The Screaming Sixties…. and a visit from the King

During the evening of day 10 (6th November) of the voyage we passed out of the Furious fifties and into the Screaming Sixties. Through the skills of the captain and crew of the AA we managed to avoid the worst of what the Southern Ocean had to offer.

Being close to the ice edge, we expected to see more icebergs and we were not disappointed.

The intricate patterns of a large tabular iceberg that drifted past the port side

All icebergs are fresh water and are the result of pieces breaking off the Antarctic ice shelfs or glaciers. Nearly 90% of an iceberg is below the surface of the water.

As we sailed further south towards Davis we started to see more wildlife.

A lone adélie penguin scurries across an ice floe to get away from BOB
Passing through a field of icebergs near 60ºS

As we progressed southward we encountered thicker patches of pack ice.

Leaving a trail through the extensive coverage of pack ice
Fairly easy going through the vast expanse of pack ice
Cape petrels were our constant travelling companions – this one shows the ships red colour reflected on its plumage

Just when we thought we were in the thick sea ice – we would come across wide expanses of open water with scattered icebergs on every horizon.

Crepuscular rays extend out below the cloud, providing a sombre backdrop for icebergs

For a number of days the depth of the ocean below the hull of the Aurora Australis was around 4000 metres (13,125 ft) or deeper. Early on day 12 we passed over Gribb Bank with the depth rising rapidly to 2000 metres (6,600 ft).

Early morning sun on day 12 sheds a different ambience on the sea ice
We came upon several large tabular icebergs seeming to keep each other company in this wild frozen landscape
Just after noon on day 12 – a couple of adélie penguins take refuge on a iceberg
Cruising through the pack ice

during the afternoon of the 7th of November we were given permission (from the Bridge watch) to venture out onto the bow of the ship. This gives a whole new perspective on travelling through the sea ice.

Taken from the bow of the ship as we crush through the pack ice

Being on the bow also gave me the opportunity to use my Micro lens.

Close up of ice formation on the bulkhead at the bow of the AA
The ships colourful paintwork provides a stark background for ice crystals
Sea spray frozen on the hawsehole
This is one of my favourite photos with the Micro lens

Later that afternoon we passed some more stunning icebergs and once again we were in the thicker sea ice.

Every iceberg has its own story – this one has sharp rugged edges suggesting that large bits have broken off or it has broken off a larger berg
At times there seemed to be endless pack-ice ahead of us
Distant snow showers on the Southern horizon
Enjoying the view and the ride from the bow of the Aurora Australis
It never ceases to amaze me seeing the stunning, vivid blue colour of the sea ice under the water

I was up on the Bridge early on day 13 (8th Nov) and was amazed that the extensive pack ice of the night before had been left in our wake and there was very few icebergs around. We were near 65ºS and were expecting to be in thick sea ice all the way to Davis. Here we were cruising at 12 knots and making very good time…. This can change suddenly. Within the hour we were well and truly back in the thick of it.

The further south we went – we began to see more and more wildlife – a crab eater seal on the sea ice to our port side
In the early afternoon the sea ice seemed to extend forever

Whiteout has been defined as: “A condition of diffuse light when no shadows are cast, due to a continuous white cloud layer appearing to merge with the white snow surface. No surface irregularities of the snow are visible, but a dark object may be clearly seen. There is no visible horizon.

Almost “white out” conditions – when there is little or no distinction between the cloud and the snow covered sea ice
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White Out conditions at the Casey ski-way  – taken when I was there late 2007

Later in the afternoon we had a visit from the King. This was supposed to happen as we crossed 60ºS, but due to circumstances beyond his control King Neptune paid us a visit on the afternoon of the 8th of November. The audience with the King and his entourage to place in the E-deck mess. Expeditioners who had not been south before were called to pay homage – and drink the special drink, be covered in slime and kiss the fish.

King Neptune and his cohorts arrive on E-deck
Kissing the Royal Fish
The next group of inductees kneel before the King
The King’s official photographer was the colour coordinated character on the right

After cleaning up the mess in the mess, we had a grill dinner on the Trawl deck at the stern of the ship.It was quite cold out there and the expeditioners that attended were all dressed in their Antarctic kit.

Photo taken from the trawl deck, where we had gathered for a grill dinner

After dinner most of us gathered in the E-deck mess. I had donated two photos which I had printed with a matt board surround then packaged. These were auctioned at 6:30pm and the proceeds went to the charity Camp Quality

The first picture to be auctioned was of the Aurora Australis taken at night after mid-winters dinner in Hobart.

The Aurora Australis in Hobart on mid-winter’s night 

The bidding opened at $100 and there seemed to be a lot of interest and in a very short time the bids were in the $300’s. The bid that finally won was for $400

The second photo was of Russell Falls in Mt Field National Park.

Russell Falls in Mt Field National Park – September 2016

Again the opening bid was $100 and again the bidding was frenetic. The winning bid was $300. 

One of the expeditioners (Mick) offered his time to clean a cabin. The bidding for this was won at $350. All up we raised $1050 for the charity. Iwas amazed and humbled by the generosity of the expeditioners and crew on board the AA.

After the auction I went up on the Bridge to experience the stunning sea ice as we progressed further south.

New ‘pancake’ ice developing
Heading towards the setting sun late on day 13 of V1
This ice formation is called nilas – definition below

Nilas designates a sea ice crust up to 10 centimetres (3.9 in) in thickness. It bends without breaking around waves and swells. Nilas can be further subdivided into dark nilas – up to 5 centimetres (2.0 in) in thickness and very dark, and light nilas – over 5 centimetres (2.0 in) in thickness and lighter in colour. (Wikipedia)

The late evening sun casts stark shadows across the sea ice

Overnight we crossed the Antarctic Circle which is approximately at latitude 66º 34′ S. South of this latitude the sun is expected to be above the horizon for at least one 24 hour period.

Taken just before midnight on the 8th of November – We crossed the Antarctic Circle in the early hours of the 9th of November

I woke on the morning of the 9th of November to find the wind and snow had returned and that we were only around 60 nautical miles from Davis. This is the Sitrep from that morning.

Early morning snow on the 9th of November (day 14 of V1)


During the day preparations were well underway for our arrival at Davis. This included cleaning all our gear that may have mud or seeds from use in Australia. It also included a thorough induction on helicopter familiarisation and travel.

Surprisingly our travel through the sea ice was fairly easy and by mid afternoon on the 9th of November we sighted the brown of the Vestfold Hills.

Our first glimpse of the Vestfold Hills – around 3:30pm on the 9th of November

We reached the Fast Ice (sea ice that is grounded or attached to land), 10 nautical miles from Davis at around 4:30 pm on the 9th of November. Nearly there and only a matter of a short time and we would step ashore. Well Antarctica is always full of surprises.

Next……..A slow motion journey through the Fast Ice.














The Furious Fifties….the Antarctic Convergence Zone

Warning – this post contains many photographs!!

On the 30th of October we crossed latitude 50ºS

Up on the “Monkey” Bridge (above the main Bridge)

It was getting decidedly colder, but wasn’t to unpleasant to be out on the decks. Also we hadn’t really seen any big seas yet, however things were going to change.

Enjoying the evening sun on a pleasant cruise to the Antarctic
Snow showers in the distance to the port side – it is getting colder

As we sailed further south and west the days became longer.

Sunset at around 9:30pm on day 5 of the voyage

On day 6 of the voyage we encountered some very light winds and low seas. This was the calm before the storm. The computer models were suggesting that we would be heading straight into a deepening Low Pressure system.

The AA heading SW…. the Eye of the Storm heading SE

This was early on day 7 of the voyage. As you can see from the next picture we were at 58ºS with a following wind of 40 knots. Under all that cloud we encountered heavy snow.

This from the Ships display – We had a 40 knots wind on our stern
Heavy snow on the helideck. A group does a field training exercise on using a GPS

During day 7 we kept steaming in a SW direction – aiming for the relatively lighter conditions near the south of the deepening low centre. The result was the wind was from the stern which consequently knocked down the heavier southwest swell

The cross marks our position. We set a course for the southern section of the low, to avoid the worst of the conditions to the north of the low centre

The pressure kept falling rapidly during the day – almost dropping to 940 hPa. In the tropics a pressure this low can be found in the centre of a severe tropical cyclone or hurricane.

The barograph on the Bridge shows the pressure dropped 30 hPa in a 24 hour period
A plot of our positions – superimposed on a wind and MSLP forecast chart

On day 8 of the voyage we passed just south of the low where we encountered a bigger swell from the southwest. The temperature of the air as well as the ocean decreased (air -2℃) as we encountered strong to gale force southerly winds which seemed to be blowing up from the Antarctic continent. The Captain also set a westerly course to keep us north of the main pack ice.

The barograph shows that the pressure rose as fast as it fell, ultimately falling to as low as 942 hPa
Ploughing through the southwesterly swell

Around 10am we saw our first signs of sea ice.

First sighting of sea ice at 10am on the 3rd of November

Once we saw the first signs of ice, it became, at times,  a torrent of floating ice. Late afternoon a large iceberg was spotted on the southwest horizon and at 8pm that evening the First Mate (Madeleine) declared the winner of the iceberg tipping competition. My 15 minute time slot was a little after the official declaration.

With the first big iceberg spotted – many of the expeditioners were on the Bridge searching for bergs on the horizon

By late evening  we had sailed into a break in the clouds, so there was excellent viewing and many icebergs, large and small, photographed.

Late evening on day 8 of the voyage and we were in a clear slot in the weather and cloud
The iceberg in the distance was the first large one seen on this voyage
Almost perfect conditions in the far Southern Ocean at 58º 30′ S – This was late evening on the 8th of November

Because of the relatively calm conditions many expeditioners were on the Bridge enjoying the sun and occasional iceberg.

The occasional large iceberg seen in the late evening of day 8 of the voyage
Many icebergs are silhouetted by the setting sun on a crystal clear evening
At these latitudes there were many Cape petrels flying around the ship
Sunset was around 10:40pm

After the sunset the evening twilight lasted for another hour. During this time we entered several ice fields. was beautiful as we encountered more and more ice. In just over 12 hours after seeing the first ice the ship was completely surrounded.

Serene sailing through an ice field at 11pm
As it got darker we started to see more and more ‘bergy bits’
Icebergs come in so many shapes, sizes and colours
The Aurora Australis cuts a trail through the the thin pack ice
At 11:20pm, just before it became dark, we spotted this lone leopard seal on a ice floe

An hour after spotting the leopard seal the darkness was complete, then we were treated to an amazing light show, that is the aurora australis. As I didn’t have a tripod and because of the ships movement it was difficult to capture this amazing colourful spectacle. However I was mesmerised by the ships spotlights – searching for icebergs in our path.

Spotting for icebergs at 12:40am

For the next three days we made our way directly westward along 59º 30′ S – so as to avoid getting into the thick ice to soon. On day 9 of the voyage a larger iceberg did drift by closer to the ship.

First closer encounter with a larger iceberg – Several seabirds can be seen nearby

The weather later on day 9 turned to heavier snow.

Jock was happy with his effort of moulding the snow into a couple of small snowmen

Early on day 10 of the voyage we passed close by to another low pressure system, so again it was an uncomfortable ride for some of the passengers.

A swell running through the drifting ice field
Day 10 – swell, ice and snow – well and truly in the Southern Ocean

Every now and then we would practice the muster – Emergency bells would sound and we would muster, wearing our survival gear and life preserver, in our designated muster area. On day 10 it was quite a rough ride so it was unsafe to muster on the helideck so we mustered in the E-deck mess.

Muster in E-deck mess

Later in the afternoon on day 10 (5th November) the conditions significantly eased. Many of the passengers were up in the Bridge as a big tabular iceberg passed close to the port side.

A large tabular iceberg coming into view on the port side
The amazing colours and patterns in a large tabular iceberg – look carefully and note the many seabirds near the base
Abut half way along this beautiful tabular iceberg
Amazed to see the many seabirds near the icebergs

Only as I was editing and sorting out photos of this iceberg did I notice the birds resting on the top.

Seabirds resting on the top of this tabular iceberg
A couple of Cape petrels flying alongside the AA
Icebergs come in many shapes and sizes – this one is probably a piece broken off a larger  iceberg

One of the lens I purchased is a Micro Nikon 105mm f2.8 – It will be great for close up photos. I decided take some shots with it on Day 10.

Icicle on the Bridge deck – taken with my Micro 105mm lens

Towards evening on day 10 we made our way through some pack ice.

Pack ice on the evening of day 10 of the voyage
More pack ice

At around 9pm on day 10 we had a visit from a giant Southern Petrel This species is one of the largest seabirds – their body measures between 86cm and 99cm (34 -39 inches) and a wingspan of 185cm to 205cm (73 – 81 inches)

A Southern Giant Petrel came along side to see what this big orange thing was

Day 11 (6th of November) was similar to day 10, passing many icebergs and areas of pack ice as well as open water.

In the early afternoon – Jock and I on the port side Bridge deck watching the pack ice drift by

Late in the afternoon of the 6th of November (day 11) we crossed over 60ºS.

Next…. The Screaming Sixties and a visit from the King

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On Our Way… The Roaring Forties

After the months of training and preparation the departure of Voyage 1 was suddenly upon us. The time had come to head south.

We all turned up at the cargo facility on Macquarie 2 wharf on a beautiful, late October morning. Each of us was required to bring our red survival bag and 30kg of personal baggage.

Lining up at the Cargo facility for the weigh in of our luggage

The limit of 30kg luggage is strictly monitored – the cabins on the Aurora Australis have limited storage space and 30kg per passenger is considered an amount that can be safely stowed. After the weigh in and a pre-departure briefing we had free time until boarding time of 1pm.

Expeditioners, family and friends waiting for the boarding call

Once we boarded we could not disembark – so we had to say goodbye to family and friends before entering the security are of the wharf.

Two of my children – Jayden and Madeleine at the wharf to say goodbye and bon-voyage 

The excitement was palpable as we walked through the security gate towards the Aurora Australis.

Boarding the Aurora Australis
Everyone was quite excited – departure day was finally here 

Once everyone was aboard and had found their cabins – we had to attend a briefing by the Captain on the E-deck Mess. He talked about the ship and all the usual safety aspects.  We then had to muster on the helideck at 1500. The port-side cabins on the left and the starboard-side cabins on the right. All expeditioners cabins were on D-deck. I was in D17 which was the last cabin towards the bow (front).

Starboard side muster while still in Hobart

After being split into groups, the First and Second mates took us on a tour of the ship. This included trying on an Immersion suit – These are to be put on in case of emergency to abandon ship and enter the water. They will keep you afloat and warm. The time of survival in one of these suits depends on the water temperature.

Inside the Aurora Australis port-side life boat
Fitzy in a immersion suit – it will keep you afloat and warm?
Two brand new Heli Resources helicopters bound for Davis for the summer – stowed away in the hangar at the stern

We were supposed to depart at 1700. This was initially delayed to 1830 then again delayed to 2230. So we had plenty of time to stow all our belongings into the cupboards and allotted drawers in our cabin. Finally the AA left the dock at 2040.

Because of our later departure – Iwas able to capture this image of crepuscular rays of the setting sun behind Kunanyi (Mt Wellington)

It was a quiet  and uneventful cruise down the Derwent River, but after the city and suburban lights faded behind us we were treated to a weak Aurora.

The pilot boat (foreground) on a intercept course with the Aurora Australis as we slowly make our way out of the harbour

The Roaring Forties is the name given to the air circulation generally between 40ºS and 50ºS. These latitudes are generally below the sub-tropical High Pressure ridge and the region where the flow is strong out of the westerly direction. This flow is further enhanced with the passage of cold fronts. In the age of sail the Roaring 40’s were used to sail around the southern hemisphere, as they were quite persistent in these latitudes. In particular the Dutch used this wind knowledge to sail Around Cape Town and then across the Indian Ocean to then head north towards India or the East Indies (Indonesia).

As we sailed on a general Southwest course we encountered mostly westerly winds and not much of a swell. This started to change on day 4 of our journey as we closed in on a deepening low. Also the air and water became colder and we encountered sleet as we approached 50ºS.

The two forecasters onboard, Damo and Rachel, monitor a devloping low as we approach 50ºS
The orca wind vane on the bow of the AA

Also in these latitudes we were followed by a number of albatross. Often many on board (that were still upright) were on the decks with their long lens’s trying to capture a image of one of these magnificent sea birds.

Black brow albatross following the Aurora Australis


Bramwell enjoying his bunk by the port hole

Next Post……. The Furious Fifties and the Antarctic Convergence Zone

The Other Things We Have to Do…

A consequence of being at a remote Antarctic Base is that one does not have the option of calling 000 for emergency services. The expeditioners wintering at all Australian Antarctic bases become the emergency response. Fire is one of the biggest threats on an Antarctic Base so  Fire Prevention is of major concern.

As a result we attended a extensive 5 day training course at the Tasmanian Fire Service training facility at Cambridge (near Hobart Airport).

One of the initial parts of the training was in the use and identification of the different fire extinguishers.



Learning how to fight a fire with the appropriate fire extinguisher
Many house fires start in the kitchen – When a pan or pot of oil catches alight the common reaction is to pour water on the fire.
We were shown a demonstration on why this should not be done!!
The instant that water is poured onto burning oil
A split second later the water and oil vaporise resulting in a fire ball

We also learnt how to safely handle a big fire hose… The nozzle at the end of the hose is called a branch where the water flow rate and spray pattern are controlled.

Kerryn controls the branch while Paul (Sharky) and Christopher assist in holding the heavily primed hose
A very important part of the training included the safe and correct procedures in using Breathing Apparatus (BA) in fire fighting and emergency rescue. Correct fitting of the mask was paramount. Incorrect procedure could result in lethal gases entering the mask.
Expeditioner fire fighters in BA about to enter a burning building
BA1 and BA2 approach a vehicle on fire

On each of Australia’s Antarctic stations there is a roster of the weekly fire team on call. A fire team consists of 6 expeditioners – Fire Chief, BA1, BA2, BA3, BA4 and BA Controller. The BA controller has a clip board and a timer – They check that the BA is fitted coreectly and they write down how much air each of the BA cylinders has and a time when that is expected to run to a safe low level. They also take the alarm key from the alarms on the BA set. The BA controller usually is also the pump operator.

Richard the BA controller and pump operator

We learnt many techniques of hoe to control or extinguish fires. This depends on the type of fire, the material or fuel that is burning. The primary concern is the safety of the Fire fighters and rescuers.

Two teams controlling a LPG gas cylinder fire. The right hose is spray to protect the fire fighters from the intense heat. The left hose aimed at the cylinder to cool them down. The person between the 2 hoses is directing the left hose aim, receiving hand signals  from the person on the far left.
Observing the difference in temperature and intensity when LPG gas fire changes from vapour to liquid.

It was a intense but very rewarding and informative week of training.

Davis Fire Team

The final part of our training took place a few days before departing for the south. This was basic Search and Rescue (SAR). Again the reality is that we can’t call on anyone but ourselves in the case of an emergency.

In bushland behind the Antarctic Division in Kingston we became familiar with some of the equipment that we will have in our SAR kit. We were also shown how to use this equipment as a precursor to further intensive training when we reach the Antarctic continent.

SAR training – learning about ropes and pulleys
An exercise in weight distribution on anchor points and using ropes and pulleys
Becoming familiar with the climbing harness and helmets used in SAR

Thanks for viewing this blog. Please share the link and don’t hesitate to drop me a line or a question.

The next post will be about the voyage through he Southern Ocean.


Be prepared…

Going south involves a great deal of preparation.

An enormous amount of thought goes into what to take to live on an Antarctic base for 12 months. Making the choices more difficult is the fact that all the cargo has to be packed and ready to go 6 weeks before the departure date.

Map showing the Antarctic continent in relation to the other southern hemisphere continents


Antarctica is remote and mostly inaccessible for many months of the year. As a consequence we have to be prepared for every contingency.

There are a number of things that we have to become familiar with in order to live and operate safely in a community in this driest, windiest, coldest and remotest continent. During the summer (Oct to March there are up to 100 people at Davis, But when the ship leaves in March there will be only 16 of us on station during the long winter period.

In the months leading up to our departure we undertake extensive training.

Medical emergencies can and sometimes happen. Each station has a doctor as well as a well appointed medical suite. 4 expeditioners are chosen to undertake medical training.

In August I, along with 3 fellow expeditioners undertook a 2 week extensive course at Royal Hobart Hospital. We trained to be Lay Surgical assistants – 2 of us in anaesthetics, while the other 2 trained in scout and scrub nurse procedures.


Becoming familiar with the surgical tools at Royal Hobart Hospital
Lotter and I practicing our anaesthetics techniques in a mock surgery
Mock appendectomy surgery

The next part of our training was safe, proficient riding and handling of quad bikes. These bikes will be our main form of transport when travelling to field projects  and huts during the winter months. This travel is carried out mainly on the sea ice when it re-freezes around March/April next year.

Training on quad bikes in bushland behind the Antarctic Division in Kingston Tasmania
Negotiating a ‘figure of 8 course during quad bike training at Kingston Tasmania

During the summer season at Davis (November to March) the sea ice breaks out and there is the opportunity to do some boating. There are 3 IRB’s (Inflatable Rubber Boats) at Davis and there are science and surveying projects which require the use of these craft. There are also some excellent calm summer days and when it is safe to do so – ice berg cruises may also occur.

In September a group of expeditioners headed down to Kettering where the AAD has a IRB training facility. We were there for a week to learn how to be competent crew on the zodiacs.

Kettering Tasmania – Mick telling us about the finer points of a zodiac
Kettering Tasmania – we had to learn how to pull a zodiac apart, then put it back together as well as how to make repairs
Some instruction from Mick out on the waters off Kettering
Just north of Bruny Island – Rhys at the tiller while Rob and Mick look on 
Looking for a safe place to nudge up against the rocks 

I have arrived at Davis and in the near future I will have more time to bring you more pictures and stories of this wonderful place

The next post will be of other training – especially in case of emergency.

Until then

Cheers from the south

Here we go again….the 4th time south

Amazing iceberg near Davis Station in 2005

Many of you will know that I am about to head south again.

I have been given the great privilege to be part of the 70th ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition) at Davis Station in Eastern Antarctica for the next 12 months.

My main role will be Weather Observer in charge of the weather station at the base. I have previously been in this role for the 66th ANARE at the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island during 2013/14. If interested you can read the blog of this adventure at Macquarie Island Adventure

The first time I went south was for a summer – October 2005 to March 2006 – also to Davis Station. My role at the time was Forecaster, mostly to support the aviation and science programs

CASA 212 on the sea ice just offshore from Davis in 2005

The second expedition I was involved with was again for a summer – October 2007 to March 2007. This time I was a forecaster at Casey Station.

Adélie penguins at Shirley Island near Casey

During that summer a Airbus A319 landed for the first time at Wilkins runway (80km from Casey).

Standing in front of the A319 Airbus after its inaugural flight from Hobart to Wilkins Runway

There will be around 100 expeditioners departing on Thursday (27th October) on Voyage 1 aboard the Aurora Australis. The journey will take approximately 2 weeks and we will cross some of the most wild and inhospitable seas of the Southern Ocean.

Aboard the Aurora Australis crossing the wild Southern Ocean in 2007
The Aurora Australis in the fast ice around 1.5km off Davis in 2005

I hope that you can enjoy my adventure through following this blog. Please send me an email or message if you have any questions or comments.

Cheers for now

Barend (Barry) Becker