Emails From Antarctica
2004 - Hobart to Casey (Updated 5 June 2005)
October 5 - 2004
So, another Antarctic Adventure begins! This time I am heading
back to Mawson station for the summer to work on the Adelie
Penguin Monitoring Program at Bechervaise Island - just like
in the 2002/2003 season, except this time we are travelling
on the Aurora Australis to Casey then flying in the new CASA212
fixed wing aircraft to Davis and then Mawson.
This will be the first time I have flown in a fixed wing aircraft
in Antarctica, and also by such a circuitous route to my final
I will be working with the other members of this seasons
Beche Penguin Team, Rhonda and John (Snake). Both Rhonda and
Snake have previously spent long periods of time in Antarctica
working on other biology programs. Rhonda spent the winter
with me at Mawson in 2000, and also last summer (03/04) at
Beche. Snake has also spent time at all of the other ANARE
stations, except Mawson.
Streamers fill the air as we say farewell
from the wharf
We are due to arrive at Mawson on November
11th 2004, then depart from Mawson mid February 2005, arriving back
in Hobart on or about February 27 2005 - a total of about 4.5 months
Some of the major projects I will be working on this summer are
a 'Penguin Camera' and radio tracking trials. The 'Penguin Camera'
is a digital SLR camera mounted inside a weather proof pelican case
along with batteries and a solar panel. It will take a series of
pictures of a penguin colony for later analysis to help determine
foraging trip duration of the penguins. We will also be conducting
some radio tracking trials, where up to 25 penguins will have small
radio transmitters attached to their backs. A receiver in the colony
will then determine when the penguins are present or absent and
thus also help determine their foraging trip duration.
For the few days leading up to October 5, I had been busy packing
both my work equipment and all my personal clothes/effects. It wasn't
quite as much of a chore as has been in previous years because from
experience I knew generally what I needed to take and what I could
obtain on station. The thing that made this season a little more
tricky was the increased paperwork required to consign cargo and
effects to Antarctica via the AAD cargo system. Everybody knows
about the increased security and paranoia at airports since the
11th of September 2001, however, it has taken quite sometime for
these restrictions to flow onto ports, and for the method of checking
cargo/effects to be implemented in a practical manner. The 'security'
restrictions In previous seasons has ranged from none at all to
total xraying of all luggage and effects (a very time wasting exercise).
Luckily this season the procedures put in place seem to have been
thought through and the process of getting all my work and personal
effects onto the ship was quite straight forward.
So at 4:55pm on October 5 we departed from Macquarie Wharf 4. Quite
a number of people had turned up to say farewell along with an ABC
TV cameraman. Departures of the first ship for the season are usually
aired on the local ABC TV News, and this year was a little bit more
special because it is the first season when specially purchased
fixed wing aircraft will be used to transport people and cargo between
As we sailed south down the Derwent in the afternoon sun a lot of
people stood around on the rear helicopter deck admiring the view
of Mt Wellington, Hobart and the Channel. Numerous last minute 'goodbye'
mobile phone calls were made (me included!), and I'm sure a lot
of reflecting was going on as to the coming summer adventures and
tasks. I had a fair amount of work lined up, but no where near as
much as I had done in previous seasons. One the main tasks I had
set myself on the ship on the way to Casey was to write the software
to control the Penguin Camera. That's because when we arrive at
Mawson the cameras have to be setup and operational almost straight
Standing around on the helicopter deck as we
sail out - Note the number of hands holding mobile phones!
Until the second time I went to sea, I didn't know that I didn't
get sea sick and I discovered that when I forgot to take the anti-seasickness
tablets (called 'Avomine'). Not getting seasick is a good thing.
It means that I can easily read, write emails and make good use
of my time. Even though I don't get sick, it usually takes about
2 - 3 days for me to "get my sea legs back" after a long
period on land.
For the first few days we had a relatively calm ocean with only
a small amount of rocking and rolling and it only seemed like there
were a few people that didn't seem to be turning up for lunch or
dinner, so hopefully the rest of the trip is going to be the same.
I spent most of the day sitting at my computer writing software
for the penguin camera, as well as sending out a number of emails
letting people know my new ship based email address.
This morning I woke with the ship stationary. As I discovered later,
this was because a mooring was being recovered. After having getting
dressed and having a bite to eat I went out to the rear trawl deck
and watched the operation taking place on the rear trawl deck.
A mooring consist of an anchor (usually several old railway carriage
wheels), several kilometres of wire and nylon rope, glass and plastic
floats and acoustic releases to which all instruments such as sediment
traps and current meters are attached. The anchor of the mooring
sits on the ocean floor, with the sediment traps/meters spaced at
intervals such as 500 or 1000m from the bottom. Floats are placed
at regular intervals and at the very top. Also at the top is a flash
beacon and radio transmitter. For a typical mooring there could
be 3 traps and 2 current meters.
When the ship approaches the site of the mooring, a specially
coded acoustic signal is sent down to tell the acoustic releases
to let go of the mooring. If all goes well the wire, floats,
sediment traps and current meters float to the surface. At
the surface the mooring emits a radio signal, or flashing
light so that it can be spotted by the ship. Once it has been
located on the surface the ship careful comes along side the
floats, making sure the wire is not caught in the propellor
or rudder, and grappling hooks are thrown overboard to try
and grab the floats. Once the floats and wire has been caught,
the wire, floats, sediment traps and meters are hauled on
The sediment traps are designed to collect oceanic settling
particles, e.g. particles that are falling down through the
water to land on the bottom of the ocean. The particles consist
of phytoplankton (such as diatoms), zooplankton, faecal pellets
from fish and zooplankton, fish, and dust. The trap consists
of a large funnel, with a series of cups below the funnel.
Each cup is automatically rotated into position every fortnight
or so. When the traps are recovered the material is taken
back to Hobart to be analysed for various compounds. The results,
for example, give an indication of how the Southern Ocean
acts as a carbon sink which is important for understanding
greenhouse gas control and global warming.
The current meters are a water analogy of a wind vane, measuring
the amount of water travelling past the mooring since it was
Removing a sediment trap from the mooring
Watching the mooring being recovered was an interesting experience
because despite all the high tech equipment on board, the method
of grabbing the massive floats, wire, instrument combination came
down to the ship passing as close as possible to a floats (without
becoming entangled in the wire which is hanging between them) and
at the same time the crew throwing grappling hooks with rope over
the rear of the ship, hopefully hooking onto the wire rope or the
floats. For the first mooring it took 3 attempts, and then the process
of dragging the kilometres of cable in was made difficult by the
complicated connections of wire/rope between the floats and the
instruments. The trawl deck, where this was all taking place, was
a dangerous place with many steel cables/ropes under a lot of tension.
If one were to break then serious injury could result.
In total for the voyage down to Casey, 5 moorings had to be recovered.
2 of these were previously 'lost' (they had not responded to previous
acoustic release commands) and attempts were going to be made to
recover them by trawling a large net behind the ship at depths down
to 2800 metres in the vain hope that it would snag onto part of
On Friday, the reverse process occurred with 2 mooring deployed
from the recycled & recovered sediment traps/current meters.
This picture shows the dramatic effect of the pressure ate 2800m
water pressure on foam float, before (right) and after (left).
Federal election day! Ian, the comms technician setup a web streaming
radio server linked to ABC radio in Melbourne. This was so we could
all listen to the radio coverage of the election results on our
laptop computers. I attempted to listen to a bit of the election
coverage, but wasn't very lucky because all I got was the gardening
program... anyway, I gave up after awhile because I had the horrible
gut feeling that the Liberals were going to be re-elected. I had
already cast my vote, by postal ballot, as had most other people
on the ship.
The election was overshadowed by a much more interesting activity
on board - 'Murder on the high seas'.
- The aim of the game is to be the last person standing.
- Each person will receive the name of another expeditioner or
crew on the ship Saturday - the game begins at 7pm after the names
are distributed (they will be randomly stuck to cabin doors -
just take one and don't swap - unless you get your own name !!).
- This person is your intended victim, who you can murder by approaching
them and telling them "you re dead". If you manage to
successfully murder someone, their victim then becomes your next
victim and you are well on your way to becoming a serial killer!
- To "murder" - you must be completely alone with your
victim, not in eyesight of anyone else
- Cabins are "safe" unless you are invited in
- If you don't want to play - just wait until you are murdered
and pass on the name of your victim
- The Science labs on E deck are out of bounds at all times (no
hiding there or hindering marine science work)
Luckily most people were still trying to work out the names of
the 100 or so other people on board (including the crew), but occasionally
you would hear a shout, and then some laughter as crime was committed.
Earlier in the afternoon a trawl for one of the lost moorings
brought up some weird fish from about 2800 metres deep. Dick
Williams, a fish biologist from the AAD identified the fish
from the photos. The large black/white fish is about 800mm
Big black warty one (top)- an "Angler Fish",
probably Ceratias tentaculatus. You should have been able
to see a long "fishing rod" with a luminous lure
on the end that reaches over from the back and dangles in
front of the mouth to attract prey. The fishing rod is a modified
dorsal fin ray, and may be broken off in this specimen that
looks a bit banged about. This would be a female, as the males
are small and parasitic on the female.
Weird fish from the deep
This species (if correctly identified) is reasonably common in
the deeper waters (>500m)around the southern part of Australia
but has also been collected at Macquarie and Heard Islands. It's
interesting to find this species in such deep water, although it
may have been caught on the way up from the bottom.
medium-sized brown one - a bit hard to tell what this one is,
as there is not a clear view of it to see the important characters.
My best guess is a member of the Family Centrolophidae, which includes
the Trevallas. This specimen resembles one of the rudderfish, either
Centrolophus, Tubbia or Schedophilus. These fish are well-known
Tasmania in waters deeper than 500m. Again, it's interesting to
get a specimen from such deep water, although it may also have been
caught on the way up.
I nearly died in the 'murder' game tonight.. Sam tried to kill
me in the E Deck labs, but of course foolishly forgot that they
were out of bounds!. Now at least I know who is after me. hahaha!
Yay! I had my first (and only kill). I caught Gerry 'O (a crew
member) as he walked up the stairs from the restaurant.. It was
very simple really (I don't think he was trying to escape).
The rest of today was spent writing more software for for the Penguin
Camera and then after dinner we had a a great quiz night. After
2 hours of all the usual weird questions interspersed with silly
team games our table ended up being 3rd overall. Not bad from a
total of 10... I think I had so much fun that I completely forgot
all about the other game of murder that was going on because as
I started walking down a corridor away from the restaurant I heard
a door behind me open.. a thought flashed into my head.. opps!!..
Then as the ship rolled I heard "you are dead kym!" ...
I then (involuntarily) went sideways through a door and fell &
rolled all over the carpet (luckily no injuries) . DOH! I didn't
last too long in that game, but the funny way I was caught made
up for it.
Out on deck, the weather has been becoming more Antarctic.
The ocean has been occasionally dishing up some large waves
and the ship has rolled quite badly resulting in chairs and
other loose objects sliding across the floor. Snow has been
falling outside on the decks. I haven't had too many problems
with getting to sleep, probably because I've been burning
the candle at both ends (watching a few too many late night
movies and spending late nights writing software for the Penguin
Still feeling somewhat angry over the election result...
grumble grumble grumble.. grrr
A lone snowman on the helideck, sculpture
Today I did something other than wakeup, eat, program, eat, program
and then sleep. Time to wash the clothes, change the linen and wander
up to the bridge. Snake said he saw the first Adelies ... and for
some dumb strange reason I asked "in the water?" ha! maybe
I was thinking on a piece of ice?.. but such is Snake's repartee
that the answer was "no ... flying past the bridge" ..
hahaha. It is going to be an interesting summer I thought.
I also tried to think about the iceberg sweep. The competition
where you try and guess when the first iceberg will be seen (within
a defined set of parameters like : must be visible within 5nm of
the ship and along side the bridge). The next few weeks were divided
into 15 minute timeslots at $0.50 each....
In the afternoon we started ship board field training sessions.
First up ropes. It didn't take too long for all the old trusty knots
to come back, eg the up-one-butterfly, clove hitch, truckies knot,
figure-8 and figure-8 reversed. It is quite surprising how often
you have to use knots while working in Antarctica. The most common
one I use is the truckies hitch for tying backpacks/bags onto the
cargo racks of the quad bikes, as well as tying large things down
to stop them being blown away in the wind.
My work on the Penguin camera has now got to a point where it is
automatically taking photographs unattended every 10 minutes all
night. I been leaving it on over night and coming back in the morning
to review the 100 or so pictures it had taken but found that it
had missed a few. Hmm. Time to look for some software bugs.
Thursday, October 14
More field training. This time first aid refresher. In the following
few days we also have navigation, GPS techniques, sea ice travel
and weather observation/skills.
In the evenings there have been some talks by people on the ship
about their intended summer programs, or about their field of research/interest.
Tonight Lloyd from Skytraders, the operators of the CASA212 planes
we are going to fly in this summer, gave an interesting talk about
the fitting and trialling of ski's on these types of planes.
Saturday, October 16
Wokeup a bit late today, and heard over the ships PA system that
there was going to be a fire drill/muster.. Unfortunately I didn't
hear the bit about 'crew only'. Haha. I wondered why it was a little
quiet on the helideck and there didn't seem like anybody else dressing
in their Antarctic clothing. Nevermind. I ended up spending a fair
while sitting out on the seat on the side deck watching the waves
go by, with the ship gently rolling in the swell ... very good stress
Tonight was the night for head shaving where people who have long
locks are ritually head shaved for money which goes to camp quality.
Unfortunately I had somewhat of a headache, and this night is not
the quietest of nights, so I gave it a miss. About $8000 was raised
which is a very good result.
Sunday, October 17
Today is definitely groundhog day. Right on 10:30am was another
fire drill/muster. This time I managed to hear all that was
said and it also included the expeditioners. Aha! at least
I wasn't going to be lonely on the helideck again! Time for
this seasons first silly pose ... it took me 3 goes to get
it right, mainly because my digital camera is a little lethargic
and because the ship was exactly steady..
Sunday also turned out to be quite an action packed day.
With two briefings on in the morning and afternoon (OH&S)
and then weather observation for field training, I had to
also pack in a 2 hour snooze mid afternoon (after all Sundays
are the day of rest !).
To top it all off, at 4.30pm, a very 'special' meeting was
called in the restaurant... this time it was the infamous
King Neptune ceremony. For those who had never done it before
I wonder what they thought was going to happen, well it didn't
take all that long to find out. In the words of King Neptune
"all yea who entry my kingdom shall be smeared with
vegemite and snow petrel poo, shall kiss the fish head and
the toe of my wife Queen Neptune"
Of all the King Neptune ceremonies I have seen (it is customary
amongst all Antarctic nations, not just Australia), the ceremonies
on the AA are usually some of the messiest, with special attention
usually paid to crew members and those that resist the demands
of King Neptune's side kicks.
Buzz Light-year aka Greg at the muster
Lloyd Kisses the foot of Queen Neptune
(Photo by Greg)
Silly Pose at Muster number 1
Jacob Cops the vegemite treatment while
King Neptune summons the next victims
Toni models 'Petrel poo & Vegemite'
Needless to say the ships hot water system couldn't cope with the
showers that followed! After the ceremony, a BBQ tea was held out
on the trawl deck. These are usually fairly chilly so you have to
eat with gloves, but the bonus is that the view from the back of the
trawl deck is often spectacular. In this case we were sailing through
grease and pancake ice, the sun was behind some thin clouds and casting
nice light across the surface.
The view from the trawl deck as we
passed through the grease ice towards Casey.
Pancake ice formations. The average diameter is about 1.5 to 2metres.
Pack Ice closes in as we get closer to Casey
|After tea I went up to
the bridge to watch our progress into the pack ice, and in the process
saw almost the whole collection of Antarctic wildlife - Crab eater
seals, Adelie penguins, Emperor penguins, Minke whales and snow petrels!
Monday, October 18
Today I woke up early (7am) with the AA in icebreaker mode. Icebreaker
mode is when both engines are engaged to the one propellor through
a large gear box, and then the blades on the propellor are adjusted
to a small pitch to prevent any damage to them by ice that passes
underneath the hull. It is also quite easy to tell when the ship
is in this mode because there are a lot of vibrations and shuddering
that goes through the ship as it rises up onto the ice flow and
then sinks down. You can also hear the sounds of the ice scraping
along side the ship, as well as the tell tale orange marks of the
paint left on the ice. Sometimes the vibrations are so bad that
my laptop screen would wobbling all over the place making it hard
to read - the best analogy would be to imagine trying to use a laptop
while driving down a bumpy dirt road! The ice wasn't very thick
because we were making constant forward motion, only when the ship
has to stop reverse and then take another run-up onto the ice can
you call it 'thick'.
However, things changed late in the afternoon when the ship got
stuck on a rather large lump of ice and spent nearly 14 hours at
various stages of full throttle backwards / forwards trying to free
itself. Other techniques such as ballast shifting& "rudder
waggling" (not the technical term) were also used without success.
I think the master was heard to mention a few expletives under his
voice after being constantly asked by expeditioners asking "are
we stuck?"..."why don't we ...."
Plans are also being laid for the fly off into Casey tomorrow,
hopefully starting at 6am (weather dependent). From the lists on
the whiteboard about 65 people were to fly off, along with all their
luggage and the cargo. On the list, Rhonda, Snake & myself were
down about number 45, so we didn't have to worry too much about
being up early in the morning.
Other activities today included more GPS navigation field training
- where we wandered around on the deck marking waypoints, moving
away and then wandering back to them, and then a compulsory helicopter
flight safety briefing to make sure that we all knew how to approach,
enter and exit from the machines as well as close/open/fasten the
doors and hatches.
I also spend an hour or so packing up my work equipment and sorting
through my clothes to make sure I would be ready when we started
Woke up to find that the AA had managed to get off the piece of
ice it was stuck on yesterday, but was wallowing about in the broken
ice. Flying was obviously off because there was no noise up on the
helideck and the horizon and visibility looked very poor.
After breakfast I went to read/send some emails. When I was reading
one from Colin (one of my bosses at Kingston) , t Vicki the Voyage
leader made a PA announcement saying that the CASA 212 aircraft
were not due into Hobart until November 8. Woah!.. bummer and a
half! That is when we were initially meant to be arriving at Mawson.
Looks like the whole season for us is starting to slip uncontrollably.
Later on we received (via a third source) an 'all staff', 'all
station' email that wasn't even addressed to us from our manager
of operations explaining the reasons for the delays. This is quite
annoying. Not being told directly about the delays and having to
find out by the ANARE rumour mill. A quote from the email.
"Otherwise the worst seems to be in terms of disrupted plans,
a measure of additional uncertainty and even the suggestion that
things might be going awry"
Not quite sure what to make of that, but probably worth printing
out and framing...
Flying was also cancelled today , including an ice reconnaissance
because of poor visibility. Later in the afternoon the ship
started to move about and parked up on a thick piece of ice.
About a dozen people from the sea monitoring projects got
off and started taking ice cores and drilling holes in the
Meanwhile 4 Emperor penguins turned up on
the ice near the rear of the ship. Like most typical Emperor
penguins they came up fairly close for a peek, then stood
around and preened themselves. Finally after a few hundred
photos were taken, and everybody realised that not much else
was going to happen they ambled off into the distance.. That
is one thing I like about Emperor Penguins, they seem to have
no cares or agenda - but always curious and peaceful.
At 7.30pm I played the PCMEGA video that
I made in March 2003 to a sizeable audience in the D-Deck
rec-room, then watched another DVD.. (starting to be a bad
View from the ship of the sea ice team
This morning I woke up to the ship still stationary in the thick
ice floes, as well as a brilliant bright whiteout. The light was
so bright that I had to put my sunglasses on because I started to
get a thumping headache (too many late nights!).
As I ventured outside to take a few pictures all I could see was
white. This is best demonstrated by the following two pictures.
which show the sun (top part of the frame) behind all the clouds
and snow. Looking away from the ship all I could see was bright
white, with a little bit of definition on the sea ice.
From the helideck into the sky with
the sun at the top
Looking away from the ship into the
Today the weather at the ship was a bit better with gaps of sunlight
through the clouds shining onto the white ice, but still not good
enough for flying due to snow showers in between the ship and Casey.
The ship manoeuvred around a bit more and parked up on another piece
of hard ice. The ice core team got off and took a few more sea ice
After lunch, Vicki (our Voyage Leader) allowed us to get off the
ship and run around on the sea ice. This was one of the best things
that had happened for a long time, mainly because it was a great
chance to be able to get to know what we had been looking at for
so long! besides, the exercise and the chance to stretch/test muscles
was well overdue.
At the top of the list of priorities were taking pictures
of the Orange Roughy (my nickname for the AA), closely followed
by throwing as much snow as possible at anybody that wasn't
looking out for it!. For the next 3 hours a few hundred pieces
of snow were tossed around along with Frisbee's, soccer balls
and the occasional teddy bear. A good snow fight erupted and
lasted for at least an hour, but the batteries on my camera
gave up so I missed out on the action shots :0(
Midway through the afternoon everybody lined up in a long
line and did something I thought was called "a dagwood
dog" (but I could be wrong) at the AA Bridge - unfortunately
nobody had a camera ready!. Oh well.
Escape from the Orange Roughy!
Stu makes some snow shoes for Janine's
(Basically a dagwood dog" it is where you bend down and
touch your toes and then look backwards through your legs.
Would have made a funny sight from the bridge with 40+ people
in a row all doing it)
Stu made some snow shoes for Janine's crutches
so they wouldn't sink into the snow. Janine is the summer
engineering supervisor (trades boss) for Davis Station, and
yes, she only has a right leg. This is the 3rd summer she
will be doing at Davis where she even has her own special
quad to get around.
Finally, after a considerable amount of
energy expenditure (a good thing considering all the food
that has been consumed in the last few weeks) we all re-boarded
the AA and the gangway was raised.
The weather cleared later in the evening
and the flying started at 6pm with the first sortie of 3 aircraft
departing to Casey for the roughly 90nm trip. I am quite a
long way down the list, number 30, with only 4 - 6 people
per flight, and each flight every 3 hours at best.
Rhonda has a momentary lapse of judgement
and thinks she's playing with the boys..
unfortunately, the dimunitive FTO Mel cops the full force of the
Rhonda machine :0)
DVL Karen gives trevor a serve of his own medicine!
& Saturday, October 22/23
A typical ANARE phrase is 'hurry up and wait'... well, the next
two days are going to be that! The weather was playing tricks again,
not wanting to make things easy. It was either clear at the ship
and bad at Casey, or vice versa. One or two sorties managed to make
it to Casey before the pilots radioed back that the weather had
deteriorated so they would be staying at Casey overnight.
On Saturday I was told that there was a good chance I would be
flying in on the last sortie, so I packed up all my work equipment,
as well as my personal clothes & effects ready to leave within
an hours notice. However, later as I sat in the 'departure lounge'
(the video room) Vicki came and told me that the last flight was
scrapped and I'd on on the crack-of-dawn flight tomorrow. Oh well.
Time to unpack my sleeping things again!.
Over the last few days the ship had been gradually drifting with
the sea ice further west and away from Casey at about 10 nautical
miles per day. This meant that the payload capacity for the helicopters
was reducing for each flight. Before the flight we had to weigh
all our personal belongings as well as ourselves (while wearing
all our Antarctic survival clothes) and add up the total for 3 people
to make sure it would come under the 350kg limit. We were all allowed
a maximum of 30kg luggage each, plus ourselves in Antarctic survival
clothing. Unfortunately, for the sortie which I was on, even though
we were all below the allowed limit the total was 14kg over 350kg,
so Mel & I had to leave our work laptop computers behind for
the next sortie. This didn't worry me a huge amount - but only as
long as they came in on the next flight and not 12 days later when
the ship returned for the final visit.
So Friday and Saturday passed uneventfully with the usual round
of feeding sessions, strolls on deck & up to the Bridge, movies
watched and snoozes performed. Although I did manage to get to bed
earlyish ready for a crack of dawn start.
Yes we are flying ! YAY!. Isn't it strange how your body wakes
you up and throws you out of bed at such early hours when something
fun is going to happen, but all other times it feels like an elephant
is sleeping on you? Well this morning was not an elephant morning!
I packed up and moved all my gear to the departure lounge, then
had some breakfast and waited for the rest of the cargo/flight crew
to be ready.
At about 8am, I got dressed in my Antarctic survival clothing (mainly
a brown Carhart Jacket and Pants with beanie, gloves, thick socks,
thermals and Sorell boots). Then we took our gear up onto the helicopter
deck and laid it all out ready to be loaded into the two helicopters
which were out on deck ready to depart. The sky was quite clear
with some wispy cloud and the sun was out, with the air temperature
a crisp -15 degC.
8am on the Aurora Australis Helideck
All dressed in ANARE camouflage ...
ready to fly to Casey
Captain John hits the 'on' button as
the ship PA
announces "will Kym please report to the
helicopter deck?" ... one of those situations
when you just have to chuckle..
There are a few certainties in life, one of them is that
helicopter flights are always fun. Even more fun when you
are ready to go but then bumped (twice) and then finally end
up flying. I'm not really sure what happened, but in the space
of 5 minutes, very mixed messages from the Casey Station Leader
via Vicki (Voyage Leader) or just "somewhere" caused
4 of the 6 passengers to be swapped out for others who were
not even told they were flying. I was told I was going (I
put my life jacket on), then I was told I wasn't (took my
life off), then I was (I put it back on again).. then, amongst
all the faces of disbelief from the AA crew and passengers
.... Captain John & Ric (our pilots) decided it was time
to go anyway regardless of who was trying to interfere with
the passenger order, so we all jumped into the squirrels and
Finally, for the last laugh, and as the rotors started to
spin, the 2nd mate announced over the PA "would Kym please
report to the helicopter deck immediately". Huh? I'm
sitting in the helicopter? I just waved back at the crew on
deck who saw the absurdity in the situation. Oh well, another
day in the office!!!
Departing from the Aurora Australis,
(viewed through the smudgy plastic window of the helicopter.)
Seconds later, 1000kgs of squirrel sprang off the deck of the AA
like a blowfly about to be swatted on a dirty dish and we soared
around the AA. I sat in the middle rear seat squished between all
the cargo and Mel while Toni had the birds eye view in the front
seat. In the Antarctic, the helicopters always travel in pairs,
and at about 10 minutes apart. So as the second helicopter began
to spin up we circled the AA a number of times and then headed off
at a slow pace until we heard Captain Ric call the AA to say he
Unfortunately, our route to Casey meant we had to fly into the
area where the cloud was low and grey. This meant that the sea ice
and the horizon melted together with very little surface definition
with only the black water showing through the leads and cracks.
At our altitude of about 1000ft speed about 150knots it would take
just under 1 hour to get to Casey by a route that would follow the
dense pack ice, over the Peterson Bank and then down the coast.
Flying the direct route meant we would have to travel over open
water all the way, and in the event of having to ditch, we would
not survive long in the water whereas flying over hard ice means
we could land and safely await rescue.
A few times along the way we encountered
a bit of sunshine where you could see the large chunks of
sea ice and icebergs criss-crossed with black cracks and 'leads'.
In the distance was the Peterson Bank.
An area of a few hundred square km, near the coast, where
the water is shallow (less then 100m) causing a large number
of icebergs to become 'grounded' there. With so many icebergs
in that area, the sea ice rarely breaks out and it is often
very thick. Having so many icebergs
in one area made it look like an iceberg 'breeding' zone.
I wasn't able to taken any good pictures because the definition
was very poor, and my digital camera is a wide-angle fixed
zoom beastie, so I just had to file that one away in the memory
Sunlight illuminates the icebergs
and leads in the sea ice
Soon we reached a GPS waypoint at the edge of the Peterson Bank,
then turned right, over the fast ice (with no cracks in it) to head
for another waypoint which, unfortunately,
was taking us towards very ugly looking sky. What looked like snow
showers had turned the sky and ice below into a solid white sheet.
There was no way to tell where the ground was besides looking at
the RADAR altimeter. We were lucky though, because out to our right
in the distance we could still see the distinct edge of the Peterson
bank and the water. Captain John then decided it was too dangerous
to continue that route and we banked and headed to the edge of the
ice/water. We called back to the helicopter following us to say
we were adjusting our route and to follow our lead.
The weather cleared slightly as we followed the edge of the ice
and water, taking us over a breeding Emperor Penguin colony. It
appeared as two large brown smears on the nice white ice sheet,
with 1000's of little black dots. A could see a few lines of black
dots trailing out away from the brown smears - long lines of penguins
arriving or departing from the colony. It is rare to see an Emperor
Penguin colony, and even rarer to see one from the air. It was just
a big pity that the weather was so poor. I took a digital picture
but it didn't turn out very well. Besides, the aircraft must keep
a minimum distance from the colony so as to not disturb them. I
wasn't sure how far we were, but probably at least 5km line of sight.
It was not long before we could see the Antarctic plateau approaching
and the brown specs of land. Turning right again at our second
waypoint we headed due south for Casey, coming in over the Browning
Peninsula. Casey appeared as a small group of multicoloured
lego blocks in the middle of the hills, and a few seconds later
we were on final approach and touchdown at about 9.30am. Back
in Antarctica again!
Getting nearer to Casey (arrowed)
Since I had been to Casey back in February 2004, it was not all
completely new to me. I knew the general direction to the Red Shed,
living quarters and where the fire board and mess were. Rhonda,
Snake, Toni, Mel & I walked down main street to the Red Shed
to be greeted by the winterers and to have our names put up on the
fireboard to say we were now on station. I spend the rest of the
evening sorting through the backlog of emails from Kingston, as
well as making a few phone calls to say I had arrived.
Normally Saturday dinner is the special night of the week. This
week it was shifted to Sunday, so dinner was very nice with an almost
full mess. After tea I talked to some of the winterers I had previously
met on my February V7 round trip, then went to sleep early because
I was on slushy duty the next day.
Slushy! Yay!. hmm. maybe not, but sometimes it is a good excuse
not to do work and to do something completely different. Slushy,
but the way, is the name given to the chef's assistant. During this
period of changeover between one wintering team and the next, two
slushies have been rostered on whereas normally there was just one.
Also slushing with me was Sara, the BMCS Instrument Electrician.
We had previously met on the trip down to the Mawson in 2002/03
aboard the Kaptain Khlebnikov (See EFA 02/03) so it was good to
hear about what she had been up to since then and how her winter
at Casey had been.
So, my duties for the day were putting plates/cups/bowls through
the dishwasher, cleaning large pots & pans that the chef (Gerbil)
was using, cleaning the tables in the mess area, refilling milk
containers, putting out the lunch bowls/salads, sweeping / mopping
the floors, peeling potatoes (we did one 25kg box) as well as onions
(most of which were binned because they were beginning to go off),
doing just about anything else Gerbil needed done and finally! choosing
the music to play on the radio which is traditionally the slushies
We had a 2 hour break at 3pm, which when I had to go to comms and
have a field training session in the use of VHF radios. Another
boxed ticked. Back on slushy at 5pm and then after tea had a lot
of help from other expeditioners to clean the floor and tidy up
|A quiet day catching up on emails
and this website ... although in the afternoon I did my basic Quad
training out around the station with Noel (PI / Head Dieso). That
was a good but of "restrained" fun.... After that we went
to the field store and were kitted out with the minimum survival equipment,
eg backpack, sleeping bag/liner, sleeping mat, bivvy bag, ice axe,
compass, map, signalling mirror, water bottle and throw bag (for sea
7.30am Still half comatose but partly awake, Snake yells "Hey
Kym, field training is at 8.30am" ... hmmm. Nobody told me?..
anyway, got out of bed, had breakfast and prepared a packed lunch,
then got ready for a day walk over to Shirley Island where there
is a large number of Adelie Penguin colonies.
Our group consisted of Snake, Amanda, Toni, Sam, Simone, Mel (Mawson
FTO) and myself. Snake and I have to redo most parts of our field
training despite our previous experience. Rhonda doesn't because
she did last summer at Mawson under the new system. This is because
of a new training system in field competency introduced just after
I did my 2002/03 summer, and wiped the slate clean for everybody.
The system has some recognition for prior experience, but still
requires 'all the boxes to be ticked' to re-establish skill levels.
Amanda, Toni and Sam however, haven't been down here before so they
have to be completely field trained, while Sam and Simone were just
along for the daytrip (they are heading back on the ship).
Shirley Island is only a 5km walk away from station, across a narrow
stretch of sea ice. We began at 9.30am with calling into VNJ (Casey
comms) to say we had departed station and were heading to Shirley
Island. The weather was mild but still cold, about -12 deg C with
a 10 knot wind. I was keen to get walking and get warm. On the way
we stopped at a few snow and ice slopes to practice various techniques
such as cutting steps in snow slopes, walking with instep crampons
and crossing smooth ice. We also practiced sea ice rescue and the
details of using a throw bag to rescue somebody who has fallen through
the ice into the water. A throw bag is a small bag with a long piece
of rope stuffed in it. You throw the bag to the person who needs
assistance while holding on to the other end. It then uncoils and
you use it to help pull them out.
When we got to Shirley Island it was about lunchtime so found
a good place out of the wind and stopped. We discussed a few
things like navigating without a map or compass (by using
the sun and time of day) and also the environmental aspects
of travelling in the field.
We also tested a mega-bivvy. Basically a large nylon draw
string bag/cover which is designed for 6 -8 people to sit
under when they need shelter from the wind. It worked extremely
well because in about 5 minutes the temperature inside rose
dramatically. Unfortunately sitting cross-legged for any long
period of time is not terribly comfortable if you have long
legs so I took the opportunity for a photo. After lunch we
headed off to the top of Shirley Island, navigating through
the penguin colonies located along one ridge.
Field testing the mega-bivvy
One the way back to station we practiced, unsuccessfully, self-arresting
techniques. These are techniques where you try to stop yourself
sliding down a snow slope using an ice-axe. Unfortunately we couldn't
find any decent slopes where we were able to slide down so we will
probably do that part again sometime.
After a moderate walk back to station, we arrived at about 4pm
and unpacked. That night we planned to bivvy out, i.e. sleep outside
for a night. This is a requirement for field survival so that you
know how to construct a shelter and the techniques for keeping yourself
warm and sheltered if you are not able to find shelter, eg no tent,
field hut etc.
After tea at 8pm Marty, Snake, Amanda, Simone, Toni and myself
walked back out to a spot about 300m from station where there are
a number of soft snow tails. We went through the various aspects
of identifying a good place to shelter and also how to set yourself
up for a warm night sleep. Some of the tricks are things like keeping
your boot liners, water bottle, gloves and other things you don't
want to freeze inside your sleeping bag during the night.
The general idea to create shelter
is to dig a 'snow coffin' with the dug out snow on the windward
side. The coffin is a little bit longer than yourself so you
have room for your backpack. You then get inside a bivvy bag
(making sure it doesn't blow away!) kneel on your foam mat
and unroll/unpack everything and then get into your sleeping
bag. The bivvy bag keeps the wind and blowing snow off, as
well as stopping things blowing away.
While digging the coffin keeps you warm,
one of the more difficult aspects is getting into your sleeping
bag before you get too cold. Even in a low wind and at low
temperatures, the time before you become quite cold can be
as little as 3 - 5 minutes.
FTO Marty digs his 'reference' coffin
Amanda plays the monster in the bivvy bag!
Amanda tries her coffin for size
Luckily I have bivvied outside a number of times so I knew what
to expect, however, I didn't quite expect it to be as cold as it
was. There was no cloud cover so it was going to be a cold night,
however luckily there was also very little wind. At 10pm the air
temperature was -22degC, quite cold, and normally the kind of temperature
experienced in winter at Mawson. After discussing the techniques
we all got into our bivvy bags. I managed to get a reasonable nights
sleep, but at times I found myself gasping for fresh air. The hard
bit is maintaining an adequate supply of fresh air, without becoming
too cold. Each time I took a breath of fresh air I could feel my
lungs chill and at the same time this dehydrated me because of the
very dry air. If you close your bivvy bag/sleeping bag up too much
then you can also feel suffocation from the lack of fresh air.
So at 4.05am the girls had had enough and packed up in a hurry
and went back to the warmth station, Snake gave up about 45 mins
later, but I was moderately warm (a few degrees less and it would
have been hard) so I stayed until 6am when the sun was well and
truly up. Marty & I then walked the short walk back to station
where I had breakfast and let my fingers thaw out as they had become
bitterly and quite painfully cold (I forgot to keep my gloves inside
my sleeping bag).
Meanwhile ... Rhonda has been lazing around station (well sort
of) and in mega-lumpy-jumper-jolly-mode, haha. While we were out
field training she managed to score a pretty good helicopter jolly.
Here's the 'oh-so-excited-one's email :
Woohoo, I just went up in a helicopter!!! I don't just mean
up, I mean UP!!! 3500 feet straight up, in a tight spiral...what
a rush!!! Bright sunshine, blue sky, dark water, white plateau,
grey sea ice...could see all the way down the coast to the Vanderford
Glacier to the west (I think, we were going in circles so can't
be too sure of direction!), north to the thicker pack ice, and
I have no idea what lies to the east of Casey but it all looked
very speccy! And to the south...ice!!! And the funniest thing
about it? Ken the pilot was just shifting the helicopter from
its landing pad in front of the Red Shed to the dieso's garage,
200m (if that!) down the road! The quickest, most extravagant
and most buzzy jolly in a long time!!!
Cheerio, Rhonda xo
PS, in case you're worried about what may seem a blatant waste
of taxpayers' money, Ken was actually doing a maintenance check,
something about flying at full speed to a set altitude to ensure
the engines maintain power all the way up...but to me it was just
the long way to get to the dieso's workshop!
More Field Training!
This time we headed out to a field hut called Robbo's (short
for Robertson's Ridge). Rhonda, Snake, Amanda, Toni, Mel &
myself used Quads (4wd motorbikes) travelling from Casey station
across the sea ice in OBrien Bay, up over the Mitchell Penninsula,
then across Sparkes Bay to Robbo's Hut.
As we travelled, we did map resections and navigational exercises
making sure we could identify our location on the map, and
then using GPS receivers to validate our results.
A Weddel Seal scratches an itch ...
Panorama at Robbo's Hut
We had some problems with the ignition in one of the quads
so we had to replace the spark plug and make our way back
to Casey to double check that the Quad was still serviceable.
After retracing our route with a new quad , we finally
got to Robbo's hut at 6pm where we settled in and cooked
During the night the winds picked up and a blizzard trapped
us in the hut for the next day.
Our route from Casey to Robbo's (in