Club Representative Voyage Reports, 2001 (Part 2)
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Day 21, Saturday 3/3:
Today was a quiet day enroute to Zhong Shan, past the many icebergs probably remnants of the Amery Ice Shelf. We are supposed to reach the Larsmann Hills area at 9 am tomorrow morning. There are three bases in the area a few km from each other, Law Base (Australian summer), Progress (Russian), and Zhong Shan (China).
Day 22, Sunday 4/3:
Spent most of the morning pushing through fairly open packice with pancake ice forming in the newly frozen patches. The ship stopped in open water about 5 km from the shore as this area is not very well charted. The barges were put over the side, the deck rolled back and the two helicopters were extracted from the hold, also the container of CHINARE supplies, then the decks were rolled back and the helicopters assembled. The first flights were for the barge men to assess the possibility of landing the caterpillar D5 tractor at Progress station, unfortunately the bay where their landing place was jammed with packice so the tractor will have to go to Davis. The next trips were wire cages of the CHINARE fellows luggage and some of our people to Law Base. The CHINARE expeditioners were fitted with survival suits and flown in to their base two at a time. When this transfer was completed the wire cages and netting slings were used to fly the contents of the container, which was emptied by the old manual labour type of operation I was familiar with 34 years ago and I feel the aches more now than I did in my youth.
Day 24, Tuesday 6/3:
We were up early to load the frozen food into a cage pallet from the ship's reefer, it had to be brought up by hand from several decks below. The perishables, vegetables and fruit were loaded into nets. It was a nice sunny day and very pleasant out on the deck waiting for next helicopter load as we did not want the vegetables to be outside the warm reefer for too long in case they froze. The ship wove its way amongst the giganatic bergs while we waited. The last lot of more delicate vegetables, lettuces and tomatoes were flown inside the cabin of the helicopter. Some aerial photography was done while the sun was shining then loads of rubbish and empty 100 litre drums from Law Base were flown back to the ship and loaded into half height containers for disposal in Hobart. Some of the equipment returned was two almost new Skidoos.
When the rubbish run was completed the returning CHINARE 2000 expeditioners luggage was flown out to the ship and stored in the E-container vacated by the 2001 crew. The expeditioners followed two at a time, we had to help them to quickly get out of their survival suits so they could go back for use by another pair.
The helicopters went ashore with Christian Gallagher and Ash the helicopter mechanic as passengers to spend the night at Law Base then tomorrow fly back to the Amery Ice Shelf to recover some GPS equipment and some Automatic Weather Stations that had been part of a recent project. They will then fly on to Davis, where we are now heading, before it became dark.
ETA Davis 9 am tomorrow.
Day 25, Wednesday 7/3:
The Polar Bird arrived after breakfast at Davis station in the Vestfold Hills area, a very large area of ice free rocky outcrops comprising of low rolling hills with several fjords penetrating deeply inland. The surface is covered with loose glacial rubble.
The weather has been fine for the last few days enabling the sea to begin freezing over. The ship cut a parallel slot through the new ice to the anchorage point about 1000 metres from the shore. This new ice was up to 400 millimeters thick in parts making it difficult for the barge to get to the shore. The ship's boat "Chicken" was unloaded into the ice loaded with the mail and essential passengers then proceeded to break this new ice into smaller pieces that the barge could push through. Mick Davidson was at the helm repeatedly charging the thicker flows to make a passage to the shore.
The wind and tide constantly closed the broken areas making constant work for the small boat, the wharf area had thicker ice which eventually yielded to the "Chicken" attack.
The first run ahore for other passengers was after lunch. The Davis accommodation and mess areas are quite different design to the Mawson Red Shed all in one building. The living quarters are linked by a covered bridge to the kitchen, mess, lounge, library, theatrette and bar complex. A different firm of architects must have done the planning!
The old original 1957 station still stands on the foreshore with an assortment of newer model work buildings behind them. The old Met section is overshadowed by the large new structure, at one end of the shoreline. The Operations building housing the radio office, post office and the station leaders office, overlooks the large loading area and wharf. The access road from the wharf pass the locals sunbathing on the beach.
The high ground behind the station area has a number of heli pads and an observation deck complete with seats. This overlooks the station lakes which had partial fences around them which I thought was to keep the seals out but later learned it was to encourage snow drift build-up on the lake to increase the water level when it melted. Nearby on the high ground was the new LIDAR building, behind the UAP building.
The LIDAR fires a very intense beam of light up into the sky and measures the photons that have been reflected by particles in the atmosphere between 50 and 150 km above. The wave lenght shift from the reflections at different altitudes will be analysed to measure the speed of the high altitude winds. The laser was turned on later at night but due to a confusion about the time it would be on I missed it. The picture was taken during earlier trials. Back to the ship through the frozen sea, as the small boat charged through the ice as chunks up to the sizer of dinner plates went skidding across the surface away from the boat as shock waves shot through the surface waves underneath the ice lifted it up flexing it like plastic sheet before the highest peaks cracked through letting the boat continue.
Day 26, Thursday 8/3:
Last night more new ice formed between the ship and the shore, some was carried in from further along the coast. I was told that under ideal conditions the ice can grow at 25 mm each 24 hours for a few days before it starts to slow down. If we had arrived a week later I do not think the barge would have been able to get ashore, but then one never knows down here, a storm may come and blow it all away.
I went ashore early to look at several areas more closely. The first was the LIDAR, a group of us were shown around the facility by Malcolm Lambert who will be conducting experiments with the equipment during the year. At the moment it is firing directly overhead but with a bit more work it will be able to be lined up to work in co-axial mode and steered around to measure the speed and direction of the high atmospheric winds above the station. A green coloured laser is pulsed at 50 times a second then amplified by a special optical amplifier reflected through an angled mirror into two curved mirrors to make a confocal telescope to shine the collimated beam of light high into the sky. The same mirrors focus the incoming light through a spectrometer on to the detector. The very sensitive photon detector in the receiver section measures the light reflected from gas particles 50 to 150 km above the earth. The electonics can control the spectrometer and analyse whether the particles are moving away from or towards the detector measuring the speed and direction of the upper atmospheric winds.
The specialised equipment has taken a number of years to build up. The main optics parts are mounted on a large concrete base fixed to the bedrock, the building housing the electronic equipment is physically isolated from the base but sealed from the outside weather and maintained at a constant temperature. The top section is covered by a roof which can be rolled back when the weather is suitable for measurements. The mirrors that make the telescope in the top section are kept at ambient temperature but sealed along the edges of the roof to keep out the dust, as Davis has a very extensive crushed rock road network and the LIDAR is also near the helipads.
On the way back to the wharf the natives were a lot more vocal and active practicing their fighting techniques for when they try to take over a harem from some old beachmaster.
Back to the ship early to avoid the final rush, the trip back breaking more ice, which had enclosed the side of the ship where the unloading and backloading operations had been taking place, this had closed in as soon as we went through, so the rest of the backloading had to be done from the other side of the ship where there was still open water.
Eventually the helicopters were flown aboard and stowed in the hold, the barges lifted aboard, and a lifeboat drill to acquaint the new passengers with the procedures.
Long loud toots on the ships horn signalled our departure at around 9.30 pm local, several smoke flares and parachute flares hung in the sky as the 2001 Davis party said farewell.
It was a slow and bumpy night as the captain broke through the hands of packice heading for heard Island.
Day 27, Friday 9/3:
After negotiating the packice around Davis during the night, with a few crashes and bangs when the ship hit larger floes, we headed north towards Heard Island. There were still many icebergs, of all shapes and sizes visible. The ship has begun to pitch and roll noticeably.
Day 28, Saturday 10/3:
The icebergs are few and far between now, the weather is foggy with occasional snow showers. Pitching and rolling has increased dramatically with large spray over the bow every now and then. The ship has had to slow down a fair bit. I had a tour of the engine room this morning conducted by the chief engineer. We looked at the control room for the main engine and the two smaller auxilliary engines, then into the main noisy room where the 8 cylinder 5000 HP engine was thundering away. The electricity supply for the ship is provided by a generator that can be connected via a gearbox to whichever engine is running. The fresh water generating plant is also in the engine room. The speed and direction of the ship is varied by adjusting the pitch of the propeller blades while the engine speed remains constant.
Day 29, Sunday 11/3:
Last night was very difficult to sleep with the violent rolling, I woke up this morning with all the books, pens, paper, cables and glasses from my table strewn all over the cabin floor. During the night various crashes could be heard as the rubbish bins in the passageway came loose and other items came loose. It is difficult to type this report as I have to brace myself with my feet, hold the table with my forearms and the computer with my wrists, as I peck away and then a sudden lunge to hold everything when there are a few violent rolls. The ship has slowed down some more and the course altered a bit to try and make it more comfortable, but we still manage to find a bad group of waves every now and then.
Day 31, Tuesday 13/3:
I woke this morning to a larger than normal roll and looked out of the porthole to see a flock of tiny birds. The ship had approached Cape Cartwright near the northern tip of the Island and turned to head for the station at Atlas Cove. The Island appeared out of the mist, a coastline of very steep cliffs and jagged rocks. The low cloud obscured most of the peaks. The Polar Bird anchored in Atlas Roads about 11 am in very calm conditions. The barges were put over the side but as one is u/s the other will not be used.
The original ANARE station remains could be seen amongst the vegetation in the distance, dwarfed by the enormous glaciers on the mountain at the other side of a large isthmus. The station leader came out from the current temporary station, its buildings just visible above the tussocks further out on the peninsula, in an IRB to brief those people going ashore for some program or other.
There were a few glimpses of the summit of Big Ben, Australia's only active volcano, through breaks in the cloud but not the full peak at one time.
The IRB took back Glen College from the RAN Hydrographic section, with his depth sounding equipment, he is going to record some of the harbour depths and their position with some GPS positioning equipment, all conmnected to a computer. They also took an outboard motor for the IRB that we had brought from Davis. One of the 50 HP motors had failed and second IRB was running with only a 15 HP motor.
After lunch the helicopters were lifted out of the hold and assembled on the hatch covers, then flown onto the Island. When they departed the barges were hoisted back on board and the ship set off for Spit Bay at the other end of the Island. We sailed past very rugged glaciers and innumerable fissures, enclosed lagoons where the glaciers had retreated over the years and left their rocky passengers behind. At one stage the helicopters passed the ship on their way back to Atlas Cove after dropping off some people at the Spit Bay camp to help with the backloading.
When we arrived at Spit Bay the weather had deteriorated with winds gusting to 40 knots so the ship is now stooging around outside Stephenson's Lagoon.
The amount of wildlife in the area indicated that the sea is very rich in food to support many different varieties of birds and a group of fur seals seen frolicking beside the ship.
Day 32, Wednesday 14/3:
I woke up this morning back at Atlas Cove, a bit further out than where we anchored yesterday, the Polar Bird was being held facing into the increasing wind and was starting to pitch a lot more as the swell increased.
The high cliffs of the Laurens Peninsula had many waterfalls streaming from them after last nights heavy rain.
The helicopters have had several flights in the windy conditions to different parts of the Island.
The elusive peak of Big Ben has appeared several times in holes in the cloud cover, although the background has been cloudy too. The almost perpetual skirt of cloud has never left the middle height of the 8921 feet high peak, the ice falls from the peak make it look like a climbers nightmare.
The swell increased after dinner and the ship moved further out in the roads accompanied by the large flocks of feeding birds.
Day 33, Thursday 15/3:
We spent the night and day riding out a Cyclone, with winds gusting up to 90 knots, the ship pitched and rolled violently as it circled in Atlas Roads, making it difficult to sleep.
The wind would come in gusts whipping the surface of the sea into a spray then lifting it into the air like a willy-willy does with dust on land. When this spray hits the land it is whipped away in streamers up and over the low cliffs of the Azorella Peninsula.
The wind eased off a bit during the day with the time between the gusts increasing but the swell has not decreased much.
Day 34, Friday 16/3:
The Polar Bird went to Spit Bay first thing this morning on the strength of a good weather forecast. The helicopters could not leave Atlas Cove due to low cloud until a little later. They started flying wire cages and cargo nets of equipment and personal gear on board, then the first of the PVC water tanks that had been converted into living shelters which were deposited on the deck, together with severtal net loads of empty drums to clean up the camp area.
In the afternoon the Polar Bird sailed back to Atlas Roads and the IRB's brought out the people who had been working at Spit Bay and some other people who had gone ashore the first day with all their gear, all drenched.
The sunset on Big Ben was patchy with the sides of the mountain glowing bright orange through breaks in the clouds.
Day 35, Saturday 17/3:
I was woken early by the "Bing Bong" announcement that work would start soon, when I looked out the cabin window and saw the cliffs of the Laurens Peninsula had a red tinge as if they were made of volcanic scoria, moments later the sunrise had gone leaving them dark and ominous.
The helicopters flew most of the day bringing the remaining PVC tanks to the ship. One tank larger than the rest was almost the lifting limit of the helicopter ans was difficult to control, so Ric put it down in the water beside the ship, it was then lifted on board by the ship's crane. The tanks can be seen lined up on deck with the doorway and windows visible.
The depth sounding gear was returned in an IRB and Glen reported that he had completed 90% of his intended work. More passengers were delivered with their wet and dirty gear. In the afternoon the helicopters ceased operations and were packed away in the hold and the barges lifted back on board so that everything could be secured while the sea was relatively calm with a 2m swell. They hope to bring out the remaining empty drums by IRB tomorrow. The sun was setting on Big Ben as the clouds cleared the peak for a magnificent view.
Day 36, Sunday 18/3:
The day dawned foggy and overcast with a large swell in the Roads, so the plans to bring the remaining drums back to the ship was abandoned for safety reasons and the drums were made secure under nets to be retrieved at some later date.
By early afternoon all the people were aboard and a lifeboat drill held before departing.
The plan was for a sail past the McDonald Islands, about 30 nm (54 km) away to take photographs, by Tom Gordon the geographer. When last seen these Islands had steam coming off the hot rocks indicating recent volcanic activity.
To our great disappointment the Islands were shrouded in rain and low cloud. The ship went to within 2 nm (3.6 km) but due to the uncharted waters the captain was not keen to go any closer.
The Polar Bird did a U-turn and set course for Hobart, the following seas may speed us along but a severe roll from time to time makes life interesting.
Day 37, Monday 19/3:
The Polar Bird passed slightly north of Heard Island after the brief glimpse of the McDonald Islands, on course for Hobart late yesterday, unfortunately this course takes us on an angle to the prevailing wave action and the ship rolls from side to side quite a lot making travelling around the ship difficult, at meal times managing the trip from the serving area to a seat in the mess is a real feat. The accompanying crashes and bangs as plates and crockery migrate when a large tilt takes place have to be heard to be believed. The refrigerator door has a hook on the side to keep it closed which has prevented even bigger disasters occurring.
Day 38, Tuesday 20/3:
More of the same on the rock and roll express.
Late in the evening we were treated to a magnificent auroral display with brilliant shimmering curtains from east to west over the ship and very bright swirls to the south which made silhouettes of the clouds on the horizon, although there was a little cloud cover overhead the decks were crowded with spectators, a fitting finale for the voyage.
Day 39, Wednesday 21/3:
More rock and roll. The ship headed a little northerly of the intended course to try and find smoother seas, the roll amplitude has not reduced, they are further apart.
Day 40, Thursday 22/3:
ETA Hobart is Thursday 29th.
Only 6 more days of this, I can see why there is such a push to have an aircraft deliver the personnel to and from the stations!!
Day 41, Friday 23/3:
The swell has eased a bit more, gradually decreasing, making it much easier to get a good night's sleep.
Day 42, Saturday 24/3:
The entertainment committee organised a party in the downstairs bar with a Beach Party theme, all the summer gear shorts floral shirts, even a lifesaver's shirt and cap by the barman, an organiser of the charity collection for the trip Glen Scherell. There was a raffle amongst the revellers of a bottle of ANARE Club Jubilee port wine, donated by the ANARE Club, which raised $82 dollars. Loud music played till all hours. It was suggested that the Heard Island party were trying to shake the last of the gritty sand loose by their dance actions. The light levels in the bar prevented a good picture of the party, some of the happy helpers behind the bar are seen in the picture.
Day 43, Sunday 25/3:
Very few people sighted until later in the day after last nights revelry. The Polar Bird still manages to get a nasty roll up every now and then, the seas are following us at an angle, and they combine with our speed to leave a huge hole at irregular intervals, the ship rolls 15 to 20 degrees either side about ten times then stabilises for another hour or so.
After lunch the first sign of other people when a fishing boat crosses in front of us about 1 nautical mile ahead, they were thought to be Japanese operating from Port Lincoln in South Australia.
Day 44, Monday 26/3:
Usual slow rock and roll every now and then still makes it difficult to get to sleep.
Day 45, Tuesday 27/3:
Same as yesterday, a bit of work for the ship's doctor, Peter Longden, as I twisted my ankle when the deck at the top of the stairs was not where I thought it was, much rhubarbing from the round trippers, as the teetoaller from the bar is the only injury for the trip.
Day 46, Wednesday 28/3:
The ship approached southern Tasmania shrouded in mist late in the afternoon and to make sure we would arrive at 9 am the next day it reduced speed. The weather was a bit breezy but the traditional last night barbeque was held on the back deck. Positions out of the wind were at a premium, you can see most people rugged up at the tables.
Because the Polar Bird did not want to arrive too early it circled outside the Derwent estuary, which kept the rock up that combined with the anticipation of going home made sleeping difficult. I woke early to see land passing nearby, later the Customs and Immigration people came on board with the pilot. Several people from the Division also came on board to distribute accommodation and flight home details, also phone bills that needed paying.
It seemed to take a long time to attach all the mooring lines then drop the gangplank into position.
Before all the people had disembarked with their gear a team that had been waiting on the wharf were cutting away at the ship's rails with angle grinders, removing a large section.
This is to install a new gangplank arrangement. A furnishing company also came on board with new curtains and upholstery, so next season it will be a flash ship.
Part of the way through the voyage we learned that the Polar Bird would be chartered by a film production company to be used to carry the cast and production crew to Greenland this next Northern summer where they will be making a film about Ernest Shackleton and his epic journey over the pack ice and the voyage in the James Caird. They are going to use some pack ice near Greenland to simulate the Antarctic pack ice.
Day 48, Friday 30/3:
Well, here I am back in my own familiar bed, no rolling up one end then down the other, it takes a bit of getting used to. I was not able to get on a flight leaving Hobart in the afternoon the ship docked, so I booked into the Customs House Hotel, a well known ANARE watering hole around ship departure and return times. I spent a pleasant afternoon in the warm sunshine wandering around the harbour and Salamnca Place shops. Later catching up with other passengers in the hotel bar to pass the time.
Next afternoon I flew back to Melbourne to be met by my wife who was gracious enough to let me depart for 6 weeks but not impressed with my growth of stubble, now very grey.
To finish this report of a fantastic voyage I would like to thank the Director of Antarctic Division for making the berth available to the Club, Vince Restuccia the Voyage Leader and his Deputy Voyage Leader Dave Moser, who did so much work under sometimes trying conditions to make sure all cargo was unloaded and back loaded, and Don Reid who fitted me with a good set of cold weather clothing at short notice.