Casey, out the back of the station buildings checking over lichen/moss sites
Part 1 11:45 hrs 17 December 2001
The Southern Ocean rocked me to sleep last night on the best Sunday in a decade for me. Aurora Australis slipped her lines at 20:00 hours on Sunday 16 December as we started our resupply voyage (V5) to Casey Station. We have a small complement of passengers, comprising the 14 men of the 2002 ANARE to Casey as well as 25 other round-trippers like myself. There are a couple of science projects happening on board, including sampling for krill, and also at Casey station, including glaciology and, a bit closer to ‘home’, measuring and rephotographing various moss and lichen sites at and near the SSSI area 16, about a kilometre from Casey. This I will be involved with but at present I am proudly representing the Club and promoting membership of the same. I have already sold some items – in fact the night before the voyage (I’m keen, aren’t I?!) and am keeping up interest so predict a most successful voyage.
The Aurora Australis is looking pretty good for having spent 11 years or so voyaging one of the roughest oceans in the world. At present the weather is quite mild – slightly overcast with sunny periods, wind 18kn (I asked a Met chap!), swell about 2m up to 3 or 4. Ship Master Tony explained our 202 degrees course (instead of the direct course to Casey of 225 degrees) as taking good advantage of the swell, in order to speed our voyage through the worst stretch and to make things more comfortable for the benefit of those passengers not delighting in every pitching movement.
The food is delicious as I knew it would be from past happy experience, and I will be hard pressed to lose weight! An early bout in the gym has set my morning routine (I hope!) and I have been helping out in the mess, wandering around the decks watching how the lady takes the waves and checking out the bridge. To me it seems like we have a great combination for an excellent voyage – the Casey crew seem very well integrated and also happy to chat; the rest of my fellow passengers I have so far met also seem most excellent ANARE types – let’s see how many of them I can recruit!
Early days yet – I plan to send updates every couple of days, so stay tuned to this space!
Part 1 Continuing…
During the latter part of 17 December (Day 1) our course was set for 202 degrees, even though the direct bearing to Casey from Hobart is 225 degrees, in order to take advantage of low swell and otherwise mild weather conditions. The case was vastly improved weatherwise a bit later on and, at around 19:30 hours, Aurora Australis’ second engine was put into play. We powered on at a speedy 18 knots (instead of the 12 or 13 we had been averaging) throughout the night and all the next day.
I continued wandering the outer decks of the ship, letting the wind comb my hair into unruly locks and thoroughly enjoying the increasing bite of the wind. I spotted many short-tailed shearwaters and had three sightings of a black-browed albatross. Trying to balance genrous serves of delicious food with workouts in the gym is a daily challenge; hopefully I will prove the sceptics wrong and actually lose weight on an Aurora voyage! Another restful night’s sleep.
Part 2 – 18 December 2001
It has been overcast for most of the day (but the sun is gloriously out now) with a tiny 0.5-1m swell and scarcely any wind to worry about. As I write it is 20:00 hours: at 19:30 we were at 52 17.112 S and 139 08.844 E and still steaming both engines full ahead at 18 knots. Apparently 52 S is the record for sighting of an iceberg, so interest in the iceberg sweep is increasing. The winner gets half the takings; the other half goes to Camp Quality, the charity supported by the crew. Air temperature is 5.9 degrees Celsius.
At our current rate we should reach Casey on the 23 December – two full days ahead of schedule. At present the whole intent is to get two days up our sleeve – exactly how this will be used is yet to be determined (probably during the refuelling of Casey). Most probably we will just head back to Hobart two days earlier and let V7 ‘rescue’ the stranded Polar Bird, as otherwise we risk putting V7 (a marine science voyage) seriously behind schedule. However, there is always the chance that we may divert to Prydz Bay – I hope!!! Currently the Polar Bird is on the 35th day of her voyage, with the Mawson winterers for 2002 yet to reach their destination.
We should be able to hold our current speed for another day at least, and then a low is expected. However, we should be out of the region by then, and actually able to take advantage of the winds behind our tail.
We began our field training sessions today – first was clothing, with separate sessions for Casey winters and round-trippers. Having now made up our extra wanted list for filling at the Casey store, tied elastic to our gloves and handy cords to the zips of our ventiles (for use while mittened up in the field) we then attended a session on frostbite and hypothermia, courtesy Damien the FTO and Glenn the MO. More to come in the next few days, as the poor Voyage Leader attempts to match his program with the speed of the ship.
Some excitement ensued later in the afternoon as Omar, one of our two Indonesian guests, sighted the spouting of two whales (but not the whales themselves) – he thought he was imagining things at first! The Mess is now resplendent with festive decorations – we will be celebrating our Christmas on 22 December, as the 25th (even though no longer our landing day) will still be too hectic to celebrate properly. Sales are going well, with the most popular items so far teh T-shirts, calendars, postcards and the Robin Burns book on women in Antarctica.
Each day I am coming to know the Casey winterers and the various round-trippers (and their tasks) better, and we really do have a most professional yet convivial complement of passengers. Time to check out the bar and then, depending on events, another visit to the gym.
Part 3 20 December 2001
The first iceberg was sighted at 02:22 hours by ship master Tony Hanson. The iceberg sweep was won by Casey 2002 Met man Ian (your ANARE Rep was a few hours off! Perhaps I can blame it on the unprecedented speed of Aurora Australis?!) A second iceberg was sighted at 7am.
I joined Ian for the Met obs at 09:00 hours. We were at 127.70 E & 59.30 S, course 232/233, motoring at about 15 knots. There was a 14 kn (Force 4) wind from the S; air T 0.6; water T 1.3; 95% humidity; 8/8 cloud; visibility 2km and closing; 956.5 HPa – we were passing through a low pressure system. [This became more apparent later – our speed fell to 12 kn as we knocked back one of the engines.] The swell was about 3.5m from the west, 8 seconds duration, with 0.5m waves of 1 second duration.
The pitching of the ship increased, and was joined by a nasty roll, and so once again we ‘lost’ some of our fellow passengers to their bunks. The more hardy watched the action from the bridge. At 16:10 hours we were at 60.35 E & 125.10 S, course 210 degrees and our speed was averaging 7.5-9 knots. Cloud cover was 8/8, and very misty, and sleeting. Very windy too, the apparent 39-49 knots and the actual up to 40 knots. I can attest to this, as I ventured up to the observation deck, firstly in ventiles, which got very wet, and later just in T-shirt and woollen trousers. It was very hard to see as I was srewing up my eyes in the face of howling gales (well, almost) and wind-driven pellets of ice. But it was fun! The air T was -1.2. At times the wind was in fact gale force.
The swell was amazing! Yes sir, we were certainly in a low! The swell was 5-6m with the occasional 8m – not too bad, but they were very short, sharp and steep, resulting in a HECK of a lot of pitching, sea spray and waves crashing over the bow of the Aurora Australis as she rose and fell. There were of course waves on top of the swell, but it was most confusing to try and quantify – in summary, the bridge was the place to be! (Unless one were equipped with stout Goretex jacket and trousers, and glasses with windscreen wipers, in which case the observation deck!)
Field training involved a quiz, where 2 or 3 people teamed up to answer questions drawn from the ANARE Handbook and First Aid Manual. This was all well and good, but studying fine print and working out grid references in a violently rolling and pitching ship was not a good combination, and we lost a few more to their bunks. Various planned slide presentations and talks were cancelled also.
Tomorrow (Friday 21 December) we will be paid a visit by King Neptune, and will be having a combined lunch/dinner as a BBQ on deck -weather permitting! The kitchen staff have been doing an absolutely brilliant job – every second topic of discussion at table is about the excellent quality and presentation of the food – and everyone is looking forward to “Christmas Day” (Saturday 22 December) with great anticipation.
Sales are going well – I have sold out of postcards and T-shirts as well, now, and have only 1 set of greeting cards left. The calendars are going well, especially since I bought some A4 envelopes to go with them for posting at Casey Station.
Speaking of which, we have been given the first draft of what will be happening once at Casey Station. I am truly amazed at the sort of organisation that has to go into this, and am truly impressed at what VL Greg Hodge and CS Simon Cash, along with Casey 2001 SL Paul Cullen and 2002 SL John Rich have come up with. We have all had a chance to put our two cents’ worth in. The amazing thing is that, despite the large number of people already on station, they are allowing most of us to crash at ‘their place’ each night until the ship leaves. This is hospitality indeed! Along with the ‘moss ladies’ Mary and Ann, I will be paying a visit to Wilkes – at least once – and to Robbo’s Ridge, as well as spending some time at a few lichen sites around Casey, and doing some rephotographing of lichen in SSI16 – if my camera decides to function again, that is!
Part 4 Dec 21 2001
For the third night in a row we put our clocks back an hour and are now on Casey time. I woke at 4:30 hours to see growlers floating past my porthole. I wandered up to the bridge after my daily workout in the gym and there were bergy bits in great patches on the ocean. I had to beg a spare camera from Mary (who I would be assisting at Casey Station, relocating and rephotographing mosses and lichens), as mine had decided to stay on the bulb setting after our third day at sea. Not happy, Jan!
I spent a short time on the Observation Deck in -2 or 3 degrees Celcius – jolly cold with a brisk wind, I can tell you! After breakfast the krill bios hauled in the first of their catches – a little audience watched on the trawl deck, but unfortunately only one krill turned up in each of the two catches. They’ll have a couplemore tries later.
We had an emergency muster at 10:30, and then were allowed to wanderup to the fo’castle. It was fairly mild weather, so I stayed therefor a while. Saw a whale tossing its flukes in the distance.
At 16:00 hours we assembled in the mess to make the acquaintance of King Neptune, his Queen and their minions, a frightening-looking bunch of toughs daubed with blue and green food dye and wielding baseball bats and various other instruments of menace. The first-timers knelt before the King and Queen, and were anointed with vegemite, had water pistols aimed in their mouths (but it wasn’t water – it was gin and maybe rum?!), had ice put down their backs and had to kiss the feet of the king and queen and some little sea bug. Then it was the turn of those who had been south before but somehow missed out on this most important ceremony. Then, when the Voyage Leader had read out all the names on his list, his Imperial Dampness asked if anyone had been missed. At this point I spoke up. I recall going through some sort of ceremony 10 years ago, but I’m pretty sure I was never vegemited or iced, and I didn’t want to feel like I’d missed out on anything. Just call me stupid.
At 17:30 we assembled on the trawl deck for a BBQ. It was excellent fun! Especially watching growlers and a few bergs go sailing by as we tucked into marinated chicken kebabs, marinated prawns, sausages, steaks and marvellous salads, our apetites made keen by the bracing air of the Southern Ocean. It was an expeditioner’s birthday so we finished up with some birthday cake.
That night Graeme (2002 chippie) showed video footage of his time at Mawson in 1994, including some home movies made there about Haggland extractions from sea ice and crevasses, and some footage of a quarry explosion that was a little larger than predicted. Lots of lessons to be learned there, and the AntDiv has made good use of some of the footage as training videos.
22 Dec 2001
“Christmas Day” for us, as the 25th will be spent doing resupply at Casey. At our daily briefing meeting Greg (voyage Leader) announced those who would now be staying aboard each night rather than ashore at Casey, due to accomodation shortage there. This included yours truly, which was disappointing and also frustrating, as I could not make use of the 24 hours daylight to check out my lichen and moss transects (boats would be leaving the ship 8-9:00 and returning 17-19:00 hours). I helped out in the galley for the big day. The crew had the mess looking lovely and festive, and the chefs cooked us up a storm! The feast was a combined lunch/dinner held from 15:00 hours. We had a smorgasbord of crayfish (some marinated), Balmain bugs, whole salmon, cold cuts of ham, pork, turkey etc, chicken, amazing salads including one of avocado and mango (YUM!!)… there was champagne, wine and beer on the tables (and the Collex guys gave everyone a taste of some Bollinger – thanks guys!)… Dessert included Christmas pudding, icecream and custard, Christmas cake, fruit and cheese platters, and various desserts.
Santa visited a bit after 17:00 hours and handed out the Kris Kringle presents we had all wrapped earlier on. I bought a Nella Dan video from the Club shop for Scott, the first mate – it seemed quite appropriate. We adjourned to the bar and a suggestion by Barbara Smith (glacio) took form: not much money had been raised for Camp Quality and so expeditioners and crew sponsored other expeditioners and crew to have their heads/beards shaved. First up was John Rich, 2002 Station Leader for Casey, who for an extra $500 (on top of the first $500) was willing to have his beard shaved. Then Mark, one of the galley crew, had four years of hair growth reduced to stubble. Angela, krill bio, was next and also got a cool $1000 for her sacrifice. Then it was on for young and old, and about seven of the Casey winterers and a couple more expeditioners had their heads shaved for charity. All up we raised over $4000, which was a pretty good effort from a relatively small number of people aboard. Much of the shaving was performed by “Elvis”, a crew member, to appropriate music, and dressed in a lovely pair of white overalls decorated with blue texta-ed stars. A great evening.
Part 5 23 Dec 2001
I got up at 4:00 hours and went up to the bridge. We were surrounded by heavy mist, and it was quite an unworldly experience as we ghosted silently and slowly through it, the ship’s master cleverly avoiding the tricky ice floes that came seemingly out of nowhere. We were pushing one rather thick one for a while before Tony managed to knock it off with other ice floes. We anchored in O’Brien Bay at about 6:00 hours – at Casey at last!
The weather cleared to an absolutlely magical day of clear blue sky and minimal winds. Paul Cullen, 2001 SL, paid a brief visit to the ship to emphasize the more important rules to observe (mainly re signing on and off station, and indicating on the fire board when you expected to be off station limits). Suddenly it was time to clamber into all my Antarctic clobber and descend the rope ladder over the side of the ship to the waiting Zodiacs. A brief trip and we were on the Antarctic continent! At the landing we took off our life jackets, and soon our taxi pulled up – a red Hagglands. We loaded selves and bags in, and bounced along the cleared road, snow to either side, through the remains of RepStat (Old Casey) and to New Casey. We duly registered on the fireboard in the beautifully appointed Red Shed, and I made myself a bit useful in the kitchen, and then found a local (summerer Fred, a bird bio) to show me where the moss and lichen sites were on station. She didn’t know exactly, but certainly took me to all the right places.
That done, we embarked on a Casey lunch, and waited for the first jolly of the trip – out to Wilkes. Martin Riddle (head of the Human Impacts study group) was our guide, and a very knowledgable one. I learned about their various projects and the natural and human history of Casey and environs. My companions were two chaps from Collex, waste disposal experts who were there to evaluate the feasibility of clearing the extensive rubbish tip at Wilkes. They seemed a little daunted by the immensity of the project once Martin pointed out the extent of the tip! I poked about the buildings – the majority are now filled with ice but there are a couple one can wander into, including the old Met dome, which has rather amazing acoustics, as I found out when doing a rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem. There were a few Adelies around, and I got a shot of one wandering through Wilkes. At the waters edge there were more, and I witnessed one doing the amazing hop ut of the water to the land. There were huge blocks of ice which had been tossed up from the sea a week or so ago during some extreme weather. We returned to Casey around 20:00 hours and after a homer or two and a bite to eat, headed back to ship.
What a great first day at Casey!
Ian Mackie and Doug Twigg at Casey
Ian Mackie and Doug Twigg at Casey
Ian Mackie and Doug Twigg at Casey
Part 6 24 Dec 2001
I was on stores today, together with a few other round-trippers, some 2001 winterers and summerers, and Pete, the incoming cook. There was a short delay as we waited for the containers to be delivered from the landing area, so I went to my lichen and moss sites (which I had by then relocated) and took some photographs. Not ideal conditions, as it was blowing snow, but I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity – one can never tell with the A factor! The stores work was very necessary, but very strenuous! I think everyone should become vegetarians – the boxes of frozen brocolli were much lighter than the boxes of frozen meat! The green stores building is well set out, with forklifts and very high shelving for the year’s supplies (and extra) to be packed neatly away. In one upstairs section is a well-appointed gymnasium, with a punching bag as well. Had a short break for lunch then back to work. A very welcome dinner at the Red Shed, a coupla beers with the boys and then back to the ship. My arms didn’t want to climb the rope ladder very much!
When packing that night for the next day, I put some overnight things in just in case, as a blizz had been predicted and there was the possibility I’d be stranded for the night at Casey (I hoped!). We moved anchor to two miles off Fitzgerald Island to let the captain and crew sleep easy, secure in the knowledge that the ship wouldn’t drag her anchor onto any rocks in high winds.
25 Dec 2001
We departed ship a bit later today owing to poor weather conditions, and the fact that the ship master wanted to arrange mooring the ship’s boat, Aurora Australis II, ashore rather than having to crane it on board each night (in case we had to move out of the bay quickly). Once at the Red Shed I found that, instead of being on stores today and going to Robbo’s tomorrow, I was to accompany Mary and Ann (the moss ladies) to Robinson’s Ridge today. We had a couple of locals as guides, and a couple of jollyers. Mind you, I didn’t do much more than follow Mary around, hold sample bags for her and number them in collusion with Ann, who was doing the recording. There were a few centimetres of snow covering the mosses, but Mary seemed to know just where to dig.
The trip took about 45 minutes via Hagglands, and we had to drive inland up and over the moraine line behind Casey before travelling west and then down to the coast again, as the area is rife with crevasses. [The moraine line behind Casey is a very good indicator of the fierce katabatics which often strike Casey with little or no warning – the winds form ‘Mare’s Tails’ at the moraine line. See that, and run for cover!] We had no views en route as the visibility was quite low.
We drove past the hut at Robbo’s, made cheery by a huge smiley face painted on one side, and parked by the rocky ridge that leads down to the water line. We were careful to make just one track across the snow to the rocks and, once there, to hop from the top of one rock to the top of the next, in order to avoid any damage to the lichens and mosses beneath the snow cover, or exposed. At our first site, an Adelie penguin came waddling up to check us all out, to within one or two metres, so work paused while cameras came out. Mary had a most successful day, collecting many moss samples, and also the one species of liverwort that occurs in the Casey area. The view from the shore got a little better throughout the day, and we could see the nearby Odbert Island, on which were many small penguin colonies, as well as some lovely icefloes and a few icebergs. We had a late lunch and hot drinks at Robbo’s Hut and then returned.
Back at the Red Shed I helped out a bit in the kitchen. It really is a great way to meet the locals, and they appreciate the help. After a quick dinner (we had got back fairly late) the station leader said I could stay the night – YIPPEE! (Also, I think they would have had to put on a taxi to the wharf and a Zodiac just for me, so it was better all around.)
I wrote up my field notes while waiting for the weather to clear a bit. It did, and Mary managed to arrange for Tom, a surveyor, to accompany me to my sites with his GPS, with which we plotted the transects and perimeters. Later that evening he produced a lovely map of the points overlaid on a current map of Casey Station. At about 23:00 hours I went out to the moss site (earlier damaged by cement dust from the batching plant) and photographed at intervals along the transect. I got back in a bit after midnight, found a mattress and bedding, and took a few hours rest.
Part 7 Dec 26 Dec 2001 (Wed)
I woke up at 04:00 hours and went out to my lichen site. This was located on the hillside just south of the Red Shed, rather conveniently, and so I didn’t have far to go. There is a large area (and another smaller one) of the lichen genus Usnea which has been, for want of a better word, blasted – whether by natural or man-made causes is yet to be decided. The healthy plants have black tips; the blasted plants have their yellow/green petticoats exposed. It was first examined some 10 years ago and, as per the moss site, my task was to relocate the site, rephotograph some locations exactly, and take photos of representative samples of healthy and unhealthy plants inside and outside the areas. I had taken photos previously but the weather was much more conducive, although a light dusting of snow lay over some of them and the air had a definite chill to it!!
I was slushie for half a day, as the chap rostered on had to do some RTA stuff – it was pretty full-on! When not doing that I went over to the green store – all the items had been unpacked, so I scored the task of mopping up puddles of snow melt from crates that had been unpacked in the snowy conditions of the previous day. At dinner we were informed we would be leaving Casey after the changeover ceremony on Friday, thereby gaining an extra day for use in possible Polar Bird extractions… I hoped!
27 Dec 2001 (Thu)
I left some ANARE Club calendars in the Casey Post Office, which have been selling quite well, as have the postcards (sold out) and greeting cards (two packs left). Our transport from ship to shore today was the ship’s boat, Aurora Australis II – a slow and stately journey. The outgoing winterers and summerers were making final departure preparations, and the chefs were as usual cooking up a storm of great food. I trekked over to Reeve Hill, named for an archaeologist who lost his life near there in August 1979. A cross and plaque was erected by some Casey men in August 1999 a little below the highest peak. Fine views were to be had of the nearby Windmill Islands, and of Casey Station itself. I took a self guided tour around Casey one more time, and then hung around in the Red shed for a while.
All the round-trippers and summerers went on ship by about 17:00 hours, but I stayed with Mary and Ann. Later joined by Voyage Leader Greg Hodge, Cargo Supervisor Simon Cash, FTO Dave and First Mate Scott, we went out to Wilkes again for a bit of a special trip. Mary, Ann and Greg went to SSSI 17 for some final smapling and photos, and the remainder explored Wilkes. Scott (a caver, as am I, but a much more wiry one) managed to wriggle into one of the iced-up buildings but couldn’t get far. I sang a few more arias in the ray dome (I think I erroneously called it a Met dome in a previous Part – it is of course concerned with comms), and we eventually went back to Casey and to the ship. The luxury of a cabin to mysef has now changed to the interest of sharing with two of the summer scientists.
Part 7a 27 Dec 2001
The Aurora Australis has left Casey after completing the resupply and personnel changeover, and we have now been diverted to assist the Polar Bird, which is currently held by heavy ice conditions (10/10) in Prydz Bay, off the Amery Ice Shelf. We expect to reach Polar Bird by about 2 January. It is estimated that it may take three days to break the Polar Bird free, although a more detailed study of ice conditions once we arrive will enable a more accurate assessment. The time taken to break free will depend on ice and weather conditions at the time.
Part 8 27 Dec 2001
Forgot to mention we had a bit of an interesting trip back from shore to ship on Aurora Australis II (the ship’s boat). In the short time it took the guys to come over, pick us up and return us, a few ice floes had gathered around our rope ladder up the side of the ship. Gerry, the pilot, had to do some fairly tricky manouevring to nudge them all out of the way and secure the boat so that we (crammed in the AAII like sardines) could clamber safely up the rope. All was carried out with great professionalism – it is really a great team of crew. In fact the whole lot – crew and cooks, and expeditioners – have melded really well, meaning a fantastic voyage for all.
28 Dec 2001
One boatload went to Casey this morning in order to witness the changeover ceremony. This occurred just after 9:00 hours (Casey time). Paul Cullen (outgoing Station Leader) gave out the wintering medallions to his men, and then handed the keys to the station over to John Rich, incoming Station Leader. We had the word to get our asses back on board the Aurora Australis ASAP, in order to move out and get under way to rescue the Polar Bird. Weather conditions were deteriorating, so timing became fairly critical.
After the final cargo and pax were aboard, the expedtioners had an emergency muster drill while the AAII was loaded, and then Tony headed the Aurora Australis north to get us out of the pack ice – a very wise decision.
29 Dec 2001
We then headed west, young man, and a little south. Up on the mess notice board was the following Polar Bird update: “Sat 29 Dec 19:30 hours: PB stuck in 10/10 ice up to 2m and rafted. Ice edge 47 nm away, with leads in to 10 nm – the last 10 nm look tough going. The Chinese ship Xue Long is due into the same area ~5 days after we get there. Mo pax transfers are anticipated in either direction…”I had to give the camera Mary had loaned me back to her, as her other one was playing up and she needed to take some pictures of her moss samples (many of which are now drying in the boot rack on E and D decks). So I hopefully put a notice up on the board to the effect that I had a camera problem, and anyone that could fix it would score themselves a free massage. It worked! and our now have my lovely Nikon FE2 in top working condition. I immediately went up to my favourite position on the observation deck to catch up. Eventually the below-zero temperatures combined with a reasonable wind sent me down to the bridge, albeit with a big grin on my face.
We have seen a little bit of wildlife – mainly crabeater seals, also a leopard seal (quite close, and alseep until the orange roughy was almost past him!), adelie penguins and many birds – snow and antarctic petrels, fulmars, giant petrels… and some great icebergs.
At 15:30 hours I noted our past course. We had been sailing WSW but the ice became so thick at 64.29.250S & 97.55.5005E (just a bit east of Tressler Bank) that we had to retrace our steps, and then head more or less north from 64.11.432S & 99.20.164E, NE from 63.21.669S & 99.34.174E and NW from 63.17.779S & 99.51.421E. It was a fantastic sight as we neared the edge of the wall-to-wall ice floes – the swell became more and more apparent, moving great rafts of ice in white waves across the ocean. Our present postion was 65.05.076S & 99.32.066E, bearing 303 degrees and travelling at 12-13 knots on the open sea (whilst in the ice, both engines going, we were making only 5-6 knots).
AA to the rescue.
30 Dec 2001
Again, both engines are going. We turned from WNW to W at 63.00.169S & 99.25.549E. The seas were clear of ice, and we had swell from three (3!) directions, causing some fairly serious rolling and pitching (but not really bad – in fact, kind of calming!). I went up to the bridge after dinner, and so witnessed a brief exchange between Scott, the Officer on Watch, and a chap from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. The Arctic Sunrise had been chartered to go out and catch illegal (Japanese) whalers. We had fairly low visibility, but they had it quite bad, doing 4 knots in a high swell. They requested us to keep an eye out for suspicious looking icebergs on the radar, which Scott promptly complied with. Later, a notice on the board invited all to keep a watchful eye out for whalers. None sighted thus far, but in the bad conditions of the evening it would have been easy for them to ease into the ice and pretend to be bergs.I was invited to the ship master’s lounge with Mary and Ann (moss ladies), Greg the Voyage Leader and Simon the Cargo Supervisor for drinks and a movie. I had to leave early, as I had organised to show slides of a couple of caving trips to the Nullarbor. I had timed it so that Scott (First Mate) could attend after his watch, as he was also a caver. It went over quite well.
There may not be a Part 9 for some time, as we will be having our New Year’s Eve party tomorrow night. There will be a BBQ on the trawl deck from 17:30 hours, and then the “Beauty or Beast” party kicks off at 21:00 hours in the Husky Bar, and is not expected to stop…Cheers from your ANARE Club Rep, and have a Happy New Year!
Part 9 Dec 31 2001
We are still sailing the open seas at present, and expect to arrive at the Polar Bird by 3 January 2002. At 13:00 hours we were at 63.65.997S & 88.42.949E; 8/8 cloud cover and blowing snow with 8kn wind and a few bergs; ship speed 14kn. We actually passed quite a few icebergs, fairly close too, as the Aurora Australis staff very nicely did short detours for best photographic effect. One monster berg was measured (via sextant) by Jake, the Officer of the Watch, as being 45m high and one nautical mile in length. The visibility wasn’t good at first; about three nautical miles. It gradually cleared.
In fact it was hard to get people off the bridge (due to the bergs) for our 17:30 hours BBQ on the trawl deck. Eventually most people were there, rugged up a little against the cold, although we were sheltered from most of the wind. Once again it was a most excellent repast in the bracing air of the Southern Ocean. Scott was now Officer of the Watch, and he managed to take us past a fine selection of spectacular icebergs. It was an amazing thing, to be chatting over a beer to one’s neighbour, and then to casually glance up to one side or other of the trawl deck and see a towering wall of glistening ice gliding majestically by. It really was a magic experience.
A few passengers and crew had their heads rugged up for a reason other than keeping the Antarctic breeze off their scalps – some had taken the plunge and followed the example of some Casey intrepids (summerers) and dyed their hair with food colouring, generally green. This was of course for the big event of the day – our New Year’s Eve party, and had to be hidden until the actual event. The theme was Beauty or the Beast. There were a few more bergs to be seen up on the bridge after the BBQ, and then a select few were invited to the ship master’s lounge room for a showing of The Commitments (karaoke permitted), accompanied by a few pre-party gin & tonics. Between 21:00 and 22:00 hours everyone gravitated to the Husky Bar, but it took a while for me to work out some of my fellow passengers. Respectable marine scientists (male) were dressed up rather appealingly in female clobber; and one rather large specimen came as a krill. Some of the crew members surpassed themselves in cross-dressing, although it was difficult to determine whether they were aiming at Beauty or Beast. One gentleman came as Hitler (a Beast indeed); a strapping tall plant operator was attired wholly and solely in tinsel, with a large Christmas decoration adorning his hard-hat; many had painted their bodies with red or green food dye; there were devils and a few mad scientists, including one hunchback wearing just the inside of a hard-hat on his head (ie it looked like his brain was wired up)… The dance floor was crammed with gyrating bodies of all sorts. Yours truly went in a rather demure black figure-hugging dress, crowned by a truly magnificent shower cap of gold sequins (a Christmas present from my estimed brother-in-law, part of the deal being I had to take it on voyage. Even he couldn’t have guessed how public I’d go with it). The Ship Master had a mop head as a wig and a skimpy stretch skirt, and kept backing into corners to stop any unauthorised tampering with parts of his outfit.
All up it was a splendid evening, absolutely hilarious, and definitely a New Year’s Evening to be remembered. Even more memorable, though, was what followed as, at about 00:50 hours on the first of January, 2002, the ship master (and those who happened to be standing nearby) got word from the bridge that a ship had been sighted.
JAPANESE WHALING VESSELS – 1 January 2002
We raced up to the bridge (and let me tell you, four flights of ship’s stairs at speed in high heels is not easy after a fairly jovial night at local bar!) to find Jake, Officer of the Watch, firmly steering towards a distant grey-looking ship on the horizon. The light was fairly gloomy with about 8/8 cloud cover, and I think it a remarkable coincidence that we encountered any other ship out there in those (or any other) weather conditions. The Aurora Australis had previously turned from west to ~WSW at 63.00.180S & 94.04.319E, and just had to turn SW at approximately 63.57.288S & 82.49.503E to reach the unidentified ship. Jake attempted to contact them, identifying ourselves and asking for them to identify themselves and to explain their presence, to no avail.
We reached them at 63.51.2S & 82.50.9E – 38 nautical miles inside the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (defined by the United Nations Law of the Sea). This one was part of a fleet, a chaser. She was drifting, not under power. We drew closer and closer, and gradually the bridge filled with a wild assortment of creatures from the bar. They soon armed themselves with digital and video cameras at the ship master’s request and started filming the illegal vessel. We drew close enough for the many keen pairs of eyes to determine, in a fine example of ANARE teamwork, the identity of the vessel – “KYO MARU NO.1, TOKYO” (on the stern), and “TKI 795, Research Vessel” and a large encircled “S” (on midships).
As well as the video cameras, Tony (the ship master) had on the black box tape recorder, to be used in any prosecutions arising. therefore the bridge had to be quiet, with no extraneous conversations. Feeling against the illegal whaler was very high, so some expeditioners felt bound to go on deck (yes, in their fancy dress!), carefully and securely close the doors to the bridge, and hurl verbal and visual abuse at the criminal vessel. They certainly would have got the message that we weren’t pleased to see us. Strangely enough, flashes (as of cameras) came from them.Still there was no answer to requests for identification by Tony until Omar (Malaysian guest of the Antarctic Division) volunteered his services as translator, and asked the vessel, in Japanese, to respond. Tony had prepared a list of questions to ask them (in consultation with the Greenpeace “Arctic Sunrise”, now unfortunately 600 nautical miles from us). Very luckily for us, one of the questions they chose to answer was to confirm their position with what Tony read out – ie admitting their presence – their ILLEGAL presence – in Australian waters. Of course they identified themselves as a research vessel. Tony repeatedly requested them to leave but they chose to misunderstand. Finally Omar came to the rescue once more and said a few succinct, simple Japanese phrases, and the Kyo Maru No.1 headed off. We tailed her for a while.
At about 04:00 hours the mother vessel was sighted. I had left the bridge for apres-party drinks with the Cargo Supervisor and a few crew and expeditioners, but later returned to the bridge to see a rather large ship. We circled her, and again Tony requested identification and purpose, but no response was given. However, even though the culprits didn’t confirm their position, it is on numerous rolls of film. We left her at 05:25 hours and I got a few hours kip.I just made it to breakfast (at about 08:15 hours), went to the bridge to get more details which I have now included in this report, and emailed this. The time is now 10:30 hours, and it is my urgnt request that the illegal whaling information be circulated as widely a you can, now that it has been reported to the Australian government.This is very much the voyage to be on for excitement!
Yours in exhaustion
Part 10 1-4 January 2002
After the excitement of the sighting of the Japanese whaling fleet early on New Year’s Day, things have been a bit slow and frustrating for some, as we have been encountering lots of ice – usually 8-9/10 but occasionally 10/10. Then, decisions must be made – keep going, look for new leads, backtrack to find a better lead, or park until weather conditions improve… As a guide to our progress in Prydz Bay, each day is divided up into six lots of four hour watches: to 04:00 hrs, 08:00 etc. Generally, the distance travelled in one watch on the open sea is about 55 nautical miles. On 1 Jan we travelled 48, 53.4, 45.9, 46.8, 15 & 17.6. On 2 Jan 10.6, 2.5, 3.5, 4.3 (all in 9/10 close pack ice), 1 (as attempted to do a turning circle and retrace path) & 12.6 (in better ice conditions; parked at 23:45hrs). On 3 Jan N/A, N/A, 7.7 (we got underway at 10:20 hrs), 46.4, 30.5, 35.
The initial plan was to make our way to within fly-off distance from Davis for the S76 (Sikorsky heli) and to then fly a recce towards the Polar Bird to determine the best route in. [The PB is near Samson Island, at 68 deg 51′ S & 74 deg 35′ E.] However, this changed slightly over the next few days.
Some details of the Japanese whaling vessels: At about 1am local time (4am Sydney) the Kyo Maru No 1 was sighted at 63.54.6S & 82.48E -that is, 38 nm inside the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone. She was a chaser. The mother (factory) ship, Nishin Maru, was sighted at 3 or 4am (Syd 7 or 8am)at 64.02 S & 82.13.2E. A second chaser was sighted some 8 nm west of that. The ship master Tony contacted them by VHF radio and 1) confirmed their position; 2) asked what they were doing; 3) asked their intentions; 4) confirmed they did not need assistance; 5) pointed out they were 38 nm within the EEZ and we believed they were undertaking illegal whaling operations and 6) asked them to leave the area immediately. The first chaser eventually responded; the mother ship did not. She initially attempted to sail away from us on our intended course but we easily caught up. Environment Australia and the Minister’s Office have been informed, and will follow the matter up.
Back to our progress. At 19:00hrs 1 Jan the plan was reach Davis fly-ff point at 2am 2/1, do an ice recce, ETA Polar Bird 3/1 and then transfer oil (and maybe some food), a couple of people from AA to PB, break out the PB and return to Hobart.
As per the distances covered above, 2 Jan was very slow travelling. At 2pm we got into pack ice, practically 10/10, and AA had both engines working at 90% capacity (they never run at full capacity, keeping sufficient in reserve to get us out of most situations, but generally run at about 80%). Several times we had to take several runs to get throught thicker ice – although it wasn’t actually the thickness of ice that was the problem – it was the thick layer of snow covering it, causing too much friction with the ship. At 18:00 hours it was decided to retrace our steps. It took 2 hours to do a turning circle, to give some idea of how heavy the ice was. That was at 66.34.416S & 78.42.206E. We parked at 66.19.959S & 78.51.682E.
We continued our way north on 3 Jan and left the hard ice at about 12:30 hours. There was a definite edge; proof positive that the wind was pushing it all together, further impeding our progress. At 12:00 hrs we were at 66.12.921S & 78.25.945E, bearing 250 degrees at 14+ knots. THIS was more like it! At 17:00 hours we were still on the open sea at 66.40.709 & 76.24.307S – that is, further south in a short time than we had got over most of the preceding day. At 17:20 hrs we were 117nm from Davis and 136 from PB. At dinner it was announced that we would be heading straight for PB, not getting heli support from Davis. We stopped for our third krill double haul at 18:30 hours for a good half hour. The first one got 1 krill each, the second 15 each but this one we hauled in 3-4000 of the little critters, so our marine bios are wrapt.
Birds encountered since Casey: petrels (snow, antarctic, southern and northern giant, cape, mottled, wilson’s storm, kerguelen, blue, white-chinned), penguins (Adelie, Emperor), southern fulmar, light-mantled sooty albatross, a prion of some species, short-tailed shearwater, south polar skua and arctic terns. Mammals: seals (ross, leopard, weddel, crabeater) and whales (minke, orca, humpback).
That evening I took part in a jamming session which Tony kindly hosted in his loungeroom. A mix of summeres, galley staff and self on guitars, mandolin, drum and vocals. We went for several hours, and may not have been accurate, but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
On 4 Dec 2001 at 7:30 hours we were 50nm from Davis and 80 from PB. Hit pack ice 8-9/10 at 08:00 hrs (sheet ice and close pack with occas piece of broken fast ice). There had been a few course adjustments during the night watches to avoid heavy ice. We parked at 09:30 hours at 68.07.392S & 74.36.100E in a nice large puddle of water amidst the ice, whilst awaiting a snow shower to clear. Conditions were poor vis, NE wind 18-20 knots and no clear route anywhere. Some of our instruments were down and Tony did not want to risk steering into anything he couldn’t see properly. The engines had been working at 95% capacity; the 16 was shut down and we are keeping the 12 running, in ice breaking mode. Currently 45 nmfrom PB, and I am going to leave you here as just had word 2 helis from PB due to rendezvous here in the next few mins!
Part 11 Friday 4 January 2002
We have been a week out of Casey now. At 16:05 hours the two Squirrel helicopters from Polar Bird flew over, to do ice recces to the PB. I got some good shots from the Observation Deck and the red & white helis were a brave sight indeed over the pack ice. At 18:10 hours we were within 43 nautical miles of the Polar Bird (our third attempt at a path through the ice). Our position was 68.09.239S & 74.40.310E, wind 12 knots and air temp -1.2 degrees C. Lots of blue sky, finally! Ship speed was 2-5 knots, as we were going through 8-9/10 and then fully 10/10 ice (ie really thick).
Our first two passengers, winterers for Mawson, came over in the first heli after the intitial recce, but unfortunatly snow showers prevented any more flying. We have a system set up of a greeter showing helping the newies stow their gear and showing them around, getting names marked off after cabins are assigned, and chain gangs unloading whatever cargo (mainly mail for this first one) arrives from the Polar Bird. It is very well organised, as every advantage is taken of the scant window of opportunities the Antarctic weather is providing us with. The pilot is Rick Piacenza, who was the head pilot for my PCM program of a decade ago, so it was good to catch up with him.
We had a “talent” night down at the Husky Bar(fairly scary, some of the acts!), and it was superb. Winner was Dave and Christine with an energetic swing dance, then Gordon who, after warming up the audience with some jokes, gave a spendid rendition of Noel Coward’s “Where’s Our Ship?”. One of the cooks, Angela, scored third prize for an impromptu performance on the guitar.
Saturday 5 January 2002
Plans keep changing. The current one is to transfer the Mawsonites from PB to us and then to Mawson, maybe using helis when we get closer, and maybe using the helis that are at Davis as well (one Squirrel and the Sikorsky [S76]). If weather conditions are good, and they aren’t that good at present, it will be 3 weeks before we get back to Hobart (1 day pax and cargo transfer, 3 days to Mawson, 2-3 days pax and cargo transfer, ~12 days back to Hobart. At present our supplies are good (heaps better than the PB) – we run out of fresh stuff in a few days but have buckets of frozen stuff, and months of freeze-dried supplies. Plenty of fuel too, although we are chewing through about 50-60 000 litres a day.
We have had both engines going, and they usually run at 80-85% capacity but the master had them both at 95%. Then he put them up to 100% – we moved only 2 or 3 shiplengths in an hour. (If you go at 100% and get stuck, then you have no reserve power to get unstuck.) Our prime directive was NOT to get stuck; and then to remove the passengers and cargo from the Polar Bird who are due at Mawson (this is their 57th day) and then, if conditions are good and we have the directive from AntDiv, to break out the Polar Bird. So our pattern has become: move as close as possible to PB for air ops and then retreat north along our path at night, to avoid the possibility of the path closing over. We have thus retraced our path two or three times, and from tracking the ship it is very apparent that the whole pack ice surface is moving, keeping our old track fairly intact – a bit like the movement of continental plates. Fascinating!
Again the weather wasn’t nice to us, so we only got another four Mawsonites aboard.
I had a stiff neck and shoulder and so finally had a good excuse to test out the sauna – and I think I shall discover excuses to use itevery day – what a pleasant experience in the middle of Prydz Bay!
Sunday, 6 January 2002
After another ice recce via heli, Scott the first mate is taking us closer than our 45 nautical miles from PB, as our ‘escape route’ to the north is still open and, if anything, the pressure of the ice has decreased. Several openings to PB were discovered, so there remains the chance we will actually sight her.
There are a few interesting classes being held on board. After the success of the talent evening, daily swing lessons are being taught by Dave in the Husky Bar. And every second day a combined stretching/yoga session is hosted by several of the ladies. What with this on top of my self-imposed galley duties (which have lessened with the introduction of a slushie roster to help cope with the influx of passengers, said roster being filled promptly by helpful expeditioners) and the continualtion of massges given for donations to Camp Quality, and of course the action from time to time on the bridge and/or obs deck, and your ANARE rep has not much free time on her hands! (and loving every minute of it, I must admit!)
For our next heli ops we were 40 nm from PB, at 68.13.775S & 74.45.833E, wind 5-6kn and temp +/-1. The weather has clagged in at Davis, and so we are operating on just the two Squirrels. When conditions improve we will be able to get Lee’s S76 into play for some serious cargo shifting. I assisted in unloading helis – we now have 12 new faces on board, and very pleased they are to be here! Although they do seem to have kept themselves well (if somewhat violently) occupied on the PB… Twenty drums of oil were sent to the Polar Bird, slung beneath the Sqirrels on their return trips. Up on the fo’castle with three of the Casey summerers, I took part in a Mexican wave for one of the last helis to arrive.
Monday, 7 January 2002
We got underway at 04:30 hours (no idea how I managed to be up that early), steaming to within 30nm north of Polar Bird by 08:00 hours, in 10/10 close pack, 1.5m with soft snow. Whilst writing up my journal back in my cabin, my cabin mate Sarah brought to my attention about 25 Adelies who were bravely making their way some distance over to the stationary ship. We had a wonderful view through the port hole, as 5 or 6 exceptionally brave fellows wandered, strutted and slid on stomachs right up to the ship, practically below our porthole.
We had all 4 helicopters working the transfer from PB to Aurora, and finally finished ferrying the passengers – 34 all up. Cargo transfer via sling loads continued until about midnight, with pilots and ship’s crew putting in an exceptionally long day. Two passengers were backloaded from Aurora to the Polar Bird – our doctor Roland and CCTO Alan. Two RTA pax from Davis are also onboard.
Part 12 Tuesday 8 January 2002
After a very long day on the part of the ship’s crew and expeditioners on board the Aurora Australis and the Polar Bird, and a detailed ice recce to assess the best option for our next attempt at breaking out the Polar Bird, we got underway to Mawson station, some 600nm distant, at 0:30 hours. We headed north out of Prydz Bay, retracing our steps from about 6820.097S & 74.45.038E to about 66.21.974S & 74.52.234E and turned west (bearing 268 degrees) at14:30 hours.
We had our weekly emergency muster at 13:00 hours. At the same time, an unknown vessel had been sighted on the horizon. We soon caught up and questioned them. They appeared to be a long line fishing vessel,but responded that they were “just sailing around”. No long linenets were visible. The craft was newly painted, and there were no identifying marks visible on her whatsoever.
That night was the Trivia Quiz, organised by Mike from Collex, with all proceeds going to Camp Quality. It went from 20:00 to 23:00hours – a mammoth event, in more ways than one! Your rep’s team (one of the smallest at six players) consisted of Brian Duval (American algal specialist), John (a kriller), Jim (an engineer), Ling (another algal scientist), Siti (one of our two Malaysian guests, and a microbiologist) and myself. I called us the Feral Boffins, and I am delighted to announce that we took out the grand prize (a ship’s cap each), scoring 116 points. Next came Where To Next (consisting ofthe VL, the ’01 Casey SL and 6 others; a minibottle of wine each) on113, closely followed by They Kill Whales Don’t They (8 members, 112;a ship’s stubby holder each). The Wandering Albitri scored 100, HotChillies 94, Heli Deck Harlots & Linghams Chilli Sauce 93, Team Tolerance 84 and Caan’t Be Sayin’ That 80. It was a superlative night, getting quite rowdy towards the final hour as tension rose andcorks flew from one end of the mess to the other. Almost $500 was raised for Camp Quality. The evening was finished off by some fairly extreme dancing in the Husky Bar, where a selection of visiting Mawsonites showed how they whiled away the time on the Polar Bird,and how that vessel became a dangerous place to be when sporting events ensued!
Wednesday 9 January 2002
I didn’t see many of my fellow passengers for a while, but I was up and on the bridge before 05:30 hours. At 05:25 we were at 66.27.518S& 67.38.188E, travelling 268 degrees at 15.1 knots. The outside air temperature was -1.9 degrees C. We soon reached the start of Iceberg Alley, a narrow deep channel (well, not so deep, but lined by relatively shallow water either side), such that big bergs tend to hang out there. Some lovely photographic opportunities! We reached the ice, the swell lessened… and finally we neared Mawson Station! The plan was, stop for the helis to unload some pax and then continuetowards Mawson.
We reached our final position about 17:00 hours, at 67deg 32.5S &62deg 52.6E in 1/10 loose pack ice with bergs and bergy bits. I could clearly see the green shed outlined against the ice beyond, afew buildings dotted on the rocks and, some distance behind station,possibly a line of fuel drums, or maybe a traverse van.
It was a magical day, even better than our first day at Casey, with blue skies all around and scarcely a breath of wind. I don’t recall seeing it look this lovely ever!The two Squirrels flew and flew tirelessly, and as tirelessly were backed up by the crew of theAurora Australis and a few expeditioners on board, and doubtless by a similar complement of ANARE types on station. After taking copious pics I also helped out on the heli deck, loading slings and crates or equipment, supplies and personal belongings. It was a huge effort, and all credit to the crew and pilots for yet another mammoth effort.Ops finished about 22:30 hours and we slowly and regretfully moved away from mawson at 23:20.
The evening was superb, and practically everyone left on board was either on the bridge or the observation deck, as the sun very slowly made its way to the horizon and cast a magical light over the icefloes and bergs. The sun dipped behind a mountain at one stage, causing great excitement. At 02:00 and 03:00 hours there were still people about, and the sky had a beautiful tinge, with dawn colours rinsing the northern edge of the horizon as we sailed past the dusky-coloured icebergs of Iceberg Alley. The bergs slowly and majestically bobbed in the slight swell. A huge flock of circling snow and Antarctic petrels indicated a swarm of krill.
A perfect end to a perfect, and successful, day.
Next: more on the long line fishing vessel – is there no end to the excitement of this voyage?!
Part 13 10 January 2002
At 0700 the vessel was at 66deg50’S & 65deg22’E bearing 095 @ 17 kn, 275nm to Polar bird with a 3kn wind, clear and sunny, 0.2deg C, low SE swell on open water. At 1000 she gave 5 blasts of her horn to attract the attention of a very smart looking vessel. I may have the story a bit wrong here (it has been a few days since this occurred as I write), but on the 8th at ~1300 hrs (after a muster) we sighted a long line fishing vessel, unmarked, the “Nova Tuna 1”, and again at ~0330hrs this morning. The current vessel, I think, was a different one (name escapes me at present) but disputed the territory in question, thus not agreeing that she was in Australian waters. A long line, apparently theirs, had been hauled in by the crew very early in the morning. We went NE with her for a while, and then turned E to go to the Polar Bird. Just how many more vessels were we to meet in these waters?!
At 1155 hrs we were at 66.35.740S & 68.22.050E, steaming along steadily at a very nice 17.2kn on both engines, bearing ~80deg. We met sea ice at 1420 hrs (66.33.3S & 70.1.8E)and skirted the edge, entering 8/10 pack ice at 1508 hrs and reducing speed to 8-9kn.
11 January 2002
At 0536hrs we entered 9/10 pack ice, at 66deg58’S & 74deg50’E. The helis went for an ice recce at 1000hrs. They discovered a lead for us into the PB from the NE so we will be following that; currently heading a bit E of due S at present. At 1025 hrs we were~90nm from PB, bearing 168deg at 9.3kn.
Previously, when attempting to reach PB, we were thwarted by ‘porridge’ around the Four Ladies area. The satellite pic available had cloud over 76deg, and so it seemed to indicate our option was to go in on 74. We had tried this, got to within 30nm and ended up having to ferry pax and cargo. With the helis it is now apparent that there exists a huge ‘bay’ of ice-free water around 76deg, and are currently moving towards its southernmost point. many ice recces were flown from the Polar Bird, and we got her through an intricate series of small cracks and weaknesses in the ice, some 18nm further north. She is now in a clear rift in the ice – a feature that has been there for some days. She continued as far as possible before becoming stuck again (~1700hrs I think?). We were hoping for southerlies to loosen the ice for both vessels.
In the evening I showed my PCM slides to a new audience, and then at 2000hrs we all adjourned to the bar to hear Gordon’s radio play, starring himself, Alison, Dave, Christine, Drew, Mark and of course comms man Henry on sound effects. All were dressed in subdued black. The play was set in about 1937 England, and involved dashing young gentlemen, cads and bounders, policemen and spies. It was enthralling and kept 50+ people in the Husky Bar absolutly silent except when the numerous jokes were told.
The drama outside the bar continued to unfold. For quite a while we were moving along really well, flying recces and reporting good leads to follow. We were steadily moving closer and closer to the PB. It was very exciting to watch the brave form of the heli leading the way, and the magnificent vessel Aurora Australis breaking ice along the desired path. We soon had occasional glimpses of the Polar Bird on the horizon, looming greyly among the similarly lodged icebergs.
At 2307hrs we were at 68deg 39.0’S & 74deg38.5E, PB was 220deg x 3.8′ from us. At 2325hrs we entered very thick (10/10) ice and at 23:39hrs it began snowing lightly. At 2345hrs Tony reported from the heli that our inbound track, and the leads ahead, were rapidly closing due to increased pressure from freshening northerly winds. We immediately retraced our steps a couple of ship lengths and turned around to keep our rudder and prop ice free, and gradually moved, metre by metre, throughout the night. At 0400 next morning we were nipped in 9/10 very close pack ice at 68deg39.8S & 74deg31.8E. Conditions were overcast with occasional snowfalls. At 0530hrs we stopped in line with the drift of ice and played a waiting game – “Not stuck; just waiting!” was the note stuck on the bridge door. The bridge was closed often to enable the crew to see all windows clearly and have the chance to think and discuss without the distractions of excited expeditioners around them. Many leads had diminished or disappeared; wind was 23kn from the NE.
It was a frustrating and disappointing turn for all concerned – we were just 2.6 nm away from our goal!
Part 14 – “Not Stuck, Just Waiting!” — “Aurora Australis in Action!!” 12 January 2002
I had a few hours sleep – much more than did ship master Tony or first mate Scott. Scott went to bed at 0600; Tony at 0700. They have been working really long hours, as have many of the crew, and no complaints about it whatsoever. I have found my niche on the bridge – I constantly clean up the sink area, so that when the officer of the watch wants a coffee, the area is all clean and ready to go. A small task but it makes a big difference, I think, and I can’t really think of anything else to do for them, apart from massages, which are going over really well.
We are still waiting for conditions to ease – we do have SE winds, currently at 10 kn, but are hoping for more – maybe 25kn tomorrow. That should blow the ice out so we can reach PB and do some serious ice breaking and ship extraction! From there, it should be about 12 days to Hobart. We still have 6 days of fuel over and above that.
1930 hours: an ice recce was flown and it was decided to head for the Polar Bird, as the ice seemed to be loosening up. Tony and Greg (VL) were in the heli and Scott was steering through the 9/10 very close pack ice. Both engines were going at 2008hrs at 80%. It took about four hours to get the two-three nautical miles through some very heavily rafted ice. We were finally within a few shiplengths of the PB, and could distinguish figures on board waving at us.
13 January 2002
So at 0100hrs we commenced breaking ice around PB. This was a very long and painstaking process, and great care was required – too little force and we made little progress; too much and there was the danger of a very close encounter with a very large vessel. This was made no easier by the expeditioners on board, who understandably enough wanted to see the AA in action. The bridge was forthwith closed, and most people therefore had a very good view from the observation deck or the fo’castle. At 0200 an amazing snowshower came right across us. In the distance it was a dark blue inverted cone against a light grey horizon. The snowflakes were huge – almost the size of 20c pieces. The sun was covered with a rose veil and a rose pink light caught the shadowed ice sticking up from the floes, especially around the rafted edges. At this stage we were about 100m from the PB’s stern, continually breaking ice, going back and forth, painstakingly edging closer, then trying a different tack as a persistant floe thwarted us.
At about 0400 a line was tied to her bow and we managed to tow her a little astern – at 0820 there was continuous manoevring of both vessels whilst fast bow to bow. We were having troubles pulling her while reversing due to persistant ice floes behind us. At 1030hrs the lines were removed, and I, along with about 20 expos, helped haul our line from the fo’castle to be stowed on the trawl deck at the stern. It must be the biggest rope I have ever set my eyes on – my hands couldn’t reach around its circumference! It certainly weighed enough, but the many hands made a relatively easy task of it.
At 1115hrs the PB was moving a little under her own steam. At 1148hrs a superline was passed to the PB and she added two towing lines (1220hrs) as ours wasn’t long enough – we now had over 100m of line between the vessels. We began towing her at 1330 at very low speed (under 1 knot), but as soon as Tony took the AA up to 1-2kn one of the PB’s lines snapped. Then the other line broke, and we had a very large vessel bearing down on us. Mild panic ensued on the bridge – we went dead ahead and the PB’s skipper steered hard astern (and then some, as he later told Tony!), and luckily the two vessels came no closer than 10 or 15 metres…
I can’t properly tell you how exciting those moments were, or how tense the situation on the bridge was, everyone desperately keen to free the Polar Bird, but Tony equally conscious of protecting his ship and, even more importantly, the safety of his crew as they kept a watchful eye on the tow ropes – if they were too close and the lines were to snap, people could be seriously injured or worse. With skill, experience and a dose of OK luck the extraction of the PB occurred most successfully, with no injuries or accidents – a magnificent effort, considering that Tony, Scott and Greg had no slept since I don’t know when. I DO know that an amazing amount of tea and coffee was drunk!!
At 1411hrs towing ceased in order to carry out repairs to the bridle. A concoction of rope and wire was got together, with plans of cutting the PB’s anchor and using her chain as a back up tow rope. Most luckily she was able to move under her own steam, and from 1520 a pattern was in place of AA moving ahead and breaking ice then skilfully reversing right up to PB, and then leading PB out. At 1746 the towing plan was finally aborted, and PB was following AA’s track through 9/10 close pack ice with heli assistance, generally at a distance of 0.5-1nm.
This continued throughout the night.
Part 15 14 January 2002
0100hrs and all was pretty okay. The Polar Bird was following us at about 5 knots through 9/10 pack ice, at 68deg31.1’S & 75deg00.5’E. The heli recces finished at about 0230hrs. However, the ice in Prydz Bay didn’t want to let go of PB and held onto her at every opportunity, so it was a slow and arduous journey, with much backtracking on the part of the Aurora Australis – performed with great skill by both Scott (first mate) and Carmen (third mate).
At 0250hrs AA entered blue water and sunshine (1-2/10 ice) at 68deg22.1’S & 75deg18.6’E, followed 15 mins later by PB. Hooray!! We went down to one engine and coasted along at 9kn to the Davis fly-off position of 68deg10’S & 76deg10E. From here, we flew 1 pax to Davis, 1 to PB, 1 visitor to and from Davis, and 4 pax from Davis to PB. This included Anya, Richard and Tom, who had been working in the Amery Ice Shelf on various projects to do with seismicity and GPS points.
Relaxing on the observation deck the previous evening I was told by gamesmaster Micky who my victim in our Murder game was. This was to be played by all expos, no excuses, starting at 0600hrs today. At breakfast it was amazing how many expos were present and plotting. The entire atmosphere of the ship has changed overnight. People don’t just glance at each other, they look with intent. The aim of the game is to stay alive and kill your victim. You make a kill by being in the same room (or corridor, or stairwell…) as your victim, BUT no-one else is allowed to be there. Then one simply tells one’s victim, “You’re dead”, gets the name of one’s victim’s victim, and plots how to murder THEM. It’s excellent fun. My first victim made it fairly easy for me, so I murdered him in his room whilst he was at his computer. Much later in the day it was my turn, as my defences went down after a nice cuppa peppermint tea and I went up the stairwell from the mess to my room, without a ‘minder’ – I realised halfway up and made a dash for the D deck corridor but got ‘done’ within a few scant steps of it. I gave my murderer my victim’s name and dropped out of the game. At least I no longer felt I needed to peer around corners and sprint down corridors. People are grouping together for mutual protection, ganging up on poor victims, going everywhere in pairs or groups and eyeing each other off.
Outside it was a magic day, the open sea a deep blue dotted with brilliantly white ice floes and the occasional stately ‘berg. The Polar Bird looked glorious with the sun on her, a nice red contrast to the sea, and nice and close for pictures, especially when we slowed and voyaged side by side. This occurred just as our weekly emergency muster drill was held, and so we were all on the heli deck to greet and congratulate ship master Tony as he appeared on the deck above us, and to look our fill of the Polar Bird. A while later the strains of “Flight of the Valkyries” could be heard piping through the loudspeaker system (the crew were at first too superstitious to play it too early in the piece, and then too busy!).
Who has seen three polar ships in the water at once? The icebreaker Aurora Australis, the Polar Bird, with her complement of two Squirrel helicopters, and the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon), also with a heli (orange; don’t know what sort), plus a fourth heli in the air, Leigh’s Sikorsky from Davis station. The seas were full, the skies were full, of colour and people calling congratulations and greetings to each other. It was a very, very special morning and I was so pleased and felt so privileged to be a part of it. A sight I will always remember. For the rest of you: well, the NSW Branch is going to reinstitute our slide evenings, so if any of mine (I’ve taken ~40 rolls so far but don’t worry, I’ll only show 100 shots or so!) turn out, you are most welcome to visit my place and have a gander, and meet the NSW Branch committee!!! At about that time (1340hrs) we were doing 10.6kn through 3-4/10 ice, position 67.31.599S & 76.22.131E, in an 8kn wind and heading north to get completely free of the ice. The plan was to escort the PB to at least 62S and then, for us, to head even as far as 58S, in order to pick up the tail of a low and ‘surf’ home to Hobart. The current ETA at Hobart is Wednesday 23 January 2002.
I have been continuing my exercise program with cook Angela, having a singing sauna afterwards, often joined by third mate Carmen. I am generally giving one or two massages a day, any proceeds donated to Camp Quality. My respect and compliments go to the cooks, who somehow manage to have a huge choice of repasts ready for us, and this always seems to include fresh fruit and veges. I don’t quite see how that’s possible, but there it is. Beer is limited – it’s a case of first down to the bar best served, but everything is going quite amicably.
We encountered heavy fog at 2000hrs and our speed accordingly slowed to 6kn. At 2115 one of the engines was shut down due to the continued poor visibility.
Tuesday 15 January 2002
At 0400hrs it was still foggy, speed 6kn, pitching easily in a low swell. By 0800 the fog had eased a little but was still present. Our speed was up to 12kn in calm seas with 2-3kn winds, with the occasional growler or berg. The Polar Bird was 5nm astern at 1000hrs, and the second engine was put back on as vis was improving. At 1100hrs our position was 64deg29’S & 77deg03’E on heading 041, at 17kn (both engines). SW winds at 7kn, 8/8 cloud, a low SW swell. Quite a few whales and penguins and seabirds were sighted.
The murder game is still going strong, with about 25 people still ‘alive’ as I speak (1715hrs 15/5/02). Those out of it are relaxed or helping those in; those in are ever-more paranoid. New groups form, break up, turn on each other… messages appear on noticeboards, posted onto doors, even as screensavers, eg “Resistance is futile, Tamara; death is imminent”, followed some time later by the eloquent, “Tamara dead”. “Die Matt” keeps coming up as the screen saver whenever I pause too long in checking for errors on this report.
I had a nice stretchy day today, with yoga/stretching at 1000hrs and a singing sauna (no prior workout)with Ange and Carmen. I have now finally caught up to the present in my report writing. I do apologise for the delay: I had wanted to keep you all up-to-date but things were just too exciting for me to be able to sit down at a computer for the required time! We are now hurtling towards Hobart but on this ship, it seems anything can happen… so stay tuned!
I must go now as I can smell a yummy dinner around the corner, although I am being nice and ‘being’ with an expo not yet dead who came in by herself. Already someone came in to the computer room, looked around, sat down at his computer and then got up and walked out; and another poked his head around the door, grinned in what only can be described as an evil and possibly threatening manner, and also retreated. So I will escort poor Bethan to dinner.
Part 16 Wednesday 16 January 2002
At 0500hrs the AA switched to transit mode, and it was full steam ahead, averaging 17 knots. We passed the occasional icebergs and rubble throughout the day. The seas were low to moderate with a low swell, generally fine with a mix of clear and overcast skies. At 12:00hrs we were at 59deg27.7’S & 86deg07.7’E. The radio play was performed again tonight to an equally appreciative audience in the bar. As per the previous night, clocks were advanced an hour… it is always much nicer going TO Antarctica than returning, for more than one reason!
Thursday 17 January 2002
We are getting darkness now. At 12:00hrs we were at 55deg14.9’S & 93deg41.2E in rough seas with a moderate swell. The vessel is rolling and yawing (slewing around from side to side), which is an interesting thing to experience. Am continuing my gym sessions, the singing sauna, massages and this evening fitted in a jamming sessions with a few musos – guitarists, singers, and Evan the first engineer plays a pretty mean keyboard. One of the engines was shut down at 22:40 as we were rolling and pitching in some rough seas.
Friday 18 January 2002
The second engine was started back up at 0630hrs. I rose at 0730hrs to a rough following sea and a moderately westerly swell. The intention is to ‘surf’ a few lows back to Hobart, in order to speed up our passage. This means a little rough weather but really, it has been pretty calm so far – we have been very lucky. At 12:00hrs we were some 1933 nautical miles from Hobart, at 51deg57’S & 102deg06’E, heading 061deg at 16.9kn. There was an 18kn NW windd, 7/8 cloud, a low westerly 3m swell and the air temperature was a balmy 3.8 deg C. I offered to do some data entry and typing for Tony and Scott, in order to get my self used to my usual duties for when I get back to Sydney, and also to help the guys out a bit. Another jamming session, clocks forward another hour…
Saturday 19 January 2002
We are rolling easily in a rough following sea and moderate swell, with passing showers (Rain!). Our 12:00hrs position was 49deg06.9’S & 111deg10.1’E heading 065 at 16.7kn, some 1578nm from Hobart. The wind was SW at 16kn with some sun and a 3m SW swell (ie we are still merrily surfing). I did some slushie work throughout the day, but the best job by far was helping out the crew in a safety walk, where crew members check out areas they don’t usually work in for any possible hazards. The VL, cargo supervisor and yours truly joined the crew members. I was loaned a pair of work boots (the third mate’s – thanks, Carmen!) and set off to the engine room with Scott and Gerry. Wot larks! A bit like caving in a hot and noisy environment. I got to check out all sorts of nooks and crannies. I’m pretty sure most of the things I pointed out to the others they had already identified, but it was certainly a most productive way to spend an hour.
After that we had our weekly emergency muster (couldn’t believe another week had gone by), while the crew had a fire drill. The gym workout was postponed as the vessel had slowed, turned about and then stopped in order to retrieve a large (~10m) kelp raft for Steve, who is interested in the animals travelling on these rafts. We only had grappling hooks rather than the barbs required for these slippery little suckers, so it took almost 2 hours of manouevring and some extreme rolling before success. In the meantime, as well as the gym being closed (which was okay – instead of that, Angela and I sang and strummed on the lounge seat outside the bridge), there was quite a bit of cabin messing-up, and a bit of an accident in the photo lab when an unsecured box slid along the table top, knocked the sink tap on and blocked the plug hole… the resulting flood did a bit of damage. On our noticeboard was written up the following damage bill:
* later arrival in Hobart
* 1 cup [and at least 1 beer bottle and glass]
* 1 wet Elvis
* 8 wet socks (pax’ luggage was stored in the photo lab)
* many naps and sleeps (it got VERY rough!)
* photo lab and gear
* some of E deck and also F deck awash
* 500s final postponed
* lost senses of humour
* 50 CDs
* 2 videos
In partial apology, Steve emailed to us the following interesting information about the kelp raft: “It is likely that it originated from Kerguelen Island, approximately 1700 nautical miles to the west. Estimates of current speeds in these latitudes and longitudes indicate that it has been at sea for at least 165 days and probably much longer. The large sample we collected (over 10 m long) will help to determine the importance of kelp rafts for the dispersal of marine invertebrates between subantarctic islands. Sampling of kelp rafts has not been conducted so far from land before and the operation today is therefore a significant one. The original proposal to collect rafts at sea was submitted to the AAD over 17 years ago but this is the first time that this objective has been achieved.”
At 8pm the “End of Everything” party commenced in the Husky Bar. Tim, the Casey 01/02 summer chef, had concocted a punch which flowed freely. I helped Angela prepare some platters of cheese, biccies and dips so people would have something to base their drinking on. After a slow start, the dancing started and the party took off. I left around 2:30 or 3am and went on deck to cool off. And there was an aurora! Apparently it didn’t start to do it’s magic until around 5am, but unfortunately I had hit the sack by then. But a perfect ending to the evening, anyway.
Part 17 (the last!) Sunday 20 January 2002
I was atrociously late in arising this morning, but did make it just nicely for lunch. We are sailing through moderate seas with a low following swell, surfing the last leg of our trip to Hobart. I returned my ANARE clothing to the VL (set up nicely in the helicopter hangar) and got my typing hands back into gear by helping with the safety walk points compiled the previous day. Martin Riddle gave an excellent presentation on how the Human Impacts program fits in with the Antarctic Divisions overall plan and objectives. It was illustrated with some superb shots of the dive program at Casey there are some gorgeous animals below there! and video footage. The musos put on a public jamming session, which was good fun, especially after the shipmaster and the VL provided some grog. The cooks had been hard at work (yet again) and prepared a feast for us that evening ? you would never guess we were short on food supplies! A most convivial time was had by all.
Monday 21 January I did some more data entry for Scott (first mate). These last few days before hitting the dock are always a bit aimless for expeditioners, so I was grateful for any sort of distraction! Ex-Mawson chef Mike showed some superb slides of Casey (and some of Mawson) in the evening.
Tuesday 22 January At noon we were 434nm from Hobart. Today I did lots of galley work and a bit more typing. The last gym session occurred after lunch, a final VL meeting and then it was back to the galley with the “A” team to do a thorough cleanup. Elbow deep in suds and music (“Shaggy” by that stage, I think), all the fun and noise of a great group of cooks and helpers (Ange, Mark & Howie; Critter, Pete, Sausage, Matt) then racing up to the bridge for more data entry (the “Commitments” this time) ? the day flew. Shop and bar bills were paid, and then we saw some videos that Yann had shot and then edited (with Mike) for Collex. They were excellent! A series of snapshots of the voyage, and then a longer one of various highlights. A final BBQ on the trawl deck eventually turned into various cabin parties and a bridge deck party, the latter to which your Club rep was invited. This was the best fun ever, everyone relaxed after a pretty full-on voyage, spirits of all sorts flowing freely, Ange checking out Yann’s digital camera, a lovely evening as we cut through the waves, and I finished off the evening with some a capella singing with Bethan and Barbara. Occasionally Carmen would join in but she was Officer of the Watch (20:00-24:00hrs) and couldn’t stay for long. We had some most complimentary remarks regarding our efforts.
Wednesday-Friday 23-25 January Madly packed all my gear away, strange how it expands during the voyage, and, after the mandatory Customs visit and one of those inexplicable delays, we pulled into the wharf at 15:00hrs. The usual Customs House gathering was held that evening (and the next, and), where we met some of the crew heading out on the next Aurora Australis voyage as well as farewelling crew and expeditioners with whom friendships had been made. I found the farewells hard! and hung around Hobart for a few days to extend them. The crew gave me a lovely presentation: a book of Frank Hurley’s photographs of the Shackleton expedition and a basket of Body Shop products. Totally unexpected, all I did was help out a bit on the voyage!
Well, I have to admit that before the voyage I was wondering how I would cope with being cooped up on a ship for the duration of a round trip, as I had been fairly active on my last Antarctic sojourn 10 years previously. I needn’t have worried, this was a voyage to end all voyages. Even if we hadn’t encountered other ships (good and evil) and pulled one out of the ice it would have been memorable and exciting. Events add interest to a voyage, but it’s the folk aboard (crew and expeditioners) that make or break it. And the ANARE types on V5 made it for me: thankyou!