…back

We just rounded the lighthouse at the tip of Tasmania and got cell service! Guess that means I’m back, at least for a little while.

Mixed feelings today, but the dolphins that surfed our wake and escorted us in definitely put a smile on my dial.

Will be in our berth by 2pm, hotel by 4pm and in the pub by 6pm (hopefully) for final drinks and lots of farewells.

Warning : This will be a blomit of thoughts from the past 2 weeks at sea. Reading it is up to u. Pics and vids later as I edit for clarity.

It’s Wednesday after my last post and the second day at sea, aboard the Aurora Australia bound for Hobart … it’s just on dinner time – 5.30pm – and I’m in my top bunk just staring out the porthole at the rolling grey seas outside. Just thought I’d try to write something to capture some moments on the trip home.

What happened yesterday?

Well not much and I slept for most of it. The first night out was typical – 1 snorer in a 3 berth cabin makes for shitty sleep. I haven’t suffocated him in his sleep yet but it’s still early in the trip and I have a spare pillow.

Accidents happen at sea.

Joking!

Or am I …

Probably not.

*The snoring gene needs to be wiped from the gene pool sometime and I’m happy to do my bit.

The ocean is beautiful tonight.

Anyway I slept most of Tuesday and spent the afternoon catching up with the other returning expeditioners. Brendan the ITO at Mawson is aboard and we chatted briefly about our experiences and the ups and down of station life.

There was an aurora rumoured to be visible around 2am and I tried to stay up for it – reading in bed – but fell asleep and was awoken 10 hours later by the ships emergency alarm and a Muster.

(Picture a sleeping cat suddenly thrown into a bathtub. That’s me)

Falling elegantly out of a top bunk is a skill that I’m still developing.

After the throwing on the emergency survival gear and tromping up to the freezing helicopter deck for a Muster and Emergency drill, it was time for a quick coffee to defrost before grabbing my camera and spending the next 7 hours happily shutterbugging away on the freezing decks.

We punched our way through the seaice all last night and for most of today, the ship weaving around the larger bergs and crunching through the ice floes, scattering more seals that I’ve seen in the past 3 months.

On the gently undulating icepack, rhythmically pulsing with the ocean swell below, the number of seals was astonishing – family groups of Weddells, Crabeater, and fur seals were lounging around wherever you looked.

**I saw my first leopard seal this morning about 10 metres from the ship but my damn camera card screwed up (flaky write protect) and wouldn’t write. Camera locked up as the perfect leopard seal photo vanished in my viewfinder.

Naturally I had a mini tantrum – stress does weird things to people and I definitely qualify as that now.

Stomped my foot, swore viciously, loudly, profusely and (much to my embarrassment) was overheard by someone that hadn’t heard me swear ever. 😬 🙊 I do have a talent for it.

They were a little shocked. I was a little embarrassed. Awesome.

Anyhoo the bird life was also crazy : giant Petrels, Albatross, snow Petrels and several other kinds I’ve not seen yet.

We punched slowly past massive icebergs carved into art by the churning grey-green ocean; then even larger bergs covered in vast colonies of sea birds.

At one point the sky was swarming with several wheeling masses. Disturbed by the ships passage they flocked in flowing feathery swirls inked black against the fading greys and icy whites of the Southern ocean.

Tens of thousands of birds covering icebergs hundreds of miles from land. Mesmerising to watch and it even surprised the biologists among us.

I’ve had to defrost my hands several times today (despite the gloves) and it’s the first time they’ve been painfully numb from the cold…a hot water defrost causing actual pain. oops again.

It is below freezing still.

Anyway after a few hours of editing and sorting my photos and videos, I adjourned to the cabin for a snooze.

**just been told I snoozed through a whale alert – pod of whales 🐋 sighted … dammit :/

I’m going to skip dinner and go back to 1 meal a day I think. Put on 6 kilos since October and it’s not from exercise, I can tell you 🙂

So as of now, there’s a swell and we’ve broke free of the pack ice into the open ocean. The ship is rocking and a rolling and I’m in heaven again. I’ve been wandering around this afternoon whistling and singing to myself like a crazy person.

It’s so good to be back on the ship though – I think I love being at sea 🙂

** so much for skipping dinner …chicken schnitzel and veges mmmmmmm .. best sit up in the bridge for a while and check out the views while dinner settles.

Thursday morning was hard to take as from late Wednesday evening the ship began its trademark wallowing in the east swells.

For some reason it was impossible to sleep as the unusual action combined with shoddy bunks to produce a deafening groan and creak every time the ship rolled.

Let’s not forget 2am also brings the snorer into play. Fkn awesome and I left my earplugs in Antarctica.

About 4am sleep finally came for me so when the sun streamed in about 11.30pm ( the start of lunch) my first thought was to stagger up in deck for some fresh air and wake up before diving into the bowels of the ship to find the Mess.

Up one ladder and a flight of stairs into the Helicopter deck and I stepped out into a warm cloudy but yet sunshiney morning.

Stifling a yawn I wandered over to the starboard side and glanced out as the sun cleared the clouds.

There was a commotion below.

My ears almost touched behind my head, so wide was my smile.

Humpbacks!

We had stopped to recover and redeploy a whale mooring – a underwater bouy that helped track and record the migratory movements of whales.

We were in the middle of a whale migration freeway, and we’d be here for hours.

🙂 hee heee!!

I flew downstairs to grab my camera.

The pair circled the ship once, twice – a little wary but not afraid. One of the crew said that usually a pod that’s been hunted will scatter but these guys were just super curious and probably hadn’t come across humans before. Lucky for them.

This was the first time in my life I’ve seen humpbacks and they were virtually in my lap!

A small group of us stood out on the helo deck and watched the whales wander off into the distance…a clinking and clunking from below from the recovery of the whale mooring equipment (an underwater satellite of electronics in a sealed unit about the size and shape of a 44 gallon drum). The device (2000 metres or so below) had responded to its radio signal from the ship, released its ballast and after a 20 minute ascent from the bottom of the ocean, bobbed to the surface for recovery. The replacement device was already prepped and the operation was then repeated in reverse, the experiment was reset for the next 12 months, and we were on our way again.

… skip to Tuesday 27th. 5 days later and all of them Groundhog Days.

Driven slightly mad by lack of deep sleep – thanks 2am snorer – life became very simple. Eat, sleep, read, repeat.

*the snoring starts every single night at 2am ish and goes til 4am ish – like clockwork. I woke out of a short sleep last night, threw my top bunk mattress into the floor and slept on the floor of the cabin to escape the groaning bunk beds -when the deep gurgling snoring began, I started awake and yelled out “choke already you bastard” before I was awake – not my finest moment*

The routine aboard the AA can become extremely so. After settling in, the 90 or so passengers aboard vanished into their own rooms and worlds of report writing, watching movies on their laptops, or reading. Social time was mealtimes, and napping 💤 was the second most popular pastime. Breakfast 7.30-8.30, lunch 11.30-12.20, dinner 5.30-6.30. Outside of those times the ship was a ghost ship as the station based social habits ebbed away.

Everyone has become introverted to a degree, for a little while at least – cocooned in this big orange chrysalis while we transition to whatever our evolved forms will be.

There was a small core of hardy gym enthusiasts, card players and readers that hung in there but the bulk of the passengers were in hibernation.

None for me, thanks 🙏🏻

So the past few days highlights included :

AURORA!! a few clear nights and a few short partial deep green banded auroras lighting up the sky for the briefest of moments through a rare hole in the clouds. Another first for me 🙂

RAIN! I felt the rain on my face again for the first time since October last year and it was good.

HUMIDITY! The abnormal dryness of the Antarctic air is gone, replaced with a blessed moisture.

HEAT! It’s consistently above 3 degrees now, 5 degrees as I type this; shorts and t-shirt weather for us all in the rare sun breaks that we are starting to have.

TIME! We had a 4 hour time change just now – so are now aligned with Mainland Australia again.

CALM OCEANS! Under 5 metre swell and 30 Knott winds all the way. This equals a good nights sleep 😴 for a change and we’ve been making almost 14 knots instead of 10/11 which means…

EARLY ARRIVAL! So as of today, we have 5 days to go and should get in to port around midday on Sunday – almost 3 days earlier than expected.

Wednesday 28th: post 4 hour time warp. Weather is almost 8 degrees but cloudy and rainy with a 5 metre swell and light winds. Stayed up talking til the wee hours. Late dinner at 6pm/10pm. No sleep last night – finally drifted off at 4am/8am and woke a few hours later … crawled out of bed for lunch at 7am/11am and it’s a ghost ship again. My body clock is so broken my eyes hurt… Everyone is suffering today. Hanging out in my rack watching Californication and trying to reset .💤

OMG – the snorer must die.

Skip to Friday 1st March, after everyone recovered from the time change and the routine kicked back in.

The weather is hovering around sunny and 10 degrees. It’s barely raining now. People are out on the helo deck in shorts and t shirts getting some rays.

**Had my Comms Officer briefing today. One of my roles on V4 is to manage Emergency Satellite and Radio Comms if there is a critical event. Like the radio operator on the Titanic I’ll be tap tap tapping away when the ship sinks – or catches 🔥 or pirates attack – something like that 🙂 Was shown all the radio and satellite gear and procedures so let’s hope I never have to use them!

We are all anxious to get back to Hobart now – only a few days to go. Saturday will see a final emergency drill, cleaning our cabins and getting our gear ready to go through Customs etc in Sunday afternoon.

There’s not much happening today but a formalish dinner tomorrow night really underlines that this current chapter is over.

Skip to Sunday – we just rounded the lighthouse at the tip of Tasmania and are in the final run to Hobart.

This morning the ships was abuzz with cabin cleaning and last minute packing. Getting our Customs and quarantine stuff in a pile and filling in paperwork.

The first views of land at dawn was a final confirmation that this part of our journey is over.

All that remains now is to get into port ( around 2pm), clear Customs (3pm) and then get through the official welcome home ceremony and have a few well earned red 🍷.

Then a debrief at the Division headquarter Monday, a few meetings and I’ll have a few days free before sailing off to Macquarie Island in Friday for another 2 week voyage and the station resupply.

I could get used to this kind of life.

🙂

Out.

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