After 14 days at sea, sailing though some of the most treacherous and stormy waters on the globe; Internet and Phone free, crammed into a small cabin with my 3 new best friends and challenged by living alongside 100 new coworkers; rattled and shaken and frozen and soaked, thrown about like a kite in a hurricane in 9-12 metre seas, rocked to sleep so hard, having to cling to the mattress to stop being launched out of bed, bored out of my brain at times, overstimulated and restless at others, plus many many MANY sleepless nights but OH MAN!!!! it’s totally been worth it.
“Welcome to the Antarctic Riviera!!!!” yelled the widely grinning bearded dude that greeted us as we alighted from the little red chopper that had ferried us all of 2km and 3 minutes airtime from the ship . Calling out over the scream of its whiny turbine as the blades whirred to a halt just over our heads, the outgoing expeditioner/groundcrew guys were totally stoked to see new faces after a long winter with only the same 18 people for company.
Taking us single file away from the whistling rotor blades, they posed us for a station photo ( mug shot) and then led us into the converted container cum airport at Davis Station, Antarctica.
The 6 seater Squirrel took off as soon as we were inside, making a beeline for the bright orange icebreaker resting on the fast ice a few kilometres away to the northeast. Time for the next load of personnel.
All four of us just stared out over the research station, clusters of industrial buildings, color coded administration buildings and workshops, accommodation and science blocks, radar domes, scattered radios antennae and satellite dishes amongst the jagged rocks, ice and snow piled high against every building and covering the ground as far as the eye could see.
Just taking a moment to let it sink in.
We’d just set foot on the Antarctic continent.
We’re in Antarctica.
We were shepherded over to the Mess building to dump our gear. Looking out over the Bay was just breathtaking.
The Aurora Australis has found its parking spot a kilometre or so off the coast – in the fast ice off the Vestfold Hills – and I flew off on the fourth flight out (on a dandy little Squirrel chopper). Made the Critical Personnel list, dontcha know!!! As of right now I’m at Davis Station settling in and getting acquainted – unpacking my two small bags that now are the bare essentials needed to survive – plus laptop of course 🙂 I’m not crazy !
Only 2 bags you say? My one big backpack has become 2 small bags. Ditched the ukelele that JK gave me finally – a difficult letting go exercise and it was surprisingly hard to relinquish – but it was a pain in the arse much like her and best left behind. The emotional house cleaning is almost finished.
So still working on that minimisation thing and it’s going well I must say.
But anyhoo…I made it this far.
Tomorrow I start actual work but today is a nice long familiarisation and induction day . Meets and greets . Find my way around. So much new information that my head is reeling .
So… what’s it like I hear you ask. Here’s some first impressions.
It’s not that cold (flannelette shirt weather). Minus 4 at the moment but the sun is hot ( UV here is dangerously high). The air is dry and bitey ( and dusty!). There is black ice everywhere. The snow glare is blinding. The people are wonderful,from all walks of life and largely kindred spirits – travellers and explorers.
This alien landscape is constantly surprising though – at first glance intimidating in its vastness, apparent desolatation and endless horizons ( it all looks like a massive dead salt lake, I swear) but then it just shifts gears and shimmers to life as Adelie and Emporer penguins, crab eater seals and sperm whales begin to appear. A few at first, then more, and more, and more . The sheer amount of bird life here – snow petrels, albatrosses and penguins- thousands of miles from land and living their lives out to sea – is staggering.
Convoys of azure icebergs, dazzling like glittering diamonds, parade past on both sides as we navigate deeper and deeper into Antarctic territory leaving the Southern Ocean behind and entering the Antarctic Circle. The ancient glaciers birthing them hundreds of miles away yet these giants line the horizon for days on end.
The various ice formations just Blow..My…Mind!
*these last two images were taken just after midnight a few days ago.
If you are going to travel to Antarctica, do it by ship. You won’t regret it. Crunching through sea ice for days on end is incredibly exciting and watching the very world freeze around you is fascinating.
But despite all this inspirational beauty, I’m really tired – it’s been a long 6 weeks since getting home from the USA and my actual job starts today.
Well, maybe tomorrow. It’s fairly casual here.
Exhausted both physically and emotionally, earlier today I woke up on another world and was struck by a desperate need to explore – instead I’ve been compelled to lock myself in my room for a bit – a few hours of privacy to reflect and escape the mindless chatter of humanity.
Ponder this strange meandering course through life that I have unwittingly set. Deep shit like that.
More than once this month I have been moved to mutter “My God – how the fuck did I get here?”
More than once in the past few years I have also explored my aversion to stillness. This place somehow makes it easier to accept a peaceful contemplative silence. 3 years ago it would have driven me insane.
This Antarctica; frozen in time and quite literally in place is so utterly, completely, and wonderfully silent. Even the winds barely whisper at his time of the year. This silence is more than a little unnerving. Such a cold beauty as this being completely outside my experience – something I’ve never ever experienced. You’d love it, Oana 🙂 – (sorry no trees tho)
Despite some concerted efforts to screw it up, my life (perversely) seems to be slowly working out.
Still – How the Fuck, indeed.
*hitting the fast ice one day out of Davis *inside the largest polynya ( look it up) on the planet
I’ll be posting more regularly now that I’m settled in for the summer.
Stay tuned. My heads in a weird place but the internet is SLOOOOW!!!
*It’s 10pm and this is my view presently : and also why it’s hard to sleep .
Not exactly picturesque but hey – it’s a research station …
The sun barely goes down about 1am and rises about 2am. In 3 weeks there will be no Night at all.
Still here ?
As a reward here’s a blow by blow of the past 14 days or so as jotted down at the time – it’s poorly structured and largely unedited so be warned. I’m too tired to be bothered editing more today today. Maybe tomorrow.
Here goes –
“Sunday 29th October . I’m on my way to Antarctica – FINALLY.
We were held up by bad weather out of Hobart so we diverted to the lee of Burny Island for 24 hours to let the surge pass us by. Its 24 hours of people finding their sea leags and getting violently ill already, despite the seas begin relatively calm. God knows whatll happen when its gets rough!
Monday 30th October – spotty 3G internet service still available on my phone but the ships email is flaking out, and we can only receive, not send. Its time for some last minute updates, download a few last TV shows and use up the last of my phone data plan for the month. Find a few books in the lbray and try to meet my new voyage family. Theres a lot of people to try to meet!
It’s 3 days into the trip now, with my last views of Tasmania long gone over the horizon.
Everyone on the ship has been itching to get going – old hands and newchums alike – the false start to avoid bad weather was a bit of an anticlimax (but wholly necessary -19 metre waves on Day 1 ??? – no thank you Sir).
After popping a Phanergan seasickness tablet Monday evening, I barely gained consciousness by 11am the next morning – luckily the first few days there has been no work scheduled – it’s purely a ‘getting used to it’ exercise.
Tuesday 31st was an odd day, with a sedative hangover Id slept the day away and then couldn’t get to sleep as the swell was huge (plus a bunkmate is a snorer which doesn’t help – thank Dog for earplugs). Again nothing scheduled training wise so the rest of the day was eat/sleep/chat/read and pretty much wasted.
No more seasickness tabs for me – I don’t need them as it turns out plus they just wipe me out for the whole day after anyway. Tonight will be the bold experiment and hopefully it’ll work out.
Today is Wednesday 1st November as I write this – 9pm or thereabouts. Its been an interesting day, and the newcomer nerves are abating – meeting loads of new people using the tried-and-true “sit at new table each meal and introduce yourself to everyone” method. So much for feeling my way through – lets get this party started.
A good percentage of the people aboard have succumbed to a measure of seasickness ranging from mild nausea through to being put on a drip (The Doc was called to the Bridge late last night and the assumption is someone needed fluids or an injection at least).
The seas and weather have been superb – 5 to 6 metre swell (which I’m assured is AMAZING for this time of year) , a little squally but generally a sunny 9 degrees with a blistering wind blasting up from the South. Were out in the open ocean now and its simply wonderful
People are finding their rhythms and not just sleeping and eating all day, although sometimes it seems you are just filling in time between meals. There are joggers jogging the small deck as best they can, a yoga group that meets at 6am (cmon yoga types seriously?), the gym junkies that haunt the small gym and talk about protein shakes and testicle shrinkage, and the library nerds that play cards and read in the small ships library. Where to go I wonder?
There’s a 8pm movie night each night in the little cinema/conference room, with a preceding presentation the science projects underway – tonight we heard from Dr Tessa on the Mount Brown Ice Core Project – the leader on a deep field team drilling some 400 km inland from Davis Station (the team is hoping for a 350 metre ice core to let them peer back into the regions weather and climate history for thousands of years).
I’ve chatted to many science geeks going down to count penguins or seal populations, or seabird studies, climate change, ice obs, nuclear antiproliferationtreatystuff, electronicearslistening stuff:- endless science going on down here – all super intelligent but fun typeset people – I think I like biologists much better than archaeologists.
I’m starting on Phytoplankton sampling tomorrow morning early, then the Field training starts in earnest whilst still aboard – first up for me at 9am is Ice Field Traversing 101 – should be fun J
Bedtime for now.
Thursday 2nd – email is flowing again but its been limited to 50kb in size only – virtually a text message but its better than nothing,
The weather out here changes in a heartbeat. Yesterday it was lovely, today its a shit storm. It’s been squally all day and the ship has ploughed on through 5 – 6 metre waves all day with some sun breaks in between.
There were albatrosses trailing the ship again today and I got a few nice photos in between the howling winds and the rain showers. The decks are becoming a little more unpleasant and very soon well all have to wear survival gear to go out on them, once they begin to ice up.
I spent some time up on the bridge today and it makes for quite the vantage point of choice, as the other areas higher than the bridge are off bounds due to extensive arrays of expensive equipment. The views from the bridge are breathtaking – enormous grey seas stretching far out into the distant stormy horizon, white caps lashed by the winds as far as the eye can see.
The motion of the ship at this level is heightened and really feels like you are on a massive orange rollercoaster, the rain slicked deck pitching fore and aft as the ship powers through the swell. Watching the horizon dip out of sight and then heave into view way over your head is unnerving, as is the sight of the portholes submerging under the green water – awash from the swell and motion of the ship – not a bad effort considering they are 2 stories up.
I had a dream last night that I was sitting alone in the Mess and was watching all the portholes submerge into the ocean as the ship rolled over, everything frozen, a complete silence. The hull vanished and all I could see was ever darkening depths. Hmmm…
Sorta mirrors how I’m feeling at this point – not even 1/3 of the way there. A little tired I guess. I’m not sleeping very well and the swell throws you around in the little single cot so much its difficult to relax. I had to jam my arm between the wall and the bed last night to stop from being rolled out. There are no guardbars or anything like that to stop you bouncing around or rolling out – I was last into the cabin and got the last bunk, but thankfully its on the bottom so I only have to bounce half a metre or so.
Friday 3rd November – Field training started today, and the first 90 minute session on Ice Field travel and survival techniques was fascinating. The science behind ice formations is much more complex than Id imagined, and the techniques we are going to be practicing in the field are life saving. Theres much more practical survival training once we get there and get working out on the pack ice. I get issued an Ice Axe! How cool is that!
Kill Bill 1 was the movie of choice for the day – there’s a lot of Tradies on board so naturally the ultraviolent films and old standards (Die Hard, Magnum Force etc etc) are getting a good run as is the Wii and car racing games. I don’t think we are going to be seeing The Beguiled anytime soon unless I can organise a film club in 2 weeks.
Spaghetti marinara for dinner this evening. Yum! J cant say that they don’t feed you well – if only there was space to go for a run.
IT challenge of the day – recovering data from a crashed HDD full of movies and TV for Sam.
Saturday 4th November was another fun day with some crappy weather but at 9am we had out first real drill in full survival gear. Although we were given 90 seconds notice over the PA, it still set the heart racing to hear the alarms and muster call – getting into our survival gear in the small cramped cabin was challenging and we needed to coordinate our actions. Even so we seemed to take minutes to get into the 3 layers of protection and life jacket…in a life threatening situation we could be out in the sub zeo temperatures for hours I (for example) a fire was being fought or there was a gas leak etc etc… was an interesting experience but one I could do without. Training today was a short Environmental briefing in the cinemarette – basically wash our stuff, don’t go near the animals, don’t take anything as a souvenier
Still eating way too much and I have to reduce my caloric intake significantly.
Skip ahead til Sunday 5th November evening. – After leaving the roaring 40’s we are finally in the 50’s and almost officially in Antarctic waters.
The sun is still shining, the seas are smoothing out but the air temperature is dropping noticeably – down to 3 degrees but the steel deck of the ship is still warm and I can sit out on the helo deck to get some sun and fresh air. Not feeling extremely social today – going from solo travel to a shipload of 100 people is a challenge and actually quite exhausting. After a day of being social I’m finding it more and more difficult to constantly engage with people. Peopling is hard. Not sleeping well also is a problem – the days are becoming just eating, short training sessions and a lot of doing nothing. It actually sucks. I don’t want to watch all my TV yet as I still have 5 months of this. Yikes.
IT challenge of the day – recovering a SD card full of photos for Sam. Mission accomplished.
Monday 6th – More field training today – Maps and compass navigation – this was really fun and I haven’t had to do it for a long time – was extremely rusty – I hope that I NEVER have to navigate my way out of a life threatening situation because I suck at it.
I’m staying up a bit later alter tonight, sitting in the mess having a milo and some bikkies, waiting til my 10pm water sampling slot.
The process is basically fill up a large measuring container, set up some filtering and a pump, start up the pump and let it filter for 45 minutes, then dry and pack to filters as samples into liquid nitrogen.
Tuesday 7th and its Melbourne Cup today. With no Internet and dodgy comms on the ship, it proved a challenge to be able to do something last minute (given that we had the job Dumped on us – “yeah the “IT people” can do it” – bitch please :/) We tried to get a VoIP hookup with the AAD at Kingston and stream/rebroadcast the event over the Ships PA but the quality was so bad we had to abort. SO Plan B Brendan and I ran the sweep, raising funds for Camp Quality, with the crew and Expeditioner’s chipping in around $300 (after prizes). Chocolates were given as prizes for Best Dressed and Best Hat, with the Penguin project ladies triumphing over the Mt Brown Ice Core team in the Best Dressed, with Ali from the Mt Brown Ice Core team winning the crowd favourite for her Canadian Lumberjack Glaciologist outfit.
A few more HDDS to recover (no luck with one – it was fried). It’s been extremely quite work-wise.
Wednesday 8th ? Losing track of days now – another day of Field Training, food and more than a little boredom. I learnt “Knots, Bends and Ropes” skills today and sucked just as badly now as I did at it in the Boy Scouts! But eventually my tired brain relented and actually retained some information. Yay brain!
The seas are huge today – up to 9 metres and the ship is rolling and corkscrewing 24/7, making sleep virtually impossible for any sustained period. The Captain puts the ship along the swell at meal time (so that we can actually eat safely) and then doggedly heads South again…its been a game of cat and mouse with a low pressure system that has been hunting the ship for the past few days, causing massive waves, high winds and a drop in speed. It’s cost us at least 2 days so far and we won’t be getting into Davis until about Sunday now.
Ugh no sleep at all last night. The roll of the ship practically flips you out of bed, or at the least you are constantly sliding from one end of the cot to the other. Its something that I still haven’t got used to and generally it’s not that bad – this last 24 hour period has been a challenge. The gravity changes and the way the ship moves is generally great fun, but its getting a little old especially after no sleep.
Jump ahead to Thursday 9th. I have a date with some interesting Phytoplankton. Yes its Water Sampling again today. This time at 8am, which is really 4am back home. Man I don’t do 4am well but luckily I’m getting used to it. Ahh science.
Back to bed after for a 2 hour snooze – trying to catch up on my sleep as we all know that cranky Jamie comes out with little to no sleep.
We are incrementing the clocks one more hour again tomorrow to bring us in line with Davis time.
Getting close to 60 degrees south and the weather is a little chilly – just above 0 degrees and its snowing today over the Southern ocean. There are several seabirds following the boat – massive Albatrosses and smaller grey birds, even way out here about 800 nautical miles from shore – and the sight of them sweeping down through the snow, wingtips just barely scraping the surface of the grey freezing water its simply hypnotising. I’ve been watching them from the porthole in my tiny cabin and from up on the bridge.
Friday 10th!!! Snow at sea!!! It’s the oddest thing I’ve ever seen – well it’s the first actual full on falling snow I’ve ever seen to be honest. Big wafty flakes of snow landing gently on the grey churning waves, settling on the bright orange superstructure of the ship, collecting on the rust coloured cranes, silver grey containers and the bright blue tarpaulins covering the loads on deck. Everyone is a little more excited now! It also means that our first iceberg isn’t far off, and we are only days away from getting to the sea ice.
And as we are getting close to 60 degrees South, King Neptune is paying us newbies a visit on Saturday. This is a loooooong practiced maritime tradition, and so I feel compelled to participate (esp as its completely disgusting and hence absolutely voluntary) with a BBQ on the trawl deck, and the ritual humiliation (that involves lots of garbage and kissing many fish) shall ensure. It’s going to be bloody freezing out there so hopefully Ill survive – all of the new people are nervous/excited about it.
Saturday 11th brings a full restful nights sleep, a sleep in and a real breakfast on the newly calmed ocean – barely a ripple out there now and it appears we’ve finally hit the outer sea ice. After the first lonely iceberg appeared last night, the murky grey ocean is now filled with an increasing number of growlers, bergs and other assorted fragments of lazily drifting sea ice. Although the skies are still grey and dull, there are rare sunbreaks in the cloud – in those moments you can see the absolute blueness of these bergs as they surge along in the swell. The sea ice is getting thicker and thicker as we travel along, and now the ship plows through expansive but thin sheets of ice – smashing through with the ice fragments tumbling and crunching along the hull and then disappearing in our wake. There are monster bergs lurking in the mist at the edge of the horizon – dulled by distance they still appear formidable and forboding, their towering battlements dabbled in shadow and shrouded by fog.
November 11 – Remembrance Day today and at 11am we stopped to observe a minutes silence to honor the Fallen. Crunching through expanses of fragmented sheet ice as the ship fell otherwise silent was an oddly moving moment.
Saturday – 3pm A towering, loinclothed blue King Neptune – roaring at us infidels for invading his realm and polluting the seas – and his snickering crusty blue seaweed clad entourage visited today – a welcoming party in the port mess saw us newbies initiated into King Neptune’s Court – we kissed the fish, drank the viscous fluids, and were thoroughly doused from head to toe in a heady mix of ground up kitchen waste, gruel, food coloring, fish oil and anchovies. The entire ship now reeks of this vomit inspiring odour and despite several showers I can still feel/smell/taste this vile smell in my head. Luckily I was one of the first to get initiated, so I took the opportunity to nick off and have a sneaky shower plus pop my gear in the laundry. I was missed so I’m hoping it doesn’t bite me in the arse. Oops.
Arse saved and a sneaky hot shower and a clothes wash saved my shirts.
Tonight there is a BBQ and our 3 allocated standard drinks per person will be busted out of the grog locker – this is our party night tonight before we get into the fast sea ice, and head in for resupply. OOOO I fly into station on the first chopper off the ship apparently – helicopter flight over the ice should be pretty damn amazing.
3 beers brought in quite a buzz!!!! Great steel deck bbq in the trawl deck .
Sunday and Monday – we are pushing deeper and deeper into the sea ice now. The weather has cleared and the grey clouds have parted to revel a deep blue sky splashed with long white clouds – like a spring day except at -4.5 degrees. The massive bergs are closer now, and the ice is thickening – a few times now the ship has actually gotten hung up and unable to break through, so the Captain has seesawed the ship backwards and forwards several times (with both motors running) to try to bully its way through the deep blue and white barrier before us. The surface of the sea ice varies –from a winter millpond slush, to splats of pancake ice – like many overlapping scales on a snakeskin – stretching for miles and miles in any direction. Thin sheets that are curved and flexed by the hulls pressure wave, and finally shattered into panes of glass-like ice which ride the wash and are pushed up, over and into the other glistening layers like a crazy sparkling chinese puzzle.
Currently the ice is several feet thick, the massive blocks broken up by the ships hull tumbling past and tipping, revealing layers upon layers of ice put down over the winter – colors ranging from dirty algal green to electric blue to sparkling diamond white. There’s a constant thumping and grinding you can feel through the hull from the crumbling icefloes– it rattles your bones but like the constant engine noise and vibration its is comforting.
We have been travelling past convoy lines of massive icebergs, towering over the ship and travelling in an almost perfect formation on both sides – spat out by multiple glaciers in the region.
The animal life is getting more prevalent, and we are seeing crabeater seals basking in the sunlight, sitting on larger floes and checking us out. Larger groups of Adelie penguins are popping up now instead of the loner individuals that we first saw on the outer fringes of the icefields. A group today chaed the ship and were “porpoising” alongside – I’ve never seen anything like it and MAN these little fuckers can really move in the water. No more whales though at this time. Sad face.
We officially entered the Antarctic Circle about 3pm Monday – now under 100 nautical miles from Davis Station and only a few hours from the fast ice that we have been searching for. Once there, the ship will smash slowly through til its around 2kns from the shoreline. Once we stop, helicopter transport begins, and amazingly I’m one of the 35 critical personel flying from the ship to the base. I get to fly in over the ice and will see it all from the air. I’m on the 4th flight out so God willing I’ll finally be on station round 12pm tomorrow. I cant believe its been a 2 week journey.
Holiday’s over folks.
Now the real work begins.