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Blog 11 It's All Over
On the morning of Friday 17 January 2020 at 08:00 the Aurora Australis docked at Macquarie Wharf No 4, Hobart, signalling the successful completion of the 27-day return journey of V2 to resupply Casey research station.
For many years, the Australian Antarctic Division has made a berth available on one of the round-trip voyages during a season to be occupied by a member of the ANARE Club. This generous arrangement not only symbolises the good relationship which exists between the Club and the Division, it also affords that representative the chance of a lifetime to travel south and broaden their Antarctic experience; more importantly to recruit new Club members among the expeditioners on the voyage and the stations visited.
V2 to Casey Station 2019/20 has been a great success for the Club and for myself.
The objectives of my expedition were to:
· promote the ANARE Club and recruit new members;
· conduct oral history interviews;
· provide current expeditioners the opportunity to procure ANARE Club merchandise;
· observe and photograph science and operational activities;
· undertake sightseeing, photograph wildlife and partake in life at Casey station;
· assist with resupply activities; and
· document my extraordinary experiences in the form of an ANARE Club blog.
From the moment I arrived to board the ship until now I have been included in everything that has been happening, from helping with ongoing science experiments on the ship to assisting with resupply activities at Casey station. I have been afforded unlimited access to photograph the day-to-day life at Casey, field trips to the skiway where a DC 3 aircraft was landing and the unloading of more supplies. I was also in the right place at the right time to be ballast in an IRB during its sea trials after some minor repairs had been carried out. Thanks to the skilled and very patient IRB crew, I was able to take pictures that I would not have otherwise been able to capture, making my trip south all the more memorable! A very big thank you to the AAD voyage management team, Aurora Australis crew, the watercraft team and the expeditioners of Casey station! Special thanks to the media section of the AAD for their support and quick handling of my blogs, and to Colin Christiansen for facilitating prompt posting on the ANARE website.
I would like to express my sincere and heartfelt thanks to the ANARE Club and its committee members for entrusting me to fulfil the role of Club Berth Representative V2 2019/20. It has been a privilege and a pleasure. I hope I have been able to put a spotlight on the enduring and positive relationship between both ANARE Club and AAD. My last photograph is a pictorial representation of that relationship. In addition, it was great to see some of my photographs used in one of AAD’s Facebook posts.
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10. As We Prepare to Leave and the trip back
As I stand on the helideck of the AA, I look back at Casey and reflect on how it felt to go ashore a mere 10 days ago, trying to take it all in.
As I recall - on departing the wharf area, you travel uphill to the station proper. Here you find the main street, which leads to an assortment of coloured buildings. These buildings would now be about 30 years old. Despite being well looked after, there is always maintenance to be done.
The “Red Shed” is where it all happens.
The remaining one-third of the section of building is the heart of the station, a real hub and hive of activity. Before you enter, leave your dirty boots and outside clothing on the large cold porch. Once inside the rec room there is an area dedicated to the day-to-day ops for the station. The tag board is here, where you turn your tag from white to red when leaving the station. There are a couple of computers, a bank of radios, white board and desk. During change over period, this is manned almost all day. Lauren is in charge of change over and resupply, which she conducts seamlessly. She is a font of local knowledge, a bit of an oracle really.
Take one step down and you now enter the main rec room area. To the right, there is a table tennis tournament under way. Some people wait their turn, while others provide cheeky feedback on the current players’ ability (or lack thereof). To the left, there is a seating area looking out over the bay and the AA. This area is referred to as “the wallow”. People are sitting comfortably – some looking outside, others on social media or checking emails.
Lastly, we reach the bar. It’s a good size, probably a little larger than most trendy bars you may have visited in metropolitan areas of Australia, decked out with a pool table and dartboard. There’s even a machine dispensing free soft drinks.
The walls of the accommodation and recreational areas are decorated with memorabilia, ranging from yearly photos to local maps of Antarctic stations to handmade trophies for dart and pool competitions.
After a final look around Casey Station, the returning folk board the Aurora Australis. One of the Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRB) has had some repairs carried out. It needs to be tested for seaworthiness, so I happily go along to make up numbers. The sea trial of the IRB is successful, with no more leaks to be found. We come to a stop beside the ice edge where we are able to take some great photos of Adelie penguins. Then on the way back to the ship we pass a small piece of an iceberg out of the water with beautiful blue colourings.
The Station leader, Ali, comes aboard to thank us for a job well done and to wish us a safe voyage home. A short time after Ali returns to Casey, the ship goes through a 20 minute start up procedure for the main engine. Then, suddenly, there is a splash of propeller wash out the back of the ship as the engine is engaged and we move up on the anchor. There is a growling noise as the anchor chain is being winched up.
We move off and look back fondly at Casey. The out of date flares have been kept for such an occasion. They are fired off and glow red over CaseyStation’s main road area. Just as quickly, a rocket flare is fired into the sky from the Aurora Australis. Speeding off with a whoosh, reaching its brilliant red crescendo with a pop in the sky, slowly it meanders down to a watery grave.
And just like that, our time at Casey is over. As we manoeuvre our way out of the harbour, with Casey as the backdrop, a raft of Adelie penguins swim alongside the ship, almost as a farewell gesture.
We head north to Australia entering pack ice for the next 15 hours, encountering an abundance of wild life living on and around it – including:
The next day we are back into big seas with 8 metre swells and 100kph winds, and the ship rolling to about 30 deg. I try to make my way to the doctor’s surgery to get some seasick tables, but only make it half way before I have to call into a side cleaning room and try not to overflow a small bucket.I had forgotten how much fun travelling by ship can be.
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9. Farewell Casey Station
I am up at 07:30 to work in the kitchen as a Slushy, but this time I turn up on the correct day. Slushy duties haven’t changed much over the years, same old stuff, just a different day. Peel the vegies, wash the pots and pans, refill the salt & pepper shakers and sauces, sweep and mop the floors and so on. It is a great easy day and the kitchen is invitingly warm.
Down on the wharf things are abuzz with a multitude of shipping containers to be returned to Australia via the Aurora Australis. The team at the wharf are so busy that they have smoko on location. Usually, morning tea is very hearty, sometimes consisting of meat pies, bacon and egg pies, pizza scrolls, etc. Today, there is an added sweet treat of leftover gingerbread house from Christmas.
There are two members of the Australian Air Force working at Casey station. They have been sent down to ensure the cargo returning to Australia on their C17 aircraft is packed correctly. Some of the cargo may be considered dangerous, and there is nothing like peace of mind for the pilots knowing that all the correct procedures have been followed, especially when you have a long journey over the lonley Southern Ocean back to Australia.
They have been recalled to Australia, long before their anticipated end date in Antarctica, to help with loading and transportation of firefighting equipment and other goods to critical locations in Australia. So the bushfires, indirectly, are even having an effect in Antarctica!!!
As things are drawing to a close here at Casey it is time for non-essential personnel to re-board the AA. And just like that - my time at Casey is OVER. The taxi arrives to pick us up and we bid farewell to the “locals”. We’ve become best of friends in such a short time. Ali, the Station Leader, joins us for the bumpy ride to the wharf. With all our safety gear on, we struggle to put a bulky lifejacket over the top and zip it up.
I say goodbye to the men and women working close by, and then say my final farewell to Ali. She has been instrumental in facilitating all my activities whilst at the station and I am very grateful to her. I first met Ali at Davis Station in 2011 when the cruise ship I was on (The Kapitan Khlebnikov) did a one day visit to the station. Ali looked after me then as well, getting one of the men on station, Michael Goldstein (we are now best of friends back on the Gold Coast), to give me a fully guided tour of the station. I have only ever met up with Ali down south, so as I depart, I jokingly call out to her “I look forward to seeing you again somewhere in Antarctica”.
sunshine and smooth seas, back on the AA, the sun getting low to the
horizon, I try out my new camera lens and click off an interesting
picture of the sea surface shimmering in the distance with a lone
Iceberg. I am so lucky.
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8. Heading Back to the Skiway and Weather Balloons
Early the next evening we grab our survival gear, throw it in the back of a Hägglunds and rumble our way towards the Ski Runway, also referred to as the “skiway”. As we reach Casey station limits, I remember that I have not turned my tag from white to red, so we radio back to the station to inform them. A re-assuring voice comes back stating they have already done it. I am being well looked after. This is our second trip to the skiway in anticipation of the flight from Davis arriving tonight.
As we head up the plateau we get bogged due to a stream running off the plateau and forming a (hidden) small, mushy lake under the surface of ice. Well, it is no longer hidden, and no longer small, as there are DEEP (about 1m) tracks left behind from us having to back up and get a run-up to free ourselves from our temporary home.
At the Skiway a local weather report is compiled and entered into a computer. The computer then translates the text into spoken English, and broadcasts it over the airwaves so pilots can tune in for the latest weather information.
We are informed that the flight has departed on time from Davis, some 1400km away. Now we have 4 hours to wait for the inbound flight to arrive, so we fill in some time by doing minor maintenance around the airfield.
There has been some cloud today, about 6/8 coverage. However, as the evening progresses, it starts to clear in the direction from which the plane will come. As the aircraft’s arrival time approaches, the fire vehicle takes up position.
At 23:30 with the sun still high in the sky (it is not due to set until about 03:30 and then only for one hour or so) a speck on the horizon slowly grows bigger.
The aircraft approaches in the direction of the runway and gradually loses altitude. As it does, I see the aircraft to my surprise, it is an old Douglas DC3!!! As it touches down, someone tells me it has been here many times before. This aircraft has been supporting the Australian Antarctic Program for the last 32 years, conducting airdrops, movement of cargo, medical evacuations and passenger transfers.
The skis on the Douglas DC3 flatten the groomed parking bay, while the pilot manoeuvres the plane to a stop, and the engines wind down to a still silence. Without the noise, you can think clearly again.
We greet the passengers as they disembark. They are taken to Casey station in the Hägglunds, while we remain and start unloading the cargo from the plane. The first thing off is the spare wheel for the aircraft, spare seating, then some stores. The end of the session finishes off with refuelling the aircraft.
We depart the skiway at 02:00 and rumble home to Casey. This time we do not get bogged as it is downhill and we have forwarded momentum. We arrive at the red building a little weary but very grateful for a warm bed.
Some facts on callsign C-GJKB -
She was built in 1942 and flew in WW11-Operation Market Garden
Seating - 2 pilots, 1 engineer and 18 passengers max
Payload - 3.58 tonnes
Can operate wheels and wheel skis
Max speed skis on 280 km per hour
Powered by twin Pratt and Whitney PT6A–76R turbines 1,424 shaft horsepower per engine.
Visit these webssites for more information on Basler/DC3 aircraft;http://www.antarctica.gov.au/living-and-working/travel-and-logistics/aviation/intracontinental-operations/basler-bt-67-aircraft
Despite the very late finish, I am up at 07:30 to work in the kitchen as a “slushy” (general kitchen hand, washing pots and pans and doing vegetable preparation etc).
I put on my best “fresh-as-a-daisy face” and front up to the kitchen ready for slushy duties.
I hear “What are you doing here?!”
I’m quick to reply with “I’m the slushy for today.”
My heart sinks a little when I hear “No, you are on tomorrow!!”
Did I tell you I hate to be late?
Oh well, I’m up now. With my newly-found spare time, I visit the meteorological office to watch the 10:15 weather balloon being released. The radiosonde instruments are very small and VERY lightweight, compared to the bulky instruments of forty years ago, at just a fraction of the size and weighing only about 200g.
Once the weather balloon is released, the tracking of the balloon is fully automated. It is tracked “live” by as many as 11 satellites at a time. Back in the office, a computer screen displays a multitude of data with automatic updates, including a track of the balloon’s path as it ascends. With the current summer conditions, the balloon reaches an altitude 35,000ft before it bursts due to the temperature of -50deg, then stops recording.
Later, I work on my slide show presentations ready for tonight. There are two presentations. The first is that of my Uncle’s pictures of his trip to Antarctica from 1958/59, 1959/60. The second is that of my pictures of my trip to Antarctica from 1976. In addition, I will have the PowerPoint presentation which I gave on board the Aurora Australis, covering Vladivostok to London, just in case there is spare time and enough interest.
My talk and presentations go really well, and the Antarctica slides were a big hit. There was quite some interest, so the group also got to see the Vladivostok to London slides. As a result, I think some people may feel inspired to go travelling on their return to Oz.
I retire to bed early to get some rest, because I do not want to be late for my slushy duties in the morning.
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7. 1 January 2020
New Year’s Day is just like any other day, with people coming and going. Some are finishing night shift, while others rub the sleep from their eyes as they make their way to work. Morning tea will be their breakfast.
One of my tasks as Club Berth Representative is to conduct interviews with a cross-section of the men and women who choose to live and work in Antarctica. I can relate, as I was one of those who made that choice over 40 years ago.
I ask expeditioners who are not due to start work until later that day, if they would like to take part in an oral interview, which would then become part of the ANARE Club’s oral history archives. Some duck and weave to avoid, not wanting anything to do with it. Maybe they are just too shy to talk into a microphone. Others become inquisitive and very soon I have my first interviewee. I offer him a glass of water, and try to make him feel at ease and relaxed. Truth be told, it is really me who needs relaxing. This is my first attempt at interviewing anyone.
We commence our interview and all goes well, with us sharing a joke or two along the way. Then we come to a difficult part where my interviewee friend starts to recall a previous season when there was a death at the station. My friend is having some difficulty at this point, and I obviously do not want to add to his pain by going down the dark side of that event. I manage to segue into a more comfortable topic. I have zero experience at interviewing, but a lifetime experience with people, and feel confident it was the right option at that moment in time. As I sit here writing this blog, I have completed 6 interviews, which have all gone very well. My first interviewee may feel that he would like to talk to me later and re-visit the difficult topic. As challenging as the topic of death on station may be, it is a part of our history. The flow-on effect of an adverse event also needs to be recorded. With all the highs, also come some lows.
After my interview sessions, I go for a walk around the station limits, when I come across people wearing full-on personal protective clothing including gas marks! This gets my attention.
When they stop for smoko, I am given the rundown of their work. There are six people currently working on the project. They are tasked with remediation of the contaminated soil and groundwater from fuel spills (mainly diesel). The programme is the first (and largest!) of its kind in Antarctica, and is truly arduous. It has been going on for ten years, and will continue for four more years.
In the above image you can see the team washing the soil and fine sediment to the lowest point. As the remediation team go about their job of washing the small and larger rocks, they then store the washed rocks behind them. These rocks will later be replaced back into the ground. Then the water is removed and stored.
The soil is collected and heaped into large mounds called “biopiles” within a secure bunded area. A small amount of fertiliser is added then a black textile cover is placed over the soil. Storing the soil out of the ground warms the soil in summer and produces the right conditions for the natural bacteria already living in the soil to start to degrade the fuel. Oxygen is added by occasionally rotating the stockpile of soil with an excavator. The pile needs to be kept moist. This is simply done by allowing the soil to sit in the specially engineered shallow dam and periodically sprinkling the dam water over the soil throughout the summer. The bioremediation process takes approximately five summer seasons because the bacteria in the soil becomes dormant over winter. Even though the bacteria are dormant in winter, the team is busy studying their samples- including the soil bacterial community, and working on ways to optimise and speed up the process. Once the soil is decontaminated it is used as fill under building foundations.
The water that was collected from the excavation area is stored in half open shipping containers to allow the larger particles to settle to the bottom and be removed. This water is then treated through a water treatment system that sits inside an insulated shipping container. The water enters the system and is treated by adjusting the pH, then adding a flocculent (a substance that promotes the clumping of fine particles, e.g. clay). It is then clarified and put through a very fine microfilter. The water then passes through a series of vertical stainless steel columns 30cm in diameter and 1.2m tall. These columns contain a zeolite (a natural aluminosilicate) and granulated activated carbon (crushed carbon pellets). These columns promote more bacteria growth inside them to further degrade the fuel in the water and the carbon also removes any dissolved fuel in the water. The water then travels through a heated hose to a natural lake and is returned to nature as clean uncontaminated water. WOW.
When you hear the question: “Would you like to come for a ride up to the Ski Runway?” there is only one response that comes to mind for me.
I reply eagerly: “Yesss, what do I need?”
I am told: “Grab your survival bag, turn your tag from white to red and place it on the sign for Ski Runway.”
We get into the red Hagglunds. As I slam the door, the tracked vehicle rumbles into action. At a designated point we call in: “Two people on board – Victor and Dean in Hagglunds K36 on track to the Ski Runway.”
Crackling back: “Roger”. Then they repeat the call.
We travel west, then turn north, climbing uphill continuously to about 1200m where a 1.5km ice runway stretches out in front of us.
We see bulldozers and ice grooming machines busy at work preparing the runway in readiness for an inbound flight from Davis station.
Unfortunately the flight is unable to depart Davis due to bad weather. Let’s try again tomorrow, hopefully with better luck. We head downhill and back towards the station. We stop about halfway down and fill our drink bottles with some of the world’s freshest water, as it runs off the ice plateau.
18:00 and dinner is served (I could get used to this). Tonight we have a selection of 3 options. We can choose from lamb curry and rice; grilled pork chops with sauce and 3 veg; or a vegetarian dish. Dessert is tiramisu, my favourite. After I have eaten more than I need, I of course have dessert. Did I mention tiramisu is my favourite?
Later in the evening I conduct more interviews, followed by a cup of tea and 2 TimTam biscuits. Life is very hard here. Well, it is hard to keep the weight off.
22:00 finds me in bed going to sleep listening to the ABC Sydney news report. Sadly it is filled with reports of the devastation of bushfires, with mention of the area around Mallacoota in Victoria.
2 January 2020
This morning, I chat with one of the men on Casey station who lives in that area. His wife and children have been evacuated to safety. He takes comfort knowing they are safe, but is all too aware that their family home is directly in harm’s way. Powerless to do anything, I wish him, along with countless others, luck. With unbreakable Aussie resilience, our country and its people will get through this tragic disaster.
I set up to commence another interview. Literally, as I press the “record” button, a loud noise blares from somewhere. Could that be my phone alarm? No, it is the fire alarm. We have of course been trained in how to respond. We grab our outside clothing, slip on our boots and exit the building, heading directly to The Green Store. I look back to see a steady stream of people following us. Our names are checked off and everyone is accounted for. A short time later the station’s fire fighters call up on the radio giving their all-clear. Luckily it was a false alarm and we all head back to resume our work.
I am able to conduct one more interview, before helping to unload more stores outside. Then off to bed, another great day in Antarctica is over.back to top
6. Casey Station, Antarctica. Aurora Australis has arrived!
The reason I have not written any earlier, quite simply, is that I have been too busy enjoying myself. Well isn’t that the real reason I am here?? So, what have I been up to since my last blog? Read on …….
We have arrived at Casey Station, Antarctica, and are ready to disembark the Aurora Australis (AA). Time to get my land legs back.
Midday 30 December 2019 finds me exiting the ship via a large square hole that sits 10m above the waterline called the Bunka Door. Flashbacks to when I was in the Army – use your hands to grab thick rope, one on either side; plant your feet firmly on the sturdy rope ladder stepping down rung by rung, sliding the rope between your hands as you go. Once you reach the Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB), sit on the side pontoon, tuck one foot into the toehold and away we go. As we head off, I have the chance to see the AA up close and personal from a completely different angle. She is majestic. The seas are glassy smooth as we speed towards the shoreline of Antarctica.
The IRB pulls into the bay and the engine gives a cough as it tries to stay alight, to no avail. The kill switch has been pulled, and the engine gives one last death rattle, finishing with a thud and a jerk to one side. The beach is rough with gravel and large rocks. Exposed boulders with smooth surfaces makeing it very easy to slip over. Not an ideal landscape for regaining my land legs.
I am asked: “Do you want to walk up, or can I call you a taxi?”.
A taxi?? Here?? I am a little surprised, to say the least.
I respond with: “How far is the station?”.
Then the decision has already been made for me as I hear: “It’s ok, I will call you a taxi.”.
My “taxi” arrives – in the form of a vehicle not dissimilar to the ones you would see in the cartoon series of The Simpsons or Southpark. My “taxi” is in fact a truck with a body of a bus placed on it. Not the smoothest of rides and, after a bumpy 800m, we reach the front of a large red two story building, the accommodation building.
I have exerted a lot of energy by now and am sweating, despite the cold temperatures. I enter the cold porch, I take off all my survival gear. There to meet me with a warm greeting and a welcoming smile is Laruen, a familiar face from my hometown of the Gold Coast, Queensland. Lauren is helping run the operations side of the unloading of the cargo for resupply at the station.
Lauren makes a tag with my name on it. The front side of the tag is white. White indicates that I am on the station. The flip side is red. Should I depart the station, the tag is turned over to the red side, then placed back on the tag board next to whichever of the many locations I can travel to (with an escort, as I am not currently field trained, nor licensed to drive the equipment). This system is an easy reference to locate anyone at any given time.
I am given a tour of the colourful buildings, some colour-coded:
Blue ones are out-of-bounds due to inherent dangers (including the power station and hydrogen shed, where weather balloons are filled and released).
The long red building is the accommodation building.
Red two-storey building with the oversize panel lift doors, that can be opened in winds over 200 km per hour is the fire station.
Green large building is known as “The Green Store”, complete with a Bunnings sticker on the front door, which just about sums up what is inside. However, this Bunnings doesn’t do sausage sizzles. Instead, what you will find, along with everything else hardware related, it houses the freezers and warm room that store a year’s supply of frozen and canned food. I am instructed that, in the event of an emergency, I am to grab my survival gear and come here. The Doctor’s surgery is here, along with the plumbers’ and carpenters’ workshops, and so on.
The Station Tan, which is also off-limits, is where the ice/snow melt is captured and put through a reverse osmoses plant, then used for domestic purposes.
The area behind is the quiet zone. We are requested not to walk here, so as not to disturb the sophisticated equipment in use. This equipment actually listens for nuclear explosions around the world!!
The rest of the station limits are pointed out– do not pass go.
Tuesday 31 December 2019, New Year’s Eve. I am given a table to set up the ANARE Club memorabilia, and quickly start selling some badges, etc.
the resupply has started in earnest, with shipping containers coming
and going in a flurry. A “special” container arrives, and it is
all hands on deck to unload this one. I am told that the cargo is
duty-free alcohol bought by the expeditioners before departure back in
Australia. Next container is full of medical supplies with many
boxes labelled “CRITICAL”, which is placed outside the Doctor’s
surgery. As they say, many hands make light work.
Suddenly, it is 21:00. Despite the time, it is still full daylight. I know not to expect a sunset until about 04:00
Even though it is New Year’s Eve, there is no party during resupply. So, it’s a quick snack, a talk around the table and off to bed. Then the night shift takes over to continue supervising the unloading of 1.1million litres of diesel fuel via a floating pipeline from ship to shore. Resupply is an around-the-clock wheel, and the cogs don’t stop turning until it’s completed.
Happy New Year to all from everyone at Casey Station, Antarctica.
I wonder what’s next.back to top
5. From Buoys to Lectures
Since Boxing Day it’s been a hive of activity on board the Aurora Australis, keeping everyone busy and on their toes.
Firstly, we were assigned a task to place a weather observation buoy at the exact co-ordinates as requested by the Bureau of Meteorology – successfully completed.
Next, came the task to release and retrieve a whale (acoustic recording) mooring which has been placed on the ocean floor at a depth of 2854m for the last year. The Whale mooring is used to obtain sound recordings of whales as they sing their songs and dive to the depths of the Southern Ocean.
Michael the tech guy and the Captain work together to skilfully manoeuvre the ship into position, right up close to the whale mooring. From here, a coded signal was sent to the whale mooring to release it from it’s home on the ocean floor. Two large yellow buoys then provided positive buoyancy to raise the mooring from the depths.
The seas are choppy, yet this doesn’t stop everyone taking to the deck with binoculars to claim the glory of being first to sight the buoy as it breaks surface. The whale mooring is in fact comprised of two distinct components. There is the acoustic component, or the main body, which is a very large cylindrical drum about the size of three adult men. Then there is the buoyancy component, made up of two large yellow buoys; each about the size of very large watermelons. Both components are tethered together by 10m of rope, designed for ease of retrieval. This time, however, the rope has become entangled bringing both components together into an intertwined jumble of rope and equipment.
A grappling hook is shot out, but misses with the main body and the buoys tangled.
In rough seas and high winds the ship is very carefully manoeuvred closer still to the main body, but the grappling hook misses its target several more times. This goes on for over than an hour, until finally – success, the unit is captured! You cannot imagine how hard it was for the ship. To give you an idea of the degree of difficulty, it would be like trying to move a highrise building 1cm to the left during a magnitude 6.5 earthquake. Intense is an understatement.
The whale mooring is dragged safely aboard.
The new whale mooring is lowered overboard off the aft deck.
For the last two evenings I have given a slide show presentation of my last trip, when I drove my own car from Vladivostok to London over a 12-month period. It was a big hit. Some people expressed an interest to see it again. I guess some people are just gluttons for punishment.
Late evening 28 December, we entered the sea ice, putting the ship through its paces as an ice-breaker. We pounded and bashed our way through the ice for 15 hours.
Next morning we woke to full sunshine through light cirrus cloud. It was a sight to behold. Everyone made their way to the bow to take pictures and capture the moment. Adelie and Emperor penguins scurried left and right, while Weddell and Crabeater seals soaked up the sunshine. Later, as we cleared the ice, came Minke whales as well as humpbacks. Looking up to see Skua birds and Snow Petrels flying overhead and around the ship, I think you could call it “picture perfect postcard” scenery. I wish you could all be here with me.
Photo Mike Sparg
Whilst all of this has been going on, we have also fitted in many lectures in preparation for arrival at Casey Station. We could arrive at around 19:00 this evening. Although we are eager, we shall not be going ashore until tomorrow. The first evening at Casey will only see important mail (Christmas cards for the Scientists) and a delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables to Casey Station.
So now I must head off to sanitise my boots, then clean my bags and clothing of all seeds – we must exercise stringent quarantine controls to safeguard the pristine Antarctic environment.
Ever the happy expeditioner,
4. Merry Christmas to all from the high seas of the Southern Ocean.
24 December sees a flurry of activity involving colourful wrapping paper, scissors and sticky tape. Most of us have participated in Secret Santa. Some have come aboard with gifts already wrapped, while others buy the new ANARE Club stubby cooler with the RSV Nuyina on it as their SS gift.
The seas have been VERY kind to us today (thank you Santa) and spirits are high.
We have a briefing on how to conduct plankton sampling, and how to clean and calibrate the CSIRO CO2 water testing equipment. There is a 3-hour roster on which people eagerly put their names. So the last one in gets the late shifts, which I am happy to do because I don't need that much beauty sleep!!
One of the ladies Jaimie gives a fantastic presentation on her work with birds like the albatross in Antarctica. They carefully glue tracking devices to the birds. By recording their movements, they can then tell when the bird is behind a stopped trawler pulling in a net, or a moving long-line fishing boat, simply by looking at the flight patterns of the birds.
25 December 2019, Christmas Day
We are all so lucky. How many people get to spend Christmas Day on the Aurora Australis in the convergence with light fog and smoothish seas?
During the night, from far faraway, Santa has somehow managed to place small gifts at the end of my bed. On opening them I find a yellow Simpsons T-shirt and a collection of Star Wars stuff like cars and socks, plus the must have Christmas item of chocolate coated almonds MMmmmmm. Santa knows me so well. Who needs breakfast?
Lunch is an over the top smorgasbord. To save me writing and possibly missing something please see attached pictures. Anyway, my descriptions would not do the buffet justice. We want for nothing. Well maybe to be at home with our families and friends, but this is the next best thing. And yes, like lots of people, I wear my silly paper party hat. It’s Christmas, so it’s obligatory.
After lunch SS gifts are handed out by Santa, and I don’t think there is even one double up on the gifts.
People sit around opening gifts - there are penguin plush toys, drink bottles and even a Google Alexa (I think someone may have overspent on the $10 limit). We continue drinking champagne and beer, telling stories of our work, families back in Oz and other stuff that goes into making the fabric of life. Before too long, some quickly retreat to their rooms suffering from a food coma.
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2. Hobart - Predeparture
I arrive in Tasmania a couple of weeks before my anticipated departure date. Those who know me would tell you that I am notoriously early for any travel arrangement, but even I concede that 2 weeks early is a little extreme. Maybe I am just super excited to be heading off to Antarctica on “Orange Roughy”, the Aurora Australis (AA).
Lots of behind the scenes preparation and arrangements go into each and every component of any re-supply journey. An obvious one of course, is that of clothing issue. I had been given a date and time to go along to the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) for a meet and greet, and for my clothing issue. The day before my appointment, I received a nice email saying that, as we will be on the high seas for Christmas, we can participate in Secret Santa if we would like, with a spend limit of around $10. Excitedly, I head into town to find a suitable gift, wrap it and mark it “From your SS”. This gift will be collected before we board the AA, and does not form part of my weight allowance.
AAD headquarters is located in the beautiful town of Kingston, about 12km from Hobart. It is a conglomeration of several individual buildings on the downward side of a hill. Upon entering the reception area, there is a wonderful display of Antarctic memorabilia, ranging from a commemorative brass plaque of the Nella Dan to mounted penguins and dogs, along with dioramas of Antarctic Stations, and mannequins of explorers kitted out in their clothing and equipment. A great display that tells fascinating stories. Taking pride of place, featured on a full-size wall, is a glass etching of the RSV Nuyina and her statistics. The RSV Nuyina of course is Australia’s newest icebreaker. She is due to arrive in Australia early 2020 to replace the Aurora Australis.
After looking through the memorabilia, I am given instructions of how to find the clothing store, like I am a local at AAD. Well, I am not a local, and – I get lost. Eventually I enter a clean, well laid out building where the clothing store manager, Sue, starts to issue me with my three layers of clothing. Then comes my survival gear and boots. I feel there is no hurry to complete the fitting. In fact, it is the opposite as Sue gives me her undivided attention and meticulously checks that everything fits correctly. She reminds me that if I find the equipment is too tight or too big, I should come back and have it re-issued. The survival kit bag will be delivered to my cabin on the AA. The work clothes and boots are my responsibility to carry on to the ship, and the weight forms part of my allocated weight allowance. There is a BIG problem as I am already overweight with my bag loaded with camera equipment. What am I going to do now?!
Some good news - on my return to Australia after the re-supply is complete, the clothing that doesn’t touch my skin must be given back to AAD, but the rest, such as thermals and gloves, are mine to keep.
After a check with the I.T. section to make sure I have all the necessary information for sending blogs and pictures back from the ship, and I am a free man for the rest of the day.
Back in Hobart going for a walk down town for lunch and I run into a large group of men and women, some wearing AAD hats. Of course I stop and talk with them. I learn they have just arrived back from the French Station of Dumont d’Urville after the AA conducted their re-supply, as the French icebreaker L’Astrolabe has broken down and is in Perth for repairs.
Now back in my room, with my newly-issued (and very heavy) clothing and boots, I ruthlessly cull and repack my camera equipment and clothing, even down to my socks and jocks, but I am STILL over my maximum weight allowance of 30kg in 2 bags of no more than 15kg each.
As I rummage through my bag, I come across some books. Books are heavy, right? Then the solution to my weight dilemma comes to me. I take those books out and wrap them. They have now become additional Secret Santa gifts for all on board to enjoy. Problem solved. Hopefully I might even get a chance to read them too!
I am Victor Watt, named after my Uncle Victor Smith. My earliest memory of my Uncle Vic was as a four year old, being told that he was going to a frozen place called Antarctica, on board the Thala Dan. This kicked off my curiosity that set my future course in life. In 1958/59 Uncle Vic was Australian Army Transport Officer-in-Charge of the amphibious landing vehicles known as DUKWs (Ducks), which were used in the re-supply of all Stations.
I started work as a Cook in the Australian Army 1972-93. Even though I was “just a Cook” I did lots of interesting things – from becoming SAS qualified, to (along with others) setting the record for the fastest time travelled down the Murray River in a small power craft, and lots more. While idly flicking through a friend’s Women’s Weekly in 1975, an article leapt off the page, grabbing my attention. Applications were being sought for positions in Antarctica – it was fate. I applied, and was subsequently secconded from the Australian Army to the Department of Science, Antarctic Division, to take up the position of Cook at Davis Station, Antarctica for 1976. I was fortunate enough to travel on the iconic Nella Dan.
“The Nella Dan holds a special place in the hearts of all who have travelled on her. After its sinking, I wanted to have a tangible reminder of her contribution to my Antarctic adventures. I had this painting commissioned.”
Whilst at Davis, all station personnel assisted in the construction of the current emergency power station. It was a very special time, sharing experiences that can be had nowhere else in the world. On departing, we all felt that we had left a little part of ourselves behind. Hence, Davis has always felt somewhat like “home” to me.
On discharge from the Army, my school-teacher wife took our young family on a one year teacher exchange to British Columbia, Canada. From there, we had the opportunity to travel most of North America and to cross the Arctic Circle (one of my bucket list items), thereby making me “bi-polar” (Dad-joke!).
1994, back in Australia re-settling on the Gold Coast, saw me working at Colgate Palmolive making toothpaste for the next 10 years. Next I ticked off another bucket list item by owning and running my own business for four years, selling consumables to the take-away industry. The last penance of my working life was a position at a large software distribution company for five years. After the passing of my wife, I retired and re-visited my bucket list. First item was to go back “home”. In 2011, I boarded the Russian icebreaker, the Kapitan Khlebnikov, visiting Mawson Hut, Commonwealth Bay, Davis, Amery Iceshelf, with a landing at Heard Island.
On returning to Australia, next on my bucket list was to backpack around the world, with the goal of living for a year on each of the seven continents. I have only one continent to go, being South America which I intend to explore in 2021. So far I have visited about 140 countries.
In April this year I returned from my latest major trip, driving my own Queensland registered 4x4 cross-continent from Vladivostok, through Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan (any other “stan-country” you might like to think of), Europe and Iceland, finishing in London, covering more than 60,000km in 12 months. Whilst in Romania, I made a point of going to the town of Galati where the new Australian icebreaker “Nuyina” is under construction. Damen Shipyards granted me approval for a personal guided tour of the ship.
Despite my previous trips to Antarctica, I have only ever admired the Aurora Australis from afar, at its “Summer” holiday location of Hobart. Upon hearing that the last voyage of the AA was scheduled for 2019/20, and the ANARE Club Berth would be available, my current wife encouraged and supported me to apply for the Berth. By a stroke of good fortune, I was awarded the position of Club Berth Representative ahead of other applicant, Mr Dean Campbell. I empathise with Dean in what must be a great disappointment, and wish him the best of luck for any future application.
Fast forward to 24 December 2019 – would you like to join me as I walk up the gangway of AA with anticipation and excitement for the voyage ahead, an over water re-supply to Casey on V2. And a much prized stamp in my passport “Casey Station Antarctica”.