John Gillies ANARE Club Representative VOYAGE 7, Polar Bird, 2000 – 2001

Reports from John Gillies, ANARE Club representative now aboard Polar Bird, Voyage 7, which departed Hobart 6pm Sunday 11/02/01, bound for Mawson, Zhongsham, Davis, Heard and McDonald Islands.

Day 1, Sunday 11/2:
The Polar Bird left Hobart at 6pm today, in a haze of smoke from bushfires burning on the side of Mt Wellington. Earlier, we had been treated to the sight of the QE 2 departing down the Derwent River, like an enormous black and white greyhound, as seen in the picture below, just beside the bow of Polar Bird.

Day 2, Monday 12/2:
So far I have had no sign of the mal de mer that made my other trips south unpleasant (it may be due to those little pills this time). The sea has been very smooth with an occasional patch of rain and sunshine, a large swell every now and then makes the ship pitch a bit and you think you may fall out of your bunk at night, different to the rolling of the Nella Dan and Thala Dan where sliding up and down in the bunk was the problem.
The Polar Bird seems enormous with the very high spacious bridge all very well laid out, also the gymnasium in the hold many decks below.
The instruments on the bridge are fascinating with the GPS giving a continuous display of where you are.

Day 3, Tuesday 13/2:
Nothing much to report, wind picked up a bit and made small white caps, outside air temperature has dropped to 10 deg. C.
Distributed some copies of AURORA magazines for reading material. The wind picked up again during the evening and the swell increased, so the ship slowed down to make sleeping easier. The wind is blowing the spray off the whitecaps.

Day 4, Wednesday 14/2:
The cook made a large chocolate cake for desert with Happy Birthday John piped into the chocolate top. Not much else to report, days revolve around reading, eating, checking the E-mail, watching the video in the lounge/computer area, checking the position on the bridge GPS.

Day 5, Thursday 15/2:
The Polar Bird has slowed down the last two days due to the the lumpy seas, making the ship pitch a fair bit. Today the spray was blowing over the bow regularly, a spectacular sight from the bridge as the bow plunges up and down. Everyone seems to be surviving the buffeting well.
There are 15 members of the CHINARE expedition on board, enroute to Zhongsham, who seem to be enjoying the great variety of food available at meal times.

Day 9, Tuesday 20/2:
Yesterday the rolling eased a bit and the weather cleared enabling the first visible iceberg to be seen, several others had been on the radar earlier in the day, the first before the times of the tipping competition had started. The GPS picture shows the location of the first iceberg, seen in the next picture. The cloud cover lifted so that clear sky was all around the horizon as the ship sailed at 13 knots into the setting sun.
Today she sky has been clear, temperature -2C, very pleasant out of the 10 knot wind on the lee side of the bridge. A procession of icebergs has passed during the day, most of these are older waterworn pieces that have rolled over exposing peaks and spires, like ruined buildings of blinding white. The Radar picture shows several passing “bergs” close to the ship, the line is the ship’s coarse, and small wave clutter around the ship. The cross is the cursor used to measure the distance from the ship.
ETA Mawson is Friday noon local time.

Day 10, Wednesday 21/2:
For the second day in a row it has been fine and sunny with a slight swell. We have been sailing along about 200 km north of the coast of Antarctica, amongst remnants of the Shackelton Ice Shelf. This afternoon I sat out on the deck for more than an hour in the sunshine watching the endless parage of uniquely shaped icebergs in various stages of decay, some still tabular, pass by, some within 100 metres from the ship. There were always some to be seen in every direction.
In my previous voyages on Nella Dan and Thala Dan I never experienced a sight like this, I am not sure whether the conditions were rougher but I do not remember being out on deck while we sailed along until nearing Tasmania. This afternoon the wind died off a lot and the sea had the oily look as it started to freeze. Since then we have sailed into a windier area and I can feel the ship moving around a lot more as I write this.

Day 13, Friday 23/2:
The Polar Bird headed south for Horseshoe Harbour early this morning, passing through Iceberg Alley in mist and snow showers. The radar picture shows the density of the bergs in the area, around the GPS position shown. The visibility was poor.

Eventually, Welch Island appeared through the mist but the weather forecast said that the wind would ease off a little later in the day, so we did a U-turn for several hours at very low speed.
Late in the afternoon the clouds lifted and the mountain ranges along the coast became visible one after the other. The ship moved in slowly waiting for the wind to ease off, the mountains grew larger. Some small dots which were large caravans parked away from the station for the summer were seen on the ice below the Masson Range, then directly below these the radio masts of the station appeared and building silhouetted against the white of the plateau.

Contact with Mawson had been made regularly to receive the weather predictions and current wind speeds so arrangements were made for the small boat to come out and pick up the mail, while the Polar Bird sailed very slowly into West Bay providing the opportunity for the cameras to snap many shots of the station.

My first thoughts were that the outcrop of Horseshoe Harbour was higher than I remembered it, but that was 33 years ago when I left. At that time the aircraft hanger was the largest building on the station, but today it looked almost like a garden shed at the waters edge compared to the size of the colourful structures spread around the station area.
I also learned that if your camera battery light is flashing it doesn’t record, so I missed the mail exchange.