Steve Symonds ANARE Club Representative VOYAGE 2, Aurora Australis, 1999 – 2000
Monday 24 January 8.30pm
The Aurora Australis is sailing out of Storm Bay into the Southern Ocean. Shearwaters are gathering in great rafts before flying back to their burrows after nightfall and Shy Albatrosses have been flying around the ship since shortly after entering Storm Bay. Tomorrow we should see the first of the great Wandering Albatrosses as we leave the Shy Albatrosses behind. The sea is almost calm with very little wind and no reports of seasickness – yet!
It has been a hectic day since first light. A bus was supposed to pick up three of us from outside a motel in Sandy Bay at 8am. By 8.30am it still had not arrived so I rang the Division. The cruise liner, the Sea Princess was in Hobart for the day and most buses in town were involved picking up passengers from there and taking them on trips. The bus company contracted to pick up the ANARE expeditioners had subcontracted to another company but forgot to tell the driver he had to pick us up in Sandy Bay. Consequently we arrived for the compulsory briefing 30 minutes late.
The briefing was interesting. It covered a lot of ground that we had learnt 28 years ago but the pictures were so much better.
There have been major changes in the attitude of the expeditions since my day. The division is very environmentally aware today and there are many rules these days about what you can and can’t do. This is fair enough too. All boots, for instance, must be scrubbed clean of any soil before they are allowed to be worn ashore. There have been introductions of plants to some parts of Antarctica by seeds carried on boots. The division wants no more. There are rules about how close you can get to the wildlife as well. That probably won’t work on Macquarie Island. If you sit down for five minutes there, the penguins come and investigate you – and they haven’t seen the wall chart about proximity to wildlife.
Eventually, the briefing was over and we were all taken to the Aurora to stow our gear. I had to drop off my duty free film with Customs, to be picked up later. A word of warning to anyone venturing to Hobart – the Duty Free Shop closed two months ago. Here I was, ready to stock up the gin supply at home and buy a few cheap ciggies and what have I got? Nothing! I knew I should have done my shopping in Sydney but everyone told me there was a DFS in Hobart. Don’t believe what people tell you!
After stowing the gear we did a lifeboat drill and tried on the immersion suits – a sort of thick, red, body condom. Then came a tour of the ship finding out where the important places are like the restaurant, the smoking areas and the bar. Oh we did the bridge and the engine room and the two gymnasiums as well.
Dinner was served shortly after we sailed, and excellent it was too. I am certainly not going to starve and will probably need to use the gym after a couple of days, just to be able to fit into the cold weather clothing.
The ship can carry about 70 passengers but there are only 40 on this voyage so I have a cabin to myself. Most of the people I have met so far seem to be round trippers or summer expeditioners
but somewhere on board is the wintering Casey party so I am sure I will find them soon.
Tuesday 25 January
There is a remarkable difference between the Aurora Australis and every other ship I have been on – birds don’t follow it. The Nella Dan had a full complement of albatrosses, shearwaters and storm petrels wherever it sailed but not the Aurora. The reason for this is simple, no scraps or rubbish of any kind is thrown off the Aurora. There is nothing for the birds to eat so they don’t bother following us. We are seeing a lot of birds as we sail past though but the flocks of followers are not there.
A sperm whale was seen this morning but not by many. It was too early to make an announcement as the crew were sleeping. I woke up very early this morning and watched a magnificent sunrise. The water was so smooth it looked oily. A bit of wind has come up now but the waves are very low. It has been so smooth I have heard no complaints of seasickness at all but we probably haven’t seen the inflicted up and about yet.
Everyone is settling into the routine of shipboard life. The meals are at odd times – lunch 11.30 to 12.30 and dinner 5.30 to 6.30 but there is always food in the restaurant if anyone gets the munchies. Don Reid at the Antarctic Division stores who kitted me out tried to convince me that if some item of clothing was too tight it wouldn’t matter as everyone lost weight down south. Those people who stay at the stations might lose weight but I defy anyone on the ship to do so.
Lunchtime – Australia Day – 50S 140E air temperature 10.5C
We have now left the roaring forties which did anything but roar and have entered the furious fifties. At least the wind is now blowing about 25 knots from the west and there are a few white caps around which makes whale spotting difficult. As it is Australia Day, we are having a barbecue on the trawl deck this evening.
This is more like it, the wind is now gale force and the ship is crashing through the waves. I was down on the trawl deck a while ago and got soaked as a wave broke along the side. The barbecue has been cancelled as the deck is awash down there. Looking at the latest chart, we are going to be getting this weather for a day or two yet. The clocks go back an hour tonight, and I think we have another time change before we get to Casey.
The Club shop is going well with the postcards being particularly popular and I have one new member signed up so far.
There is speculation about the first iceberg. The sweep starts tomorrow with everyone nominating a time the first berg seen comes abeam the ship. The first icebergs on the previous voyages this season have been about 56 to 58 degrees south so it will probably be the day after tomorrow.
Lunchtime 27th January – 53.45S 135.2E, wind 30knots, temperature 6.5C
We have been in westerly gales now for more than 24 hours. The seas have changed. Where we were heading into southwesterly swells we are now rolling through the westerly waves and movement around the ship is far more difficult. The anti-slip mats are on the tables in the restaurant – and very necessary they are too. Before they were put on the tables I went for a cup of coffee this morning and just stopped the mug before it crashed to the deck. Even sitting in my cabin typing this is difficult as the chair keeps tipping over.
The skies are grey, the sea is leaden, the waves are huge with the spray whipping off the tops. Perhaps the only people really happy with the weather are the bird watchers as the gales bring more albatrosses. There are two guys on board whose job is to count and identify all the birds we see on the way. The cross section of the seabird population of the Southern Ocean can be compared with the counts of other years and other voyages. A picture of the fluctuations in the populations of different species can be built up. As every observation is recorded on a computer with the date, time and position, studies can be done linking bird sightings with weather patterns, air and water temperature etc. No more whales have been seen yet but in these conditions it is very hard to see the spouts in amongst the foam and flying spray. We should see more when we get south of the Antarctic Convergence – where the cold Antarctic water slips below the warmer temperate water. There is more food available in the cold water so there should be more whales.
Last night all the food that was to have been cooked on the barbecue was cooked in the kitchen and some very potent punch was available to those who were so inclined. I think the lack of people at breakfast this morning has more to do with that than the change in motion of the ship. Most people have a cabin to themselves on this trip so if someone is ill other people don’t necessarily know about it. The doctor is currently doing the rounds of the cabins just making sure everyone is OK. So far, only one person has been stricken with seasickness but that could well change.
Lunchtime 28 January. 57S 130.1E wind 10kn, Air temp 1C, water temp 2.9C.Snowing.
I am now further south than I have ever been before. Macquarie Is is only 55S. At least the wind has dropped off in the last hour or two.
The Southern Ocean began showing us what it can do last night. Using the in-cabin roll meter (the angle of the curtains), the worst of the rolls around midnight were about 30 degrees. The worst at the moment would be about 25. The rolls to port are worse than those to starboard because the wind and waves are both westerlies. Sleep is difficult when the ship rolls rather than pitches as the bunks lie athwart the vessel. I spent most of the night sliding from one end of the bunk to the other.
The iceberg sweep is underway. My first proposal is for 2.15 this afternoon but I will take a few more guesses.
All email messages are sent and received between 3 and 4pm ship’s time (now UTC + 10). They are banked up until the contact with the Division is established then they all go out at once. While on the subject of emails, please do not send any attachments and please do not copy the original onto your email and then send it back. Evidently they need to conserve as much space as possible.
I read the SMH and the Australian every day at home. The last newspaper I saw was Monday’s Australian. Here we get a three page news summary once a day and that’s it. Interestingly, I don’t miss getting the news. Last night I joined the video watchers for a film. They have a video library on board that could form the basis of a reasonable video shop and some of the expeditioners are working their way through the lot. I’ve seen all the good ones and can’t be bothered with the bad ones. They had the Life of Brian on yesterday. I’ve seen that so many times I know the dialogue. Anticipating the next line can be fun at home but it tends to annoy others less fortunate.
Now that it is snowing and the wind has dropped, I might venture out onto the helicopter deck again and take a few photos. I have been very slack with pics so far, there are only so many shots of sea and sky you can use.
Lunchtime 29 January: 60.31S, 124.22 E. Wind NNW at 25kn, Air temp 2C,Water temp 1C
Just finished a lifeboat drill on the helicopter deck in full cold weather gear. It was necessary too with snow whistling across even with the ship stopped. An iceberg was seen just after midnight last night from the bridge but no-one else saw it and there has been nothing since, although there are some echoes on the radar which may turn out to be ice. We’ll know in an hour or so. No-one was even close with the iceberg sweep so all contributions are being given to Camp Quality which is supported by the ship and all who sail in her.
We are almost at the way point where we change course from southwest to west southwest to head through the ice to Casey. We still expect to be there on Tuesday which is my birthday so it will be a nice present.
There is a deep low pressure system west of us so we are expecting the weather to get a bit more foul in the next 24 hours but we will just have to wait and see.
The galley is determined that no-one will starve to death and there is plenty of good food. On top of three big meals a day there is a perpetual cold meat and salad bar and we are going through a side of smoked salmon every day – mostly at midnight munchies I suspect. After all between dinner which finishes at 6.30pm and breakfast which starts at 7.30am is a long period without food. The clocks went back another hour last night so that was 14 hours. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a half empty packet of Tim Tams. As soon as the biscuit barrel looks as though it might be getting down to half full, some kindly person fills it up again.
There is a movie marathon in the video room. Some people are spending almost the entire day and half the night in there watching films. I have watched a couple but there are lots of other things to do on board like, um, eating, er, ducking out to the trawl deck for a quick ciggie, er, playing cribbage, bird watching, um, reading, looking for whales and icebergs etc etc. I think I might catch a few more movies 🙂
7pm Saturday. 61S 122E wind 50kn, air temp 1C, water temp 1C, snowing, visibility 2km
The trawl deck is now out of bounds. I was on the upper part of it before dinner and the water was surging across the lower section waist deep at times. The bridge windows are covered in sheets of spray. The deadlights have been closed over the portholes in the restaurant and all the watertight doors have been shut. Water was also pouring into the corridors aft of the restaurant. Evidently someone went out on the trawl deck and tied the watertight door open. I went out on the helicopter deck about 15 minutes ago and it is not nice! I’ll have to give up smoking until the weather improves. Even writing this in the cabin is difficult. The laptop is on a non-slip mat on the table so that is not moving a millimetre, the chair I am sitting on is another matter altogether. It keeps deciding to go walkabout around the cabin – with me still in it. Still no more ice since the berg last night. There is probably loads of it out there but with the limited visibility and the huge waves, no-one can see it. If this keeps up, it will be an interesting night.
7.30 Just been up on the bridge. We have changed course and are heading northwest at 4kn right into the wind and the waves. The rolling has stopped but the pitching continues, quite violently at times. The waves are crashing over the bow, coming in green occasionally. This is what the Southern Ocean is supposed to be like. Why people like Isobel Autissier and Tony Bullimore want to sail small boats down here, I have no idea. I was huddled in a corner of the deck outside the bridge with Roger the radio operator and another member of the crew having a cigarette. The general opinion of others on the bridge is that smokers are mad. I tend to agree 🙂
6.30am Sunday: wind 45kn, air temp 0.4C water temp 0.8C, snowing, visibility 800m in fog
The captain changed course from northwest to west about an hour ago and the change in motion woke me up. The barograph trace is finally rising again after threatening to go off the bottom of the chart at 950hPa. We got down to about 953. Every now and then the ship ploughs into a wave so hard a shudder runs through the ship. This sets up a harmonic vibration which is particularly noticeable down towards the stern where my cabin is. The vibrations last 30 seconds or so. It is difficult to describe the sensation but “thud….boing boing boing boing boing boing” might give you some idea. I am now going to attempt a shower before breakfast.
Lunchtime Sunday: 60.34S 120.19E. Wind westerly 42kn, track westerly, Air temp 0C water temp 0.8C, snowing, maximum roll 30 degrees
We are still battling our way through this storm. Waves have been 12 to 15m high and the spray is coming off the tops in sheets. Still no ice since that sighting yesterday morning but with visibility only about a kilometre it is not surprising. The sun did appear for a while this morning and a couple of us were out on the helicopter deck watching the rainbows in the spray off the bow. Things should ease in the next 24 hours. I hope so, we are due in Casey on Tuesday although the forecast for Tuesday is for 50 to 60kn winds and blizzards. I wonder if Sydney is getting any summer yet?
At long last – an iceberg!!! Not big and too far away for a photo but it was an iceberg. Then a black-browed albatross soared round the stern between the ship and the berg, and to cap it off the sun came out. The wind has dropped to mere gale force now so lots of excitement to take to dinner.
As I write this I can see the second iceberg of the day out of my porthole. This is much bigger than the first one and has a flat top. I was out on the upper trawl deck with Gary from the WA Museum. We were discussing icebergs as Gary had missed the earlier one. We had a look over the side and there was the new one coming down the starboard side about a kilometre out. Allwe need now is an iceberg a bit closer and with reasonable light and it will be time to buy shares in Kodak. The ship is still rolling but the waves are smaller and the wind has dropped to below 30knots. We are back on track for Casey.
I watched a beautiful sunrise this morning. There is a low westerly swell and a wind of less than 10 knots. There are icebergs on both sides of the ship including a huge tabular berg off the port side. Looking at the sea this morning there is no sign of the storm we have battled for the last two days. Humpback whales were seen this morning but I missed them unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the ship. With any luck we should see more whales today. There are no whitecaps so any whales spouting will stand out.
Lunchtime Monday: 62.3S, 114.3E. Wind ENE 20kn, Air Temp 0C, water temp 0.2C, fine but cloudy, course southwest for Casey. Icebergs everywhere from stately tabular bergs kilometres long to moderate lumpy ones cleft with great fissures and caves to small bergy bits and growlers. I had no idea ice could have so many shades of blue and green. I am sure the photos I have taken will not do them justice. Old hands have been taking one or two photos while those of us seeing our first icebergs have been clicking away madly. We keep getting told they get better further
south but nothing is better than your first close-up iceberg. The sea is almost calm and it is easy walking round on deck now. I was out on the deck for about 45 minutes earlier with almost full cold weather gear on. The doctor came out to take a couple of pictures of a nearby iceberg and he was wearing a short sleeved shirt. After five minutes he did go back to his cabin and put on a furry hat before coming out again. Others were out on deck in t-shirts – but not for very long.
We should be in Casey late tomorrow.
We are now three hours behind Sydney and somewhere north of Casey. The weather is extremely fickle down here. An hour ago I was enthusing about the beautiful calm seas and moderate winds. Since then the cloud has come over, it’s snowing and the wind has picked up a bit. Not an iceberg in sight – but as the visibility is down to a kilometre that’s not surprising.
Ian Robertson from the Sydney office of the BoM is the forecaster at Davis this summer and he has been issuing forecasts for Casey. Tomorrow we can expect 60 to 70 knot winds and blizzards. Perhaps we won’t be in Casey tomorrow after all but running for cover. Col Christiansen, who is putting this page on the web for me, tells me he has put a link to the Casey webcam on the page. You will be able to have a look at the station on that. I don’t know the protocols of standing in front of the webcam with a sign saying “Hi Mum”, I expect it is frowned upon, but I’ll try to get an intrepid pic up here from Casey – if we ever get there.
6.30am Monday 1st February
Happy birthday to me! We are heading southeast with 55kn easterly winds making life interesting, visibility less than a kilometre and sheets of spray and foam covering the ocean. We are looking for the ice edge – it has to be there somewhere. We are nearly 65S, well south of the track along the ice edge on the last voyage but there is nothing to be seen.
Yesterday was amazing. So many icebergs wherever you looked. The first snow petrels, antarctic petrels and cape petrels of the voyage appeared. Lightmantled sooty albatrosses circled the ship as we sailed past enormous piles of ice. Some of the bergs looked like lumps of nougat broken off and dropped in the ocean while others which had rolled over exposing the smooth underside looked as though someone had been busy with a large economy size can of shaving cream. There were so many bergs around at one stage the radar screen seemed to have a nasty case of measles. The bridge was crowded most of the day, luckily it is a large bridge and the ship’s officers are a tolerant bunch.
Susan, a microbiologist, had her birthday yesterday and after dinner and a movie the evening moved to the bar – where it stayed for the next few hours. An intense darts match was on all night. I left the bar about 1.30 and went up to the bridge where the spotlights were lighting up the water ahead of the ship. The snow was driving horizontally across the deck and winds were over 50kn again. The officer on duty had turned the ship more into the wind which made the night more bearable for the more fragile.
Any SSSF people reading this will be pleased to know we have two cat killers on board, Sue and John. Their job is to shoot and trap cats on Macquarie Island. The program has been going a few years now and so far more than 1000 have been killed. The program to remove introduced species is going well. The wekas are gone, myxo has got the rabbit population down to about 5% of what it once was and now it is the cats’ turn. Already two species of bird that had never been recorded breeding on Macca before have now been so recorded. All dead cats have to be weighed, measured and have their stomach contents checked. Sue keeps the skins and the bodies are left for the skuas to clean up. She says she has quite a few skins now and might get a coat made.
Off to breakfast, lets hope we find the ice edge before lunch.
This storm is worse than the last one!. The big difference with this one is that we have to keep changing course to avoid icebergs so one minute we are heading into the waves and the next we are getting them broadside. The stabilisers are working overtime and there is an eerie whistle every time they cut in. I was in the video room earlier to pick a movie for tonight. Jeff, one of the American geologists was in there. There were videos scattered all over the floor. I started to help him pick them up when the ship hit another big roll and 400 videos flew out of the shelves in mighty cascade of colour and plastic. Simon, the deputy voyage leader came in and, although he couldn’t help as he had a radio sched, he rounded up some volunteers and we started sorting them and putting them back. Every video has a number so it is easy to find if it is in order on the shelf. Eventually, we had them all back in numerical order – then we changed course again to avoid another iceberg. The best rolls we have seen yet, 45 degrees in both directions had the whole ship’s company clutching at anything and anyone to stay upright. All the carpets bunched up at the ends of the corridors, everything not tied down went flying.
There are 400 videos all over the floor in the video room. We crept out andleft them there.
Lunchtime 1st Feb: 65.9S, 110.12E, wind ESE 50kn, air temp -3C, water temp -1C, heading ESE, hove to.
We are sitting here north northeast of the Petersen Bank, 68 nautical miles from Casey, head to the wind and waves and bobbing up and down going nowhere. We are going to stay like this for a while hoping the wind will ease. When it does, we will head west to get round the Petersen Bank and then southeast into Casey. No sign of the pack ice but there are a few icebergs still around. Visibility is next to nothing with the spray whipping off the tops of the waves. We are not expecting to be in Casey before tomorrow, someone suggested Friday might be a reasonable bet. I hope not, It will be good to get onto some firm ground again, even if it is frozen solid.
The wind is still blowing stronger than 40knots and we are still hove to north of Casey as they are getting 70 knot winds at the station. For the last few hours the ice has been increasing and there are now lots of ice floes drifting past with lumps of rotten sea ice carved into fantastic shapes by the sea and the wind. The first Adelie penguin has been seen. It was sitting on an ice floe and as the floe went past the ship, the penguin stood up and flapped its flippers at us. It is still overcast which is a shame as the ice would look brilliant in sunlight.
I had a big icecream birthday cake at dinner with three candles on it. They either ignored the rest or didn’t have enough candles. We have a compulsory briefing at 7pm about Casey and environmental issues. There are some areas out of bounds due to nesting birds and a few rules we have to adhere to. It will be useful information if we ever get to Casey.
During the night we turned south and then west in a big semicircle. We are now running smoothly through loose pack ice. The wind is still 40kn but the ice has quelled the swell. Petersen Bank is to the southwest of us and the huge icebergs grounded on it can be seen on the horizon. The sun is breaking through the overcast occasionally and the ice is dazzling.
Over the years I have seen many films and photographs of Antarctica but nothing prepares you for the immensity of the real thing. A film has borders and boundaries which the eye doesn’t. It is like seeing Uluru for the first time. You have no conception of the size of it until you see it. Eric and Phil, the birdos, have been up on the bridge for hours looking at seals and birds. I haven’t seen a seal yet but an ice floe with a large contribution of seal poo floated by my porthole just after I woke up. I saw an Emperor penguin out on the ice earlier and more Adelies. They are too far away for photos yet. The latest weather charts show the low pressure system moving at last so if things go as expected, we could be in Casey tomorrow.
I’m going back outside to watch the spectacle. Full gear, I think, it’s about -4C and blowing 40kn.
Great excitement! (Well it doesn’t take much to get us all excited as we trundle up and down through the loose pack). They put the krill net out about 6 o’clock this morning and after 4 hours of trawling to the east the net was hauled in 15 minutes ago. The upper trawl deck was crawling with photographers as the big black net emerged from the ocean. Finally the container at the end of the net arrived and was swung onto the deck. The marine biologists stood ready with an impressive array of buckets in which to sort the catch. The result? Nothing, not one! Worse than Forrest Gump and his first attempt at shrimping. I reckon we must have a pod of whales going along ahead of the ship cleaning up all the krill before we get to them. Or else we are fishing in the wrong place. Whatever. As we are still waiting for the winds to subside at Casey, we are going to do the run again so we are now heading west once more.
Thanks to everyone who sent me birthday greetings, they were much appreciated.
Lunchtime Wednesday: 65.35S 109.21E, wind E 30kn, Air temp -1.5C, water temp -1.5C, track southerly, loose pack ice.
It is indescribably beautiful out there. The sun has come out and the ice is glistening. Every piece of ice is worth a photograph. Majestic icebergs full of deep blues and mysterious caverns, ice floes gleaming white on their flat tops and green underwater, lumps of ice in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The snow petrels are constantly around, soaring in and out of the icy crags and swooping low over the open water. I’m heading back to the bridge with my camera to try to record a small part of it but no photo can capture the real thing. I just looked out of the porthole at a floe going past and six Adelies were on it looking straight back. We are close to the Petersen Bank now and the icebergs just get bigger and bigger.
More later, this is no time to be sitting in a cabin typing.
This has been the most amazing afternoon. Minke whales, crabeater, ross, weddell and leopard seals, emperor and adelie penguins and then, wonder of wonders, the wind dropped, it vanished, absolutely flat calm. We broke out of the pack ice into clear water dotted with a few small icebergs. As it was so calm we were allowed to go up to the bow. The engines could hardly be heard, the water was barely rippled and so clear you could see metres down. We followed some swimming adelies and we watched them under water and as they came up for air. The experience was magical out there this afternoon. Most people were talking in little above a whisper, it obviously affected everyone as it did me.
We are only 20nm from Casey and could get in tonight if we wanted to but evidently it is still snowing there and blowing a bit so we are going to stay out til 6am. I think we are going to do another krill trawl – all that wildlife must be eating something.
We’re there! Well, sort of. We continued south through the most amazing ice formations and broke into open water again near the biggest iceberg I have seen . It took nearly half an hour to steam past it and it was less than a kilometre away. At the end of the iceberg – land!! The Frazier Islands came up, our first sighting of Antarctica. After a talk about maps and the data base from Lee, which was very interesting, everyone charged off to vantage points for the first view of the mainland. It is cloudy out there and it was snowing lightly but not a breath of wind. I was up on the deck above the bridge as the cloud broke revealing the Antarctic plateau and the moraine line above Casey. We kept sailing closer and closer – we could see radio masts and the red shed. Then we did a 180 degree turn, dropped the trawl net and headed off into the southern ocean again. 6am they said, and 6am they mean! Not to worry, it is so calm all the anti-slip mats have been removed from the dining room. It is possible to shower without playing chase-the-water. I am not scheduled to go ashore tomorrow so I will be observing operations from the deck. I’ll give a full report in the morning.
I went out onto the trawl deck and about six people were standing round five buckets of seawater – which was the result of the krill trawl. They thought it was the same result as the first one earlier today. I was looking in one of the buckets and saw something move. It had two big black eyes and a translucent body about 2cm long and it was swimming around in the bucket. “What’s that”, I asked. Great excitement it was a krill, about one year old they estimate. In honour of the spotter, they have named it Steve and taken it away to the lab for investigation.
What, you might well ask, am I doing up at this ungodly hour. Simple, I haven’t been to bed yet. We had a great party in the Husky bar last night with various people contributing a carton. I’ll contribute one on behalf of the ANARE Club between Casey and Macca. The subject of haircuts came up and after more than $200 was raised from those assembled I submitted myself to
cat-killer Sue and her clippers. (The money, by the way, goes to Camp Quality, a charity for cancer kids). I have said I will wear the resulting hairstyle for a day or two, provided it is all taken off no later than the first day out of Casey. That will give it time to get to a reasonable length by the time I get home. I will endeavour to get a pic of it when I get ashore at Casey. The best way of describing it would be a double mohawk with a mini mullet.
I am on the ship all day today but I go ashore tomorrow but have to return to the ship. On Friday I go on a day trip to Wilkes, the first station in this area, which got snowed under and was abandoned about 1970. Then on Saturday I have a night ashore and back to the ship Sunday night.
One great advantage of being up at this hour was that I watched the sunrise over the continent. That was shortly after 3am. It doesn’t get totally dark at this time of year in these latitudes. We have an Iranian filmmaker on Board, Mani. Mani was on the deck above the bridge from the time he left the bar, around 2am, and is probably still up there. When Mani steps ashore at Casey he will be the first known Iranian national to set foot in Antarctica, provided he doesn’t freeze himself to death in the meantime.
Here we are, steaming away from Casey. We dropped anchor about 6 this morning with cloudy but windless weather. The barge came out from Casey about 7.15 with the Station Leader and a few others. The wind suddenly picked up and increased in strength. At 8am we were supposed to have a briefing by the SL but it was getting too risky to stay. They quickly identified those who had to go ashore on the first barge and off they went. We were under way before the barge left the ship. If the wind eases, we will return and take a second load off then start unloading the gear. If not, we will be back tomorrow.
A correction to the earlier report, the only people who went ashore were the station people who came out on the barge, there was some sort of mix-up with lifejackets. We are going to try again at 11.30. The master will not anchor the ship if the wind is over 30kn at the station so we are waiting for confirmation that the wind has dropped. It’s OK out here between the Frazier Islands and the mainland but we are sheltered. The seal count yesterday was 48 seals on the ice, 20 crabeaters, 8 weddells, 7 leopards, 4 ross and 9 unidentified. This is evidently a remarkable count for one day.
Still heading towards Casey, the red shed is clearly visible from my porthole in cabin D11. It looks as though the first party will get ashore soon but details of that will have to wait for tomorrow’s installment as this has to go out in the next five minutes or so. Sandra, the OH&S specialist, has started a campaign to Free Steve! (the krill we caught last night). Signs are appearing around the ship and we’ll probably see them all over Casey soon. Steve is alive and well and living in a tank in the marine biology lab.
4pm Wednesday 3 February
We got back to Casey just after I despatched the last report and the barge was on the way out to meet us before we dropped anchor. All the people staying and working at Casey went on the first barge together with the mail. I am due to go ashore tomorrow as long as the weather holds. It has been perfect today, the air is clear and crisp. Wilkes looks only a stone’s throw away and the station seems so close that I could swim there, were I so inclined.
The barge has been backwards and forwards all afternoon taking stores ashore and it will continue to do so through the night as long as the weather holds. Some people are staying out at Wilkes during the resupply. As the barge is being used for cargo hauling, transport to Wilkes is by Haglund. I watched two of them just now trundling across the ice and snow like mating yellow beetles. They can’t go straight round the coast but must make a wide diversion inland as there is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) just east of the station. No-one is allowed in there without a permit from the Antarctic Division issued before sailing. There are mosses growing in the area that must be protected. The last thing they need is caterpillar tracks or clodhopping expeditioners trampling all over them.
Among the round-trippers is Senator Ross Lightfoot who has a special interest in Antarctic matters. I have had a number of interesting conversations with him about, among other things, linguistics, aborigines and politics (of course). He is a Liberal from WA but no-one is perfect.
I am going ashore at 8am so I’ll have to get ready this evening and make my own cut lunch to take with me. Those of us still aboard spent most of the evening – and long evenings they are too, the sun has only just set – up above the bridge. Blue skies with just a few wisps of cirrus and lenticular altocumulus and not a breath of wind. We took photos in all directions and watched the unloading operations. They finished at 9pm but had made about 20 trips by then. I’ll send this report from the station and attach a couple of pictures.
Those of you in Sydney can tune into 2UE at 4.45pm tomorrow (Friday), I’ll be having a chat with Mike Carlton. If I get the opportunity to add to this tomorrow I will but otherwise the report on my first day ashore will have to wait until I get back to the ship tomorrow night.
Ashore at Casey, clear blue skies and not a breath of wind. More tonight.
I’m back on board the ship and have just finished dinner. I had a great day ashore today, climbed Reeves Hill and walked up to Penguin Pass – real intrepid, Scott-of-the-Antarctic stuff through ice and snow. I had a chat to Mike Carlton this afternoon on 2UE. I was even able to get on the internet and have a look at this page. I was most impressed and my thanks to Col Christiansen who is doing all the work.
About 4pm Marilyn, the Station Leader was looking for a few people to unload containers as they came up. Certain stores cannot be left out in the cold overnight. A squad of us walked down to the green store and waited. Someone produced a football and we spent a pleasant 45 minutes playing kick to kick. Just as the containers to be unloaded arrived, the Hagglunds to the wharf was ready to leave with those who were returning to the ship. I had to leave just as the work started, most unfortunate.
Casey is a lovely station. It doesn’t look much from the main street – big coloured boxes surrounded by grey rock and dirty snow, but sitting on the deck in front of the red shed looking down across the bay to Wilkes, the plateau rising to your right and the Frazier Islands in the distance with icebergs sparkling in a sea so calm they are mirrored, one can be quite content and at peace with the world.
There is a South Polar Skua named Linda who sits outside the red shed. She has been around for a year or more and always comes down when people gather outside. She has learnt that such gatherings often mean barbecues and barbecues mean food. Evidently she has been known to swoop down and steal a steak off a plate being carried and once even walked across the hotplate to snaffle a sausage.
So far I have sold 29 sets of postcards and expect to sell the rest ,tomorrow as all the Casey people want them. I should be able to sell a lot of stuff there as I am staying overnight. There is a reasonable amount of interest in the Club itself and I have been extolling the benefits of membership. Marilyn asked for some membership forms which I gave her but I’ll get a few to sign up tomorrow. I’ll get the round trippers and the Macca people when we leave Casey.
Tomorrow I go to Wilkes.
Ashore again. We had to be ready to leave the ship at 7.30 this morning. I knew there had to be an ulterior motive. I don’t go to Wilkes til this afternoon. In the meantime, there are containers to unload. This is the third straight day of perfect weather. There is hardly a ripple on the bay.
Coming ashore this morning, we saw that there were one or two new icebergs in the bay each with a complement of Adelies. I don’t know if I will get to see one close up as the only way to get to Shirley Island is by boat – and the boats only hold two at a time. We shall see. I will be overnight in Wilkes tonight but should be able to get a report away when I get back tomorrow.
Sunday 6 Feb, 6.15pm, fine and sunny, on board the Aurora
I am back on board. I could have stayed ashore tonight but felt like a bit of peace and quiet. Yesterday morning was spent unloading containers before getting the Hagglunds round to Wilkes. A Hagglunds is an extremely uncomfortable, noisy, oversnow vehicle. It has a front cabin that seats the driver and four or five passengers at a pinch and a trailer that can seat about ten without baggage. We had four and a load of baggage and equipment in the trailer as we took off through Penguin Pass and round the coast.
We made the obligatory photo stops on the way round til we came to the Wilkes tip. For those who don’t know the history of this area, Wilkes was established in 1956 by the Americans for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) as were many other Antarctic stations. In 1959 the station was handed over to the Australians . The huts began to get snowed under and it was a major task to keep access to the huts year round. In 1968 the replacement station, Repstat was built on the other side of the bay. It was an innovative design for an Antarctic station with all the huts in a line up the hill connected by a corridor with a curved side that faced the prevailing wind. The station was commissioned as Casey in 1969. Twenty years later, rust and general debilitation of the buildings, together with the recognition that the design was not such a good idea, led to the construction of the new Casey a few hundred metres from the first. Most of the Wilkes buildings are now under the snow with just their roofs showing at this time of year. The old transmitter hut, which has not succumbed to the ice, has been converted to the Wilkes Hilton and is used as a base for scientific studies and short holidays by the Casey expeditioners.
The tip, or tips, are spread out along the approach road to Wilkes. All the garbage from 13 to 14 years of habitation is dumped there. There are, for instance, over 1000 oil drums, many of them still full of stuff like anti-freeze, benzene, diesel and kerosene. Many of these are leaking. In the tip are old batteries and many sources of heavy metals which leach into the bay. While the tips at the moment provide continuous but minor contamination of the bay, cleaning them up could release more poisons into the water. Garbage specialists like Rick who is currently at Casey and John who is on the ship with us, are assessing the problem and trying to work out a plan to remove the rubbish. As well as environmental concerns there are heritage concerns. Old garbage dumps are full of artefacts so archeologists have to work hand in hand with the garbos. Over at Casey in Thala Valley is another dump. Some of the rubbish there has been removed but it is estimated that there are 150 container loads still to be shifted. The ship can take 27 containers of rubbish a year – and that includes all the rubbish from the current station as well. Everything that can be is brought back to Australia today. Enough on the garbage.
We were dropped off at the Wilkes Hilton where we left our bags and wandered down over the snow through the old station. Immediately to the left on a hill is the fibreglass dome that used to house the Met radar. Further to the left is another hill with two graves right on the top. The graves are those of two Australians who died at Wilkes. The white crosses stand out against the skyline and can be seen from Casey as well as Wilkes. To the right is a large Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Permits are required to enter the site and as we didn’t have permits we were not allowed there. The SSSI is primarily for the preservation of mosses and lichens but it also contains a large Adelie penguin rookery which we were not allowed to visit because of the SSSI restrictions.
I had given up on ever getting a photo of an Adelie when down near the water there were four of them. I crept down and sat on a rock about 5 metres away and took photos. They were extremely cooperative. When I had used up a roll or two of film I walked back towards Wilkes and saw John the Garbo and Steve the Artist. I showed them where the birds were and went to find Pam who was representing the Antarctic Friends and Families Association (in the old days it was the Antarctic Wives Association). Pam came down as well and more photos were taken. The birds then walked up the coast. Off shore was an ice floe with about twenty Adelies on it drifting along.
After all the excitement, Pam and I walked back to the Hilton for a cup of tea. Most of the others staying the night were there so Pam and I volunteered to cook while they finished their work. There was a radio sched at 7pm so we agreed to have dinner ready by then – and it was. However, after the radio sched, chairs were taken outside onto a huge snow bank in front of the hut, gin and tonics were poured and we sat outside enjoying the early evening sun and the view of the icebergs on Petersen Bank. Eventually we went inside to eat. Outside the hut and round the corner is the dunny. Solids and liquids are kept separate and all solid refuse is bagged and returned to Casey as is all rubbish from the site. Urine and grey water (washing up water etc) are currently disposed of locally but will soon also be returned to Casey for proper disposal. The dunny itself is a handsome green box with windows set up on stilts so a flight of three or four steps is required to reach the door.
All water at Wilkes comes from melted snow and it is a regular task to co out and dig another bucketful. Snow for clean water, you will be pleased to hear, does not come from the area where dirty water is disposed of.
After dinner, there was a solar eclipse. We went for a walk up to the graves. Not a breath of wind and the partial eclipse seemed to intensify the yellow of the setting sun. The icebergs and ice cliffs gleamed gold against a sea of greens and blues. Pam saw a whale in a small bay below the hill on which we were standing. Closer investigation showed it to be a rock with the breaking waves from the incoming tide looking like the spout of a whale. We decided that we had a new species, the Southern Rock Whale and in that light and in those conditions, no-one will know it wasn’t alive. The sun was still in eclipse as it dipped below the horizon and we all retired to the hut for a glass or two of port before bed. There were nine of us in the hut which has bunks for six but plenty of mattresses for sleeping on the floor.
Just after we had settled down, the radio blared into life. The eclipse had produced a king tide and the barge and the Uni-float (a pontoon raft) were coming ashore down at the wharf which was well under water by this time. They managed to stop them sinking but not without loss of sleep for the crews who had already worked a 16 hour day and had another one to follow.
This morning we pottered around. Keith from the WA Museum explained the work he is doing to preserve ice bound buildings by using sublimation to get rid of the ice and natural freeze drying to preserve the artefacts. The method is looking very effective and after further study may be the right way to preserve Mawson’s Hut, for instance. The Hagglunds arrived and Pam and I went back to Casey where I pottered around for the rest of the day.
I rang my sister, Mary, for her birthday but she was out. When I rang back later the phone was perpetually engaged. I’ll send her an email instead.
On the wall in the red shed are the photographs of all the expeditions to Wilkes and both the old and new Caseys. The first photo from Wilkes is of the 1959 party and there was Harry Alderdice. Harry taught me to use the pilot-balloon slide rule thirty-odd years ago. He died recently and permission has been granted to scatter Harry’s ashes at Wilkes. This was supposed to happen on this voyage but it will now be the next one. Besides Harry, it was great to see some familiar faces up there like Col Christiansen, Mal Kirton, Chris Gamgee, John Gillies, Kenn Batt, Denise Allen, Richard Stephen, Trevor Olrog and, of course, the ubiquitous Chompers Currie who first scored in 1963 at Wilkes and was up again for the third or fourth time in 1998 (with numerous visits to Mawson, Davis and Macquarie in between).
I decided to come back on board rather than stay ashore and we should be sailing for Macca tomorrow afternoon. After the first day ashore, by the way, I had the remaining hair on my head removed. I was not going to have every photo of me in Antarctica looking even more silly with that haircut. I am now bald.
I spent a fair bit of time in the Met Office at Casey looking at the equipment they have there. I will be writing an article for Aurora when I return and Mal Kirton asked me to have a look at the changes in meteorology in Antarctica over the years. I was most impressed with the modern office but you will have to wait for my Aurora article for the details.
Resupply in many ways is easier than it used to be with everything in containers. This is OK if the containers are going ashore as they were on this trip. Some resupplies are done by helicopter – Macquarie Island for instance – and every container has to be opened and emptied and the contents weighed into individual loads. There is much more involved in the resupply today as well, all waste, garbage etc is returned to Australia or burned in a high temperature incinerator. There are no garbage tips any more. All rubbish is separated for reuse or recycling.
One huge gripe! (I’m entitled to one, I haven’t complained about anything else) The boots issued for the Antarctic are great – they are warm and comfortable and have a good grip on ice, snow and rock – but you must remove your boots before entering a building and they are lace-up boots. Most of the people down there shorten the laces and tie them off so that the boots become slip-ons but that means that the foot is not held assecurely as it should be. For us JAFOs who have to give the boots back at the end of the voyage, such lace shortening is not an option. Surely it would be possible to design a boot that holds the foot securely but at the same time is easy to get into and out of. I am not a boot maker but even Velcro would be better than laces. I will leave that to the experts at the Division but something needs to be done.
I heard a story while I was ashore. A scientist had a piece of equipment that wasn’t working so he took it to one of the techs. “Only trouble is”, said the scientist, “it’s a sealed unit”. “In Antarctica”, replied the tech, “there is no such thing as a sealed unit”, and promptly fixed the equipment. That attitude towards Antarctic ingenuity and survival was there with Mawson and Shackleton, it was there on the first ANARE in 1947/48, it was there in 1972 on Macquarie when I was south and I was delighted to see it is still there in 2000.
Lunchtime Tuesday 8th (I think) February. 64.18S 113.55E, wind N 15kn, Air and sea temp -0.5C, course ENE 14kn
We left Casey yesterday at 6pm and sailed through the pack ice overnight. This morning we were in open sea with just the odd iceberg around and a flock of snow petrels following the ship. There are more people on board now as we picked up more from Casey than we left behind. I am sharing a cabin with Geoff Fulton, otherwise known as Beacon, who was the Senior Observer in the Met office over the summer.
We had a muster on the heli-deck this morning for the ex-Casey people particularly as many of them haven’t been on the Aurora before but came down on the Kapitan Khlebnikov (the KK) a Russian ship that was chartered for the occasion. The KK took in the fuel as it could get through much thicker ice than the Aurora.
The forecast is for reasonable weather for the next few days and we are going at a good pace for Macquarie. I was talking to the Master this morning and he thinks we should get into Macca at 6am on the 13th and leave 2 hours later so there is no chance of going ashore.
9am 9th Feb
It is surprising how quickly one settles back into shipboard routine. We are churning through the ocean which is a millpond compared with the maelstrom we fought on the way down. I think we have seen the last of the icebergs, there were a few around early this morning but we haven’t seen one for an hour or two.
Yesterday afternoon, Murray the first mate was on the bridge steering a zigzag course to bring us close to various icebergs. Every one is a different shape and they still generate hundreds of photos even after we have seen so many. One looked like the millennial dome in London. How it got such a beautifully curved top I have no idea.
With the calm weather, whale spotting is easier and we saw two pods of minke whales and one lone whale suspected of being a sperm whale but it didn’t hang around long enough for positive identification. The shearwaters are back with us. Evidently they can fly from Tasmania to the ice edge in less than three days.
The movie marathon has started again and the days are spent, as always, eating, reading, sleeping, eating, watching movies, eating, watching for whales and birds on the bridge, eating, playing darts in the bar, drinking and eating with the occasional excursion outside for a cigarette. Tonight there is a tattoo party in the bar. Whether we are supposed to show off those we have or acquire one or two, no-one seems too sure, we’ll have to wait and see.
Lunchtime Wednesday. 62.2S, 124.7E, wind NW 8kn, air and sea temp 1C, heading ENE 11kn
I spoke too soon about the last of the icebergs, two very impressive bergs passed us close on the starboard side in the last hour and there are more on the horizon. If this calm weather continues, there is talk of deck tennis and quoits. Perhaps some golf driving practice or skeet shooting off the stern. A suggestion that shearwater shooting might be fun brought some stern looks. Some people have no sense of humour. A couple of us are going to start looking for auroras tonight if it is clear enough. It was never dark enough at Casey to see stars let alone auroras so now we are in slightly lower latitudes we’ll have a look.
Lunchtime 10th Feb:59.54S, 136.12E. Temp 1C, water temp 2C, wind light.
I am making no more predictions about “last” icebergs. We all decided that the one we saw just before dinner last night was the last but when I woke up this morning, there was another one to the northwest. They are getting few and far between though.
Obviously we did our penance on the way down with those two ferocious storms. The wind hasn’t got above 10 knots since we left Casey. Blue skies, deep blue sea and we are cruising along at 14knots. If it wasn’t for the temperature we could be on a Pacific island cruise.
The tattoo party was a great success with cat-killer Sue and Steve the artist providing excellent artwork. I have a mermaid on my forearm but much more lavish decoration was on display last night. Cat-killer John has a dartboard with a cat’s head on it pierced by three darts on his back. Simon the deputy voyage leader has the Aurora Australis on his. Sue has a huge green, pink and orange iguana down her spine, courtesy of Steve, while Pete the American Geo had his dark hair cut short, sculpted and dyed and sports a fine pink and green goanna on the right side of his head. At least it was supposed to be a goanna but it looks more like a gecko. I don’t think anyone was unmarked by the end of the night. Rodney, another round tripper, has an impressive maori-type “tattoo” on his face. I haven’t seen him this morning so I don’t know if he has been able to remove the texta yet.
With this fine weather we should be in Macca late Saturday or early Sunday for a quick turnaround then Hobart late 16th/early17th by the latest estimates.
Lunchtime Friday 11th. 57.36S 146.36E, heading ENE 16kn, wind light, air and sea about 2C
We are surging through the ocean towards Macquarie Island at 16/17 knots with both engines roaring. A great rooster tail of water rises behind the trawl deck. If it wasn’t so cold we could go water skiing. We are aiming to be in Hobart on Wednesday morning so we have to make up some of the time we lost in the two great storms on the way down. It is so calm you would not believe it was the same ocean – but there is a long way to go yet and Macca has notoriously bad weather.
The movie marathon continues. I stayed up til breakfast watching videos last night with two or three other diehards. We had a break between films for midnight chompers/munchies -, cups of coffee/tea/milo/hot chocolate and a smoke. There was also some aurora viewing as we got one last night. It wasn’t too clear earlier because of the cloud but by midnight it was a quiet arc across the heavens. We’ll go out aurora hunting again tonight.
I think I can safely say now that the iceberg I saw at breakfast yesterday was the last one. They have been seen on occasion from Macca but in the winter rather than this time of year.
The turnaround at Macca is expected to be no more than three hours with no-one going ashore who is not necessary. If anyone does go ashore who is returning to the ship I will give them my camera as I want a couple of photos – one of the memorial to Keith Andrews who died during my year on the island, and the other of the Nella Dan memorial.
It seems we are to have a barbecue on the trawl deck tonight. We missed the Australia Day BBQ on the way down because of the weather. There should be no excuses today.
Less than 200nm to Macquarie (correct figure at lunchtime). Grey skies, grey seas and grey petrels this morning. The barbecue yesterday was a great success. The ship slowed a little to make it more comfortable and we are travelling slower today than yesterday. The aim is to drop anchor at 6am tomorrow. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon yesterday with wandering, shy and black-browed albatrosses around the stern as we all gathered on the trawl deck. We were discussing great trivia questions yesterday and one that came up is “Who were the three shortest serving Australian Prime Ministers?” I said it was Frank Forde, Earl Page and Artie Fadden. Phil Smart, the Observations Inspector from Tas reckons that Black Jack McEwan should replace Artie Fadden. Senator Ross Lightfoot is going to check it for us. When he does, Phil will owe $10 to Camp Quality.
There was another aurora last night. The sky was clear and as well as the aurora there was a magnificent display of stars. At least the sky is looking a bit more typical Macquarie now but it is still very smooth sailing. The wind has risen above 10 knots but we haven’t hit 20knots at any stage since leaving Casey – so different from the voyage down.
Lunchtime 55.27S, 156.3E, wind SE 23kn, air temp 3.5C, water temp 7.5C, sleeting
About 100nm to Macquarie Island. We are evidently going to sail round the island tonight and drop anchor at 6am. I intend to be up early to watch the sunrise. There are a lot of Macca birds around now, lots of prions and albatrosses and even penguins porpoising through the sea. We also had a white phase giant petrel a few minutes ago. Evidently Macca has a higher percentage of white phases among the breeding population than anywhere else in the world.
The wind has come up and we have crossed the Antarctic Convergence as can be seen by the sea temperature. The weather is “typical Macquarie” – cold, wet and windy. I was getting worried for a while with all that fine weather!
It seems odd to be talking about midwinter in February, but the Sydney midwinter’s dinner will be at Parramatta Leagues Club which, I am informed, is now advertising on prime time TV. The NSW Branch Council met this week and preparations are well under way. I am looking forward to the Call of the Years this year. I get to stand up for 2000 then sit back and relax til 1972 comes up. I was wondering who has got the longest break between voyages. 28 years is not bad but I am sure there are longer stretches out there.
We have just changed course and are heading north. The island is 6nm to the east and showing up clearly on the radar but with this gloom of low cloud and rain we can’t see it. As we turned we were joined by nine black-browed albatrosses which are soaring round the ship. We should drop anchor at 5am so I will be up early to have a good look.
The lights of the ANARE station are off the starboard side. We are currently heading east between North Head and the Judge and Clerk Islands doing a bathymetric survey. This will continue through the night until we sail into Buckles Bay at dawn. The wind has dropped and we are hoping for a southwesterly tomorrow which will provide the best protection. I have set the alarm for 4am so I get a good view in the dawn light. It is more than half my lifetime ago that I last saw the island and even though we will only be there a short time, I don’t want to miss a minute.
I didn’t go to bed last night. I stayed up watching videos til about 4.30 then went down to the trawl deck and watched the dark island loom out of the mist and rain. As the sun rose so the birds joined us. Flocks of prions, royal penguins galore sitting on the water or porpoising alongside the ship, giant petrels and cormorants, skuas and cape petrels and the ever present albatrosses wheeling round the ship, often so close you could almost reach out and touch them.
The sun broke through the cloud and the grey turned to green against the deep blue of the sea. Familiar landmarks stood out as we sailed along the east coast. The pyramid rocks at the Nuggets with the royal penguin colonies high on the hills behind. The king penguin colony at Sandy Bay which didn’t exist when I was last here – nor did the small colony at Gadget’s Gully. The Red River waterfall was a white streak against the green of the tussock and the great cleft of Green Gorge glowed in a shaft of sunlight.
Unfortunately the wind is still blowing about 30 to 40 knots and it is too dangerous to try to land. We have even been round to the west coast for a look at Hasselborough Bay. We came in so close I could see the elephant seals on the beach. Now we are off round North Head again to look at Buckles Bay as the rain squalls blot out the hills and whip white caps and spray off the sea. The cat-killers and the American geos have been ready since dawn to jump in the zodiacs as soon as it is safe to launch them. When we arrived in late November 1971, we sailed up and down for two days before we were able to land. I sincerely hope the same thing doesn’t happen this time.
The island has lost none of its mystery and beauty. There are a few more buildings at the ANARE station and a new hut at Brothers Point we can see from the ship but otherwise it looks just as it did when I first saw it. I remember all the trips down the island, the rocks I scrambled over, the seal wallows, the tussock grass and the featherbed round Handspike Point. We were so close to Handspike half an hour ago it looked close enough to jump over and swim ashore. As one of only three people on board to have wintered on Macquarie (the other two are cat-killers) I am being asked about the view by lots of those on board including the birdos who have only been to the north end.
More later. By the way, Steve the krill is still alive and well in a tank in the cold lab.
Great excitement for a while. About 10am we headed straight into Buckles Bay where it was relatively calm. Two zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats) came out and delivered a cardboard box. They then returned to shore and brought two of the departing summer party with them who came aboard. They returned to shore with two of the three cat-killers, Sue and Eddy. Since then the wind has come up again and they are trying to find a more sheltered spot on the shore to launch the boats. The waves are not such a big problem out where we are but there is a nasty surf running which causes problems, particularly getting off the beach. We will see how things develop.
2pm Sunday 13th Feb
Like something from legend, the Isle of Macquarie vanished into the mists from which it emerged this morning. The grey, wind wracked sky merged with the leaden sea and all trace of the mystical island disappeared. Only the seabirds circling the ship and the penguins dashing through the water give any indication of the presence of land.
In the last two hours, the zodiacs worked hard bringing four more people aboard and taking the last three ashore followed by ten loads of cargo in each direction – mail, samples and equipment mainly. No-one got ashore who was not staying there so I was unable to get the pictures I wanted of the memorials on the rock but I will email Pete the geo, who is coming to Sydney in six weeks, to take them for me.
Next stop Hobart. The plan is for early Wednesday morning but as we lost a bit of time at Macquarie it might be later in the day. It depends a lot on the weather between here and Tassie.
Lunchtime 14 February 50.28S, 154.28S
We are about to go into the roaring forties again with no more sign or rough weather than we had on the way down The ship is rolling a bit in the westerly swells but the sun is shining every now and then. We had our last muster on the heli deck this morning. The attention to complete cold weather gear was not as strict as it was further south. It seems rather silly to be parading in full Antarctic clothing at a latitude south the same as London is north – or maybe it says more about London.
I ran into Dale Main on board yesterday. He had joined us at Macquarie. The last time I saw Dale was at a midwinter dinner at Macquarie University in Sydney when he played Agatha in our production of Cinderella. I played Gertie, the other ugly sister, in the same show.
Tomorrow we hand in all our Antarctic clothing. It will be reissued to future expeditioners. I still have the jacket I wore for a year on Macquarie and I brought it with me. It is less cumbersome than the big yellow Antarctic jacket so I wore it often except when I was ashore.
Two more entries to go in this log. We are now expecting to arrive in Hobart at 10.30am on Wednesday.
“Set up and tighten bowsing-in tackles, release tricing pennants and secure toggle painter”.That, I have just learnt, is step four in the instructions to launch the lifeboats. I just hope that those in charge of my lifeboat know the difference between a tricing pennant and a toggle painter because I certainly don’t.
Tuesday 15th February 2.30pm
We are now speeding at 16knots plus on both engines, about 200 nautical miles from Hobart. The aim is still 7.30am in Hobart tomorrow. If it is later than that they will have to serve breakfast. This, therefore, will be the last episode of the intrepid exploits of an ageing Antarctician until I return to Sydney and describe the homecoming of Voyage Five. The roaring forties are not living up to their name yet again. There are grey seas and skies but few whitecaps and the ship has been accompanied by albatrosses all day – wanderers, shy, black-browed and my first Bullers albatross. There was a pod of twenty pilot whales earlier and a large sunfish was seen basking on the surface.
All my Antarctic clothing has been handed in, apart from items such as thermal underwear, and we are wondering what specialities will be on offer for our last dinner aboard. I think I will wear a collar and tie tonight.
The whole trip has been fascinating. After all this time, I have finally seen the continent of Antarctica. I have seen the great icebergs, the fields of ice floes and the wildlife that others speak of in awe. I have experienced the church-like quiet and the screaming winds of the coldest continent. I have stood on the deck of a ship at night with sea spray turning to ice as it lands on the deck while overhead the aurora weaves across a sky festooned with stars upon stars. I have seen again the green hills and cliffs of Macquarie Island, larger and more mysterious than my memories allowed.
I have spoken to many people over the years about Antarctica. There are those who have been down many times. Those who hanker after the “old days” as though there was something special about the privations of the earlier explorers. There are those who keep going back because it is the Antarctic itself which is the magnet. What of the modern expeditions?
The people who serve with ANARE today are exactly the same as those I went south with 28 years ago and, I suggest, exactly the same as those who went with Mawson and Shackleton. Individually they are different of course and a large number today are women but the enthusiasm and the sense of adventure are the same. The environment hasn’t changed. It might be more comfortable in the red shed at Casey than it was in the old Casey or Wilkes but that is as it should be. Communications have improved with everyone having instant telephone and email access, rather than radio telephones and morse code. This is superficial. The continent or the island can kill just as quickly and just as easily today as at any time in the past. The cold, the wind, the cliffs, the crevasses are still there. They have killed in the past and will again in the future. Mistakes are not forgiven.
Perhaps the greatest change is the appreciation of the environment. All rubbish is removed. Nothing is discharged from the ships. All oil spills are notifiable and a spill of more than 200 litres is notifiable, internationally. The removal of waste from years gone by will be a concern for ANARE for many years to come. Recycling and re-use are the norm, as is the reduction of waste by improving packaging. We used to feed old eggs to the skuas. The threat of Newcastle disease in the Antarctic bird population is taken seriously today and no poultry products are allowed off the station and certainly never dumped where birds such as skuas can get to them. Every new building, every new project has to take into account the environmental impact. There are waste managers, aesthetics assessors and environmentalists of all descriptions employed these days to make sure that our impact on Antarctica is as small as possible.
The Antarctic Division is doing a great job with great skill. After more than 50 years, the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions are still leading the way in many areas of Antarctic study and management. While I was merely an insignificant JAFO on Voyage 5, it was great to be part of ANARE again.
I would like to thank the Director of the Antarctic Division for making the berth available to a representative of the ANARE Club and to thank the Club for selecting me to represent it on this voyage.
I have taken many photographs which I will share with friends and family when I get home but they only go a small way towards representing what I have seen. Those who have seen Antarctica know what I mean. Words and pictures cannot capture one scan of the horizon. It is too big, too awesome, too majestic. It is an experience I will never forget