…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.

Day 2 and still here …

Well after the best damn nights sleep I’ve had in ages, we are still anchored just off Port Arthur, sheltering from the massive waves that stopped us leaving yesterday.


Waking up late (9.00am) and having no formal duties aboard (my actual work starts at Davis station ), a cooked breakfast (food here is amazing) and a brewed coffee (did my coffee machine induction yesterday) today was looking pretty damn sweet.

Fed and caffeinated. Weather calm, suns out, guns out !

Still have mobile service so yay for that. They had Sharknado on last night in the little cinema here so that was fun 🙂 

But today has been slooooooow – downloaded more TV shows while waiting for the 12.00 briefing and lunch.

I did volunteer for the phytoplankton sampling project so I’m getting my lab coat on during the voyage and helping out in the science labs, taking seawater samples, filtering, freezing ( woohoo liquid nitrogen) and bottling for return to the boffoms at Kingston. Wohooo SCIENCE !!

So then what to do? 

Thank God there’s a decent library aboard and loads of board games !!! At least learning cribbage wasn’t a total waste of time. Thanks JK.

Also there’s a group of yoga peeps here so I’m going to join them for a daily 4pm informal class. And the small gym is getting hammered so no luck there as far as access.

Lack of physical activity will be an issue so I have to figure out ways to address that. No more 12 km walks per day. Already stacked on too much weight from the US.

Hmmm.

As for meeting new people – it’s been like the first day of high school – a NEW High School where 60 % of the people know each other and you are the new kid in town. There’s a few of us in that same boat but luckily everyone is super friendly so far.

Plenty of time to make new friends and it’s eyes open mouth shut for me at this stage. Learning the ropes here is important and every person here is exceptional in their field. Best I just shut the Heck up and learn.

Tonight is Halloween and they have “the hit mans bodyguard” on in the cinema – I’m downloading a bloody horror movie to get in the Halloween spirit a bit 🙂 House of the Devil – cool cool cool cool.

Awesome sunset tonight. Shame I just missed it.


But for now it’s 7.00pm relax time … read a book, watch a movie, haunt the helo deck. There’s simply nothing else to do.

Aw Damn

😉

*im keying these boring short barely readable entries on my phone and I HATE typing on this Fkn iphone. Drives me insane. Might clean it up later. Might not. Apologies.

…so long

…and thanks for the 11-20 metre waves ahead. 

**This is a placeholder post in case I lose service. If I do then it’s 2 weeks of no internet and social media blackout. This may be brief but I’ll try to update throughout the day – it is a little hectic. So far so good.

The Comms ladies just messaged me and said “omg the weather ahead looks crap – don’t forget to sit down in the shower” – this does not bode well.

Apparently there are massive seas and rough weather in the Southern Ocean at the moment so we will be spinning our maritime wheels a bit before actually heading due South.

Swells this bad can actually damage the ship and pretty much render everyone on board seasick as heck almost instantly.

So here’s the blow by blow for today. So to speak.

8:00am – I’m volun-told that I check in last and instead help people with their super important IT issues that they couldn’t be assed taking care of prior to lining up at a wharf. Ah the joy of IT Support work.

11:45am – Heading out of harbour at 3pm today, we’ve just been given another “do this and you will die” briefing, a last guided tour and then kicked off the ship for our last 2 hours ashore.

The Aurora Australis captain has decided to weather out the rotten Southern Ocean Weather by hiding in the lee of Bruny Island til this wave pattern passes, then plans to duck out quickly in the relatively benign swells before the next series of 11-20 metre waves comes along and knocks the shit out of us.

*This isn’t our ship but a rather large cruise liner that quietly put in overnight.

Although it would be nice, our accommodation is a little more spartan. We are taking the orange one below.

Our ship is an icebreaker, and so has a rounded hull (much like a bathtub) and apparently rides waves in much the same way. 

Slices through ice like a hot knife through … ice.

Anyhoo, the Doctors recommendation is for everyone to take anti seasickness  medication regardless of experience so I think I might heed the advice.

12:41pm  – Just back from lunch and Wharf 2 is packed with wellwishers and seeofferers, kids and mums and dads and grandparents. Theres a general hubbub of nervous excitement and more than few teary farewells as loved ones and Expeditioners, a mix of summerers and winterers, part ways for up to a year.

Isabel is pissed at me. One word responses to my messages and won’t/can’t answer her phone. I couldn’t make it up to see her in Hervey Bay – the flight schedules from Hobart just make it impossible to do it without taking 4 days off and I just couldnt get the time off with the training schedule and timeframe in Hobart. 

It’s my fault as I didn’t leave enough time from getting back from the US to get everything sorted out before heading down here and once I got here, not enough time off. Nothing I can do now. Sorry Bella.

Shit. I just realised my passport is on the ship – might be able to sneak on and grab it before Customs come aboard. I’ll continue this a bit later – more to come while I have internet…

2pm – made it aboard, cleared Customs with my  water damaged passport ( the Border Force guy went “ Shit this has been through the Wars” but luckily the electronics are still ok) . We just had our first drill – all hands muster with kit and rollcall in the heli deck.

Then back to the cabin to de-kit.

The 4 berth cabin I’m sharing is comfy but close – the next hour or so is stowing gear and settling in before the sendoff. One of the guys has an electric sleep apnia machine that he needs to be able to sleep and live –  freakin yay.

Anyway, lucky I brought ear plugs so all is well. It’s only for a few weeks.

We have a view!!! So posh ! This single porthole that should provide an excellent view of the icy green rolling seas that await us outside the protection of Macquarie Point (providing no one spews on it in the meantime).

2.30pm – engines are started and the whole ship is vibrating nicely. It’s a comforting sensation and wholly familiar. Time to explore the ship and get my bearings across the 5 or more decks – like any large vessel it’s a veritable maze of corridors and heavy watertight doors that all look the same.

Best to figure out escape routes early. The shortest route to the lifeboats is always a personal favourite.

**We were all herded aboard a lifeboat during the tour for familiarisation and continually hearing the words sink, drown, hypothermia, die sorta makes you put some contingencies in place in relation to survival at sea.

The lifeboat was good for 6 days for 70 people – it was squeeze with 35.

I’d much prefer it over the immersion suits that we also had to put on – these are thick fully body heavy wetsuit like beasties that will apparently extend our life expectancy in the icy oceans from about 20 minutes to up to 20 hours or so. Yay.

3pm – Just got trained on the nice coffee machine in the galley – now I can make a good espresso on the way down thank God!! Riding a heady caffeine buzz and watching the world go by outside . The Captain just called over the PA “All ashore who aren’t going to Antarctica”, which sent a small cheer through the galley. Outside the porthole, hi-viz oompaloompas are swarming – taking down the gangway.

Almost time!!!!

3.30pm sharp . We are off!! Catch you later folks.

Catch us all on the Aurora Australis webcam at http://www.antarctica.gov.au/webcams/aurora –

Mainly we hang out on the Helo (aft) deck so check it our – pics updated regularly and my plan is to update the blog as often as I can (dependent on access to internet services once I get down South)

​​

Dinner was amazing and the food hearty and healthy rosy pork and vegetable followed by icecream and a chocolate pudding thing…then off to the helicopter deck again to watch the albatrosses swooping and skimming alongside  the ship – as the evening fell we had 3 dark skinned mottle-brown dolphins racing us to Bruny Island. 

It’s been a long few weeks here and I think it was watching them being simply joyous and alive that finally made me smile.

I’m finally on the way.

** And actually still have 4G phone service so another 3 Gig of TV shows to download thank YOU very much!!! 🙂

…downtime

So I’m in Hobart now.

Hobart Tasmania, the Island state of Australia located due south of Melbourne and thrown back about 25 years in time.

The whole state has less people living in it than Portland, Oregon.

What a weird place it is.

Almost not like Australia at all – at least until someone opens their mouth. An aussie boofhead sounds the same in Tasmania.

Shops close here at 5.30 pm every day and the city is deserted apart from a few hole-in-the-wall takeaway joints and some dodgy bars.  There is no late night shopping – it doesn’t exist here.

Luckily there are tons of boutique pubs and breweries, cafes and craft beer places. I even found a decent Nepalese eatery. But there just aren’t many people.


The waterfront is beautiful, quite expensive and as generally waterfronty as waterfronts tend to be. Lots of craft beer, trendy beards, tattoos and bottle blonde women. Which may not be a bad thing.

But I’m more interested in the other wildlife 🙂

**meet my new friend Alex, scrounging for scraps amongst the fish and chip punts.

​Also I think this is where the Sydney to Hobart yacht race finishes. That’s a sport so just guessing here.

Downtown does come alive on a sunny Sunday though. Crowds appear and flock to the markets. There’s a City organic market happening at the moment – it’s pretty damn good with loads of organic produce, food stalls and music galore.

I even saw Koshie from Sunrise wandering around with his wife. Yay.

This single sunny day aside, my initial impressions from flying in and living here over the past few weeks hold true: Hobart is generally sleepy and the people ruggedly outdoorsy with stunning wilderness areas and oceans to explore – not a lot of Subaru’s but despite that it reminds me of Washington a little. 

A cashed-up version though and no homeless people (or at least haven’t seen any yet).

I can’t really explore – no car –  so am at the mercy of the elements and the daylight. Its good to get out and walk my ass off though.

*these two were so good.

It’s Fall Weather here 6 days out of 7 and today is a rare but welcome sunny one.

There are a lot of beards, yoga pants and everyone else is in adventure wear – loads of bike riders out and about. The outdoor stores do well here for a reason I guess.

…anyway.

Day 1 at the Division was giddily exciting – the bus picked a group of us up outside an old sandstone building near the hotel, all of us strangers and nervously wondering who the others were. A few “first day of school” comments, some IT crowd in-jokes and the 3 IT people (my colleagues bound for the other 2 stations) gravitated towards each other – inherent geekiness drawing us together.

Walking into the Division HQ is cool cool cool – all “Get Smart” automatic doors and security – I’d find out why later.

The most thrilling thing is being part of Australia’s incredible history of exploration, and assisting science in the Antarctic region – following in the footsteps of the great Explorers as it were.

Ross, Amundsen, Shackleton, Scott, Hillary, Mawson –  in no particular order. Their faces look down from the walls of the Antarctic Division headquarters, their exploits and adventures inspire.

Relics and photographs of their expeditions pepper the offices and buildings in silent memorial to their achievements and give us newbies hints at what is to come.

Its just mind blowing how much history is here.

But this is Government – some things never change.

I expected a well oiled machine of IDs, induction, paperwork, maybe a briefing…after all they do this every 6 months.

Hmmm. Nothing of the sort. IDs sorted and then we just kinda… wandered. Had a few short welcomes and then left to our own devices. Clock watched til 5pm when our bus arrived. We were all exhausted from doing nothing, said little and just stared at Mt Wellington on the way home.

Being in a human petrie dish / office environment again I immediately picked up a flu bug on Day 1 and have been sick and out of sorts since.

Day 2 was kitting but started the same way :  early morning bus, wait til the workers wander in around 9.00am, then more hurry up and wait. Kitting was really exciting and fun – getting all of my allocated polar survival gear and PPE: masses of gear, protective equipment, parkas, ice chains, crampons, gloves, hats, sunnies, boots, more gear than I’d ever expected.

Then the pace slowed to a yawning crawl. The training program stalled and we would spend hours trying to fill in time productively. Once again IT was on the absolute bottom of the priority order and we were largely forgotten.

With no access, and little documentation, there was little we could do despite asking constantly for work or training.

My colleagues were struggling as well – it wasn’t just me. Struggling to stay busy, struggling to stay awake. With all of us coming from extremely busy private sector technology backgrounds, this change of pace – moving from 100 miles and hour to virtually zero was jarring to say the least.

This would change when we were deployed but now it all seems to be just wasting time til we go. Id rather be outside.

Despite the boredom, my start at the Antarctic Divisions headquarters in Kingston was a shock to the system for another unexpected reason. Not only was getting back into the rhythms of a 9-5 working life again hard, but being indoors is much much tougher than I thought it would be. Feeling a little trapped at the desk. The lack of movement and momentum is excruciating.

I really don’t like it at all. Downtime sucks.

So anyway as of Friday, 2 weeks in and we’re only just getting access to the systems we need to manage and the scope of my role seems to diminish the more I dig into it.

GOD government process takes forever.

***UGH – IT…

Look my coworkers are nice, the IT side of things interesting at times, but there’s an element of uncertainty in this role that troubles me.

It’s all far too casual.

Don’t get me wrong, its still going to be an incredible experience and I’m extremely grateful for the chance, but now my year in Antarctica has been shortened to a summer only (November til April) but “SORTA KINDA MAYBE PERHAPS a winter but nothings certain and only if they get funding but don’t worry you can just get extra gear sent out on the resupply voyage at the end of March – we’ll let you know”…

I’m mindful I tossed a job for this but the attitude here to my predicament is “meh you’ll be fine”

Grrr.  I gotta roll with it.

We toured should the ship a few days back which was fascinating and will be my home for a few weeks from the end of October.

I love being at sea almost more than anything ( except my mountains and rainforests of course) . It’s been almost 15 years since my last stint on a ship,  but it felt very familiar stepping aboard – the smells, sounds and constant vibration under the feet was comforting – I wondered aloud “ how the fuck did I end up on a ship again” … a few people glanced at me with odd expressions but I didn’t feel the need to explain myself.

But I always need a Plan B.

Ive been applying for other jobs next year, dusting off the crystal ball and looking into the future – getting my famous Plan B up and running in case I’m back 6 months earlier than planned.

So today, Sunday, I’ve finally found a nice cafe with good coffee and thought I’d plug this update in just to keep the record up to date.

Coffee first. Gotta get my priorities in order.

Anyway I’m shortly off to find a bookshop if there are any open and maybe wander down to the wharf.
Still 2 weeks to go before I head off!

All will be well, I’m sure.
*the “Get Smart” doors are there because so much kit is carried around between the buildings – everyone has their hands full all the times. It’s super cool though 🙂