…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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ€ 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 πŸ™‚

… 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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

Today it’s a 12.30pm matinee of “The Shape of Water” , then at 3pm my “Stranger Things” marathon finally starts πŸ™‚ … 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.

πŸ™‚ 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 β˜•οΈ. 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 πŸ™πŸ»

Happy days!!!!

πŸ™‚

…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. 😬 πŸ™Š 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 πŸ‹ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

** 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.

πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ’€ 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 πŸ™πŸ»

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 πŸ™‚

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 .πŸ’€

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 πŸ”₯ or pirates attack – something like that πŸ™‚ 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.

πŸ™‚

Out.

…next

Only a few weeks left now before getting on the big red boat and sailing back to Hobart.

I don’t know how I feel about that yet … seems a little unreal … to contemplate the relative normal of day to day again just when I’m just getting used to this new version of life.

Anyway…still time to explore and enjoy this world.

One thing that is surprising is that I can’t seem to write any more. There’s nothing bubbling up that’s neither interesting or constructive. Just a grey blandness that’s creeping in and I resort to cheap tricks to distract.

See! Sheer laziness.

Plenty of photo ops and hikes, movie nights and opportunity for getting involved – I just couldn’t really give a damn and more than a little funked up.

The 3 day hike with 2 new travel buddies was just the right amount of time and people for me…superb company and an exception to the daily rule of chit chat and polite nonsense but the daily inane and trivial conversation is just dulling and I can’t be bothered (even though I’m as guilty of it as the next person)

Still trying though…

Volunteered to fill in as a Hagg driver for Fire Team 1 for example, and spent last week looking after the hydroponics garden, and anything interesting that pops up. Didn’t make any difference.

Just not feeling it. Enthusiasm comes and goes in waves.

I know what it is and yes, I’m working on it. (You’d think 2 years and half a planet would be enough)

It’s time to move on…

So what’s next? I have absolutely no idea.

Applied for next season ( not wintering this year), put my hand up for the Comms Tech officer on the Macquarie Island resupply voyage – it sails out 3 days after we sail into Hobart – but that only staves off the inevitable for another 2 weeks or so.

Then I’m free-falling again.

Half baked plans to go here and there but nothing concrete I can plan around.

Impermanence is great and all that once you understand and embrace it but uncertainty can really fuck you up.

Meh…

Dinner time.

*it’s snowing!!!! That helps … a wander in the snow is just the ticket I think πŸ™‚

**nup – let’s try a movie – The Dish!

***nup – let’s try bed and 30 Rock 🀘

****yup – better now

IMG_6271

…silent night

Sorry I haven’t been writing much – its hard to find the motivation lately and although I don’t have much to say, I do have a lot on my mind.

I’ll try little bits and pieces to restoke the creative fires.

So here goes…

It’s Sunday night and I’m settling in for the start of ‘Star Wars Sundays’ – a little something I’ve cooked up as a bit of a Star Wars celebrations now that ‘The Last Jedi’ is released and we’ve got SFA chance of seeing it in the cinemas.

Tonight I’m kicking off the season with Rogue One in our little Theatrette here at Davis Research Station.

img_5662-1

This is primarily to try to get past this feeling of isolation – an ‘aloneness’ that’s crept in over the past few days – despite being constantly surrounded by people its easy to get lost in the crowd here. I’ve been avoiding people a bit – the library and theatre have been a great place to hide out in the dark.

Hopefully being surrounded by fellow Star wars geeks will help.

Also its Christmas time – my least favourite time of the year at the best of times (for many reasons) driven home by being away from whats left of my family (which usually doesn’t bother me), and this creeping icy aloneness thing I mentioned.

It’s an old enemy but I know a few tricks.

I do miss my small circle of friends though. Facebook messenger doesn’t quite cut it but its all there is really.

We got the last pre-Christmas Mail in the other day – the station excitement levels were ramped up as gifts and cards and such arrived from friends, family and loved ones back home. It made me all too aware of the gaps in my life I guess and it really kicked my funk off.

IMG_5647

Christmas …meh.

Anyway..

Lets talk about the wind.

Its been blowing a technical blizzard here since Saturday evening – a howling, shrieking gale gusting up to 80 knots and strong enough to take you off your feet. There is no break in its fury, except for the occasional cyclonic gust that blasts your face with driven snow , dust and gravel. It drives you backwards and forwards and sideways with every step.

You don’t lean into this wind, you lean ON it. Hard.

You grab walls and handrails. People next to you. Vehicles. Signposts. Penguins.

You shuffle your feet, head bowed, less this bastard wind takes your leg away mid step and throws you to the stony ground.

Get the picture? It’s a bit windy.

I saw a guy taken by the wind yesterday, and if not for a quick jacket-grab from his colleague, he would have been blown down to the dock.

And then there’s the visceral unearthly sound of it.

It howls and rages around the stairwells and guy lines and radio masts, it shrieks and slams into the buildings with a relentless crash and smash, throwing anything not tied down into the air like a demented poltergeist: it’s endless assault setting up harmonic vibrations that make all of the manmade structures shiver and shake and rattle and groan. Its almost impossible to sleep.

IMG_5670

…and it’s effect on the landscape here is stunning and immediate.

There is barely any snow left here now, its been atomised and blown to the ends of the earth. Whats left is buried under a crusty brown layer of dirt.

The dust has been swept from the ground, blasted into our faces like a gritty horizontal hail, until theres nothing left to strip away. With its unsatiated appetite for destruction, the wind vents it’s frustration on the earth and starts to carve its way into the Antarctic bedrock.

A frightening force of nature and a reminder of how dangerous Mother Earth can be.

**MASSIVE fun though to jump INTO the wind and be carried along although I’ve almost come undone a few times now πŸ™‚

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The most surprising effect for me is how quickly it erodes and rots the sea ice.

The islands we walked to last weekend, accessible by ice 1.8 meters thick, are now surrounded by open ocean again. Whitecaps 15 feet high pound the edges of the sea ice, dust and dirt cover the once blue-green ice, increasing the rate of melt.

It’ll be all gone in the next few days if this keeps up, but the positive thing to take away is that once the ice is gone, boat trips up to 3nm out to sea become a possibility. It’ll mark the return of the Elephant Seal colonies, and the penguins will leave their rookery and hunt in packs/swarms/huddles in the open ocean (whatever the Hell a group of Penguins is called)

Bring on the iceberg cruises!

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*Anchorage Island – the central memorial cross has been torn away by the wind

So what else is new?

Well I just came off 2 days of survival training that was great fun and an amazing learning opportunity.

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Choppered out to a remote Hut where a small team of us practiced our Sea Ice survival and rescue skills, drilling sea ice samples for depth and research…

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…and finally a 18Km death march with full pack and navigation exercises in some of the most rugged and remote country I’ve ever been in.

Well…apart from Australia I guess.

IMG_5633*heading down to Deep lake in the Vestfold Hills. Saltier than the Dead Sea.

Apparently much of it looks like remote areas in Canada, although Ive never been so will have to take our training officers word for it. What do you reckon?

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I’d think not.

IMG_5630 (1)*traversing some massive blizztails and snow drifts on the way home

But it sure is pretty thoughΒ  πŸ™‚

We hiked and dug our evening ‘graves’, slept deep in the snow in our ‘chip packets” – basically a yellow ripstop plastic bag, a thin foam mat and a down sleeping bag, using our packs for pillows.

It was much warmer than you’d think.

Sleeping out under the open Antarctic sky, in the endless daylight and complete absence of sound was something that ill never forget. It was an eerie quiet, with barely a breath of wind, or whisper of sound from anywhere.

2am I awoke, but even this early hour brought only the occasional whistle of a hunting snow petrel or rustle of a chip packet as a team mate stirred but that was all.

A deathly silent night.

We could have easily been on the moon, or in the vaccuum of space, or deep deep deep underwater. This place was completely alien, completely silent and completely entrancing.

IMG_5623*Digging in for the night – its 9pm

IMG_5626*our cosy snow ‘graves’ for the night.

We hiked the long and arduous 18kms back through this incredibly alien landscape using a compass and map, through glacier carved valleys crisscrossed by black dykes of rock, around snow melt lakes so salty you could float in them, and deep powdery snowdrifts waiting to swallow you up.

I was completely out of my element…

IMG_5619*black rock dykes crisscross the landscape – different molten rock types flowed and cooled at different speeds to form this unusual landscape

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…and in absolute heaven.

Hey maybe I should write more often πŸ™‚ i feel better already.

to be continued…

…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!

…blur

Its easy to lose track of time when there is no discernible difference between day and night – its all the same here. Just a small variation in the quality of the light. Bright midday sun all day long heightened by the constant blazing glare off the snowcover and the glistening ice, softening to a false dusk and then shortly after its sunrise again.

Good Morning means nothing here – it’s just Good Day. Every day.

I can’t sleep so I’m blogging. It is Sunday after all.

The biggest surprise of today is that the snow here is very very dry – the driest I’ve ever seen but that’s not saying much since I’ve seen so little – like when melting water from fresh snow apparently its take almost twice as much snow to make half the amount of water…or something like that…math was never my thing.

You can pick it up in your hand and your hand doesn’t even get wet – so weird. It feels…chalky.

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Black ice is everywhere (I know what that is now, as Ive never really seen it or understood what it was before) and several people have slipped and hurt themselves already – its treacherous and tricky to walk around outside especially as the rocky landscape is angular and unstable at the best of times. Add crusty honeycombed snow cover and black ice everywhere, its a real gamble just walking about. There’s a a chance that if you slip and break your arm/legΒ  before the ship leave that you have to go home, so people are walking on eggshells outdoors just in case.

The environment down here is magical and the record 22 winter blizzards have left their mark. Rapidly melting snowdrifts and crystal clear icicles form random art installations sculpted by the summer sun – this place is almost a natural modern art gallery now. In a month or two it’ll all be gone though – even the sea ice. The curiosity of a endless static snowfield replaced by the open ocean, returning penguin colonies and the local elephant seal population roaring away in a nearby wallow. Unless a summer blizzard comes πŸ™‚ I kind hope it does.

How fortunate do I feel to have this unique opportunity? – very.

I’m starting to go out more and more to explore the station limits on my own (its been too busy otherwise). Tomorrow I’m going to walk out on the sea ice, head out to the ship before she sails on Tuesday. It’ll be odd to see the Aurora Australis sail away as this means I’m an definitely stuck here for the duration – its a very final feeling. But then the real expedition starts, and the specialist science and engineering teams will head out into the field and do their thing. The real work begins.

You can see everyone bonding already here – most people seem to know each other from previous expeditions – but its a place that really fosters mateship and everyone is very open and friendly, at least so far. I can see how people keep trying to come back time and time again. I’m trying to make friends but I’m a team of one and a feel a bit like the last one picked at soccer practice at the moment. It’s my school formal all over again. Being super friendly and uncomfortably sociable so hopefully that’s gonna help break in.

I sent some postcards today – the last post went at 7.30pm from the old Post Office here at Davis – a small round red and white building that used to be one of the original huts build on Heard Island in 1957. It was decommissioned and transported here back in the day, and rescued as the new Post Office – we also have a Postmaster – an official Government role with official stamps and everything. Very weird.

After that I wandered over to the Music Hut / Band Room that they have here to suss out the musical intruments – no left handed guitars as I’d hoped (knew I should have brought one with me) but loads of acoustic, electric, drums, and piano/keyboards. I was hanging in the band room last night doodling around on a guitar and a few of the other guys came in and we stated chatting. There quite a few musicians here this year and If i can restring a guitar lefty-style then I can join in and jam. Should be fun! πŸ™‚

The accommodation here is really cosy and cute – small but comfortable single rooms – I lucked out and got a room with a second bunk so I have a little more storage than most. There’s not enough room to swing a cat but there is just enough for a quiet meditation in the morning and even a little yoga practice!

Where I live is a red two story building about 50 metres from where I work and about 50 metres from where the coffee is, so its pretty damn ideal apart from the massive GODDAMNED GENERATOR next door – lucky my ear plugs are holding up.

*Just now the guy next door is snoring his head off – his time on Earth is short.

The shutters automatically close and lock at 10pm and can’t open til 6am – it scared the crap out of me the first time. There’s a Lidar dome and light sensitive scientific experiments nearby to any ambient light in the evenings if a no-no. Hence the lockdown. It’s a bit like a horror movie when they come down though – feels a bit ‘trappy’.

This week has been a blur really. We are still balls deep into the Resupply operation and been working around the clock – 12 hour rotating shifts to get all of the cargo unloaded, the fuel and water transfer completed, and the Personnel handoversΒ  finished. Ive been really lucky in that I didn’t have duty on resupply ( yay) it that I got flown over. It was so much fun and such a thrill to be flying over the endless ice. As the only IT dude I qualified as critical – I got flown off the ship by chopper days ahead of the bulk of personnel – tickled my ego immensely .

The reality though is that almost EVERYONE that has arrived has had IT issues and that’s been my constant role for the past 3 weeks almost – while cleaning my teeth, while I’m getting dressed, making a coffee, in my room, and even while I’m trying to put a fork full of pasta in my mouth – to sort everyone out immediately and get them operational. Or at least get their Facebook and email to work . Its always fun but as the Internet here is a bare trickle over a heavily oversubscribed satellite link, its now very frustrating – especially constantly explaining to people about procedures and rule while they complain about their Facebook isn’t loading like back home, or instant messaging and Snapchat doesn’t work ( its blocked) or the 200Meg video of a seal they are trying to send to their kids isn’t going through (but why can’t I send it?)

Because we’re in fucking Antarctica.

*i was going to delete this but that didn’t seem honest plus it’s a nice indicator of how tired I was yesterday… enjoy my vitriolic rant. Feel free to skip it though.

Grr <rant begins>

So I explain time and time again – over and over and over “But this is a government network with internet proxies and rules and shit”.

And we’re in fuckin Antarctica.

Meh noone cares and just wants their video to upload. Who cares where we are. Screw corporate data. Fuck meteorological and scientific data upload requirements, I just want my MTV. Where’s my Netflix?

“Why did you block my iphone from the wifi?”.

“Well because you downloaded 4.5 GIG of itunes crap/pirated movies/tv shows over our tax payer funded satellite link in 48 hours during which noone else could use the Internet, dumbass”

“Oh Really? I had no idea”

Yeah right.

Ahh in the good old days of 90’s IT I could get away with telling it like it is . HA!

Now it just becomes “hmmm really?” and then its now my problem to find out why your damn phone/laptop/tablet is doing it, quietly knobble it and not rock the boat.

That’s the public face of what I do here – Phone bitch and Internet wrangler.

That bugs me a littleΒ  – yes I know its just ego – but man it REALLY IRKS ME now I think about it.

In an environment full of tradies, Managers and scientists, most people here have two or 3 personal devices (tablet, phone, laptop) and rarely does anyone actually have a clue how to set them up.Β  Its just “my personal phone/laptop/PC doesn’t work – that’s now your problem Jamie – I don’t need to know how to use something or that I created this issue by ignorance – you just make it work how I want it to IMMEDIATELY).

Behind the scenes I’m looking after systems that everyone relies on but people rarely see or even think about; network administration, managing switches and routers and satellite links, server and systems maintenance, managing active directory, email groups and operations, system integrity, backups, printers, voip and telephone systems, data security, redundancy and disaster recovery – but none ever sees all that . Its the curse that comes with any IT role – you only become visible when something breaks and only important for the time it takes you to fix it, and then back into your little cupboard you go.

<rant ends>

Grrr. This is why I dislike IT work now – it also irks me and makes me curse a lot. I’ve tried to get out but it just keeps dragging me back in. Like the freakin mafia.

Maybe next year, eh?

ANYWAY the long voyage and then working 10 days straight is making me cranky and its a bit like groundhog day at the moment here. Work/sleep/work. The ship leaves on Tuesday and then (rumor has it) well get 3 days off and the bar will be open.

Well deserved beers for all AND hopefully none will ask me to fix their phone when the bar opens, cos after a few beers it’ll probably end up lodged in a penguins arse. Or theirs.

Tomorrow is another day…maybe a more positive post then, but remember this blog is also for my benefit as well.

But til then, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens … I’ll simply remember my favourite things and then I won’t feeeel so baaaaaad!

See i feel better already.

πŸ™‚