CLUB REPRESENTATIVE VOYAGE REPORTS, 2001
Reports from John Gillies, ANARE Club representative now aboard Polar Bird, Voyage 7, which departed Hobart 6pm Sunday 11/02/01, bound for Mawson, Zhongsham, Davis, Heard and McDonald Islands.
Click on "thumbnail" pictures to view full size.
Day 1, Sunday 11/2:
The Polar Bird left Hobart at 6pm today, in a haze of smoke from bushfires burning on the side of Mt Wellington. Earlier, we had been treated to the sight of the QE 2 departing down the Derwent River, like an enormous black and white greyhound, as seen in the picture below, just beside the bow of Polar Bird.
Day 2, Monday 12/2:
So far I have had no sign of the mal de mer that made my other trips south unpleasant (it may be due to those little pills this time). The sea has been very smooth with an occasional patch of rain and sunshine, a large swell every now and then makes the ship pitch a bit and you think you may fall out of your bunk at night, different to the rolling of the Nella Dan and Thala Dan where sliding up and down in the bunk was the problem.
The Polar Bird seems enormous with the very high spacious bridge all very well laid out, also the gymnasium in the hold many decks below.
The instruments on the bridge are fascinating with the GPS giving a continuous display of where you are.
Day 3, Tuesday 13/2:
Nothing much to report, wind picked up a bit and made small white caps, outside air temperature has dropped to 10 deg. C.
Distributed some copies of AURORA magazines for reading material. The wind picked up again during the evening and the swell increased, so the ship slowed down to make sleeping easier. The wind is blowing the spray off the whitecaps.
Day 4, Wednesday 14/2:
The cook made a large chocolate cake for desert with Happy Birthday John piped into the chocolate top. Not much else to report, days revolve around reading, eating, checking the E-mail, watching the video in the lounge/computer area, checking the position on the bridge GPS.
Day 5, Thursday 15/2:
The Polar Bird has slowed down the last two days due to the the lumpy seas, making the ship pitch a fair bit. Today the spray was blowing over the bow regularly, a spectacular sight from the bridge as the bow plunges up and down. Everyone seems to be surviving the buffeting well.
There are 15 members of the CHINARE expedition on board, enroute to Zhongsham, who seem to be enjoying the great variety of food available at meal times.
Day 9, Tuesday 20/2:
Yesterday the rolling eased a bit and the weather cleared enabling the first visible iceberg to be seen, several others had been on the radar earlier in the day, the first before the times of the tipping competition had started. The GPS picture shows the location of the first iceberg, seen in the next picture. The cloud cover lifted so that clear sky was all around the horizon as the ship sailed at 13 knots into the setting sun.
Today she sky has been clear, temperature -2C, very pleasant out of the 10 knot wind on the lee side of the bridge. A procession of icebergs has passed during the day, most of these are older waterworn pieces that have rolled over exposing peaks and spires, like ruined buildings of blinding white. The Radar picture shows several passing "bergs" close to the ship, the line is the ship's coarse, and small wave clutter around the ship. The cross is the cursor used to measure the distance from the ship.
ETA Mawson is Friday noon local time.
Day 10, Wednesday 21/2:
For the second day in a row it has been fine and sunny with a slight swell. We have been sailing along about 200 km north of the coast of Antarctica, amongst remnants of the Shackelton Ice Shelf. This afternoon I sat out on the deck for more than an hour in the sunshine watching the endless parage of uniquely shaped icebergs in various stages of decay, some still tabular, pass by, some within 100 metres from the ship. There were always some to be seen in every direction.
In my previous voyages on Nella Dan and Thala Dan I never experienced a sight like this, I am not sure whether the conditions were rougher but I do not remember being out on deck while we sailed along until nearing Tasmania. This afternoon the wind died off a lot and the sea had the oily look as it started to freeze. Since then we have sailed into a windier area and I can feel the ship moving around a lot more as I write this.
Day 13, Friday 23/2:
The Polar Bird headed south for Horseshoe Harbour early this morning, passing through Iceberg Alley in mist and snow showers. The radar picture shows the density of the bergs in the area, around the GPS position shown. The visibility was poor.
Eventually, Welch Island appeared through the mist but the weather forecast said that the wind would ease off a little later in the day, so we did a U-turn for several hours at very low speed.
Late in the afternoon the clouds lifted and the mountain ranges along the coast became visible one after the other. The ship moved in slowly waiting for the wind to ease off, the mountains grew larger. Some small dots which were large caravans parked away from the station for the summer were seen on the ice below the Masson Range, then directly below these the radio masts of the station appeared and building silhouetted against the white of the plateau.
Contact with Mawson had been made regularly to receive the weather predictions and current wind speeds so arrangements were made for the small boat to come out and pick up the mail, while the Polar Bird sailed very slowly into West Bay providing the opportunity for the cameras to snap many shots of the station.
My first thoughts were that the outcrop of Horseshoe Harbour was higher than I remembered it, but that was 33 years ago when I left. At that time the aircraft hanger was the largest building on the station, but today it looked almost like a garden shed at the waters edge compared to the size of the colourful structures spread around the station area.
I also learned that if your camera battery light is flashing it doesn't record, so I missed the mail exchange.
Day 14, Saturday 24/2:
Tonight, after I had sent the voyage report, the wind died enough for the captain of the Polar Bird, Sigvald Brandal, to gradually ease the ship into Horseshoe Harbour.
The IRB (Inflatable Rubber Boats) picked up the bow and stern lines to prevent the ship swinging into West Arm if the wind sprang up.
While there was still light the barges were lifted off the hatch covers into the water, the hatch covers were rolled back and stacked by some very noisy mechanism. The helicopters were then lifted out of the hold onto part of the remaining hatch cover and the hatches closed again to make the helipad. Ash Lewis, the helicopter mechanic, put the blades on the squirrel helicopters and tied the blades down as it was too late to fly off.
The barges, named after prominent ANARE scientists Phil Sulzberger and Fred Bond, are propelled by jet systems and produce prominent rooster tails under full power. They can carry 9 and 10 tonne loads. The barges are moored at a landing that has been made between the bulk fuel farms. There is a large mobile crane at the landing to lift the barge cargo ashore and on to land transport for delivery to its destination.
Dave McCormack had the flexible oil hose out and pressure tested and started pumping the bulk fuel into the very large storage tanks ashore before dark and hopes to finish sometime Sunday.
It looks like a lot of the large boulders between the hangar and the fuel farm have been removed and helipads constructed in that area.
Day 15, Sunday 25/2:
This morning saw the wind gusting to over 30 knots preventing the helicopters from moving off the hatches. The wind eased up after lunch and I went ashore with the Voyage Leader Vince Restuccia, and the ship's doctor Peter Longden who had wintered here at Mawson in 1981.
The walk up the hill from the landing to the Red Shed mess and accommodation building had this old fellow gasping for breath, the temp was -8.5C and 17 knots of wind, and several weeks of inactivity on the ship is my excuse for the long recovery period sitting in the mess area and watching the last helicopter leaving the ship through the large picture windows of the Dog room. In the mess I met Ian James working with the summer trades team, Ian wintered at Casey 27 years ago.
In the mess is a whiteboard to keep track of who is ashore in case of an emergency necessitates a head count. I duly registered there after the shore crew had their lunch.
Ian Bruce, the Senior Communications Technical person on the round trip with me took me on a tour of the facilities through the Operations building shared with the Met section. The Met man on duty took us to the ultra modern balloon filling and launching building. The hydrogen for filling the balloons is made from water using electricity to split it into oxygen, which is vented to the atmosphere, and the hydrogen is stored in large cylinders for later use.
Next stop was the transmitter building where the old HF radio transmitters, now only used for emergency and field party operations sat silently, an aerial changeover matrix switch in the corner would have made life easier for the transmitters than the old rotary balanced monsters used in the 60s.
A stroll past the hangar and the NDB mast, avoiding tripping on the multi-wire ground plane, to where the old transmitter hut of my time used to be.
From there back to the Red Shed for a telephone call, just like a local call at home, to my family to tell them I had survived very well on the voyage, and hear how my son's 21st had gone off OK without my help.
Peter, the doctor, accompanied us to the ANARESAT staellite facility, near where the old VLV radio office of my day used to be. Inside the satellite dish protection dome was an intricate set of triangular aluminium sections bolted together that hold the Tedlar (a type of Kevlar) outer skin in place. We left Ian to his work checking the satellite equipment and went off to visit the remaining relics of our era.
First, the old surgery now converted to a very well equipped gymnasium, the old dongas of Dovers and Wilkins were used as storage areas and now in general disarray. My old donga of Shackelton Heights still stands but the outside skin is coming off, my bunk, first left beside the shower still exists, whether it is the same timber I doubt, the drawer set was not the same and there was no writing table, the heating system has been through many changes, no oil heater and hot water tank at the end, no cold water tank in the cold porch, in fact there was no cold porch.
From that nostalgic area we went to the old carpenters workshop, an original Mawson building constructed in 1954, this now has the reputation of the Antarctic Sistine Chapel with the ceiling papered with Playboy centrefolds. (No pics). Through the joining section where the laundry used to be is now housing what looked like to be a boiler unit for the other Mawson original building which we used as the brewery, ham shack, sewing area for sails and dog harness and gymnasium. This is now a carpenters workshop.
We went up past the old dog lines to look over West Bay, a bit of ground drift had been blowing all day, this had increased and the Casey Range was disappearing, a few quick photos there, including your Rep, then down the icy drift past a piece of chain sticking out where the dogs used to be tethered. Out to West Arm to photograph the station and pay our respects to the ANARE men who had died at Mawson, there was only one grave here 34 years ago, unfortunately he now has two companions.
A brisk walk into the wind brought us back to the Red Shed to remove our names and then to the barge landing, much easier downhill, to hitch a lift back to the ship.
Once the helicopters had left the hatch covers the barges have been busy as beavers with a procession of trailers and fork lift vehicles removing containers to the store (Green Shed). The wind has picked up and the drift increased so a halt was called about 7 pm local time.
Day 16, Monday 26/2:
The wind that had been building up yesterday continued during the night and all today. At times the visibility was reduced to less than 10 metres, the sea whipped into small whitecaps and the spray splashing against West Arm coating the rocks with an icy layer.
Day 17, Tuesday 27/2:
See previous day. The wind continued unabated all night. The night before, the captain had started the engines to take the strain off the multiple mooring lines, six from the bow and two at the stern. The wind gusted to 70 knots (79 MPH) from the average of 50 knots (56 MPH), the visibility varied with amount of snow being blown around changed.
Day 18, Wednesday 28/2:
Days blend in together, it is hard to keep track of time when a resupply is going on, every opportunity of good weather has to be utilised to the maximum.
The wind did not ease enough for safe operations until after lunch, the wind speed readout by the Met recorder is on the crest of the hill and reads the maximum on the station, the ship's recorder is very high on the bow and reads a little less than the shore based anemometer. The wind on the surface is a fair bit less being sheltered by the land, however it seems to increases as the barges come out to the ship, a trip of about 250 metres.
I went ashore amd after signing in, so that if there is a fire emergency everyone can be accounted for, I went to the highest part of the Mawson outcrop. It was still windy enough to make standing still difficult.
Near the summit were a number of Adelie penguins in various stages of moulting, with feathers flying off in the wind every time they shook themselves. They were bigger than I had remembered too. There were never any in this area before while the dogs were tethered on the drifts below. Penguins at Mawson would regard it as heaven now with all the crushed rock everywhere, the precious nesting material would support thousands and thousands of nests.
Near the summit west of the pumphouse for the meltlake was a test rig for measuring the stress that could be put on a rock anchor. A steel test rod had been grouted into a deep hole drilled into the rock, as part of the evaluation program assessing the foundations for a wind generating tower. Several sites have been selected, another to the east of the pumphouse and the other near the hangar, at these sites deep holes have been drilled and test rods cemented in place. A hydraulic jack is used to try and pull the rod out and the amount of movement recorded.
Unloading progressed late into the day, the last equipment unloaded needed the unifloat pontoon to take ashore an excavator and a cement mixer truck, the pontoon was steered by the Polar Bird Chicken lashed along side. The barges and boats have been driven by Mick Davidson and Anthony Young who have marine certificates and know how to use the machines most efficiently.
Day 19, Thursday 1/3:
The wind continued to ease off overnight and an early start was promised, however a burnt out electric motor has disabled one of the barges, the motor has gone ashore to see if it can be resuscitated.
Half of the CHINARE members went ashore for a station tour by the station leader Meg Dugdale and then a trip in the Haggalund vehicles up to the plateau after lunch. I went ashore with them then helped the Communications Tech Officers load some equipment on a helicopter that was to fly them out to Mt Parsons in the David Range to replace a failed repeater module.
I then had a wander around the station looking at some of the new buildings. Beside one was the remains of the vehicle workshop from my 1967 stay. Part of the concrete floor was still visible and some remnants off the wall embedded in the concrete.
The new vehicle workshop, dubbed the Red Dwarf (smaller than the Red Shed), has all the equipment and machines any self respecting mechanic could wish for.
I met up with Campbell Thompson who was on V7 to check the IPSO (Ionospheric Prediction Service) equipment at Mawson and Davis. This equipment in Antarctica and around Australia measures the state of reflectivity of the Ionosphere layers 100 to 1000 km above the earth, this equipment is housed in the Operations building and two antennae over towards East Bay.
We walked up the hill to the Auroral Physics building which was deserted, there was some equipment ticking away in a rack sending data from the Absolute Magnetic hut and several magnetometers out on the end of West Arm, I wonder what sort of change they registered when the Polar Bird came into the harbour.
This data is sent via the satellite link direct to Kingston. There will be no Physicist at Mawson for the first time since the station was established. On the wall of the building is a large poster made up with all the names of all the different physicists who have wintered at Mawson, this is probably available through the Antarctic Division.
Leaving there I went to watch energy management crew using the jack to try and pull the rods that had been cemented in out of the rock at the possible wind generator sites, I helped them move some of the equipment to another site.
I then caught up with the last Physicist, Kim Newberry, and went to the Cosray building where a 15 metre deep shaft was sunk in 1971 and a vault built to hold a cosmic ray telescope that would only measure very high energy particles that could penetrate the 12 metres of solid rock.
After lunch the CHINARE fellows climbed into the Haggalunds and set off for the plateau only to be frustrated at the first steep icy incline behind the station where the rubber tracks could not get a grip.
I returned to the comms office where the CCTO, Ian McLean who is on his 5th winter (92 Macca, 95 Mawson, 97 Casey, 99 Davis, and Heard Is. summer 2001) and CTO Sean Wicks fitted me with a survival pack and I carried the bolt cutters on a helicopter trip to Mt Twintops, about 60 km in a straight line from Mawson, to recover a repeater and solar battery charging system that was being withdrawn from service.
I have never seen such a magnificent sight as the helicopter rose from Mawson and the vista of the mountain ranges unfolded. Ahead was Mt Henderson which seemed within touching distance, to the right the other ranges extended their jagged peaks through the ice cap stretching off to the south.
The flight went between the Masson and David Ranges past Rumdoodle and Lake Lorna, where I spent a week in the winter of 1967 looking for flea larvae in the vacant snow petrel nests. I was amazed at the lack of traces of where tractor trains had been heading out from Mawson over the years, I had thought that there would be well defined tracks where the tractors had been over the years. The surface looked so pristine, the only sign of human presence were the markers on a few of the peaks.
After Ian and Sean dismantled the repeater Ash slung it beneath the helicopter flown by Rick and they transferred to the other helicopter flown by Peter on to a level patch below the summit.
We flew back to Mawson with the sun glinting off the many areas of blue ice. South of Hordens Gap was a large area of enormous crevasses visible in the blue ice. Approaching the coast past the northern end of the Masson Range a trail of debris was clearly visible also the remains of a wrecked aircraft. The sea was black against the white of the cracked glacier tongues along the coast, although this may have been an effect of my Polaroid sunglasses. A swing over West Arm as Rick deposited the sling load gently on the ground, we followed in to land. This was the most exciting time I have ever had in Antarctica.
The trip back on the barge was with the first load of RTA E-containers as backloading commenced, was a bit of an anti-climax.
Day 20, Friday 2/3:
Last night before I went to bed I went out on to the back deck around midnight local time to see if the sky was clear as it had been all day, and looking up high to the north was a what looked like a greenish cloud with a long tail snaking off to the east that seemed to writhe around while I watched, it looked too indistinct for a photograph and the ship was vibrating too much with the engines still running after the blizzard the other day.
The day dawned to snow showers and wind blowing to 35 knots, later the wind eased and backloading commenced again after lunch. After a few loads I went ashore and managed to find a pair of video recorders and began making a copy of the videotape I brought down with me, it was the 8mm movie films (converted to videotape) that had been taken in 1967 by Ray Sharrock, Mark Forecast, Bill Cowell and myself. I wanted to leave the original in the station video library so they could watch how intrepid we were and how much the station has changed.
While the tape was recording I went for a wander around the old buildings, through my old Donga in Shackelton, and took some pictures of the old remaining buildings and in the new luxurious accommodation building.
I then had a look around the Stores building (Green Shed), a gigantic two level place with everything under the sun packed away with the minimum of manual handling, fork lifts, the works. All the stores records are entered on a computer network.
Despite the efforts of all the mechanics the electric motor that had died in the barge was unrepairable and there was no suitable DC motor on the station that could be modified to make the steering work.
Click here for more reports in Part 2