For the last few days we have been anchored close to Davis station, conducting a quick resupply, retrieving summer personnel, and bunkering down the helicopters to mark the end of the season.
All went well and we departed Davis on schedule last night, in similar fashion to Mawson with a few flares and the ship’s horn marking our departure as we headed out and up Iceberg Alley. Most of the expeditioners were out on the external decks to wave goodbye. It’s the last of the continent we’ll be seeing this voyage.
As we travel north today we will stop to collect a whale mooring (an acoustic recording device which will release itself from the seabed and float up for retrieval), and once complete we will be underway on the homeward journey, crossing the Southern Ocean and heading for Tassie.
Yesterday and today have been spent out at sea in the pack ice. Checking the forecast (and simply looking outside!) shows there is high winds and poor visibility, which means boating operations are suspended till conditions improve.
As an expeditioner it’s great to be in the pack ice though as there is so much more wildlife to see here compared to being out in the open water. Seals lay around whilst adelie penguins hop into the water for a quick feed. Various petrel species fly past the window as I’m making a cup of tea in the mess. It’s a reminder of how pristine the wilderness is down here and I always make time each day to look out from the bridge and try and take it all in.
The forecast looks a bit better Saturday, and improved again for Sunday, so I’m hoping we can complete Mawson resupply as per the revised schedule. I look out over the decks of the ship and most of the cargo containers have now gone so we must be close to finished, with only some RTA (Return to Australia cargo) and final passengers to bring aboard.
Each day following cargo operations the Aurora departs Kista Straight, which is next to the station and in close proximity to neighbouring islands, and heads out to open waters. We’re lucky in that every night of clear skies, we’re treated to fantastic ‘berg cruising followed by incredible sunsets over the plateau.
Due to the limited bandwidth aboard the ship, the file sizes need to be very small when uploading a picture, but rest assured I’ve been taking many hi-res photos off the back of the ship each evening.
Over the past few days we have been resupplying the station with fuel. This involves connecting a hose line from the tanks aboard the ship moored in Kista Straight, which then runs on the water and up over West Arm, across the sea ice still in Horseshoe Harbour, then into the pipes which plumb into the station fuel farm.
I assisted in the West Arm setup, hauling lines and connecting up the hoses, and then in later shifts monitoring the connection points during pumping, to ensure there is no leakage into the environment during operations. After both pumping days we safely and successfully transferred the target amount of diesel to station.
Tomorrow morning marks my first week back aboard the Aurora, and I’ve settled in fine. Right now we’re pretty much down to round-tripping staff, watercraft, scientists, and resupply personnel on board, making meal times a pretty quiet affair, especially when the boaties are off ship and out on the water. That should change in the next few days as more Mawson folks finish up on station and transfer across, and we’ll be a full house again once we get back to Davis station for summer retrieval. I’m definitely enjoying the avocado and mandarins though!
With the Aurora Australis now at Mawson I’ve relocated from the station to free up my room for one of the incoming winter expeditioners, so I’m now here living back aboard the ship for the next month. Hello fresh yogurt, milk, and oranges – I’ve missed you!
As we flew in from Davis V1 I didn’t get to see this view of station previously. From out at sea here the landscape surrounding the station is magnificent with the prominent nunataks of the area poking out from the rolling ice plateau. The wildlife is also abundant in the pack ice with adelies, seals, and giant and snow petrels regularly sighted.
Today we plan for the upcoming refuelling operation, and as always look at the weather forecast to continue resupply activities.
Today was heli fly off for essential Davis personnel, so those like myself not involved spent most of today bunkered in with the bridge and external decks closed. So a rather uneventful day for myself and no opportunity to get off the ship unfortunately. Wandering around Davis might have to wait till V3.
Tomorrow morning Mawson flight #1 is a go, with those personnel going straight from the ship to the plane which we can see not too far away on the sea ice skiway.
I’m flight #2, so it’s still undetermined if we’re a definite at this stage, if we will get a quick chance to see the Davis living quarters “flight lounge” on route, or if we too will go from ship to plane direct. All will be revealed tomorrow…
Today has been an absolute stunning day of cruising between the ‘bergs, followed by a glorious sunset just before midnight. It’s been a beautiful orangey-yellow twilight since, and with sunrise less than 4 hours away from sun down, it just doesn’t get dark at night anymore. More opportunity to stay up and see the incredible landscape.
We reached the fast ice edge at 01:35 where we commenced crunching our way in. Helis are due to fly off tomorrow morning.
Davis is now in sight! From the bridge you can see all the station buildings and a few lights on.
We’re through most of the first year pack ice at this point. Yesterday we had to crunch through some pack where the ship will go through as much of a crack lead as it can, get stuck, reverse, then full speed ahead on both engines as it kind of beaches itself on the ice, using the weight of the front of the ship to break through the ice and push it to the sides. For particularly tough spots the ship can go forwards, back, forwards, back; many times until it finally crunches its way through.
Right now we’re cruising through a polyna – a large open body of mostly ice-free water kept unfrozen due to local currents and wind conditions. It’s a beautiful sunny day outside with calm winds, making going up to the front forecastle of the ship a real highlight of the voyage. The open water should continue today and we could reach the fast ice edge overnight if all goes to plan.
Wildlife is everywhere with many petrel, seal, and adelie sightings. I even saw my first emperor yesterday.
With the ship no longer rolling there’s been a number of ship tours organised. I was very fortunate to get picked to go down and check out the engine room yesterday, and see the massive V16 and V12 engines that drive the ship. This evening I’ll also be heading up to the monkey deck (the roof of the ship above the bridge) to get a tour of the MARCUS and ARM scientific instruments which have been running throughout the voyage. The team running those projects have had many long, tough days up top, so we appreciate them taking the time to show us around.
Planning and briefings continue for resupply. Yesterday we had training and a visit to the heli hangar to learn about the two squirrel helicopters we have onboard. I’m not scheduled to fly on one as they will be based at Davis for the summer, but it’s good to know just in case I need to fly at some point this season. For the Mawson fixed-wing flight which I’ll be on there’s no scheduled date yet – it’s highly dependent on how the ship goes breaking through the fast ice to Davis, and how the plane goes with its current flight schedule and weather windows.
Today I received my iceberg sweepstakes winnings at the morning meeting. Too bad there’s not much use for money for the next few months down here.
Today was quite eventful as we’ve now reached the pack ice. I woke up this morning to the sound of “doonk”, “doonk” – little bergy bits hitting the ship’s hull.
We had another safety drill this morning and by now we’re quite well versed in grabbing survival packs, lifejacket, and heading to the muster points. Once that was completed and cleared away it was time for a minute’s silence for Remembrance Day. I took that moment to be up standing on the bridge, looking out onto the southern waters.
With official duties out of the way, this afternoon we had a royal visit with King Neptune coming aboard our fine vessel. We first timers crossing 60 degrees south must seek permission to enter his watery realm through a ceremony. With the King’s blessing I am now a South Polar Sea Dog and I now take pride in the brine that courses through my veins. I also have old clothes that now smell like fish guts and we can’t quite get the smell out of the cabin. All in good fun.
For our efforts we had a BBQ dinner out on the trawl deck which really gave us a chance to see the pack ice up close. We’re starting to see lots of wildlife now with adelie, petrel, albatross, and seal sightings happening quite regularly.
Only two more days then resupply operations commence, so we’re definitely down to the pointy end of the voyage.