…roundtripper

This will be a blomit and I’ll fix it later.

Read at own risk as this is a brain dump from the past 2 weeks at sea during the Macquarie Island resupply (v4)

Well this trip is certainly a very different journey so far … what is this ‘work’ thing that I’m expected to do?

Ha 🙂

The last 4 weeks ( v1 and v3) on the Aurora Australis were as an Expeditioner – so my actual job started when I got to the research station and my days on the ship were filled with endless free time.

This short trip so far ?

Flat out. So busy! 12 hours days (7am-7pm) so far and so much to learn. I expected as much and I’m loving it.

We had dolphins again escort us out of Hobart, and I barely got up into the fresh air ( 4 hours after leaving) before the ship did an handbrake turn and headed back towards Hobart. There had been a critical piece of scientific equipment left on the docks, and it couldn’t be left behind. It would be loaded on a fast boat 🚤 and we would steam back to meet the boat somewhere off Hobart.

An almost 8 hour exercise in backtracking. The unexpected bonus being we all got cell service ( and Internet) back on the ship – so some frantic last minute app updating and software download occurred.

Was actually a lucky 🍀 break that we turned back as it proved useful to solve many IT issues that would not have been resolved otherwise ( no internet on the ship, you see)

So we rinse and repeated – did a ship to ship transfer of the kit, rechecked the manifests, and turned once again towards Macquarie Island. The dolphins rested us a little less enthusiastically this time, but we were finally on our way.

The ocean was like a barely stirring millpond – barely a swell nor roll to be felt onboard, and the night brought overcast skies and a promising sunset.

Saturday was a long day – 12 hours of drills, briefings, and IT problem solving. It vanished in a haze of weariness by 7pm, and I decided to put on an Oscars themed movie night for this voyage in the cinema onboard – all the top nominated pics from this year’s Oscars. (yes I got fast internet in Hobart and abused it completely)

Let’s see how the movie night goes over the next few weeks… tonight I’m starting with The Shape Of Water , which is my new favourite film for several reasons, only one of which is related to the film.

It’s Sunday now, and the seas have decided to challenge us as we approach Macquarie Island, only 24 hours away.

The Southern Ocean is not happy to be woken so early on a Sunday and I’m not thrilled about it either.

Monstrous grey waves 🌊 angrily pound and crash across our portholes; wind-whipped white capped 6 metre waves , driven mercilessly by a 35 knot wind, have finally started to make this trip interesting and the bulk of the passengers are hiding in their cabins (seasick or watching movies on their laptops)

All my morning tasks are complete and I’ve just flicked in our vhf repeater in preparation for the boating operation tomorrow.

Let’s see what today brings 🙂

… more of the same.

Fleet broadband communication issues outgoing from the ship to station was a headache as was getting support out of Kingston ( being a weekend and a public holiday, key support personnel were uncontactable – which always sucks). Best efforts were made but issues and workarounds are the order of the day here so we did the best we could.

The seas are calming also, which is a good sign for the operations ahead.

So now it’s Monday, and the Groundhog Day feeling was just starting to kick in again as a shadowy cloud front on the horizon slowly revealed itself to be Macquarie Island.

The upper bridge was packed as word spread around the ship : we were here.

For the incoming Winterers, this was to be their new home for 6 to 12 months. For the roundtripper, this was where the next 10 days would be spent frantically trying to complete projects and objectives before the weather turned it they ran out of time.

Science and logistics in competition with the plant and its elements in a race against the clock.

Today, Team Science is a clear winner, as the waves calm and the winds drop.

Boating operations with the IRBs ( zodiacs) and the LARCs ( repurposed military DUCKS) commenced and the passengers and equipments started to flow.

King penguin flocks (?) escort the IRBs to and from the ship, their curiosity drawing them closer and closer. More and more animals are visible in the beach but we are just a little too far away to see clearly what they are.

I’m on Bunker Door duty today – a special door usually reserved for pilot transfer in the side of the ship – the three of us being team leads for the next 10 days. Day 1 we are learning the ropes – literally.

It’s a great gig – and we are close (15 feet or so) to the waterline. We will be controlling the passengers and their baggage on and off the ship – passenger processing basically : biosecurity checks and boot baths, PPE and life jacket checks, carry on luggage transfer and of course, helping people climb up and down the long swaying rope and timber ladder slung out over the side of the ship – the only was passengers can get in or off the ship here.

It’s fun to do something different and not IT related. Plus am getting some great photos from this perspective.

Tonight I’m putting on Blade Runner 2049 in the theatre here – continuing the Oscars 2018 theme 😉

Tuesday and our Phone issues seem to have finally been sorted out by head office. Having a long weekend back home makes support difficult and frustrating but luckily there are some talented people that know what they are doing.

The ship is deserted as most of the expedition era are leaving this morning to commence their operations on the island.

I have a shirt 3 hour shift in bunker door today, and then am helping out where I can. I have to stay on the ship – Comms Officer and all that – in case they have to haul ass outta here.

Hopefully when the returning Comms guy get on board later in the week I’ll get a chance to go ashore.

**also met Emily coming out of Macca – a friend of Ashley’s (my old housemate) and Kim (summering Bio at Davis with me). It’s a small world indeed.

A little extra duty today as I’ve been tapped in the shoulder to assist the DVL with cargo and manifest duties in deck – helping with the logistics of moving hundreds of pallets/cages of equipment off the ship and into station. We are boating everything across using the ducks ( LARCs) and IRB for passenger tender. It’s certainly a change of pace for me and it’s great to be up on deck where the action is 🙂

I’m a little ill today I think… tired and flat. There’s been a virus getting around on board and I think I’m coming down with something. It’s always seems to happen with an influx of new expeditioners. Some bug ran rampant – an early night for me I think 🙂

Tonight’s movie is Lady Bird.

Wednesday : this place looks like the Island from Jurassic Park. I’m not convinced that there aren’t dinosaurs there. It looks…cinematic.

We circle the island at night and come up close to the station during the day, waiting for the weather window to start ops.

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

The winds have come up and although the oceans are smooth, SOPs won’t allow boating operations until the winds drop below a certain speed. The remaining 15 or so personnel waiting to go ashore are in hourly standby but at this stage it look that best case we’ll get refuelling some but that’s it.

Looking for work onboard today – digging in corners for things to fix so I don’t have to update documentation (ugh). Save that for the trip back.

So tired today I just want to sleep.

Lates, my peeps.

Tonight’s movie is I, Tonya.

Thursday now, and the last of the day trippers have gone ashore. There are three expeditioners left on the ship and it’s eerily quiet.

I’m stuck on board and today is the first day I’ve been bored. There’s nothing to help out with and no tasking from the Div. I might help out in the kitchen.

The island is a 15 minute swim away 😦 but the weather changes every 5 minutes from sun to rain to sleet to snow and then back again

Monday 19th – has it really only been a week???

Feels like an eternity now.

There’s only three of us that haven’t gone ashore yet, and it looks like we won’t. The weather is our enemy here and every window of opportunity is focused on cargo and projects.

Since Friday we have done nothing by dodge the weather and stooge up and down the coast, hiding from the swell, swooping in to anchor quickly to put whatever we could ashore whenever we can.

We may we’ll be late back to Hobart but at this stage it’s all a big ? – completely dependent on the wind, waves and swell. The uncertainty is fucking annoying to be honest – you can’t plan anything and have to be prepared at a moments notice to move.

For the past week or so I’ve been team lead on our bunker door team – basically passenger control and quarantine for peeps getting on or off the ship – and that’s been fun. Hanging out a door in the side of the ship helping people up and down the ladder only a few metres above the water gives you a new perspective on the ocean and the island . **I cracked the viewfinder glass on my good camera (grrr) on some dangling metal fitting on the harness we have to wear. Hope it’s a cheap replacement :/

Finally saw The Last Jedi – Sunday night movie 🍿 here and what a beautifully shot piece of shit that was. Such a stupid movie with stupid characters making stupid decisions and stupid speeches. And the stupid attempts at comedy. And Frozen Space Leia. And that whole stupid lame casino caper fucktarded thing. And Porgs. And mincing villains with Family Guy- type humour. And Phasmas big moment. AAARGH FFKS. My God, Disney are killing Star Wars already. So disappointed 😢… ut it was absolutely beautifully shot and designed though…kudos for that but the whole story was a b grade stinker.

Monday 19th and nothing has changed. We are advised to bunker down and burn the day. Great. Movies, read my books and the odd IT job to do. Yawn. Another 12 hour shift on call.

Tuesday 20th and we’re still here.

No cargo ops today although they are going to try after lunch. The weather is improving as is the ocean conditions – still a day and a half of cargo ops that they need to do so it looks like we are staying out til it’s done…

I’ve started a midday movie and afternoon tv session in the theatre and as boredom kicks in on board, I’m getting quite a few people in 🙂

Today it’s a 12.30pm matinee of “The Shape of Water” , then at 3pm my “Stranger Things” marathon finally starts 🙂 … tonight it’s “Bone Tomahawk” at 7.30 for some Western action.

Tomorrow is another ” maybe you can go ashore depending on the weather” day but I’m not holding my breath. It’d be nice to get into the island for a while and explore but my world won’t end if I don’t . I’m getting a bit sick of being on the ship to be honest – it has been almost a month at sea now if you don’t count the 3 days alongside between voyages – cooped up inside isn’t a lot of fun.

Im running out of things to do so to stay productive I’m starting on documentation.

DOCUMENTATION!!!

That’s how bored it’s getting now it’s not that busy. I keep asking myself (and everyone else in my chain of command) “is there anything I should be doing that I’m not?”. The answer seems to be “as long as you keep the punters happy”.

So far so good.

This post is too long and boring

To be continued.

Whodathunk

Tuesday.

I’m just back at the Winston for dinner ( Beer and burger) before hitting the cinemas again to see Black Panther – the late show.

They do brew a damn fine pint.

( oh and weapon of choice tonight again is the Winston burger REMIX: sheer genius for you burger connoisseurs out there. This is basically a bacon double cheeseburger served in a Cinnebon but add fries and a horseradish/wasabi sauce …. mmmmmm kill me now I die happy)

… skip to 9.30pm – Beer and burger buzz installed successfully. Just waiting for the film to start and I’m the only one here.

🙂 perfect.

Hey let’s chat!

So what’s new?

Im glad you asked!

…after a relatively breezy Monday of debriefs and goodbyes, I thought that all this talk of readjustment issues on return from Antarctica was a load of bunk.

It’s only been 4 months!

What could possibly change!

Well! Let me tell you …

I now have super powers ( at least temporarily)

Whodathunknit!

1. Super Hearing – In the 10 story apartment block I’m in, I can hear a constant hum of conversation all the time – like hundreds of voices gibbering in my head – except they are not in my head ( God at least I hope not – can you hear them, Frank?).

I had to leave a cafe today as there was a group of people talking extremely loudly and it was massively unsettling.

2. Super smell – the vehicle exhausts, petrochemicals and even cigarette smells are driving me crazy.

3. Super Chatty (shut up, you) – I can’t stop talking to strangers. My shopping rounds today took all day as I bloody well introduced myself to people in shops, randoms in cinemas, and many cafe people and had a damn good chat.

4. Super Confidence – I’m 10 foot high and bulletproof at the moment.

5. Super tired – not sleeping at all (See 1.)

6. Super restless – I can’t stop moving. 20km walking around town yesterday, 10km today so far. Crazy! (See 7.)

7. Super Caffeination – I can’t get enough good ☕️. Yum.

8. Super Preparedness – all packed and ready to go to Macquarie Island.

9. Super Luckiness – to have worked with so many awesome people.

10. Super gratefulness – to be handed these opportunities and have the life I have.

Not a bad top 10 of super powers, I reckon.

So I have powers now, and as with great power comes great responsibility, I promise to use them for good and not evil purposes.

(Unless it’s all because of the caffeine, in which case it’s every person for themselves)

Sorry World but I’m fairly certain it’s less Antarctica and more the caffeine… mwahahaaa

Now all I have to do is get on the ship Friday morning and not fuck it all up for the next few weeks.

Totally and honestly, I’m loving life at the moment.

*chatted to my lovely and intelligent daughter Isabel today ( she’s the coolest, smartest, most quick witted chick I know – giving me shit for an inaccurate Bitmoji )

**bought a syndicate entry in the 30 million $ lotto tonight – if you don’t hear from me again, I’ve won.

***there’s a new Jack Reacher novel out!!!!

****AND I saw The Shape Of Water finally – so beautifully moving moving, original and a wonderful film – I’ve fallen in love with cinema all over again – thank you Guillermo 🙏🏻

Happy days!!!!

🙂

…landsharks

I just spent a brief half hour lunch, staring out the large second floor window here at a small black speck half a mile away – making its way slowly across the ice field.

Stopping every 20 paces or so, the tiny figure would slowly turn a 360 degree circle, checking for predators or possibly just studying on track, before setting off again across the ice, little feet flapping along, heading who knows where.

You can barely make him out but he’s way out there just past the central tine in the pitchfork -shaped shadows out on the ice. A teeny tiny black spot.

A little Adelie penguin all by his lonesome.

His meandering odyssey reminded me instantly of a forgotten dream I used to have quite regularly as a child ( and less regularly as an adult).

I would be about somewhere in the world, usually in the countryside, running and always moving, relentlessly pursued by massive grey sharks – landsharks. There was only every one or two but they were the size of jumbo jets – and deathly silent. These nightmares would burst up through the very crust of the earth looking for me ( and only me) and try to gobble me up. They could go anywhere and break through any surface : the only warning an uneasy feeling and a shadowy ripple underfoot microseconds before they attacked.

Luckily always with just enough time to escape – keep running.

They never got me – I’ve always been a fast runner and in these dreams I move like a parkour-savant ninja. Easy peasy.

I am an artful dodger at the best of times anyway.

It occurs to me just now that this scenario is an actual possibility here, watching this little penguin wanders the ice alone. How does he feel at the moment? Nervous? Lonely? Or just hungry and looking for a meal. He must be tired. And a little paranoid – constantly vigilant for killer whales or leopard seals that can pop up and grab him through the thinner sections of the sea ice. He’s still walking – stops every 20 steps or so – has a good look around. Keeps on.

I wonder would he see their shadow under the ice?

What would flash thought his little penguin consciousness as the crushing jaws closed around him and the razorlike teeth tore his skin.

“Squark…?”

…maybe, whatever the penguin equivalent for “O Shit!” is I guess.

Jeez. Could these things grab me once I start working out and about here on the thinning seaice, heading to the nearby penguin colonies or just walking around the shoreline.

Maybe.

There was a lady killed by a leopard seal not long ago, dragged down under the ice floe.

Drowned her real good it did.

My fantasy Landsharks are real here.

It’s not the first childhood nightmare that has rang eerily true since I’ve been here in Antarctica.

Dejavu galore.

Many many moments where I’ve felt that I’ve seen this moment in a dream when I was a kid. Even stupid things like a breakfast conversation this morning, the person sitting opposite me and what they were eating. It’s the details that stick.

I’ve seen it and other mundane moments this past week, in my dreams from many years ago.

Super odd.

*speaking of recurrent nightmares, remind me to tell you about the red glowing pig eyes at my window, the exploding TV room or the persistent (and annoying) werewolf calling himself “the British Umpire” who would stalk me along quiet country roads and launch himself ferociously at me from the darkness.

No wonder I write.

Hmmm.

Anyway…

The winter crew had their official station handover just now – informal speeches and the handing over of the station key to the new station leader for summer. What a great group- 18 or so dedicated personnel who roughed it over the toughest and most blizzard filled winter in history. I hope the 80 or so of us can hold up to the same standard set for us.

Later this after noon the old crew will wander out to the ship and then they’ll be heading home with a lifetime of stories to tell.

Hopefully no landsharks are about.

Today for me has been power outages, flaky UPS issues, annoying network issues but overall a much better day work wise. I’ve had a few wins today and they’re finally outweighing the losses.

Boopity boop clickety click…computers : meh.

Tonight the bar opens and we are having a night to celebrate finally – a day off tomorrow to nurse any hangovers and then our summer routine swings into gear.

Settling into a routine now and I have 4 months to whip things into shape.

Winter is over.

Let the summer begin!

…Antarctic Riviera

I’m here.

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.

Holy Shitballs!

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!
*boom-splat

*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?

Library.

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.

…holding pattern

Just submitted an application for a job – a promotion that I don’t want but will probably get – while waiting to hear about an unexpected job opportunity that I didn’t realise I wanted so much until today. At the same time anxiously watching the timer tick down to my “end of June” deadline for action.

I am the pause at the top of an inhale at the moment: my first step off the ledge. Caught in an anxious moment of breathless anticipation.

Ill hear about all of these opportunities in the next 2 or 3 weeks…

Weeks!!!! 

Tick tick fuck.

All my careful planning and orchestrations over the past year have made May/June this year the crunch months. I’m trying to control too much outside my sphere and its doing my head in at the moment.

All I can do is wait until these opportunities are either ticked off or taken – and I really hate waiting. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely grateful to have so many exciting opportunities given the current state of the world. But hey, it’s me. Activity is my heroin, remember? Complacency can suck it.

At least the Green card lottery results are in. No luck there and can tick that off for the year.

It’s actually quite an exciting time.

USA, Romania, Antarctica, South America, Dubbo. One of these things is not like the others.

More on these later as things develop. I’m being intentionally vague but there are massively exciting games afoot.

…yes its a tease, but the Interweb’s digital walls have ears.

**I found a heap of old Biggles novels at a book fair today – being a voracious reader as a kid I devoured all these titles and any other series I could find – Famous Five, Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, moving on to Tolkien, Conan-Doyle, Fleming, Doc Smith, Zane Grey, Asimov and Wilbur Smith and more. Perhaps it was these early literary adventures that set a book and movie geek on his meandering path an age ago. 

Anyway some things never change … Book Fairs rule…

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time machine 2…

… it seemed a hundred years had passed since I’d heard the first whale blow and every nerve ending in my body was sparkling. Soaked in adrenaline, buzzed on nicotine and cocooned in a humming halo of nervous energy, my monkey brain overloaded – ‘eeeep!’ – then shut down.

Fight, flight or freeze.

I froze: hands glued to the rail, body completely locked in place, scanning the deep night for any signs of movement. Anything at all. Nothing stirred. Nothing.

The world held its breath.

‘WHOoosh’… 

This was really happening!

The forgotten cigarette burned my fingers, shifting focus. Suddenly free, I flicked the butt into the Canal (sorry guys) turned and bolted into the cabin like a wild-eyed child on Christmas morning. Knocking frantically on the bathroom door…”Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen….the whales are back!….the whales are back!…”. Running back out onto the deck.

She followed me out a thousand years later, wrapped up in pyjamas and towel against the cold. We stood together close by the low deck rail, staring out into the night.

More whales sounded, much closer than before.

At least 4, scattered out across the entrance to our little cove no more than a few hundred meters away.

But weird behavior. What’s going on here? They weren’t just on the way through. Something was up.

We could clearly hear their vocalisations as the Orca spoke to each other: the ‘whapping’ of finslaps, high pitched warbling whistles and deep rumbling vibrations.

They seemed to be coordinating and changing their locations, out in the black water no more than 100 meters away.

“A little bit to the left, a little bit to the right…come closer…yeah that’s it” in Orca-talk.

It finally dawned on us what was happening.

‘My God, they’re hunting!’

It made sense. There were several harbor seals that lived in and around our little Calm Cove. At night they slept on the floating pontoons and under the docks that were scattered around the canal. 

The whales hunted these seals, and years before had wiped out most of the local seal population in a destructive orgy of blood, guts and fur close to Robin Hood resort in Union. Herded them into shore and massacred them all. It is spoken of in awed whispers by the locals apparently.

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The few seals left were the smart ones.

I moved over and put my arms around Jen, lost in the moment, forgetting. When the whales were whistling to each other, I whistled back, trying to emulate the sound.

“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.

Ouch.

The pod had positioned themselves around the entrance to the tiny cove.  It seemed they were forming a loose cordon  – a net – with the aim of driving whatever prey out of their hiding places and close to shore.

Once in place, the 4 whales began to close up  – sonic ghosts, the only sign of their presence now being finslap splashes and their haunting vocalisations as they maneuvered out in the black.

Then they stopped, falling silent again.

For a minute or so, all was quiet save for the soft lapping of the wavelets against the deck supports below.

We looked to each other. “Now what?”

Then, far out towards the middle of the canal…

…’WHOoosh’

There was a 5th whale.

It passed through the cordon of Orca and entered the cove. The only physical sign a subtle warping of the reflected streetlights – a swell and surge breaking the amber ripples of light as something massive but invisible passed silently beneath. It began to slowly sweep across the cove from one side to the other and then back.

A sudden dread enveloped me. Gone was the wonder, replaced by a primitive irrational fearfulness. I knew it was larger than the others by the sheer menace of the thing. It radiated danger.

Now it was coming closer to us and the deep waters edge. Unseen. Impossibly close. Once, twice, three times it moved across the cove, closer and closer with each pass.

Directly below us lay black, freezing water that at high tide we could bend down and touch at arms length. Just ahead, barely illuminated by the low voltage Christmas lights on the cabin, bobbed a series of buoys about 20 meters out – where the neighbor usually moors his jetskis and canoes.

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Halfway to the closest buoy in the rusty pool of light, the black surface surged upwards.

Completely silent save for tiny tinkling splashes of water, the tip of a black curved fin broke the surface with barely a ripple  – up and up and up it came. Massively tall. Improbably close. A gleaming obsidian blade followed in slow motion by the glistening head and curved back of this enormous predator.

I felt my heart tear as this wonder emerged from the invisible, rising silently in the semicircle of light before us.

“WHOooosh”… a shower of misty silver, tinkling tiny splashes.

It checked us out. I’m sure I felt its dismissive gaze pass over us – the boring little monkeys standing huddled and frozen up on the deck.

And then it was simply gone. Slipping quietly back under the surface with nothing to mark its passing but the oilslick swirl of the icy water.

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.

…………………….

After the bull had swept the cove, the pod became chatty again, and one by one moved off around the point to the next cove along. It was obvious now that they were systematically working their way down though each cove searching for food.

We never saw the other Orca – only what I’m assuming was the big male.

As they moved around the point to the left, their slaps, blows, chirps and whistles became fainter and fainter until finally we couldn’t hear them any more.

After a few minutes, the world around us exhaled and came back to life.

A seal barked loudly just off to our right, scaring the crap out of us both and breaking the spell. We jumped and laughed – that was the luckiest seal in the world tonight.

It splashed into the water and got the Hell out of there as fast as it could swim, heading in the opposite direction to the pod.

……………………

So why am I sharing this…

Well for one thing, these stories would eventually be lost unless I write them down.

I spend a lot of time in this memory and I love the physical and emotional sensations it evokes. Even writing this today has the hairs on my neck standing up and I’m buzzing. 

Secondly, one simple comment recalled now speaks volumes.

“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.

Who says something like that?

Seriously.

That shitty recollection popped randomly into my head the other day as I was going through some pictures from last year. 

This time it didn’t sting – it just made me a little sad.

Scientists and Romantics simply don’t play well together I guess. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

time machine…

Few positive events in your life burn themselves into your minds eye so deeply that whenever you return to that moment, your body immediately reacts – chemically, viscerally : your heart races, your breath catches in your throat, nerves tingle -racing up and down your spine. Even the tiniest hairs on your body prickle into goosebumps like you’ve been caught outdoors naked in monstrous electrical storm.

You are there, transported.

It’s actually a post traumatic stress reaction, in a way. One that is not debilitating but can be addictive. Taking pleasure in past experience to escape the present. Trauma doesn’t have to be ‘bad’ to have a lasting effect, I guess. 

Hmm…discuss.

I’ve been living in the past a little bit lately, purposefully re-examining some events with the benefit of a year’s emotional distance.

OK. Stay with me. I aim to wander.

Flip back to mid May last year. 

One of the highlights of last May was getting to watch a pod of killer whales transit the Hood Canal near Union WA – followed by a flotilla of small water craft. The pod were virtually chased out of the area by excited locals. There hadnt been a pod here for years.  But Killer whales! Man!

I was staying with my ex gf at their family’s cabin on the Canal at Union.  Oysters, whales, seals, forests, mountains…luckiest guy in the world no doubt. 

Beautiful place. 

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I didn’t know it at the time but the relationship was winding down – she was heading in another direction, I was definitely in denial. Maybe I wasn’t. That’s a longer story for another time.

Anyway…

Jen had a job interview in Portland as an archaeologist for one of the big Utility companies; an unexpectedly awesome opportunity and everyone was excited for her.  I’d gone with Jen for support (and shopping) and we’d stayed in Portland overnight. After spending the day shopping, the evening apart and staying in separate hotels (she needed to prepare) it was an odd night. The next day as it turned out the Interview had gone well, and she was elated. We decided to do a road trip out to Eastern Washington where she had gone to college, lived and worked for a time. Explore more of her past. Long story short, I met more of her friends and saw even more of her WA life than before.

To be honest the trip confused the Hell out of me, but I got see see where they filmed Northern Exposure (Roslyn) and Twin Peaks (Snoqualmie, North Bend…coffee and Damn fine Cherry Pie at Twede’s cafe) so, you know : swings and roundabouts.

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Anyway…

We’d gotten back after our weird 3 day road trip, talked our asses off and our issues to death, endured the awkward silences that followed, but ultimately had a good time. We visited her parents in Shelton on the way back through. Then it was late and we were heading back to the cabin.

Still with me? I’m setting the mood here hopefully.

It was past 11pm when we got out to Union.

The canal was moonless dark, winters day cold and unusually silent. Apart from the odd barking of a seal and the distant “shHHhh” of a passing car, it was graveyard-still. 

As we were in a little cove, so the road curled around the waters edge, following the shoreline. The streetlights threw long rippling shafts of soft amber light out along the surface of the black water – delicate grasping fingers that reached blindly out into the darkness. A mile away on the other side, the scene was a perfect mirror – distant pinpoints of houselights, rippling reflections, softly glowing streetlights, and silence.

Jen went inside and jumped in the shower. I stood out on the deck and rolled a cigarette, contemplating the Universe and marveling at the night.

I leaned on the deck rail and took a drag of the cigarette, enjoying the nicotine buzz. Pale smoke curled out over the low deck railing down to the dark water lapping a few feet below.

…now: take a single big breath, hold it. Purse your lips, and exhale forcefully, push all your breath out at once…

‘WOOoosh…’

Soft. Sounding like it was a million miles away but crystal clear in the night air, the deep sound whispered across the canal…

Did I imagine that? What the Hell was it?

I couldn’t see a thing in the inky darkness so I froze – held my breath and waited.
It came again. Closer this time.

‘WOOoosh…’

A massive exhale, followed by the tiniest series of tinkling splashes. Another, further to the right. then another even further along. Right out in the middle of the canal but definitely coming closer.

The hairs on my neck stood up.

I forgot to breathe.

Oh my GOD!

The whales are back…

tbc