After arriving at Davis Station – one of the most amazing sights is to see the Aurora Australis parked in the ice.
The Davis re-supply takes place over the sea ice. At the 3 other Australian Antarctic bases the re-supply takes place over water.
As mentioned in previous posts – the AA finally made it through the fast ice to a location at which it was safe to carry out the re-supply of cargo and fuel.
As there was not enough beds on station – some people were still sleeping on the AA and coming ashore for ‘day trips’. A couple of days after arriving at Davis I was fortunate enough to get a ride to the ship in a hägglund to bring a couple of day trippers back.
The Aurora was parked around 3.5 km off Davis – re-supply was in full swing and they had run the fuel line from the ship to the station fuel tanks.
At the stern of the ship was an open channel – the ships path through the fast ice. There were many adélie penguins resting on the ice alongside this channel.
Over 3 days around 830,000 litres of diesel was transferred from the AA to the station fuel tanks.
I managed to go out to the Aurora Australis a second time, but this time a group of us walked out across the sea ice on under a beautiful, clear and sunny sky.
On the way out to the ship we came across a group of adélie penguins. in their myopic state they come towards us – thinking that we are also penguins. Then they suddenly realise that we are not what we seem.
As we got nearer to the AA – one of the crew came out towards us. It turned out to be the captain Gerry O’ – it was great to see him.
I got a ride back to the station in ‘Opal’ the pink hägglund – I had to be back to open the Post Office. The mail bag would depart with the Aurora Australis.
Later the same evening I had one last trip out to the ship – this time I brought along all the postal stuff (first day covers, stamp packs, and post cards) for the crew to purchase and send.
Stepping out of the helicopter onto the helipad at Davis – I had this overwhelming sense of familiarity.
As we walked down the road to the Living Quarters (LQ) It was amazing to look out across the frozen expanse of Prydz Bay. The Aurora Australis could be seen amongst the distant icebergs slowly making its way to its ‘parking area’.
This is the third time I had been to Davis. First as a forecaster during the southern summer in 2005/06 and the 2nd time was on my way home from Casey Station in 2008.
Most of the buildings were familiar, though when I stepped into the new Living Quarters it was like stepping into a ski resort.
After some familiarisation I brought my gear up to my room (44) in the SMQ (Sleeping and Medical Quarters.
After some lunch in the spacious dining area – I was included in a group of new arrivals to go through station induction, which concluded with a tour of the station.
We entered a new building that housed the brand new waste water treatment plant – a state of the art treatment facility that is of such good design that it is said to produce water that is of drinking quality – though this will not be its purpose.
Next stop on the tour was the EVS (Emergency Vehicle Shed) This is where Davis’s version of a fire truck – which is a Hägglundwith the trailer converted to a water tanker and pumping station. Also in the EVS is the SAR (Search and Rescue) Hägglund and to SAR Quad bikes.
Continuing our tour we entered as many of the buildings as was safe to do so.
Many of the buildings are made up of modules which are reconfigured shipping containers.
There are also many large vehicles. These give the station the look of a mine site.
At all four Australian Antarctic bases the biggest building on station is usually the Green Store. This is where most the supplies for the year are kept. The Green Store at Davis also has a Gymnasium, spa and sauna room. Because of its height it also has a decent climbing wall.
When we arrived at Davis the summer melt had just begun. On the 11th of November the sun was set at 11:25 pm and rose on the 12th at 3:38 am. In the hours between sunset and sunrise the sun was only just below the horizon, so during these hours it was twilight.
The sun would set for the last time at 1:11 am on the 24th of November then rise at 1:56 am – from this time the sun would be above the horizon until the 18th of January 2017.
There is plenty of International co-operation in Antarctica. On the 12th of November we had a Chinese Basler aircraft land on the sea ice in front of the station. The Basler The plane is flown by Canadian pilots. This aircraft was used to ferry expeditioners and some supplies between Casey, Davis and Mawson stations.
Whilst the station was in full re-supply mode – I was in the Met office for a few days with the outgoing Met OIC (Craig) as he handed over the Met office duties. This is quite a intensive time on station with so much happening.
During some down time – I managed to have short walks to familiarise myself with the station.
For seven days the station was very busy with re-supply and re-fueling. Around 900000 litres of diesel fuel was transferred from the ship to the station in a 48 hour operation. Also all the food and other supplies came ashore and were packed away for the up-coming year.
A very important vehicle arrived on station – a pink hägglund called Opal – a tribute to those whose lives have been affected by cancer. There will be more about Opalin a future blog post.
I came back to my room after a shift and found I could not enter. All my gear had arrived and as a joke they piled all the boxes and crates in my doorway. It was exciting unpacking and setting up my own space.
one of my jobs on station is Post Office Manager. in the middle of re-supply I received the crate filled with postal stuff – including First Day of issue envelopes and stamps. It also included all the packaging and other paraphernalia needed to send letters and packages back to Australia and the rest of the world. That night I opened the Post Office.
Late one evening after 10pm the conditions outside were superb – so I went for a walk around station taking photographs, trying all the lens that I brought. It was a beautiful still and sunny night.
Next Time – The Aurora Australis parked in the Ice….
At 4:30pm on the 9th of November (day 14 on Voyage 1) we reached the fast ice around 10 nautical miles (18.5 km) from Davis Station. After travelling about 2650 nautical miles (~4,900km) in 14 days to get to this point one could imagine that the last few miles would take a few hours at most….
Approaching the fast ice we passed many beautiful icebergs.
At 4:30pm the Aurora Australis was travelling at 12 knots ready to cut through the ice edge and deliver us to Davis Station.
After the first few attempts at ramming the fast ice it became apparent that this was going to be a long slow process.
Oh well — might as well enjoy the slow trip through the ice. It allowed us to take many photographs as we inched past each amazing iceberg.
As the sun traversed the horizon it illuminated the ice and icebergs in many different hues. There was a mention that the penguins on the ice were travelling much faster then the AA.
Meanwhile snow petrels in their hundreds gathered in our wake, possibly opportunistic feeding in the waters stirred up by the Aurora Australis.
At this time the sun was above the horizon for 24 hours a day. We will not see the sunset again until mid February. Later in the evening the sun was low on the horizon, casting an eerie purple glow on the landscape.
The next day – 10th November – I was up on the Bridge very early. Since arriving at the fast ice at 4:30pm yesterday we have only progressed around 1km (in 14 hours). So during the morning helicopter operations commenced – to fly essential persons the short distance to the station.
The following 3 photos were taken with a wide angle lens – Samyang 14mm F2.8
There were large numbers of penguins seeming to wander aimlessly across the ice.
Later that afternoon I had my first real glimpse of Davis Station – home for the next 12 months.
The slow pace continued during the day as we inched closer to our goal. The ship would reverse back down its track for 200m to 300m, then full throttle forward to ram the sea ice, riding over the top of then crushing through with the sheer weight of the steel hull. This process gained another 20m. They would repeat this routine time and time again.
Early on the 11th of November, the clouds cleared to a beautiful sunny morning. We were still slowly progressing through the ice to our goal – a point close enough to carry out re-fuelling the station across the sea ice.
At 9am we were told to be ready to fly. Essentially I was packed and ready, so I went all over the Aurora Australis taking last minute pictures of our home for the last 2 weeks.
At 0945 on the 11th of November we were asked to go to the helideck and board our flight to Davis.
We arrived at Davis Station at just after 10am on the 11th of November 2016.
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.
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.
As we progressed southward we encountered thicker patches of pack ice.
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.
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).
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.
Being on the bow also gave me the opportunity to use my Micro lens.
Later that afternoon we passed some more stunning icebergs and once again we were in the thicker sea ice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we sailed further south and west the days became longer.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Around 10am we saw our first signs of sea ice.
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.
By late evening we had sailed into a break in the clouds, so there was excellent viewing and many icebergs, large and small, photographed.
Because of the relatively calm conditions many expeditioners were on the Bridge enjoying the sun and occasional iceberg.
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.
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.
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.
The weather later on day 9 turned to heavier snow.
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.
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.
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.
Only as I was editing and sorting out photos of this iceberg did I notice the birds resting on the top.
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.
Towards evening on day 10 we made our way through some 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)
Day 11 (6th of November) was similar to day 10, passing many icebergs and areas of pack ice as well as open water.
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
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.
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.
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.
The excitement was palpable as we walked through the security gate towards the Aurora Australis.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Next Post……. The Furious Fifties and the Antarctic Convergence Zone
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was a intense but very rewarding and informative week of training.
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.
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The next post will be about the voyage through he Southern Ocean.