists, anyway. Last night another Mawson 2017 expedition showed a 10-minute time lapse video called “Mawson After Dark” which had the full complement in the theatre spellbound, as 28 days’ (nights’, rather!) footage of auroras swirled their way across the big screen, to an amazing soundtrack. Wow!

I was in one of (I’m sure) many meetings that have been happening – on collecting sea ice observations for an ongoing project – yesterday morning. Although no sea ice is about, we will probably commence ops from 13:00 hours today – after all, a negative observation is still an observation. I gather there will be a dedicated laptop on the bridge and for 10-15 minutes every hour from 06:00 to 22:00 hours, an observer will go through the questionnaire-type set-up on the computer and fill in the extent of/ what kind of sea ice as well as various weather ops, e.g. the percentage (except that its oct-somethings) of cloud cover. Yours truly will be covering a few of the afternoon hours and whenever other observers and occupied with essential training.

Very shortly we are required to be in the D deck theatre for an environmental briefing; we then adjourn to the wet lab to do some thorough cleaning of boots, pockets, camera cases and anywhere else where foreign matter (aka dirt) may have accumulated. Attendance at these sessions is mandatory for anyone wanting to go ashore at Mawson or, in fact, any of the other Australian Antarctic of sub-Antarctic stations. You can betcha bootlaces I will be in attendance!

I will send another blog after, hopefully, a visit by a rather fishy royal personage this Sunday.

It is a bit of a gloomy day today, a bit more swell, a few less icebergs – so a most excellent time to get a bit more prepared for our destination!

Blog 10 4-5-6 February 2017

4 Feb 2017

This morning we retrieved the Whale Recorder. This is an acoustic mooring that has been patiently sitting on the ocean floor at Gribb Bank, hopefully recording whale calls. Gribb Bank was chosen as the site because here the water is relatively shallow, and also it’s on the route the Aurora Australis generally takes when travelling to Mawson or Davis stations. Except that this time around we deviated south from the usual route, to avoid some nasty weather (but try telling that to the poor souls currently on board suffering from mal de mer!). After dodging the storm centres, we then headed west, young man, until we reached Gribb Bank. There’s a bit of detective work involved in retrieval of this device. First, all of the Aurora’s echo sounders are shut down and the propeller disengaged in order to be as acoustically quiet as possible. Second, “ping”s are sent to the ocean floor. Once return “ping”s are heard from the device, its release codes are entered on the computer and a nail-biting wait ensues. Once the mooring device pops to the surface, it then has to be sighted, and finally retrieved. A tricky business all around. This time the process went almost like clockwork. There was some slight confusion over the location of the device but finally the 2 comms guys with the first mate got the required answering “ping”; the device was released from its mooring (a stack of iron plates) and expeditioners scattered about the ship waited and watched. After some 20 minutes or so the device was sighted from the bridge, looking rather brave, a small couple of yellow dots in the vast grey sea, with a small flashing light. Some of the ship’s crew employed the fast rescue craft to move the device to the trawl deck, where it was winched on board via the gantry. Quite amazing: the recovered whale mooring had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean, in over 2km of water, for two years and still its battery allowed it to blink at us! A new device was sent to the depths with its stack of weights in its place.

5 Feb 2017

V3 was most unfortunately NOT graced by the presence of the nautical King Neptune: He had deputised one of the watercraft operators to act in His stead. This stalwart had composed a witty ode with which he regaled his audience as to just why he was there and not His Royal Fishiness Himself. However, the Seaweedy Sovereign had sent three fetching damsels of the deep to grace the company’s presence. Thus the perennial custom of ensuring all those new to latitudes south of 60 degrees were properly respectful of the reigning monarch of the oceans was continued, albeit in a less messy manner. Luckily, there were no half-gutted fish to kiss, and the ship’s waste systems didn’t have to cope with first-time expeditioners washing off a gooey mix of flour, vegemite and whatever else came to hand. In contrast to recent years, but nearer to my memory of my own initiation, back in 1991, it was a relatively refined affair. The company then repaired to E-deck and a very pleasant BBQ was had on the trawl deck, open to the ocean views but nicely sheltered from too much breeze. Here the company was fed right royally with barbecued meats, salad and bread rolls, followed by a most delicious pavlova. With a stubby in hand (ANARE Club stubbie coolers, anyone?!) we watched the seabirds wheeling about the ship. We also gazed with wonder upon a couple of rather nice icebergs – and under mainly sunny skies, too – that the Master of the ship had managed to round up for us. As there was now no hurry to get to Mawson (we were ahead of schedule thanks to yesterday’s super speedy whale mooring retrieval, and there was a bit of weather near Mawson that we couldn’t have done anything in), we did a comfortable ambulatory circumnavigation of one of the bergs once or twice. Lots of camera action!

6 Feb 2017

But it hasn’t been all trawl deck BBQs, let me tell you! There has been a significant increase in the number of briefings, to ensure everyone on board fully understands what they will be doing once we get to Mawson Station. This morning there was a bunker door briefing: there are relatively few people on board and a large percentage of them will be disembarking at Mawson for the year, so yours truly is one of the people who will be ensuring any passengers disembarking or embarking does so safely. I need to wear sturdy boots, my waterproof high-vis outer shell, and a harness – this is hooked up inside the rather cramped bunker room (so called because, when not dealing in people, the area deals in fuel) so that I do NOT accompany any of the passengers disembarking. We also had a disembarkation briefing, so we know what to take, what to wear, how best to get down the ladder, what to do when we reach the watercraft (which is, listen to what the watercraft operators (WCO) say and do it immediately!) and to remember to turn fire tags over to red so the voyage management team know who’s on board and who’s ashore.

The WCO are coming into their own: they are involved in buckets of meetings and briefings (as are the cargo handlers etc) on mooring in Horseshoe Harbour (if that eventuates), launch and recovery of watercraft and cargo operations. We all have a week or more of work ahead of us but they have the relentless job of transferring passengers and some cargo to shore, safely and efficiently, day after day. At least I can look forward to a few different kinds of jobs (ice observations, slushy duty, bunker door duty, ANARE Club promotion at Mawson Station and, if I’m very lucky, a bit of time to look around Mawson station) – like I said, some pretty heavy duty work coming up for some of the guys. However, all the processes are in place to ensure workers get sufficient breaks and do not become overtired.

Today we reverted to a bit of rolling and pitching, grey skies – or white, when it was snowing, layering the focastle & the good little ship AA2 with a powdering of snow – with a following swell. Better than punching into it but there is no sea ice, and icebergs are few and far between. That is all due to change early morning Wednesday as we are due to pass through Iceberg Alley, so let’s hope the weather clears a bit by then! However, we have been blessed with whale sightings. Just today, between doing ice observations up on the bridge, I was lucky enough to see a couple of whales, really close to the stern of the ship, thanks to one of the crew’s keen sight and quick notification. I saw tail flukes very close in front on the port side, and then on the starboard – the water spout (just like the Watermelon Whale!) (well, almost!!) and then smooth backs and fins. But a couple of days ago we were in the midst of a veritable flock (wrong collective noun) of humpback whales – both sides of the ship and some so close! We saw tail flukes, fins, backs and their weird smiley mouths as they surfaced for air, time and time again.

Our after-dinner presentations have continued. I showed some slides of travel in the Middle-East; last night we were taken on a trek on he Canning Stock Route, and tonight one of the WCOs showed us some underwater and drone footage, and then a slide show, of one of the Arctic cruises he is lucky enough to work on. It has been a fascinating time.

The meals on board continue to delight every sense and I now have to sidle past the Dessert Window of Death with my back to it, in my continued resolve to actually lose weight on this voyage. I am continuing to make good use of the gym, as are other expeditioners, and three of us (in fact, the same three who were mysteriously absent from the Not-King-Neptune ceremony which had been visited by the three damsels of the deep…) had a go at a yoga class. Add a rolling ship to the mix of yoga poses hard enough on their own – all our little stabiliser muscles were working very hard indeed!

The weather’s due to get worse before it gets better and I think there may be a trivia quiz happening somewhere on board so I will end this missive now. We will be at Mawson in a couple of days and that will at first be a rather frenetic time so please forgive me if you do not hear from me for a while!

Blog 11 – Friday 10 February 2017

Waiting, waiting… The A-factor came into play a few days ago when a small weather window of opportunity firmly shut its doors on us. So on Wednesday, rather than heading into Mawson, we instead headed into 7-8m swell, sometimes up to 10m, for most of the day. This was impressive from the bridge, where a few hardy souls managed to balance sufficiently to take pictures, but a bit annoying everywhere else as, for example, the dining room chairs had to be chained down and even when seated on them, with legs braced, there was a tendency to travel from side to side – and to hang onto one’s plate, even with the sticky webbing mats on the tables. Anything not properly stowed in cabins was soon on the floor, rolling from port, to starboard, to port, to… you get the picture!

There ensued a “stooging” process, where we are basically zig-zagging across the Southern Ocean, avoiding the worst of the weather, getting ever so slightly closer to Mawson – but not quite close enough. The seas calmed down after the 7th but the days since have been overcast and often foggy, with snow showers, and swell of maybe 2 to 4m.

A very nice thing, however, is that as well as the odd albatross, petrel or Antarctic prion, we now have snow petrels gliding and swooping to either side as they take advantage of the disturbance of the ship to try and catch their dinner of fish. The are masters of the dive and swoop, playing with the wave tops, which are whipped into white froth and end in a trail of fine mist or water drops. I spent far too much time attempting to capture some of their antics on film.

The after-dinner presentations have continued. The rt plant operator showed an excellent montage of still and moving pics of last season’s voyage, to an impressive, and really long, soundtrack.The voyage management trainee gave us an interesting introduction to CCAMLR – she works in the policy unit of this important conservation group. I showed what a Catastrophe Risk Scientist does, illustrated with some examples from bushfires, floods and why heatwaves deserve more attention than they currently receive. Other activities continue, such as the daily 16:30hrs yoga class, visiting the gym, watching out for birds, bergs and whales from the bridge, sea ice observations (still no sea ice to be seen, worse luck! it would make travel far easier on stabiliser muscles, tummies and on the eyes!) and in addition, tonight we will be taking part in a trivia quiz. There is an entry fee which will be donated to Camp Quality.

The current thinking is we get to Iceberg Alley late tonight or early Saturday morning. Then some Mawsonites will board the ship for various briefings (fuel and cargo ops, mooring, etc) with myself and the voyage IT/ Comms guy on bunker door duty for the day. The 2017 Mawson winterers need to get their main bags to the heli deck by 8am and clean their rooms to the standard in which they found them (i.e., really clean!); the 2016 Station Leader (SL) will give an introduction to Mawson and eventually, hopefully, all the Mawsonites will be able to depart the ship. There will be a little coming and going over the ensuing days as some of the round-trippers with jobs to do ashore (e.g. the BoM guys and some of the voyage management team) depart each morning and return each night, as there are not enough beds at Mawson with both the 2016 and 2017 teams ashore. They are dealing not only with unloading etc but with the very important task of handover duties so that the incoming crew understand any Mawson Station peculiarities of their field of expertise.

And hopefully yours truly will get ashore, not just to do slushy duty (which I actually don’t mind at all) but to take a bit of a look around and see how the place has changed in 25 years. To take some pics of the Diesel Mechanics’ building for Charlie Weir, and the Carpenters’ building for my nephew, who is just starting out in that trade, and to visit the Post Office to mail some letters home!

Anyway, oh gosh, it’s breakfast time! As I am starting to create beautiful plate-pictures with my daily fare of lovely fruit, I mustn’t disappoint my audience, or my stomach, so here endeth this missive.

Oh, not quite… The latest Sitrep has us being in Kista Strait early tomorrow (Saturday) morning, with resupply to begin when the weather is within the working condition parameters. It’s now after lunch; I’ve tested out the sauna (and it still works) and… it’s snowing! Lovely large flakes of it. Time to go up to the bridge for my next instalment of ice ops and, as per usual, to take my camera!

And hopefully yours truly will get ashore, not just to do slushy duty (which I actually don’t mind at all) but to take a bit of a look around and see how the place has changed in 25 years. To take some pics of the Diesel Mechanics’ building for Charlie Weir, and the Carpenters’ building for my nephew, who is just starting out in that trade, and to visit the Post Office to mail some letters home!

Anyway, oh gosh, it’s breakfast time! As I am starting to create beautiful plate-pictures with my daily fare of lovely fruit, I mustn’t disappoint my audience, or my stomach, so here endeth this missive.

Oh, not quite… The latest Sitrep has us being in Kista Strait early tomorrow (Saturday) morning, with resupply to begin when the weather is within the working condition parameters. It’s now after lunch; I’ve tested out the sauna (and it still works) and… it’s snowing! Lovely large flakes of it. Time to go up to the bridge for my next instalment of ice ops and, as per usual, to take my camera!

Blog 12: Do Penguins Have Knees?

Wow. When stuff happens here, a lot of it happens, all over the place, all at once! Good stuff. I have been very busy experiencing it all, which is why you haven’t heard from me in a few days. And probably won’t for another few days!

10th Feb 2017
We celebrated our last-night-at-sea-before-reaching-Mawson-Station with a Trivia Quiz night, organised by the very capable Voyage Management Trainee (VMT) and the 2017 Mawson Station Leader. Five teams of four to six expeditioners, refuelling/ cargo staff and watercraft operators paid for the privilege of competing for some fabulous prizes. All money raised went to Camp Quality, the charity supported by the ship’s crew. In a tightly fought and expertly argued three-round session, where quiz masters as well as competitors were tested to the limits of their intelligence/ patience/ endurance, “Soft Serve” pipped the post by three points over runners-up “The Cause”. Prizes ranged from cholocate (always appreciated) to plastic bowling pins and, my personal favourite, a moustache cut-out set to nicely decorate toast. And why not. Oh, and do penguins have knees? Well yes. Of course they do. And all of our thanks to the VMT’s mum, who came up with most of the questions.

11th Feb 2017
We reached Mawson Station today. A couple of eager expeditioners (yours truly included) got up at an ungodly hour to witness us passing through Iceberg Alley. [In fact I managed no sleep at all!] This is an area where there is a channel 300 or 400m deep – enough for the ship to pass through safely – but either side the depth of water is only 100m or so, and many icebergs become grounded. So there we were, 03:00 hours, looking out keenly at … lots of snow falling, and ectoplasmic mists all around. We saw a couple of icebergs looming out of the foggy envelope: one of them very dark with a layer of contrasting white snow on top, like icing. I’m sure this would have looked spectacular in the sunshine: google “jade berg” to see what I mean! But no spectacular vistas of ‘bergs. “Oh bother”, I said to myself.

We “stooged around” near Mawson for a while, in poor visibility, heavy snow and high winds. The ship looked as pretty as a postcard in her top dressing of snow but one’s patience was thoroughly tested. We finally moored just a bit outside Mawson Station’s Horseshoe Harbour, in Kista Straits. Waiting, waiting… finally the wind died down to operable conditions, just after lunch, and 16 of the 2016 Mawson winterers came aboard, including the Station Leader, for welcomes and briefings on mooring, refuelling and unloading of cargo. That was done super quickly and then ALL the Mawson expeditioners, 2016 & 2017, departed the ship for Mawson. Some of them practically flew out of the bunker door, they were so eager to reach Mawson!

The rt IT/ Comms Officer and I were on bunker duty. One person stands by the bunker door, secured by a harness so they don’t inadvertently join the departing passengers, and the other stands by, either helping passengers (incoming and outgoing) with bags etc or, in the meeting room adjacent, ensures departing passengers have their lifejackets, have turned their fire board tags (so we know if they are on or off the ship) and have trodden on the mat holding the boot-wash solution. This happens on the inward and outward journeys to ensure no alien life form, apart from humans, is transferred from ship to shore, or vice versa.

Interestingly, the 2016 SL informed us this was the first day of snow after a perfect summer at Mawson. I guess we brought the weather with us… at least Mawson got a nice dusting of snow – even so, it looked pretty bare to me: last time I saw it there were a few bare patches of rock but it was still mainly snow. This time: mainly rock!

12th Feb 2017
After offloading her passengers, the AA sailed out to sea, returning early the following morning. I wish I had known to get up a bit earlier – the day dawned windy but pretty clear and, apparently, we passed some very fine vistas. I awoke a bit later than usual – it was good to catch up on sleep but I would have much rather gazed at the passing scenery! However, the AA was by that stage doing doughnuts in Kista Strait and so we got to see a little bit of scenery surrounding us. Again and again, in case we had missed it the first few times. Not looking bad at all, and there was Mawson station, no longer hardly visible, peeping ethereally out of enshrouding snow showers, but looking picture perfect in its newly gained mantle of snow.

The Comms Officer and I were again on bunker door duty. Not the most riveting of tasks but a necessary one and, as we are a bit light-on of spare hands, one I was happy to take part in. We commenced discharging some passengers: notably, two Bureau of Met chaps who are doing some necessary testing and fixing up of technical gear.

After lunch, the winds dropped sufficiently for us to moor inside Horseshoe Harbour. As we were carrying out a slightly different mooring procedure, we were encouraged to photograph the endeavours, and to post them on the intranet for the benefit of the ship’s Master. [Aside: I have actually requested a very brief photographic session with the Master and myself (I’ll be in my Dr Who T-shirt) in front of a D-deck door decorated by the Comms Officer very tastefully with a TARDIS picture. You need to be a Dr Who fan to get it.] The operation was pretty cool. Two of the watercraft, in series, carried mooring ropes from ship to shore – four at the bow and two aft. Shore mooring parties were ready to receive the ropes from the watercraft crew and secure them to the bollards on shore. Excellent stuff.

Then for me and the Comms Officer it was back to bunker door duty. But we sure had perfect Mawson weather for this day. It ended with a lovely sunset – not many clouds, but lovely colours to the sky. Right after sunset the moon rose in the east and to me it looked almost full. Does it get any better than this: I can’t see how!

13th Feb 2017
Oh, what?! Bunker door duty again?!! This was leavened, for me, by the news imparted to me by the VL at breakfast that not only would I get a second day at Mawson, apart from my slushy duty – I would be able to spend a couple of nights there. Yay!! and that starts tomorrow. Again, the Mawson katabatics had us off to a leisurely discharging of cargo and passengers but we said farewell to the two Met guys, who this time were overnighting at Mawson (beds are scarce so they had planned to return to the ship each night) to make their task a little more efficient. A few other passengers came and went. Our duties were lightened by the addition of music (yay! Bunker room party!) and party pies (yay the ship’s cooks!!) We heard the refuelling ops were going to start this day too. Excellent stuff.

And it just kept getting better. At lunch, I found out I would be briefly going ashore! Yes, only to help unload the -18C container – the more hands the merrier – but still, at least it was a change of scenery. The Comms Officer came ashore too. He had wintered here not too long ago so it was a pleasure to have a very brief look around the place in his informative company as we went to the VL’s office for the induction and then the red shed to sign onto station.

Then to the green stores shed where, in company with the 2017 chef and ~10 other willing helpers, we unloaded a seemingly magically re-filling container-full of frozen meats of all sorts and just about anything edible that can be frozen. The task was made easier by an expandable roller table that I am unable to describe; you will just have to look at the picture. With a jovial crew, all hands on deck and eager to get the task done, it was soon finished.

This meant that the Comms Officer and I had a tiny bit of leisure time to look around the station. We walked (and what a pleasure it was to do that simple thing – just walking up a hill, across rock, snow and ice, after days of decks!) to one of the high points, near one of the two giant wind energy collectors, within the station limits (which have shrunk slightly from 25 years ago) for fine views of the station and of the AA in Horseshoe Harbour. On the way back to catch our ride “home” I was trying to figure out where the old mess building had been, and the gym and OICery buildings. I picked the spot: a cluster of little sheds are there. I will check it out properly over the next couple of days.

One of the watercraft operators had been commandeered to bunker door duty in our place and was now quite appreciative of the job we had been doing, after doing it himself for half a day! The wind had been evident all day and had picked up – enabling some fine views to the west of snow blowing off the cliffs just on sunset – but also meaning that refuelling had to be shut down for the day, an hour or so short of finishing. I think maybe three-quarters of the full load of fuel was transferred, so that’s pretty good going. Hopefully it can be finished tomorrow.

So, on the 14th, tomorrow, I am on slushy duty. I have seen the kitchen section of the Red Shed and it is absolutely brilliant, with large windows overlooking Horseshoe Harbour – a million dollar view that one! I’m looking forward to meeting the 2016 chef, renewing my brief acquaintance with the 2017 chef and to seeing/ meeting all the Mawson crew. On the 15th I guess I will be helping out with cargo unloading as I can, and also on the 16th, but am sure I will have time for a bit more of a wander around the station, checking out the old and new buildings and also, as I can, any wildlife (respecting the distances one is required to keep from them). I’ve already spotted a couple of Adelies but hope to see some Emperor penguins and maybe a Weddell seal or two.

Signing off now; I will catch up to you, dear readers, shortly.

Regards Lucinda

Blog 13 – Mawson

I feel like I’m in a universe where the time races past but that those observing my travels are travelling through time at the normal pace. What I mean is, it seems to me like it has only been a day or two since I last blogged but no! I see it has been several! I have been back on the good ship Aurora Australis for two nights now, after my three days/ two nights ashore at Mawson.

Refuelling operations were completed the day following my last missive, so now the station is supplied with fuel for three years: fully stocked: an excellent outcome. Cargo ops are also going really well. All the heavy lifts have been done: this included replacing a Grove crane at Mawson with an upgraded version, and RTA-ing a truck: I saw that one come over via the barge, hoisted aboard ship and, with expert guidance from the ship’s crew, fit into a space I had thought just a tad too small for it. Some of the mystical arts of the Deputy Voyage Leader (DVL) come into play as he and the First Officer of the ship figure out how to pack the items from Mawson, which don’t always come in nice regular sizes and shapes, into the various holds contained within the ship.

I feel like I’m in a universe where the time races past but that those observing my travels are travelling through time at the normal pace. What I mean is, it seems to me like it has only been a day or two since I last blogged but no! I see it has been several! I have been back on the good ship Aurora Australis for two nights now, after my three days/ two nights ashore at Mawson.

Refuelling operations were completed the day following my last missive, so now the station is supplied with fuel for three years: fully stocked: an excellent outcome. Cargo ops are also going really well. All the heavy lifts have been done: this included replacing a Grove crane at Mawson with an upgraded version, and RTA-ing a truck: I saw that one come over via the barge, hoisted aboard ship and, with expert guidance from the ship’s crew, fit into a space I had thought just a tad too small for it. Some of the mystical arts of the Deputy Voyage Leader (DVL) come into play as he and the First Officer of the ship figure out how to pack the items from Mawson, which don’t always come in nice regular sizes and shapes, into the various holds contained within the ship.

The A factor has also come into play. At Mawson there are always the katabatic winds to contend with and so generally there are no early morning ops. On a good day cargo and boating ops can commence around smoko time (10am) but quite often not until well after lunch: on the 16th (my third day ashore) it was terribly windy (up to 40+ knots) most of the day and cargo ops could only be carried out for one hour in the afternoon. However, the time was put to good use by the Voyage Management team, who worked on the plans for Davis, where we will be taking home the 2016 winterers as well as a HUGE complement of summer expeditioners. There are plane plans to consider and that means, again, contending with the highly variable Antarctic winds. However, overall, things are going really well.

My time ashore was fantastic. The first day I got to look around a fair bit so I wandered nearly everywhere it was possible to, and still be within the more cosy current station limits. I spent a fair bit of time down at the Eastern Harbour, viewing from afar a couple of very small groups of Adelie penguins, who are moulting at this season. Closer views were impossible not just due to the wildlife approach limits but also to the magnetic hut, from which one must keep 100m distance, which is located pretty close to the snowy slopes chosen by the Adelies.

However, the shore was a bit of a Weddel wallow, with the seals basking on both snow/ ice and rock. They come in beautiful shades of, to me, leopard spots – but they were definitely Weddels, not Leopard seals. Except for one, apparently, which was a one-year-old Elephant seal (I didn’t spot that one). Although they are large, they manage to blend quite well with the rock so one needs to look around everywhere very carefully before approaching any particular seal that has caught one’s photographic fancy, to ensure one doesn’t come inadvertently close (<5m) to not-yet-seen seals. They are very somnolent creatures and seem so content basking in the sun – or the wind, in fact – just sometimes scratching themselves with a flipper.

The Red Shed is a magnificent affair. The accomodation block was built back in 1991/92 but then, to eat, one headed down the hill a bit and turned left at a simple double storey building with the kitchen and mess on one floor, and the bar and pool table above it. The new kitchen is very spacious and well supplied with both utensils and food items, and the dining area has been appointed with lovely large triple-glass windows with expansive views to Horseshoe Harbour/ West Arm and to Eastern Harbour. Upstairs is fantastic, with a separate movie theatre, an open-plan bar area, pool table and lounge chairs to look out of, again, huge windows to Eastern Harbour, and another smaller “dog” room, lined with pictures of the huskies and overlooking West Arm and Horseshoe Harbour, where the Aurora Australis was moored for a few days.

On this: we were moored in Kista Straits for a couple of days then moved into Horseshoe Harbour, where most of the heavy cargo ops were carried out. Then yesterday afternoon (Fri 17th) we moved back to Kista Strait and, in the evening, headed out to do a bit more “stooging”. This has increased photo opportunities for me. I got some terrific sunset shots from Mawson; also from the ship at Mawson, and now from the ship around Kista Straits. Also a couple of moonrise shots – one over Mawson and one at sea. This morning I awoke ready to greet the day at 4:30am so was well in time to see the sun rise (~5am) – and the moon was still up.

I could write for ever but had better end this now; will continue tomorrow!


Blog 14 – At Mawson, the Premier Station: Part 2 – Wed 15 Feb 2017

My first day at Mawson was Tuesday 14 Feb and I was able to look around the station a fair bit. The following day I was on slushy duty. For those not in the know, this is an all-day (~8am ’til a bit after dinner finishes) charge to help out the chef with whatever needs doing. Generally that’s washing everything, from huge bowls in which the bread dough is mixed, to bain marie trays, and of course pots and pans; sometimes fetching cheese from the cool-room, or making up a fresh batch of milk or orange juice; sweeping, wiping and mopping. My tasks were shared in this case with a BoM employee who had over-wintered [so that was very useful to me in finding my way around] and one of the 2017 BoM guys, when they could spare the time from their other duties. Each day of the month is assigned a specific task and the 15th’s was cleaning the stove tops. So that was added into our mix.

Music makes all the difference and there was an eclectic, and good, variety of it piped through from somewhere in the realms of the theatre area one floor above. And of course interesting company makes everything go well. It was good to chat about various things, from the weather (of course!) and aircraft ops, to the previous year and life at Mawson the Premier Station in general. After the lunchtime rush is over and the tasks for the day are done there are generally a couple of hours free, so my guide very nicely took me on a walk over to West Arm. Hooray!

Nowadays this requires the company of someone who has been there before, a radio, and the SL’s OK. That done, we turned our tags (well, I just ticked “off station” on the white board against my name) and headed off, but first I was advised to divest myself of some of the full complement of clobber I had just piled off. Good thinking: we were walking, the wind wasn’t too bad and the sun was out. I would have sweltered. En route from station we encountered an Adelie near the shore and after looking for a minute or so from an appropriate distance, left it to wander about, as indeed we were doing. There were a couple of tricky icy patches to be crossed before we were walking on rock.

We visited the gravesites – 3 crosses in mounds of rocks and now a 4th mound, where the ashes of Phil and Nell Law lie at rest. We then continued to the very end of West Arm where there is a new welcoming “It’s Home It’s Mawson” sign. To get there we had to hug the easternmost edge of the arm. There is a magnetic reading station set up and, as we needed radios with us (and doubtless were carrying various metallic items) we needed to give the white box as wide a berth as possible. In addition, a message will be sent to whoever is monitoring the readouts to ignore any anomalies that may have arisen during our transit.

Fabulous views are to be had, looking back south, of Mawson Station nestled around the shore and of the Aurora Australis moored in Horseshoe Harbour. Also vistas west, looking towards Casey Range. My guide had her own duties to be undertaken as well as being on slushy duty; we planned to be out for just 1.5 hours. This required a good steady pace and not too much lingering about: we took a few moments for some photos then headed back.

Full into slushy duty! The 2016 and 2017 chefs had commenced their hand-over tasks so a scrumptious lunch prepared by the 2016 wintering chef before our little peregrination was followed by a most delicious dinner prepared by the incoming chef. Some of the incoming Mawson group very nicely lent a hand for the post-dinner clean-up. I then made a second, evening expedition to West Arm! The VMT (voyage management trainee) and I smartly geared up, adding boot chains to our ensemble, to meet a Mawson winterer and summer expeditoner at station limits and having gotten the required permission. It was about 20:30 hours or so, Mawson time. The party then proceeded, with many photo stops, over West Arm. The chains certainly made getting over the icy bits much easier.

This time I was fully rugged up. The wind was biting a little harder and we weren’t moving as fast. The scenery was still jaw-droppingly fabulous, however. The good ship Aurora Australis looked perfect, with the westering sun burnishing her orange hull. The snow-melted-to-ice on the sloping and indented rocks of West Arm had been ice-sculpted into amazing shapes. The western sky made a perfect backdrop to the Mawson Coast. We even came across a couple of Weddell seals near the tip of the arm and on the shore, just past the “It’s Home It’s Mawson” sign, was an Adelie penguin. We stopped where we were and took some photos. The VMT was back a bit further, and just sat down, rested her camera lens and watched – abiding by the appropriate distance regs and no doubt fully conscious of their importance (her day job is with CCAMLR). Then Mawson put on one of its magical moments. The Adelie, feeling quite comfortable, wandered closer to the sign and then towards the VMT, passing probably within a meter of her. I was able to take a shot of the penguin, the VMT and Mawson Station in the background. The money shot!

We took some sunset shots and returned to Station. As per the previous evening, I adjourned to the lounge upstairs in the Red Shed, with a mix of 2016 and 2017 expeditioners, to sit back in comfort and watch the magic of Antarctic sunsets unfold in front of us. Even then the magic was not over – at about 22:15 hours the moon arose in the east, from behind the hills to the east of the station. Oh My Goodness. Moonlight on wind-crafted snow. Not so shabby! After the show, a quick shower and then to a comfy bed: a mattress on the floor of the theatre. One full day at Mawson comes to a close.



Blog 15 Leaving Mawson

My final day at Mawson was a trifle windy and overcast. I made a couple more visits to Eastern Harbour to watch the Weddell seals. The previous evening I had noticed definite pancake ice and today the start of sea ice was forming, still very “greasy”. The summer season was drawing to a close! I had fun attempting to photograph the seals as they frolicked in the water, occasionally popping their heads above the surface – no doubt ensuring I caught their best sides on camera. I’ve no idea if I’ve taken as many shots of seals as I did of snow petrels (that was 399…). Hopefully not: that’s an awful lot of shots to go through! I must say that in this regard I do prefer digital technology to the rolls and rolls of slide film I used to carry – and how every shot had to be considered a lot more before it was taken. Then again… it takes a Very Long Time to go through all those shots!

I visited a little pocket of old buildings, nestled below the geodesic dome. The old mess/ bar is gone; and quite frankly I didn’t really recognise much else. I looked out for signs indicating the OICery and the Gym but didn’t see them. Weddell Hut (the Carpenters’ Arms) is still there, and very well set out inside. Going through the carpentry tools area and into the adjacent building brings one to the music room. Wombat hut is still there too, set across from the Red Shed, where diners can see it. The aeronautics building still sits near the tip of East Arm, it’s metal edifice nicely catching the rays of the westering sun. Mawson is a peculiar mix of old buildings and new. I guess it now becomes a question as to whether a building, or an item, is rubbish to be RTA or if it’s of historical significance and to be retained or otherwise curated.

The upstairs recreational areas in the Red Shed have been well set out. I’ve already talked about the dog room. On the wall opposite the bar are the photos of all of Mawson Station’s wintering teams. On another wall are some vehicular misplacement photographs – Hagglands taking an unexpected dip in the brisk waters below the sea ice, ‘dozers half down crevasses and even the Aurora Australis, having un unplanned sunbathing session over on West Arm. Down the hallway and around the corner from the recreational areas there’s even a Woollies store (was a broom closet?), and the prices are bargain basement! While I was appreciating Moments of Mawson’s Past & Present, the resupply operation was still in top gear.

There was a tiny bit of science to finish off at Verner (sp?), Petersen, Welch & Rookery Islands and half a 20’ shipping container of rubbish (gear etc from previous seasons of work) that was picked up – eventually to be RTA but, with Davis gear yet to come aboard, this had to be stored at Mawson ’til next season. The A factor reared its head on the 16th (the day I returned to ship), with cargo ops only possible for about an hour due to unaccommodating wind speeds but even so, all RTA cargo was loaded on board by mid-afternoon of the 18th. The Aurora Australis de-moored seamlessly from Horseshoe Harbour and continued cargo ops from Kista Strait on the 17th. Each night not moored in Harbour the AA does a spot of Stooging the Straits and I think it was the night of the 18th, and the very early morning of the 19th, that I got some fantastic shots of the surrounding vistas against a vividly-coloured sunset (amazing what just the right mix of clouds will do) and a gently coloured dawn. With the moon making an appearance in both! Thank GOODness for the AAD-supplied gear, especially the outer wind-proof shell and the sturdy leather work gloves! It gets a trifle windy and a tad cool up on the Monkey Island.

The opportunity was taken on the afternoon of the 18th to test out an alternate mooring and refuelling option: mooring in Kista Strait with the fuel line leading over West Arm and thence across Horseshoe Harbour. This is in case of a future scenario where the weather conditions are not conducive to mooring in the harbour for the required time necessary to refuel the station for the coming winter. Options for best placement of the fuel hose were investigated after the AA’s mooring lines were joined to the system installed by the watercraft operators over West Arm. The set-up was then dismantled, and the lessons learnt taken on board and doubtless soon to become part of a new procedure. Finally, all the previous wintering and the summering expeditioners were boarded – and by dinner-time too, as the winds were picking up. Extra was required, and given, by the watercraft crew, who had already put in a very full (and cold & wet) day’s work. Teamwork is definitely the order of the day here.

Finally, just after 9pm, as most were gathered up on the Monkey Island (oh, and this was the second of a noticeably colder couple of days! Did I say already?!) the ship’s horn sounded one very loud, very long blast! We were underway, leaving the small Mawson settlement to its own devices for a year, as we headed to Davis. We waved to the 2017 crew who had all trekked out to West Arm and were strung out in a line, waving good-bye. They had some red glowing lights adding a cheery atmosphere to the cold, and the ship sent forth a few fire crackers to say Goodbye! Good Luck! and Have a Great Year! I hadn’t thought on this before but it was really quite a moment, the ship drawing away into the distance, the little figures on West Arm becoming smaller and then, finally, vanishing into the night and the distance.

Blog 16 In Which We Visit Davis

Our farewells having been sent across the waters to Mawson Station, we set sail, metaphorically, for Davis. Luckily that first night was overcast, cold and windy so there was no real excuse not to have an early night. Monday the 20th dawned fair. The lack of sea ice and Iceberg Alley-during-daylight-hours was more than compensated for by a seemingly endless array of banks, both before and quite possibly after the famed Framnes Bank. What happens here is that there is a channel beautifully deep enough for our ship to pass through but that to either side, more or less, the depth of water shallows, and it is here that the bigger icebergs become grounded – that is, they bottom out. Hit the sea floor. Stay in position for people such as yours truly to photograph.

Now, I’m not one to take a lot of photos [chorus of not-so-muffled chortles from those aboard the Aurora Australis] but Im telling you now, my sparse visits to the gym of late were quite adequately made up for by a series of lightning-quick dashes from one side of the Monkey Island to the other as the First Mate steered a very competent course through grounded icebergs to the port of us and grounded icebergs to the starboard of us. Then there were different vistas of icebergs to the bow and icebergs to the stern (note the nautical terms here!) with, later in the afternoon, a sunset glow between the horizon and some flat low-lying clouds.

There were an elegant sufficiency of photogenic ice sculptures to indulge even the most eager of enthusiasts, in a vast variety of shapes, sizes and indeed colour. Even a few, may I say, jaded WCOs (that’ll be watercraft operators) leapt out of one or the other doors from the bridge to snap a few shots of some rather lovely jade ‘bergs. And when we thought it safe to retreat to E deck for our evening meal – there, even there, one of the friendly stewards gave the call to arms (for shots of a nature other than military), alerting us to a ‘berg displaying a huge arch. All this makes it slightly problematic to email shots to the ANARE Club Webmaster for the illustration of these blogs for your perusal. No sooner do I sit down to go through (for example) 399 shots of snow petrels to pick out the nicest one for your visual entertainment, than there is yet something else to take photos of! This is a very happening little ship, let me tell you!

I dashed off to bed after the light became too poor to do justice to what I had been seeing and willed myself to instant sleep. It never works, but at least I tried. I know I got some quality shut-eye ‘cos I distinctly recall parts of a dream where I was doing a bit of a nature walk-about with The ‘Bro, Sir David Attenborough. We were rescuing someone. Boldly, no doubt. Natives from another planet were involved. Somehow there was a bit of caving thrown in too. Let the dream analysts have a ball with that one.

We were due at Davis at ~16:00 hrs on Tuesday 21st {I know these dates because Phil, the February NZ Firefighter, is telling me so (thanks B, sister mine, for the parting gift!) (in retaliation for the Australian Firefighters calendar I gave her for Christmas.) (don’t worry, all money raised from these calendars goes to worthy causes…}. We had splendid weather and very calm seas, arriving at Davis a couple of hours early. I hurriedly closed the ANARE Shop as per the ad (“shop personned until something of photographic interest intervenes”) and joined a couple of other expeditioners on the Monkey Island. The question of “Where were all the rest?” wasn’t asked as your Club Rep was too busy photographing practically every single thing in sight.

There were a raft (is that the correct collective noun?) of icebergs to negotiate and many of these were beautifully rounded on top, having obviously rolled over at some point in their life-span.  Those between the ship and the sun were an absolute joy to capture on digital film and I can only hope I have done them justice.  And then: there was all this rock! The volcanic intrusions and dykes at first appeared as bands of shrubs (“I want a shrubbery!” – Monty Python & The Holy Grail) but no: this may be the Riviera of the South, but it’s still Antarctica! There were icebergs, bergy bits, rocky islets and the coastline itself, where an experienced Davis hand helpfully pointed out the Sorensen Glacier, behind which is Zong Shan Station (that was at one time on our very long List of Things To Do), Anchorage Island and there, just behind that rocky islet… Davis Station! It gradually materialised before my eyes, a line of colourful buildings festooning the shore like an Art Deco big-beaded necklace.  Oh, and there went a little ice floe with a small collection of Adelie penguins, wondering if they were having a grand time or if they really should have gotten off at the last stop.

This is the current plan: cargo ops will commence from 08:00 hrs Wednesday 22nd, and the first passengers will come aboard from 15:00 hrs; this pattern will repeat the following two days. Then, IF the weather allows, the requisite aircraft ops, which involve planes and helis to and from Casey, Davis, Woop Woop and possibly Mawson, will be completed and we depart Davis. If not, we hang about until the aircraft ops have come to their conclusion. Yours truly and three other brave souls have been volunteered to bunker door duty in shifts of three to four hours over the next few days. Between that, clearing and cleaning out my cabin and moving into another (we will shortly be 3 or 4 people to a cabin) and, probably, peeling buckets of potatoes in lieu of the great influx of passengers (~60?), I will attempt to sort through the now ridiculous amount of photos I have so foolishly taken [what was I thinking?!] so you can see how spectacular it is down here.

We were supposed to anchor at Anchorage Island but there was a little iceberg in the way… However, I have complete trust that the Master of the ship and the Voyage Management Team will sort this, as per every other challenge we have met thus far. So I’ll just get on with sorting through those photos…

Kind regards


Blog 17 In Which We Return to Mawson, and What Reality Show Rules Here

“What?! Returning to Mawson?!!” I hear you say… It’s all about the A Factor. Not about how well one can perform, or whether one has stage presence, but whether one can nimbly shift gears mid-plan to execute plan B, C or indeed plan X.

Owing to some superlative work on the part of the AA crew, the watercraft operators, the personnel of Davis Station and, of course, the fabulous bunker door volunteers, the vast majority of the resupply work went well. The first day of cargo ops, 22 Feb, dawned with calm seas and clear skies. Temperatures of both air and water (the latter of which every effort is put forward to avoid testing) were just below zero degrees with the merest zephyr of a breeze to make IRB ops just that bit more fun. All cargo was discharged from ship to shore, and the Return To Australia (RTA) cargo commenced loading. One of the RTA items a bit out of the ordinary was a drill rig.

Even more interesting cargo loaded on the Aurora Australis, the following day, was the Wyatt Earp, a Navy workboat that undertook hydrographic work at Davis over the summer period. It is a summer yellow colour. As mood-lifting in colour is the Howard Burton, an Australian Antarctic Division workboat, together with its trailer and a cradle that it sits in for transport. It is nestled near it’s equally orange counterpart, the Aurora Australis II. Last night, through a thin veil of falling snow, I took a picture of the ‘tween decks area of Aurora Australis, with a barge and 3 work boats sitting above deck of a truck and a crane, amongst the more usual variety of shipping containers. Somewhere else on board there is a drill rig; soon there will be a couple of B3 helicopters. And more passengers. But more on that later.

The VMT has been seen in close conference with the DVL. Obviously, some of the arcane mysteries of the Craft {how to fit non-square cargo into less-space-than-one-would-wish-for} is being passed on from master to apprentice. Already the VMT has the beginnings of that knowing gleam of the mastery of Space in her eye. Then again, perhaps the Aurora Australis has some of the storage capabilities of the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space; “It’s bigger on the inside!” – for Doctor Who fans). [Soon to come: picture of yours truly with the Master – maybe two Masters! or three!! – outside the door of the TARDIS…]

Yesterday, 23 Feb, was personally exciting for me as, all unexpectedly, I was allowed a few hours ashore: not only that, but in the company of the 2016 winter’s Station Leader (SL), who had also wintered at Davis previous to that. We were greeted at the Davis docks by the 2017 SL, who accompanied us to a forest-green building which serves as kitchen, dining and recreation area. Here, after a welcoming cuppa, we ascended via an elegant wooden staircase to Nina’s Bar (named for the last of the huskies at Davis) and thence to the recreation area proper. I was immediately struck not only by the roominess of the entire area but by the plethora of windows, many of those facing north being floor to ceiling affairs. Well, there are certainly wide and wonderful vistas on which to gaze!

I have taken so many pictures, only a very few of which you will be seeing on the ANARE Club website.

Nothing else for it: you will have to come along to the NSW Branch’s annual Slide Night, to be held sometime soonish (Friday 17 March) after the AA is due back in Hobart, and at which the first screening of the ANARE Club rep’s visual report will be shown.

Back to the Riviera of the South: we wandered along what I termed the Hall of Fame, where pictures of each over-wintering party since 1957 were hung. Happy Diamond Jubilee to Davis Station!

The 2017 SL had to attend to the press of many duties and so, after informing me of some facts of Davis Station’s life, history and wildlife, left me to the care of the 2016 SL. In such expert company I was given a grand tour of all the station buildings, and there certainly are a lot of them!

A couple of the older buildings remain, including the Post Office which was retrieved from Heard Island.

It and a couple of the newer buildings are awaiting suitable occupations but the vast majority of the colourful edifices strung along the coastline are teeming with efficiently-run life and business. I was very impressed with the water processing facilities and with the new and technologically whiz-bang (my term!) wastewater treatment plant. Accomodation ranges from the more spacious (but still donga-like) permanent winter quarters to the summer quarters which still allow expeditioners a room to themselves – but which are even more like the old donga quarters.

Part and parcel of the Davis landscape are the elephant seals. This was my first visit to Davis Station and my first look at an elephant seal. Those hauled out at a couple of favourite spots were males, in various stages of moulting. They are very photogenic subjects and, while possibly not candidates for Sports Magazine or Cleo, have buckets of character. They don’t like to be disturbed but do like lying right up against/ on top of each other and when one moves, the whole heap slightly shudders as the touching mounds of flesh wobble. If the movement is more than a gentle nudge, one or two heads will rear up and a cavernous mouth will open in a complaining roar, gaping toothy and pink and shooting steamy warm breath into the cold air. Sometimes an eruption concerning the entire mound ensues. I took one or two photos…

But the magic pumpkin time of 15:00 hours had arrived, all too soon, and it was time to head to the Davis docks, don the life jackets, grab the red survival bags and wait for a tide-y moment to safely board the IRBs back to our home away from home, the good ship Aurora Australis. On board we heard the news that, although most of the cargo ops had gone amazingly well thanks to hard work and lack of katabatics (thanks, Vestfold Hills!), a vital piece of equipment needed at Mawson would need sea carriage. Thus, what can be done in these next two forecast days of non-aviation-ops weather at Davis Station will be done, by the tradespersons still there; while most of the summer personnel, mainly researchers, have joined our merry maritime band as we head back to Mawson Station to drop off water filters. Hopefully this will be accomplished Saturday or Sunday and then we speed back (our time last trip was 40 hours) to Davis, pick up the remaining personnel (tradies, Geoscience Australia staff and helicopter personnel) and head home to Hobart. There is a high possibility of keeping to our original schedule, although we may be a day later than originally planned leaving Davis.

But then again, we are in Antarctica and the A factor rules!



Blog 18 1 March In Which we Play Pin-Ball

It has been some days since I last blogged; you can blame jade icebergs for that. I have been very busy trying to choose the best shots I took so I can load them up on the ship’s intranet. The VL mentioned (some days ago now!) that the crew would be interested in seeing some of the photos of jade icebergs taken by expeditioners, not having had a chance to take any.

However, as per usual, there have been Distractions; generally of a photographic nature. I have experienced what one of those little balls in a pin-ball machine feels like, although at a more majestic pace, as the Aurora Australis, having successfully voyaged from Mawson to Davis, then returned to Mawson, to deliver some important cargo, and then back to Davis, to pick up the rest of the expeditioners waiting to head back home. Our VL was wondering if three trips through Iceberg Alley and Framme Bank in one week has ever been done by an AAD-chartered vessel. Certainly one would pay top dollar on a tourist ship for the privilege!

We reached Mawson by lunchtime Saturday 25 February (ship time: we were still on Davis time so at Mawson it was 09:00 or 09:30 hrs). Fierce katabatics prevailed, requiring a determined will and steady footing on the Monkey Island. David Range loomed out of the cloud bank: it and the Masson Ranges and Mt Hendo were hovering above/ near the brave colours of Mawson Station. After a few hours’ wait in Kista Strait an IRB was lowered (~15:00 hrs) and the package was delivered to thankful hands ashore. The IRB and its personnel were then speedily returned to the AA and off we set again for Davis.

Oh no! More fantastical icebergs! More time spent photographing rather than sorting through photos already taken of jade ‘bergs (and everything else…)! Oh dear.

Our transit was quite comfortable, with only a slight rolling motion. En route one crisp day an all-hands Emergency Muster was held at 10:30 hrs to ensure we all remembered what to do in an emergency. The Third Mate kept us on the heli deck not quite long enough to ensure those expeditioners who turned up not kitted out warmly would remember to do so next time. As well as being properly kitted out, I had recently emerged from the sauna after a tentative gym session, so I was toasty! We arrived at Davis early in the morning of 27 February. I went up to the Monkey Island for some dawn shots. Not many people were up there – well, none, in fact – but a bit later on as we neared those lovely ‘bergs one of the Mawson 2016 winterers was. He had also voyaged with me, as we discovered after I presented one night on my PCM 1991/92 trip, from Mawson to Heard Island in 1992, when we were resupplying a small group of five who were wintering on the island that year: the first time since ANARE’s early days. He pointed out a particularly striking berg – cubical and in streaks of white with iridescent blue. [I was a bit late to take a close-up shot of it, but “got it” en route back!]

The timing at Davis was, as usual, pretty tight and very nicely done. I was on bunker door duty from 9am; we had anchored and boat operations had commenced before 10:00hrs with heli ops soon after and it was all systems go, as last-minute and aviation cargo was loaded and all passengers were boarded, most via IRB & Swift, and some via helicopter. Safety restrictions abound and I totally get it, but that meant my photos of heli ops were limited to those I could view from the D-deck sort-of-outdoors-but-not-really smokers’ “lounge”, just above the trawl deck, where there is an oval cut in the metal side of the ship. From that vantage point I could also see a couple of seals, crab-eaters I think, lounging on an ice floe which was gradually heading to our stern. Most ops were completed around noon and when the last cargo and the IRB were secured, the horn sounded and we were off, headed for Hobart: and pretty much right on schedule, too! An amazing effort after all the A-factor had thrown at the voyage management team.

We now have a shipload of people on board – 105 expeditioners and 24 crew – and many of the former were up on the Monkey Island as we sailed, for the fourth time, through those lovely sculpted ‘bergs. We passed a couple of ice floes, bearing their own crowd of passengers – Adelie penguins. We looked at each other and continued our separate journeys.

Our voyage was again very calm. On 28 January we finally passed through some sea ice. There was plenty to see for those up on the bridge: lots of whales including a fin whale, the second biggest species on the planet (after the blue whale); seals (Australian fur seals), seabirds and penguins. And sea ice, of course! After we passed out of the ice, the sea showed us two of its many sides: the starboard side was a beautiful deep blue colour and the port side, with cloudy skies above, showed a sparkling metallic grey. There were some more whale sightings and there are still icebergs dotted about. I’m wondering if we should hold an anti-iceberg draw, where people have to guess the date and time at which we sight the last ship-sized iceberg. It should raise a lot more money for Camp Quality [shipload of people]: however, it would be a lot more work for the bridge crew…

The day dawned foggy on Wednesday 1 March and the swell picked up a tiny bit but, from what I understand, we are due for a tad more rolling and pitching from early this Friday, as a low pressure system approaches us. As per our southward leg, the ship’s officers are doing their best to minimise any impacts [avoidance tactics]. Last night (28 Feb) we recommenced the process of turning our clocks forward an hour and this process will be repeated on 3, 6 and 9 March until we are once more on Hobart time. As predicted, this isn’t nearly as nice as turning the clocks back!

I will be showing the Club presentation tonight and opening shop for the next few days after that. I will also recommence the Oral History project, sufficient volunteers willing. Now that most of the spectacular scenery is behind us, there should be a better chance of customers! It is hard to believe this wonderful journey is drawing to a close although, of course, we still have ten days of sea voyaging ahead of us.



Blog 19 6 March 2017

The last several days have been very rolly ones indeed: there is no other word for it. The swell has not been that high – generally two to four metres I guess – and on the worst day it couldn’t have been much more than five or so metres. However, the good ship Aurora Australis enjoys rolling about on the Southern Ocean a lot (I mean, rolling a LOT) and she had to divert her course from roughly NE to NW for a short while in order to protect her starboard side from the weather, after she lost a porthole or two.

Although the swell wasn’t high, a freak wave must have struck at exactly the wrong moment on the night of 3 February, because a bit of the ocean came through three of the D-deck portholes and in at least one case this was via an exploding porthole, which shot shards of glass as well as freezing salt water through the cabins and out into the corridor.

Those who heard the bang got to work to do something about it. Crew members immediately shored up the portholes with boarding; some expeditioners helped rehouse their rather soggy companions and wash and dry what gear they could; others were carefully mopping up the glass-strewn corridor and rooms. Elsewhere on board the Master ensured that all porthole covers were firmly secured in place. The doctor got in some sewing practice as he stitched up an expeditioner’s foot and a crew member’s forehead. So even less sleep than usual was experienced and a number of cabins became slightly more populated, with the additional sight, over the next few days, of the odd expeditioner draped across an E-deck lounge catching up on some zzzs.

Apart from that excitement, one might wonder what there is to do in these doldrums. Travelling home from an exciting destination can often be a bit of a let down unless, I guess, one is coming home after an extended absence, but it’s pretty easy to fill one’s days on board – for me, that’s via self-imposed slushy duty, gym work then sauna, sorting through photos, creating more or less regular voyage blogs and opening the ANARE Club shop for sales of Club items and for memberships. Also chatting to people, and every one of those on board is interesting and has a story to tell. I have a couple more takers for the Oral History project, which is great, so I shall shortly start interviews – I have been waiting for the seas to calm a tad more.

Others have been attending movies: currently it’s Harry Potter at 15:00 hrs and assorted others at 19:30 hrs in the D-deck theatre; and yesterday the inaugural AA Film Society presented its first screening (entry fees donated to Camp Quality), accompanied with popcorn. Of course. The old bar is used as a gym overflow and, if you are lucky, to the strains of harmonious guitars as some of the watercraft guys and crew put in a laid-back jamming session. My heartstrings were pulled by the pictures adorning the walls there of the last Mawson dogs, as many of these (Bear, Cardiff, Groo, Io, Tom, Sprocket …) were companions in my too-brief stints at the station over the summer of 1991-92. The library is a great area in which to catch up on reading or chat or play board games with other expos, there are always family and friends to catch up with via email or phone, and, of course, video games if one is really missing the company of one’s computer…

And there have been sightings of auroras by the hopefuls on watch each night, with more expected, noted by one of our friendly Met observers, due to a “coronal hole that was facing the earth last week”. As a result of this, the Southern lights was very active over the previous few nights and, in addition: “the geomagnetic conditions at earth are expected to be mostly at unsettled levels and occasionally can reach active levels”. So that’s good! The last few nights the best viewing hours have been between 02:00 and 03:00 hrs. Sometimes these visions in green (the auroras, that is, not the expos) have been somewhat diminished by the amount of cloud cover obscuring them but still worthwhile, from the photos I have seen! Yes, sorry, that’s the closest this little black duck has got to seeing them – still working on catching up on sleep! Another vision in green was King Neptune and His lovely Queen, who paid us a visit on Sunday afternoon (5 Feb). Fortuitously there were a number of us gathered in the port side mess on E-deck at the time…

Jason Burgers, a returning expeditioner
Photo Caleb Steen

Photo Richard Youd

The King wasn’t happy. Many expeditioners had flown down to Antarctica, neglecting to pay their respects to Him en route. And some scientists had been mucking about with some of Neptune’s sea-creatures. No, He was NOT happy at all. A bit vexed, really. Peeved, one might say. His Majestical Verdantness marched up and down E-deck, most vociferally berating both Voyage Management, who were dutifully submissive, and expeditioners, some of whom were a bit cocky. In a slight change of form these recalcitrants were given the option of “kissing the fish”, which looked like it had been recycled a few times, kissing the feet of Neptune’s Queen of the Sea, which quite a few people looked like they’d like to do, or taking King Neptune’s punishment. The latter of which most people had to do. One does not argue with a stormy-browed seaweedy Sovereign. The punishment was the requirement of entertaining those of us already certified to be on the deep southern oceans: with charades, of course. What else? All such movies, books etc had sea-faring themes (e.g. “The Curse of the Black Pearl”, “The Abyss”… you get the drift).

Jason Burgers, a returning expeditioner
Photo Caleb Steen

After the Imperial Pair of Pearly and Peerless Peers (try saying THAT three times quickly underwater) had administered sufficient chastisements they departed for the Deep (after suitable photo opportunities), and the ship’s complement geared up for Auction Night. This is a new event since I was last aboard but is the best thing ever. I’d never been to an auction before. I had a LOT of fun. Expeditioners and crew donate items of interest – generally it is craft items that expos have created in their free time over the winter – and the ship’s company then does its best to outbid all other contenders. All money raised goes to Camp Quality and last night we raised $11,500! It’s not surprising now I look at the list of items up for auction. These are truly unique items and all with some link to Antarctica – yes, even the Auction waist coat, made out of old (but really clean!) Aurora Australis bed pillow covers, in the C (for Clothing)-deck couturier’s establishment by one of the clever cooks on board. This wondrous item of apparel was worn with aplomb by one of the ship’s Integrated Ratings, who was our auctioneer for the evening.

Jason Burgers, a returning expeditioner
Photo Caleb Steen

There were three carefully crafted bottle openers, celebrating the 70th ANARE and the AA (yours truly scored them; I will have to choose some very special family or friends as I don’t drink!), knotted rope key rings, scented boxed candles (made in the Davis Station hobbies workshop), and quite few artistically crafted clocks and lamps, all based on “rehomed” materials at station and utilising the expeditioners’ special skills like wood turning, welding etc. From both Mawson and Davis stations came many standout items including, from Mawson, a penguin made from an old steel ball valve, and a miniature Aurora Australis in a bottle. From Davis came a series of bedside lamps made from ex-AA boarding ladder steps or stakes and also a series of clocks on “distressed” timber: my favourite (and now my very own) was a spider clock made of welding and electrical wire, stained glass and just awesome skills.

Possibly the most unique item, however, was listed simply as “Mawson grounding chart (2016) with photos”, donated by the Master of the ship. Those in the know will realise what a singular piece of history this is. For those who don’t, in brief: last season the AA came very unexpectedly and quickly to grief on the West Arm of Mawson Station’s Horseshoe Harbour in some nasty winds, resulting in a speedy evacuation of all personnel and a complete revamping of all previous plans and operations. This had not happened previously and, by what I have seen of the new mooring etc ops, never will again! Spirited bidding on this item ensued, ending in a success for yours truly, an equal highest bid of the night and, of course, a great outcome for the Camp Quality fund-raising initiative.

Another win for me was an item that I’m not really sure I needed but what the heck, it was for a great cause and I was amazed at the generosity of the person providing it: it was a Cabin clean and, for those who don’t know what a cramped cabin can look like after a few weeks at sea, and what sort of panic ensues when one realises that the Time is Upon One for cleaning and that no excuse will be entered into… well, a Cabin clean-er is a very good sort of thing to have up one’s sleeve. There was a disclaimer of sorts in the announcement of this auction item, where the gathering was advised that the Master had decreed that, for Workplace Health & Safety (and many other) reasons, the Third Engineer was exempt in the utmost degree from bidding on this item.

My thanks to the originators of the auction idea, to the organisers of the night, to all the participants who made the evening such a vibrant event and most of all to the creators of the 40 unique items, over which much time had been (or will be, in the case of the Cabin clean!) spent – all donated in the grand spirit of generosity one associates with Antarctic expeditioners.

And with that I had better close this epistle, and get on with shipboard life, which I for one find entrancing in almost every aspect (the exception being cabin cleaning). (Which I no longer have to worry about.)


Blog 20 – 9 March 2017

The 7pm presentations have started again, after a bit of a hiccup. I gave my caving presentation again, then the Club presentation (and opened the shop for a few more days after that!). A couple of nights before that one of the expeditioners took us on a trip to Japan and then, on 6 March, to the very steep forested highland areas of Papua New Guinea, showing us a rather different way of working with helicopters.

The 7 March presentation was very dramatic and sobering, concerning the devastating Nepalese earthquake of 2015. This expeditioner had been working at Everest Base Camp and was with one of several expeditions aiming to climb the summit. Whilst there, the earthquake caused an avalanche that wiped out most of the camp, killing quite a few people. The before and after photos told their own story, and we learnt how the expeditioner led a small party out and later helped as a volunteer for a small NGO in one of the mountain villages. We thus saw the effects of the earthquake across a diverse cross-section of Nepalese society. Although tragic, at the same time the story showed the humanity common to so many as strangers – from newly-weds to cooks and doctors – joined forces to help out those in need.

8 March was a presentation by the Third Officer of the ship, who told us of a part she played in the long-running and ongoing humanitarian crisis in Libya, from which home many desperate villagers try to escape north to European shores via boats inadequate in terms of both fuel and sea-worthiness. She captained a Spanish-run Medicines Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) rescue ship that saved many hundreds of refugees from drowning at sea. It was quite a shock to see their plight told vividly in pictures, stories and in a heart-rending poem about leaving home, written by one of the women. The greater tragedy was that, once rescued from death, the refugees had to be handed over to Frontex (sp?), the European border control who, in the vast majority of cases, once they could discover country of origin, transported the refugees back to the horrors they had left, but this time with even less possessions than before.

It was back to more comfortable viewing the following night as one of the watercraft operators took us on a journey (several, actually) to some of the most beautiful destinations around the Antarctic Peninsula, where he sometimes works on small tourist ships. The scenery and wildlife were gob-smackingly beautiful and so carefully looked after that they are still pristine, and the wildlife carry on doing their thing with no particular fear of humans. I was fascinated by a particularly lovely shot of a particularly pretty little bird, this being the southernmost songbird in the world. Every part of Antarctica has its own fascination and beauty.

One of my ANARE Club duties – more a privilege – is to interview those willing to be part of our Oral History project and, with calm seas and time to spare, those days of calmer weather and not as much to see were perfect for me to do my best to fill up the little memory card in the Club’s recording device. So in between deciding which of the hundreds of iceberg photos I can bear to consign to the trash basket, writing blogs, desperately attempting to balance the Window of Death By Dessert (to which I succumbed many days past) with gym and sauna sessions and staying up into the wee small hours in case of auroral events, that’s what I’m doing. It’s a fascinating task, listening to the varied stories of expeditioners spanning different ages, occupations, stations and even countries of Antarctic support. Many sharing V3 with me will not agree but I’d kind of like this voyage to go on forever so I can interview everyone!

11 March 2017
Well, that wasn’t ever going to happen! Last night (10 March) was the last of the after-dinner presentations and it was back to yours truly as I gave, for the second or third time, an insight into a Casey re-supply diverted to rescue an ice-beset ship; and then a glimpse into the life of a Prince Charles Mountains (PCM) expeditioner a quarter of a century ago – to a small but appreciative audience. Following this, another expeditioner showed a most excellent compilation of stills and movies of a 2012-13 voyage created by a helicopter pilot. This now stands as a memorial to the pilot, who tragically passed away last year whilst on duty at Davis Station. It’s a reminder that, while devastatingly beautiful, Antarctica is a harsh and unforgiving environment and I for one, whilst new to the current climate of inductions, training and sometimes restrictions that must now be adhered to, totally get it.

Our audience, whilst appreciative, was sparse, owing to last-minute packing up and cleaning of cabins, down-loading of files and pictures that had kindly been shared by some on the ship’s intranet, reading, even a game of chess… because this was our last day at sea. And what a beauty the last couple of days were – in fact, a bit too warm, I heard from many quarters. Sun on my back, wind through my hair as I stood on the heli deck (the few times I emerged from the bowels of the ship)… very nice. And later on 10th March, the first sightings of land to port as we gradually drew closer to Hobart town, glimpsed through sultry grey clouds as we left behind us, once and for all, the driest – as well as the coldest, windiest, highest (and many other superlatives) – continent on earth.

I certainly had some last-minute things to do, as I had left the ANARE Club shop (a big red bag) and the recording equipment unpacked, just in case of late customers. I was luckily on a ship containing some really nice people, who helped me find tape to bind the box back up securely, and (the next morning/ day) take the box up to the heli deck and even post it back to The ANARE Club Council. But, still mildly panicking the night before, I suddenly I remembered The Map. A valuable piece of maritime history, in terms of its uniqueness, if not its auction price. Why hadn’t I thought to source a cardboard cylinder days earlier? A very late night mention to the lovely 2nd officer resulted in said cylinder being placed right outside my cabin door later that night. And who’ll take a photo of me with the Master in front of the TARDIS door? And did I miss copying any new files loaded to the intranet? Where did I put that loaded USB stick? And how do I get my phone and my laptop back into mainland synch? And… (Thanks everyone for helping me!)

This morning most people were up by or soon after 05:00 hours, to be ready for our carefully crafted (by voyage management) timed list of must-dos, starting with the dreaded cabin inspections at 06:00 hours. Apparently someone still managed to be asleep by then: quite a feat – there was a LOT of movement and vacuuming happening on D-deck, and many pairs of feet lightly (not) skittering up and down the stairs to/ from C- and E-decks! All luggage was up on the heli deck by 07:00 hrs (and, a bit later, speedily squeezed in between the helis when it started raining); Customs were on board ~007:15 hrs and we were sitting down to our breakfast at the usual 07:30 hrs (or a bit after). Finally we were off the ship around 09:00 hrs then to the “Red Shed” for a little gathering and thank-yous by the AAD’s Director, Dr Nick Gales, where we were all given little tokens of appreciation for our part in that AAP. 10:00 hrs and all done!

Having greeted family/ friends, picked up luggage, and begun the process of getting used to being on land again {later I was taking photos – of l’Astrolabe, Aurora Australis and dolphins, now that you ask – and was thankful there was only a light swell as I tried to steady the view through my camera lens. Hang on… there wasn’t ANY swell!}, we gradually went our separate ways.

Resupply Survey Vessel AURORA AUSTRALIS

Many I will see again in a few hours’ time, at Customs House [oh gosh! in just ONE hour from now! Hurry up and WRITE, Lucinda!! Stop proofreading!!!], some at an expeditioner’s birthday party tomorrow night; others I will hear from in relation, I hope and trust, to articles being submitted for our Club magazine, Aurora. Yet others I may meet at a Midwinters’ Dinner somewhere! I hope so: I thoroughly enjoyed the company.

What a trip. What a privilege to travel to that special place: for me as an observer, more or less; for others to carry on the proud tradition of running and maintaining fully functional Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations and launching such a broad spectrum of research programs from there to better understand the region and our place in it.

This is your 2016-17 ANARE Club rep signing out. Last of the “blogs”!

Please stay tuned to this web page and to the announcements page as I gradually trawl through some more photos to better decorate my voyage notes. If you are in NSW and live near Mac Uni/ Epping or pass nearby at the end of a working week, I’d love to tell you all about the trip in person, this Friday evening, at the annual NSW Branch Slide night. {And show you some of the auction items I bought!} I can’t promise to visit every other state branch but will try to visit at least a couple over the next little while. Or at MWD time!

Meanwhile: have a think about getting more involved in your own branch of the ANARE Club! I can promise it’s fun and fulfilling and… who knows what other reward you may reap?!



C.S.I.R.O. Marine National Facility

Research Vessel INVESTIGATOR