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ANARE Club Representative Voyage 5 2004/2005
Kit Scally in Antarctica
Greetings dear readers!It's usual at times such as this to open the narrative with an unforgettable opening stanza designed to keep readers riveted to the very end - aghast at tales of derring do, heroic endeavours and such like. The reality is somewhat different - it's a long way to the ice. The Aurora Australis' last voyage for this season (V5) was originally scheduled to depart Hobart in early March. It had to be brought forward about 2 weeks at the last moment due to the earlier voyage's inability (V4) to reach Mawson's Horseshoe Harbour to offload supplies and personnel. Departure from Hobart was now slated for 20 February at 1700 hrs but at midday, this was extended to 2000 hrs as more time was needed to load cargo. What else could go wrong?
Hobart turned on brilliant Sunday weather with the running of the
Triathlon series around the city and Salamander wharf area starting
in the morning and finishing late afternoon. With temperatures in
the mid-20's, the 'Orange Roughie' (a term of endearment for the Aurora
Australis) departed Macquarie Wharf on time with an enthusiastic crowd
shore bidding farewell and safe travelling to friends and loved ones
The mandatory ship's safety fire and cold weather evacuation drill had been completed by all personnel earlier in the day. Once underway and clear of the wharf, the helicopter deck aft was soon crowded with expeditioners taking advantage of the many "Kodak Moments" as the AA made it's down the Derwent. (Does the expression 'Kodak Moment' really translate to the digital camera world?) Before long, we were out of mobile phone coverage (sigh) and a full (?) moon to our north caused another severe case of Kodak Poisoning - this time with tripod assistance.
It was fortuitous that there are Communications Technicians aboard the ship. Within hours of our departure, a steady stream of expeditioners were asking for assistance to connect their PCs to the ship's LAN. No comms - no emails - no reports - aarghh! (This is the 21st century after all!) It was hard not to offer assistance, so there were soon 3.5 techs (me being the "half") beavering away getting every kind of laptop computer working on the on-board email system. My real business, however, is in promoting the aims and interest of the ANARE club. In the next few days, various groups have been asked to present a short talk to the ship's complement on their area of expertise. Interest so far has been promising but I expect the real sell to begin after the talk!
Everyone is settling down to the shipboard routine. Breakfast is typically OJ, cornflakes and/or fully cooked; lunch - choice of gourmet salads, fully cooked or both. For Dinner, I thoughtfully consider calorific intake, so it's just a main fully cooked meal - and a tiny desert: fruit salad and caramel crunch ice-cream. One scoop. Then there's late-night munchies, but I'll leave this topic for another day.
The ship is averaging 10 knots at 240 degrees into a medium swell with little wind. At this speed, we expect to be at Mawson in 13.5 days, but we've yet to encounter the winds and seas of the 'furious fifties'. Temperatures are even now noticeably cooler at 12 degrees C and a quick port-hole forecast shows it to be misty and 10/10ths overcast. As many of you will be familiar with the infamous expression "the A-factor", our real ETA is a moveable feast. With new season's pack-ice still blocking Mawson's Horseshoe harbour (our first port of call), resupply may yet be by air (helicopter). All are hopeful that early autumn storms and/or winds will do their magic and blow the ice out to sea and so enable us "round-trippers" to step ashore and visit the Premier Station - truly an unexpected bonus. For others, it's been a long time between drinks.
Kitski ANARE Club Representative, 2005
4 March 05
After two Antarctic winters, my family have decided that I should start a "penguin" collection. With 2 anniversaries per year, most nooks and crannies around the household now have their own resident animal. "Little Pengy" recently took a tour of the ship to make sure it was up to his expectations. The first task aboard any vessel was a lifejacket drill. Pengy didn't quite understand the barked orders from the Voyage Leader about fitting a lifejacket but instead found his way to a lifebuoy. Near enough I guess ...
Shipboard life is characterised by routine: work, play, sleep - and eating. To deter mutiny amongst the scurvy expeditioners, food assumes a top priority. In this department, the AA's kitchen scores top marks. Restaurant hours are generally OK but dinner is a little early from 1730 to 1830 hrs. By breakfast the following day (0730), hunger pangs are rife. Being weak in spirit, late night snacks (cheese on toast and/or teddybear biscuits or Tim tams) with a leftover sausage or two helps out till morning. At the time of writing, we've used up all our fresh milk and are now devouring UHT cartoned product. However, there's still plenty of fruit, prawns, chocolate gateaux, baked mangos with cream cheese and lime and other tasty morsels to tuck into. On most days, anti-slip table mats are a necessity to keep plates and cups in place on the tables although soup is best taken from a cup.
Early this week, the ship travelled through some fairly rough seas with swells of up to 6 metres. The dining room's porthole covers on E deck were closed for a day through the worst of this weather for safety reasons but our cabins (one deck higher) had the occasional wave break over the portholes. It's at times like this you wonder what a small "round the world yacht" would be thinking while traversing through similar weatherconditions.
One fortunate aspect of AA ship operations is unrestricted acces to the bridge except during certain operational procedures. One unusual result of this open-house policy (apart from the spectacular views offered is a regular meeting of expeditioners, particularly after breakfast, to check out the previous nights progress on the many electronic screens that chart our progress. Compared with previous voyages I've undertaken to the Antarctic, we've seen much less wildlife (whales, birds) than on previous occasions. This is possibly simply due to the voyage departing much later in the season. Daytime sees a constant stream of "unofficial Antarctic navigators" to the bridge but late evening brings an eerie darkness punctuated only by the orange-coloured LCD radar screen, dimmed instrument lights, the lone hazy searchlight fighting to show a focussed spot on an angry southern ocean - and Abba or kd lang playing on the bridge CD player.
A few days out from Hobart produced another bout of Kodak poisoning to view the first aurora of the voyage. It was clearly visible against a cloudless sky but alas, too dim to really do photographic justice. This was one of the last days of clear skies we have experienced and has severely reduced the number of worthwhile Kodak moments. One favourite was the sighting of the first iceberg with the usual on-board sweep being run. At 50 cents an entry, the proceeds are donated to Camp Quality. My guess was 1500 hrs but the winner (Gwen) correctly guessed 1730 hrs. She tried valiantly to share her prize of a bottle of red wine amongst a dozen or so expeditioners present in the Husky Bar, but to no avail. We made do with Chateau Cardboard instead.
Here's a useful (?) Trivia Pursuit question: (Q) What does RSV stand for in the ships full name of "RSV Aurora Australis"? (A) Research Supply Vessel.
It's now early March and at our present latitude (65 degrees south), the air temperature is at minus 4 deg C and dropping. The sea temperature is -1 deg C so the pack-ice cannot be too far away.
That's all for now from the AA in the Southern Ocean.
Stop Press: congratulations to one observant reader of my first report who spotted the deliberate mistake: Hobart's *Salamander* Place should have read of course *Salamanca* Place
6 March 05 1500 hrs.
After 2 days of off-again, on-again as to whether we'd actually make Mawson harbour, the weather gods have favoured us and we're now heading in at 12+ knots after waiting nearly 50km offshore due to heavy pack and strong winds. We expect to tie up at Horseshoe Harbour on the evening of the 6th, weather permitting. If the winds are too strong, we'll hove-too just outside the harbour and wait for more favourable winds the following day.
First item on the agenda is to deploy the refuelling hose (75mm diameter "fire hose") in 250m lengths. This is run from the ship to shore via IRB's (rubber duckies) and/or the AA2 - The Aurora's "baby runabout". It's initially pressure tested then fuel pumped into the line to check for leaks. The fuel used is SAB - Special Antarctic Blend. This is a refined diesel fuel low in waxes and water. Only when the whole line is leak-free can pumping commence. We expect to offload over 400,000 litres of SAB and this takes about 20 hours of continuous pumping. I'm rostered on the 2000 - 2400hr watch at the Mawson fuel farm so it's going to be a long, cold night. The work is atop the tanks themselves. It's exposed, windy, cold and for these hours, devoid of sunlight. I can see a warm shower high on the agenda at 2405 hrs. Maybe also a "hot toddy".
Once again, weather permitting, all expect to get ashore on the 7th and 8th to explore the many nooks and crannies that abound at Mawson station. This is when Mr Kodak really does his stuff and earns his keep. Believe it or not, there are a few die-hards (?) on this voyage who have brought "wet" cameras, exposing real film - Kodachrome slide stock. For the remainder of us with "dry" digital cameras, all we have to worry about is battery management in the cold and memory capacity. Nothing is simple in the Antarctic!
I'll close now and prepare my cold weather gear for tonight's activities. Thermal underwear (top & bottom), a woolly green checked shirt (goddamit, they itch when new!), fleecy zip-up jumper, neck to ankle freezer suit with a Gortex top as a second barrier against the wind, 2 pairs of woollen socks and Sorell "fur" lined boots, neck warmer, beanie, woollen gloves, leather work gloves and a two-way radio. Add to this a day-pack (backpack) with additional clothing and camera. Finally, there's 2 pocket-sized books that no intrepid expeditioner should ever be without - the AAD Field Manual with 256 pages of really useful stuff and (Dr) Peter Gormley's now famous "ANARE First Aid Manual" - or how to be a "really useful surgeon" in 48 hours.
Intrepid pictures of the Premier station will follow in due course.
Tally-ho chaps and chapesses!
6 March 05 1730 hrs.
We've made it! After some precision driving by the Captain (Peter) the 45-48 knot sou'easter was no match for skill, engine power and versatility of thrusters to do the tightest of starboard turns at the extremity of West Arm and so into Horseshoe Harbour. Two station rubber duckies took our mooring ropes in turn to the waiting bollards dotted around the harbour's foreshores. These were soon taught, securing the ship against the constant winds for the next few days.
Resupply is about to commence.
17th March 2005
The pack ice was reached on Saturday the
5th. Quoting this
best describes conditions at the time: "Very slow headway
difficult band of ice off Mawson. Recent bad weather seems
repositioned ice in worst possible location. Stopped
forward [ship] movement for the time being and commenced fly-off
operations. Mawson SL [Station Leader] [flew via chopper] to
[the] ship and returned to
station. At this stage uncertain if we will get into Horseshoe
Harbour." These were the ice conditions at the time.
Pengy had been very well behaved up until now. The ship had been checked from bow to stern including the laundry, kitchen and bar. Like the ending of many fairy tales, Pengy got trashed.
Fly-off operations had to cease as winds now exceeded 45 knots (90 kph) and open ice leads had now closed. By the following midday, the Master decided to make a dash for Mawson. After a few hours of breaking through approximately 1m thick ice, we glimpsed the first sight of the mighty Frammes Mountains.
Soon we had cleared the loose pack and were steaming in open waters towards > the station. By now the wind had picked up and we were heading directly into a 45 knot headwind with a ship speed of 12 knots. It was a bighting 60 knot wind up on the exposed top monkey deck. Kista Straight - here we come!
Against a howling wind, the Master expertly manoeuvred the ship through a tight 90 degree starboard turn at the tip of West Arm to bring the Aurora Australis safely in to Horseshoe Harbour. For many, this was their first views of the station. For me, I'd seen this sight on 2 separate occasions, but it still brings awe and excitement.
The AA-2 (the AA's workboat) was quickly offloaded to assist with the 8 mooring lines required to tie up the ship safely in the harbour. The 2 rubber duckies (IRB's) were next in the water to transfer passengers from ship to shore - less than 100 metres away. Soon, about 30 of the 45 passengers were ashore to wander freely around the station - keeping within station limits of course! I stayed on board to assist with deployment for pumping the SAB fuel from the ship's bunkers to the on-shore fuel tanks (M A W S O N). This picture shows only half of the station's tanks.
Mawson's fickle weather soon played its usual unpredictable hand with wind gusts now making it unsafe to continue IRB operations. Within hours, drift snow had accompanied the howling winds and by late afternoon, it was clear that those that were already ashore were staying ashore. You wouldn't want to be in a small boat in this weather. We eventually pumped 580,000 litres ashore in 11.5 hours of continuous pumping without a spill.
The blizzard raged for a day with West Arm invisible for most of the time. High winds the following day also put a stop to ship to shore transfers. Shipboard life was now like living in a ghost town - only 12-15 passengers aboard meant mealtimes were conducted on one table. When the wind subsided and operations resumed, the "beach" was covered in snow and took on a different character.
Early Thursday morning, I quickly suited up (freezer, backpack and name on safety whiteboard), donned on a lifejacket and 'hired' the first available IRB for the 2 minute ride to the beach. This time, I had made it ashore. After a thorough (but not exhaustive) rece of the "new" Mawson (now with Operations building and 2 wind turbines), all personnel were invited to attend the scattering of Malcolm Kirton's ashes. At 1500 hrs, the Voyage Leader, Mike, conducted a short service at Mawson Cemetery at the request of his widow, Margaret. After this brief, but moving tribute, Keith scattered his ashes to the wind at West Arm.
The solemness of the scattering was set in stark contrast to the beauty of the glacier and ice caves on the other side of West Arm with the Casey ranges beckoning on the horizon, a close, but tantalisingly distant 25 kms away.
At the tip of West Arm is "the sign". Like granddads shovel, the present sign is far from original. It's often missed by newly arriving expeditioners whose interest is focussed elsewhere. Most winterer's view the sign quite differently. You're leaving behind your home -workplace - in the care of new guys. Departing Horseshoe Harbour and taking a last look at the sign is something few do without a lump in their throat.
The next morning, we awoke to find ice forming in the Harbour due to dropping temperatures and little wind. Some last minute cargo was loaded, the AA-2 was winched aboard to its for'wd resting place and the IRB's played ice ballet to the amusement of all onboard - more Kodak moments. It was time to leave.
As we readied for departure, one of the 2005 Mawson winterers fell awkwardly and badly injured his leg. He was quickly transferred to the Surgery via the blue Hagglund and X-rays taken. At 1230 hrs, the AA left the Harbour and slowly headed north at 4 knots to clear the many nearby islands and broken pack ice. We also needed to keep within easy reach of the station should a medivac be required.
For many, this would be the final glimpse of Mawson - now sporting two unmistakably 33m turbine towers.
By next day, we were advised that surgery had been successful and we were soon cruising at 12 knots on our way to Casey, about 6 days sailing away.
The great man himself - a bronze bust at Mawson station.
More later from the AA.
Thurs 24th Feb, late.
It's now 32 days since the Aurora departed Hobart on her "visit (almost) every station" voyage. The journey from Casey to Macquarie Island has lived up to its reputation of testing everyone's sea-legs. But more of this later.
Casey is Australia's most southern Antarctic base situated almost due south of Perth. Just drop a vertical for a tad under 4,000 kms and you're there! We passed the convergence and the Antarctic Circle on the way to Mawson. Due to 'inclement weather', King Neptune's traditional visit was postponed until a date to be fixed. In the meantime, DVD movies, cards and (5-minute) Speed-Chess were popular pastimes to help while away the time.
Numerous sheets of broken pack were pushed aside and offered countless more Kodak moments.
An urgent call came through the ship's PA system on Wednesday morning announcing that Neptune demanded our presence that afternoon to be inducted into his watery kingdom. Expeditioners and crew alike bowed in the presence of the venerable man of the Oceans!
After inductees had cleaned up the anointing oil of Vegemite and baked beans, it was time for a BBQ on the trawl deck - albeit in temperatures of minus something or other. Those crossing the Antarctic Circle for the first time were presented with a certificate signed on behalf of Australis Rex. Thanks Josh, (Met MI-05), Tina (Antarctic Family & Friends Assn R/T) and Fiona (Met MI-05)!
We arrived at Casey the following morning. Due to poor weather, we stopped a few kms from the station itself. Soon the two choppers were bladed up and ready to transfer cargo and personnel from the Aurora to the Station the trip taking but a few minutes. I was the last to leave the ship at 1430 hrs and caught my first-ever views of Casey.
After signing in, it was time for a very quick tramp around the station. While sharing some similarity in layout to Davis, there's little comparison with Mawson. All our Antarctic buildings are much the same externally but I felt a definite difference in character and 'feel' after even a short visit. (Must have been the cold - or my wild imagination.) This plaque just inside the Living Quarter's Red Shed commemorates the transfer of the old station at Wilkes to the 'new' Casey, a picture of which is just below the blue plaque. This was the Tunnel - 'intermediate' Casey - the present station is the 'new' Casey! Before leaving, it was time for the obligatory photo next to the signpost.
Due to weather and thus time constraints, we were unable to visit the Tunnel or Wilkes but managed to snap a distant view of something that old-timer's may recognise.
After a few short hours kicking up the snow, we were ferried back to the warmth of the ship to escape the -15C temperatures and gusty winds. By lunchtime on Friday, the last of the cargo had been taken on board and tied down. At 2pm, the main ship's engine was started and we were soon underway with the many 2004 Casey winterer's we now had aboard alone with their thoughts.
By late afternoon, the sun appeared for the first time in what seemed like weeks (the first time since Mawson!).
A few hours later, many on board tried to capture the "green flash" said to occur a few seconds after sunset. It wasn't seen on this occasion, but Mr Kodak would have been pleased by this evenings efforts. Inside your cabin was not the place to be even though all outside were stamping their feet and rubbing their hands to keep warm with temps of -10C!
By late evening, many had resumed watch on the bridge, monitoring our progress through the broken pack and overturning the occasional icefloe with a seal or penguin aboard. The two bow spotlights seamlessly replaced the fading sunlight by playing patterns on the ice - something that we were soon to leave behind for the last time - at least on this voyage.
The next day's weather was fine with a 1 to 2m swell giving the old Casey expeditioners time to regain their sea-legs. We awoke on Sunday however to rougher seas which made even sitting on a chair difficult and, at times, a dangerous occupation. Lying in bed was a safer option - just! The wind and swell continued to increase throughout the day. By late evening, a roll of 50 degrees had been recorded, sending many late-nighter's who were otherwise standing "up" now standing on the wardrobe cupboard's door and almost immediately crashing down to the floor. Fortunately only pride was injured. The swell was reported to be 8-9 metres. The ship hove-too for a few hours to ride out the worst of the weather and await calmer seas.
The weather gods must have answered the prayers of many souls bunkered down in their beds as the weather now calmed down as dramatically as it had increased the previous day. We were now heading to Macquarie Island (Macca) at over 13 knots with temperatures in the positive region for the time in many weeks.
It was now time to put away the familiar orange Freezer suits and say hello to the Gortex jackets. Next and final stop, Macca - another 4-5 days sailing away.
31st March 2005
Very soon after leaving Casey, the AA had a rendezvous in mid-ocean to pick up an acoustic recording package (ARP) that had been recording whale and dolphin sounds while resting on the seabed 3000 metres below the surface for the past 12 months. Using the ship's GPS equipment, the AA arrived at the designated spot "X". With many eyes scouring the unusually flat ocean, the recalcitrant buoy was soon visually sighted about 150m off the port bow. (You'd have thought the USA owners would put a radio tracking beacon on the device!) The local birds decided to give it a once-over peck just in case it was something worth eating.
After this piece of high drama (excitement?), we all settled down to another 5 days of humdrum sailing before reaching Macca. It was only a matter of time before the routine weather was punctuated by a night of high seas and rolling swell that had everyone in bed constantly thumping their heads or griding toes into the respective ends of your bunk in sympathy with the seas. Not happy Jan!
Macquarie Island runs approximately north-south, is 35kms long, 5kms wide and located at 54 deg S, 159 deg E. It has an average elevation of 300 metres. One common nickname given the island is "The Green Sponge" and for good reason. The weather is forever changing save for one constant - rain, albeit in very fine droplets. First discovered in 1810 by a sealing gang looking for fur skins, it was to house the first permanent scientific station in 1948 by the fledgling ANARE organisation. The Island and its surrounding coastline have a rich history of old sealers artefacts, shipwrecks and abundant wildlife: penguins, seals and birds.
The ship arrived early on Good Friday morning. The choppers commenced ferrying passengers ashore by mid-morning whilst "your's truly" was assisting once again with the refuelling operations on board ship. Having performed these duties earlier at Mawson, the work this time was quicker and hassle-free. Soon, I had a few hours to explore the isthmus - station limits!
It's an interesting mix of similarly constructed buildings, both
old. The building style used in Macca (individual small
timber clad unlike the continental style of large, metal-clad
gives an impression of being on a movie set for a cowboy western.
(The building in the picture looking like a saloon bar without the
is the Station Leader and Doctor's office cum sleeping quarters.)
Running the length of the station is a wide road of black sand
linking all the buildings. Some early Nissan hut style
and storage buildings are still standing but not all are in use today.
Some old stores never made it back to Australia. They are
part of the flora and fauna of the Island and should attract serious
study by the
Antarctic Division. Determining how PVC cable can provide a
medium for native grasses must be worthy of a wintering grant for an
Constant rain (I'm told it's over 300 days a year), salt spray and a smattering of sunshine take their toll on any iron products. Rust is a way of life and, unless the metal is suitable treated, transforms a once healthy piece of metal into a layered shadow of its former self.
After decimating the Island of fur seals for their pelts, the early sealers turned to rendering the local elephant seal and penguins down for their oil, initially in trypot boilers but later by using the more efficient steam digesters (pressure cookers). Life was harsh and crude for these early settlers. Treacherous seas, wind, cold and primitive living conditions took their toll. The few that died on the Island and were lucky to be buried brings back the harsh reality of those early years.
The variety of wildlife means predators and prey are in constant conflict. Some leave symmetry in death.
Others leave symmetry in form.
The Island's shoreline is surrounded by kelp beds that sing their own tune. I wonder if the early sealers pondered over the varied knots that kelp tied itself into and tried replicating their patterns in rope.
There appears little natural habitat on the Island that would have supported any material suitable for brewing in early times. Almost certainly, the sealers would have brought their own liquor - more likely hooch; Today, home-brew beer is part of Station life and Macquarie Island's Black & Tan has a reputation as being one of the best. Circumstances were such that I was unable to taste the local brew. Maybe the smell of wort and a picture of the (full) bottles will have to do.
And so we steam a mere 3 days or 1548 kms from Macquarie Island back to sleepy Hobart-town. There will be a few hours wait aboard the Aurora Australis berthed at #3 wharf while Customs clearance and other formalities take place before clanking down the stairway, picking up our sausage bags and catching a taxi to Salamanca Place for a coffee (or a glass or two of chilled Chardy perhaps?). After a plane trip to Sydney, it's back to reality and work on Monday morning. Maybe the past 41 days have just been a dream.
Maybe not - I've got the Kodachromes to prove it.