Victor Watt – ANARE Club Representative 2019- 2020
Voyage 2 Casey Resupply
1. The Who, What, When, Where and Why of Here,
There and Everywhere ……………… on my way back to Antarctica
I am Victor Watt, named after my Uncle Victor Smith. My earliest memory of my Uncle Vic was as a four year old, being told that he was going to a frozen place called Antarctica, on board the Thala Dan. This kicked off my curiosity that set my future course in life. In 1958/59 Uncle Vic was Australian Army Transport Officer-in-Charge of the amphibious landing vehicles known as DUKWs (Ducks), which were used in the re-supply of all Stations.
I started work as a Cook in the Australian Army 1972-93. Even though I was “just a Cook” I did lots of interesting things – from becoming SAS qualified, to (along with others) setting the record for the fastest time travelled down the Murray River in a small power craft, and lots more. While idly flicking through a friend’s Women’s Weekly in 1975, an article leapt off the page, grabbing my attention. Applications were being sought for positions in Antarctica – it was fate. I applied, and was subsequently secconded from the Australian Army to the Department of Science, Antarctic Division, to take up the position of Cook at Davis Station, Antarctica for 1976. I was fortunate enough to travel on the iconic Nella Dan.
“The Nella Dan holds a special place in the hearts of all who have travelled on her. After its sinking, I wanted to have a tangible reminder of her contribution to my Antarctic adventures. I had this painting commissioned.”
Whilst at Davis, all station personnel assisted in the construction of the current emergency power station. It was a very special time, sharing experiences that can be had nowhere else in the world. On departing, we all felt that we had left a little part of ourselves behind. Hence, Davis has always felt somewhat like “home” to me.
On discharge from the Army, my school-teacher wife took our young family on a one year teacher exchange to British Columbia, Canada. From there, we had the opportunity to travel most of North America and to cross the Arctic Circle (one of my bucket list items), thereby making me “bi-polar” (Dad-joke!).
1994, back in Australia re-settling on the Gold Coast, saw me working at Colgate Palmolive making toothpaste for the next 10 years. Next I ticked off another bucket list item by owning and running my own business for four years, selling consumables to the take-away industry. The last penance of my working life was a position at a large software distribution company for five years. After the passing of my wife, I retired and re-visited my bucket list. First item was to go back “home”. In 2011, I boarded the Russian icebreaker, the Kapitan Khlebnikov, visiting Mawson Hut, Commonwealth Bay, Davis, Amery Iceshelf, with a landing at Heard Island.
On returning to Australia, next on my bucket list was to backpack around the world, with the goal of living for a year on each of the seven continents. I have only one continent to go, being South America which I intend to explore in 2021. So far I have visited about 140 countries.
In April this year I returned from my latest major trip, driving my own Queensland registered 4×4 cross-continent from Vladivostok, through Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan (any other “stan-country” you might like to think of), Europe and Iceland, finishing in London, covering more than 60,000km in 12 months. Whilst in Romania, I made a point of going to the town of Galati where the new Australian icebreaker “Nuyina” is under construction. Damen Shipyards granted me approval for a personal guided tour of the ship.
Despite my previous trips to Antarctica, I have only ever admired the Aurora Australis from afar, at its “Summer” holiday location of Hobart. Upon hearing that the last voyage of the AA was scheduled for 2019/20, and the ANARE Club Berth would be available, my current wife encouraged and supported me to apply for the Berth. By a stroke of good fortune, I was awarded the position of Club Berth Representative ahead of other applicant, Mr Dean Campbell. I empathise with Dean in what must be a great disappointment, and wish him the best of luck for any future application.
Fast forward to 24 December 2019 – would you like to join me as I walk up the gangway of AA with anticipation and excitement for the voyage ahead, an over water re-supply to Casey on V2. And a much prized stamp in my passport “Casey Station Antarctica”.
2. Hobart – Predeparture
I arrive in Tasmania a couple of weeks before my anticipated departure date. Those who know me would tell you that I am notoriously early for any travel arrangement, but even I concede that 2 weeks early is a little extreme. Maybe I am just super excited to be heading off to Antarctica on “Orange Roughy”, the Aurora Australis (AA).
Lots of behind the scenes preparation and arrangements go into each and every component of any re-supply journey. An obvious one of course, is that of clothing issue. I had been given a date and time to go along to the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) for a meet and greet, and for my clothing issue. The day before my appointment, I received a nice email saying that, as we will be on the high seas for Christmas, we can participate in Secret Santa if we would like, with a spend limit of around $10. Excitedly, I head into town to find a suitable gift, wrap it and mark it “From your SS”. This gift will be collected before we board the AA, and does not form part of my weight allowance.
AAD headquarters is located in the beautiful town of Kingston, about 12km from Hobart. It is a conglomeration of several individual buildings on the downward side of a hill. Upon entering the reception area, there is a wonderful display of Antarctic memorabilia, ranging from a commemorative brass plaque of the Nella Dan to mounted penguins and dogs, along with dioramas of Antarctic Stations, and mannequins of explorers kitted out in their clothing and equipment. A great display that tells fascinating stories. Taking pride of place, featured on a full-size wall, is a glass etching of the RSV Nuyina and her statistics. The RSV Nuyina of course is Australia’s newest icebreaker. She is due to arrive in Australia early 2020 to replace the Aurora Australis.
After looking through the memorabilia, I am given instructions of how to find the clothing store, like I am a local at AAD. Well, I am not a local, and – I get lost. Eventually I enter a clean, well laid out building where the clothing store manager, Sue, starts to issue me with my three layers of clothing. Then comes my survival gear and boots. I feel there is no hurry to complete the fitting. In fact, it is the opposite as Sue gives me her undivided attention and meticulously checks that everything fits correctly. She reminds me that if I find the equipment is too tight or too big, I should come back and have it re-issued. The survival kit bag will be delivered to my cabin on the AA. The work clothes and boots are my responsibility to carry on to the ship, and the weight forms part of my allocated weight allowance. There is a BIG problem as I am already overweight with my bag loaded with camera equipment. What am I going to do now?!
Some good news – on my return to Australia after the re-supply is complete, the clothing that doesn’t touch my skin must be given back to AAD, but the rest, such as thermals and gloves, are mine to keep.
After a check with the I.T. section to make sure I have all the necessary information for sending blogs and pictures back from the ship, and I am a free man for the rest of the day.
Back in Hobart going for a walk down town for lunch and I run into a large group of men and women, some wearing AAD hats. Of course I stop and talk with them. I learn they have just arrived back from the French Station of Dumont d’Urville after the AA conducted their re-supply, as the French icebreaker L’Astrolabe has broken down and is in Perth for repairs.
Now back in my room, with my newly-issued (and very heavy) clothing and boots, I ruthlessly cull and repack my camera equipment and clothing, even down to my socks and jocks, but I am STILL over my maximum weight allowance of 30kg in 2 bags of no more than 15kg each.
As I rummage through my bag, I come across some books. Books are heavy, right? Then the solution to my weight dilemma comes to me. I take those books out and wrap them. They have now become additional Secret Santa gifts for all on board to enjoy. Problem solved. Hopefully I might even get a chance to read them too!
3. Departure. Day 1 22 December 2019
I wake at 04:30, unable to go back to sleep due to the excitement that lies ahead.
05:30 out of bed and implement my morning plan to drop my car off in a safe place for the month; catch an Uber back into town for breakfast; followed by a short walk to the rendezvous point, Macquarie No 2 Wharf, for passenger baggage weigh-in. Yes, I arrive 30 minutes early. Soon, people start to arrive and we all talk excitedly but trying not to show it outwardly. At check-in all things go well so there are no problems.
We are escorted to the ship just like you would on any domestic flight that boards via front and back doors from the tarmac. Here we get to see the grandeur of the Aurora Australis for the very first time.
As I walk up the gangway, my thoughts flash back to when I first walked up the gangway of the Nella Dan back in December 1975. Back then, the wharf was full of family and friends, with so much excitement and buzz in the air it was palpable. There were speeches by dignitaries, the Director of the Australian Antarctic Division and finally the Voyage Leader. As the Nella pulled away, so many streamers were thrown, it looked like the ship may not have been able to break free of the wharf, but it did. Final kisses were blown back and forth until the ship was out of sight. It was a real party atmosphere.
Today, we simply continue to walk up the gangway of the Aurora Australis, with no one to bid us farewell and good luck, and blow us that final kiss. That was done back in our home towns before we left for Hobart. It is like we are just a group of people heading off to work for the day, no big deal, see you tomorrow.
Stepping onto the deck of the AA is just wonderful. The reality hits me that I am really here. I made it and the dream starts NOW.
Off we go, guided along the deck down into the bowels of the ship where we are welcomed aboard by the Captain and Voyage Leader, followed by many safety briefings just like on any other cruise ship. But, this one is a bit different. After all the normal stuff, there is a cold-water immersion suit training where you have to practise putting on an oversized water-tight immersion suit. Fun is had by all.
Then, a tour of the ship and suddenly it’s lunch time, followed by Customs clearance. At 14:00, right on schedule, the Aurora Australis clears the wharf. As it does, we see two more Icebreakers docked in port. One is the Polar Star, which I visited it when it docked in Townsville back in the 1980s, and then in the distance is the Chinese Icebreaker Xue Long.
We all stand on the helideck located at the back of the ship, some quietly looking back at land as it fades in the distance. Some make last minute calls to loved ones, while others make new friends.
As soon as we clear land, the ship starts to move up and down without too much sideways movement, for the moment at least. I visit the medical facility and quickly take a seasickness tablet. Suddenly I have lost all of my motivation and my bed is beckoning. You know what I mean – we have all been there, done that.
4. Merry Christmas to all from the high seas of the Southern Ocean
24 December sees a flurry of activity involving colourful wrapping paper, scissors and sticky tape. Most of us have participated in Secret Santa. Some have come aboard with gifts already wrapped, while others buy the new ANARE Club stubby cooler with the RSV Nuyina on it as their SS gift.
The seas have been VERY kind to us today (thank you Santa) and spirits are high.
We have a briefing on how to conduct plankton sampling, and how to clean and calibrate the CSIRO CO2 water testing equipment. There is a 3-hour roster on which people eagerly put their names. So the last one in gets the late shifts, which I am happy to do because I don’t need that much beauty sleep!!
One of the ladies Jaimie gives a fantastic presentation on her work with birds like the albatross in Antarctica. They carefully glue tracking devices to the birds. By recording their movements, they can then tell when the bird is behind a stopped trawler pulling in a net, or a moving long-line fishing boat, simply by looking at the flight patterns of the birds.