10 January 2002
At 0700 the vessel was at 66deg50'S & 65deg22'E bearing 095 @ 17 kn, 275nm to Polar bird with a 3kn wind, clear and sunny, 0.2deg C, low SE swell on open water. At 1000 she gave 5 blasts of her horn to attract the attention of a very smart looking vessel. I may have the story a bit wrong here (it has been a few days since this occurred as I write), but on the 8th at ~1300 hrs (after a muster) we sighted a long line fishing vessel, unmarked, the "Nova Tuna 1", and again at ~0330hrs this morning. The current vessel, I think, was a different one (name escapes me at present) but disputed the territory in question, thus not agreeing that she was in Australian waters. A long line, apparently theirs, had been hauled in by the crew very early in the morning. We went NE with her for a while, and then turned E to go to the Polar Bird. Just how many more vessels were we to meet in these waters?!
At 1155 hrs we were at 66.35.740S & 68.22.050E, steaming along steadily at a very nice 17.2kn on both engines, bearing ~80deg. We met sea ice at 1420 hrs (66.33.3S & 70.1.8E)and skirted the edge, entering 8/10 pack ice at 1508 hrs and reducing speed to 8-9kn.
11 January 2002
At 0536hrs we entered 9/10 pack ice, at 66deg58'S & 74deg50'E. The helis went for an ice recce at 1000hrs. They discovered a lead for us into the PB from the NE so we will be following that; currently heading a bit E of due S at present. At 1025 hrs we were~90nm from PB, bearing 168deg at 9.3kn.
Previously, when attempting to reach PB, we were thwarted by 'porridge' around the Four Ladies area. The satellite pic available had cloud over 76deg, and so it seemed to indicate our option was to go in on 74. We had tried this, got to within 30nm and ended up having to ferry pax and cargo. With the helis it is now apparent that there exists a huge 'bay' of ice-free water around 76deg, and are currently moving towards its southernmost point. many ice recces were flown from the Polar Bird, and we got her through an intricate series of small cracks and weaknesses in the ice, some 18nm further north. She is now in a clear rift in the ice - a feature that has been there for some days. She continued as far as possible before becoming stuck again (~1700hrs I think?). We were hoping for southerlies to loosen the ice for both vessels.
In the evening I showed my PCM slides to a new audience, and then at 2000hrs we all adjourned to the bar to hear Gordon's radio play, starring himself, Alison, Dave, Christine, Drew, Mark and of course comms man Henry on sound effects. All were dressed in subdued black. The play was set in about 1937 England, and involved dashing young gentlemen, cads and bounders, policemen and spies. It was enthralling and kept 50+ people in the Husky Bar absolutly silent except when the numerous jokes were told.
The drama outside the bar continued to unfold. For quite a while we were moving along really well, flying recces and reporting good leads to follow. We were steadily moving closer and closer to the PB. It was very exciting to watch the brave form of the heli leading the way, and the magnificent vessel Aurora Australis breaking ice along the desired path. We soon had occasional glimpses of the Polar Bird on the horizon, looming greyly among the similarly lodged icebergs.
At 2307hrs we were at 68deg 39.0'S & 74deg38.5E, PB was 220deg x 3.8' from us. At 2325hrs we entered very thick (10/10) ice and at 23:39hrs it began snowing lightly. At 2345hrs Tony reported from the heli that our inbound track, and the leads ahead, were rapidly closing due to increased pressure from freshening northerly winds. We immediately retraced our steps a couple of ship lengths and turned around to keep our rudder and prop ice free, and gradually moved, metre by metre, throughout the night. At 0400 next morning we were nipped in 9/10 very close pack ice at 68deg39.8S & 74deg31.8E. Conditions were overcast with occasional snowfalls. At 0530hrs we stopped in line with the drift of ice and played a waiting game - "Not stuck; just waiting!" was the note stuck on the bridge door. The bridge was closed often to enable the crew to see all windows clearly and have the chance to think and discuss without the distractions of excited expeditioners around them. Many leads had diminished or disappeared; wind was 23kn from the NE.
It was a frustrating and disappointing turn for all concerned - we were just 2.6 nm away from our goal!
Part 14 - "Not Stuck, Just Waiting!" -- "Aurora Australis in Action!!"
12 January 2002
I had a few hours sleep - much more than did ship master Tony or first mate Scott. Scott went to bed at 0600; Tony at 0700. They have been working really long hours, as have many of the crew, and no complaints about it whatsoever. I have found my niche on the bridge - I constantly clean up the sink area, so that when the officer of the watch wants a coffee, the area is all clean and ready to go. A small task but it makes a big difference, I think, and I can't really think of anything else to do for them, apart from massages, which are going over really well.
We are still waiting for conditions to ease - we do have SE winds, currently at 10 kn, but are hoping for more - maybe 25kn tomorrow. That should blow the ice out so we can reach PB and do some serious ice breaking and ship extraction! From there, it should be about 12 days to Hobart. We still have 6 days of fuel over and above that.
1930 hours: an ice recce was flown and it was decided to head for the Polar Bird, as the ice seemed to be loosening up. Tony and Greg (VL) were in the heli and Scott was steering through the 9/10 very close pack ice. Both engines were going at 2008hrs at 80%. It took about four hours to get the two-three nautical miles through some very heavily rafted ice. We were finally within a few shiplengths of the PB, and could distinguish figures on board waving at us.
13 January 2002
So at 0100hrs we commenced breaking ice around PB. This was a very long and painstaking process, and great care was required - too little force and we made little progress; too much and there was the danger of a very close encounter with a very large vessel. This was made no easier by the expeditioners on board, who understandably enough wanted to see the AA in action. The bridge was forthwith closed, and most people therefore had a very good view from the observation deck or the fo'castle. At 0200 an amazing snowshower came right across us. In the distance it was a dark blue inverted cone against a light grey horizon. The snowflakes were huge - almost the size of 20c pieces. The sun was covered with a rose veil and a rose pink light caught the shadowed ice sticking up from the floes, especially around the rafted edges. At this stage we were about 100m from the PB's stern, continually breaking ice, going back and forth, painstakingly edging closer, then trying a different tack as a persistant floe thwarted us.
At about 0400 a line was tied to her bow and we managed to tow her a little astern - at 0820 there was continuous manoevring of both vessels whilst fast bow to bow. We were having troubles pulling her while reversing due to persistant ice floes behind us. At 1030hrs the lines were removed, and I, along with about 20 expos, helped haul our line from the fo'castle to be stowed on the trawl deck at the stern. It must be the biggest rope I have ever set my eyes on - my hands couldn't reach around its circumference! It certainly weighed enough, but the many hands made a relatively easy task of it.
At 1115hrs the PB was moving a little under her own steam. At 1148hrs a superline was passed to the PB and she added two towing lines (1220hrs) as ours wasn't long enough - we now had over 100m of line between the vessels. We began towing her at 1330 at very low speed (under 1 knot), but as soon as Tony took the AA up to 1-2kn one of the PB's lines snapped. Then the other line broke, and we had a very large vessel bearing down on us. Mild panic ensued on the bridge - we went dead ahead and the PB's skipper steered hard astern (and then some, as he later told Tony!), and luckily the two vessels came no closer than 10 or 15 metres...
I can't properly tell you how exciting those moments were, or how tense the situation on the bridge was, everyone desperately keen to free the Polar Bird, but Tony equally conscious of protecting his ship and, even more importantly, the safety of his crew as they kept a watchful eye on the tow ropes - if they were too close and the lines were to snap, people could be seriously injured or worse. With skill, experience and a dose of OK luck the extraction of the PB occurred most successfully, with no injuries or accidents - a magnificent effort, considering that Tony, Scott and Greg had no slept since I don't know when. I DO know that an amazing amount of tea and coffee was drunk!!
At 1411hrs towing ceased in order to carry out repairs to the bridle. A concoction of rope and wire was got together, with plans of cutting the PB's anchor and using her chain as a back up tow rope. Most luckily she was able to move under her own steam, and from 1520 a pattern was in place of AA moving ahead and breaking ice then skilfully reversing right up to PB, and then leading PB out. At 1746 the towing plan was finally aborted, and PB was following AA's track through 9/10 close pack ice with heli assistance, generally at a distance of 0.5-1nm.
This continued throughout the night.
14 January 2002
0100hrs and all was pretty okay. The Polar Bird was following us at about 5 knots through 9/10 pack ice, at 68deg31.1'S & 75deg00.5'E. The heli recces finished at about 0230hrs. However, the ice in Prydz Bay didn't want to let go of PB and held onto her at every opportunity, so it was a slow and arduous journey, with much backtracking on the part of the Aurora Australis - performed with great skill by both Scott (first mate) and Carmen (third mate).
At 0250hrs AA entered blue water and sunshine (1-2/10 ice) at 68deg22.1'S & 75deg18.6'E, followed 15 mins later by PB. Hooray!! We went down to one engine and coasted along at 9kn to the Davis fly-off position of 68deg10'S & 76deg10E. From here, we flew 1 pax to Davis, 1 to PB, 1 visitor to and from Davis, and 4 pax from Davis to PB. This included Anya, Richard and Tom, who had been working in the Amery Ice Shelf on various projects to do with seismicity and GPS points.
Relaxing on the observation deck the previous evening I was told by gamesmaster Micky who my victim in our Murder game was. This was to be played by all expos, no excuses, starting at 0600hrs today. At breakfast it was amazing how many expos were present and plotting. The entire atmosphere of the ship has changed overnight. People don't just glance at each other, they look with intent. The aim of the game is to stay alive and kill your victim. You make a kill by being in the same room (or corridor, or stairwell...) as your victim, BUT no-one else is allowed to be there. Then one simply tells one's victim, "You're dead", gets the name of one's victim's victim, and plots how to murder THEM. It's excellent fun. My first victim made it fairly easy for me, so I murdered him in his room whilst he was at his computer. Much later in the day it was my turn, as my defences went down after a nice cuppa peppermint tea and I went up the stairwell from the mess to my room, without a 'minder' - I realised halfway up and made a dash for the D deck corridor but got 'done' within a few scant steps of it. I gave my murderer my victim's name and dropped out of the game. At least I no longer felt I needed to peer around corners and sprint down corridors. People are grouping together for mutual protection, ganging up on poor victims, going everywhere in pairs or groups and eyeing each other off.
Outside it was a magic day, the open sea a deep blue dotted with brilliantly white ice floes and the occasional stately 'berg. The Polar Bird looked glorious with the sun on her, a nice red contrast to the sea, and nice and close for pictures, especially when we slowed and voyaged side by side. This occurred just as our weekly emergency muster drill was held, and so we were all on the heli deck to greet and congratulate ship master Tony as he appeared on the deck above us, and to look our fill of the Polar Bird. A while later the strains of "Flight of the Valkyries" could be heard piping through the loudspeaker system (the crew were at first too superstitious to play it too early in the piece, and then too busy!).
Who has seen three polar ships in the water at once? The icebreaker Aurora Australis, the Polar Bird, with her complement of two Squirrel helicopters, and the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon), also with a heli (orange; don't know what sort), plus a fourth heli in the air, Leigh's Sikorsky from Davis station. The seas were full, the skies were full, of colour and people calling congratulations and greetings to each other. It was a very, very special morning and I was so pleased and felt so privileged to be a part of it. A sight I will always remember. For the rest of you: well, the NSW Branch is going to reinstitute our slide evenings, so if any of mine (I've taken ~40 rolls so far but don't worry, I'll only show 100 shots or so!) turn out, you are most welcome to visit my place and have a gander, and meet the NSW Branch committee!!! At about that time (1340hrs) we were doing 10.6kn through 3-4/10 ice, position 67.31.599S & 76.22.131E, in an 8kn wind and heading north to get completely free of the ice. The plan was to escort the PB to at least 62S and then, for us, to head even as far as 58S, in order to pick up the tail of a low and 'surf' home to Hobart. The current ETA at Hobart is Wednesday 23 January 2002.
I have been continuing my exercise program with cook Angela, having a singing sauna afterwards, often joined by third mate Carmen. I am generally giving one or two massages a day, any proceeds donated to Camp Quality. My respect and compliments go to the cooks, who somehow manage to have a huge choice of repasts ready for us, and this always seems to include fresh fruit and veges. I don't quite see how that's possible, but there it is. Beer is limited - it's a case of first down to the bar best served, but everything is going quite amicably.
We encountered heavy fog at 2000hrs and our speed accordingly slowed to 6kn. At 2115 one of the engines was shut down due to the continued poor visibility.
Tuesday 15 January 2002
At 0400hrs it was still foggy, speed 6kn, pitching easily in a low swell. By 0800 the fog had eased a little but was still present. Our speed was up to 12kn in calm seas with 2-3kn winds, with the occasional growler or berg. The Polar Bird was 5nm astern at 1000hrs, and the second engine was put back on as vis was improving. At 1100hrs our position was 64deg29'S & 77deg03'E on heading 041, at 17kn (both engines). SW winds at 7kn, 8/8 cloud, a low SW swell. Quite a few whales and penguins and seabirds were sighted.
The murder game is still going strong, with about 25 people still 'alive' as I speak (1715hrs 15/5/02). Those out of it are relaxed or helping those in; those in are ever-more paranoid. New groups form, break up, turn on each other... messages appear on noticeboards, posted onto doors, even as screensavers, eg "Resistance is futile, Tamara; death is imminent", followed some time later by the eloquent, "Tamara dead". "Die Matt" keeps coming up as the screen saver whenever I pause too long in checking for errors on this report.
I had a nice stretchy day today, with yoga/stretching at 1000hrs and a singing sauna (no prior workout)with Ange and Carmen. I have now finally caught up to the present in my report writing. I do apologise for the delay: I had wanted to keep you all up-to-date but things were just too exciting for me to be able to sit down at a computer for the required time! We are now hurtling towards Hobart but on this ship, it seems anything can happen... so stay tuned!
I must go now as I can smell a yummy dinner around the corner, although I am being nice and 'being' with an expo not yet dead who came in by herself. Already someone came in to the computer room, looked around, sat down at his computer and then got up and walked out; and another poked his head around the door, grinned in what only can be described as an evil and possibly threatening manner, and also retreated. So I will escort poor Bethan to dinner.
Wednesday 16 January 2002
At 0500hrs the AA switched to transit mode, and it was full steam ahead, averaging 17 knots. We passed the occasional icebergs and rubble throughout the day. The seas were low to moderate with a low swell, generally fine with a mix of clear and overcast skies. At 12:00hrs we were at 59deg27.7'S & 86deg07.7'E. The radio play was performed again tonight to an equally appreciative audience in the bar. As per the previous night, clocks were advanced an hour... it is always much nicer going TO Antarctica than returning, for more than one reason!
Thursday 17 January 2002
We are getting darkness now. At 12:00hrs we were at 55deg14.9'S & 93deg41.2E in rough seas with a moderate swell. The vessel is rolling and yawing (slewing around from side to side), which is an interesting thing to experience. Am continuing my gym sessions, the singing sauna, massages and this evening fitted in a jamming sessions with a few musos - guitarists, singers, and Evan the first engineer plays a pretty mean keyboard. One of the engines was shut down at 22:40 as we were rolling and pitching in some rough seas.
Friday 18 January 2002
The second engine was started back up at 0630hrs. I rose at 0730hrs to a rough following sea and a moderately westerly swell. The intention is to 'surf' a few lows back to Hobart, in order to speed up our passage. This means a little rough weather but really, it has been pretty calm so far - we have been very lucky. At 12:00hrs we were some 1933 nautical miles from Hobart, at 51deg57'S & 102deg06'E, heading 061deg at 16.9kn. There was an 18kn NW windd, 7/8 cloud, a low westerly 3m swell and the air temperature was a balmy 3.8 deg C. I offered to do some data entry and typing for Tony and Scott, in order to get my self used to my usual duties for when I get back to Sydney, and also to help the guys out a bit. Another jamming session, clocks forward another hour...
Saturday 19 January 2002
We are rolling easily in a rough following sea and moderate swell, with passing showers (Rain!). Our 12:00hrs position was 49deg06.9'S & 111deg10.1'E heading 065 at 16.7kn, some 1578nm from Hobart. The wind was SW at 16kn with some sun and a 3m SW swell (ie we are still merrily surfing). I did some slushie work throughout the day, but the best job by far was helping out the crew in a safety walk, where crew members check out areas they don't usually work in for any possible hazards. The VL, cargo supervisor and yours truly joined the crew members. I was loaned a pair of work boots (the third mate's - thanks, Carmen!) and set off to the engine room with Scott and Gerry. Wot larks! A bit like caving in a hot and noisy environment. I got to check out all sorts of nooks and crannies. I'm pretty sure most of the things I pointed out to the others they had already identified, but it was certainly a most productive way to spend an hour.
After that we had our weekly emergency muster (couldn't believe another week had gone by), while the crew had a fire drill. The gym workout was postponed as the vessel had slowed, turned about and then stopped in order to retrieve a large (~10m) kelp raft for Steve, who is interested in the animals travelling on these rafts. We only had grappling hooks rather than the barbs required for these slippery little suckers, so it took almost 2 hours of manouevring and some extreme rolling before success. In the meantime, as well as the gym being closed (which was okay - instead of that, Angela and I sang and strummed on the lounge seat outside the bridge), there was quite a bit of cabin messing-up, and a bit of an accident in the photo lab when an unsecured box slid along the table top, knocked the sink tap on and blocked the plug hole... the resulting flood did a bit of damage. On our noticeboard was written up the following damage bill:
* later arrival in Hobart
* 1 cup [and at least 1 beer bottle and glass]
* 1 wet Elvis
* 8 wet socks (pax' luggage was stored in the photo lab)
* many naps and sleeps (it got VERY rough!)
* photo lab and gear
* some of E deck and also F deck awash
* 500s final postponed
* lost senses of humour
* 50 CDs
* 2 videos
In partial apology, Steve emailed to us the following interesting information about the kelp raft: "It is likely that it originated from Kerguelen Island, approximately 1700 nautical miles to the west. Estimates of current speeds in these latitudes and longitudes indicate that it has been at sea for at least 165 days and probably much longer. The large sample we collected (over 10 m long) will help to determine the importance of kelp rafts for the dispersal of marine invertebrates between subantarctic islands. Sampling of kelp rafts has not been conducted so far from land before and the operation today is therefore a significant one. The original proposal to collect rafts at sea was submitted to the AAD over 17 years ago but this is the first time that this objective has been achieved."
At 8pm the "End of Everything" party commenced in the Husky Bar. Tim, the Casey 01/02 summer chef, had concocted a punch which flowed freely. I helped Angela prepare some platters of cheese, biccies and dips so people would have something to base their drinking on. After a slow start, the dancing started and the party took off. I left around 2:30 or 3am and went on deck to cool off. And there was an aurora! Apparently it didn't start to do it's magic until around 5am, but unfortunately I had hit the sack by then. But a perfect ending to the evening, anyway.
Part 17 (the last!)
Sunday 20 January – I was atrociously late in arising this morning, but did make it just nicely for lunch. We are sailing through moderate seas with a low following swell, ‘surfing’ the last leg of our trip to Hobart. I returned my ANARE clothing to the VL (set up nicely in the helicopter hangar) and got my typing hands back into gear by helping with the safety walk points compiled the previous day. Martin Riddle gave an excellent presentation on how the Human Impacts program fits in with the Antarctic Division’s overall plan and objectives. It was illustrated with some superb shots of the dive program at Casey – there are some gorgeous animals below there! – and video footage. The musos put on a public jamming session, which was good fun, especially after the shipmaster and the VL provided some grog. The cooks had been hard at work (yet again) and prepared a feast for us that evening – you would never guess we were short on food supplies! A most convivial time was had by all.
Monday 21 January – I did some more data entry for Scott (first mate). These last few days before hitting the dock are always a bit aimless for expeditioners, so I was grateful for any sort of distraction! Ex-Mawson chef Mike showed some superb slides of Casey (and some of Mawson) in the evening.
Tuesday 22 January – At noon we were 434nm from Hobart. Today I did lots of galley work and a bit more typing. The last gym session occurred after lunch, a final VL meeting and then it was back to the galley with the “A” team to do a thorough cleanup. Elbow deep in suds and music (“Shaggy” by that stage, I think), all the fun and noise of a great group of cooks and helpers (Ange, Mark & Howie; Critter, Pete, Sausage, Matt…) then racing up to the bridge for more data entry (the “Commitments” this time) – the day flew. Shop and bar bills were paid, and then we saw some videos that Yann had shot and then edited (with Mike) – for Collex. They were excellent! A series of snapshots of the voyage, and then a longer one of various highlights. A final BBQ on the trawl deck eventually turned into various cabin parties and a bridge deck party, the latter to which your Club rep was invited. This was the best fun ever, everyone relaxed after a pretty full-on voyage, spirits of all sorts flowing freely, Ange checking out Yann’s digital camera, a lovely evening as we cut through the waves… and I finished off the evening with some a capella singing with Bethan and Barbara. Occasionally Carmen would join in but she was Officer of the Watch (20:00-24:00hrs) and couldn’t stay for long. We had some most complimentary remarks regarding our efforts.
Wednesday-Friday 23-25 January – madly packed all my gear away – strange how it expands during the voyage – and, after the mandatory Customs visit and one of those inexplicable delays, we pulled into the wharf at 15:00hrs. The usual Customs House gathering was held that evening (and the next, and…), where we met some of the crew heading out on the next Aurora Australis voyage as well as farewelling crew and expeditioners with whom friendships had been made. I found the farewells hard! and hung around Hobart for a few days to extend them. The crew gave me a lovely presentation: a book of Frank Hurley’s photographs of the Shackleton expedition and a basket of Body Shop products. Totally unexpected – all I did was help out a bit on the voyage!
Well, I have to admit that before the voyage I was wondering how I would cope with being cooped up on a ship for the duration of a round trip, as I had been fairly active on my last Antarctic sojourn 10 years previously. I needn’t have worried – this was a voyage to end all voyages. Even if we hadn’t encountered other ships (good and evil) and pulled one out of the ice it would have been memorable and exciting. Events add interest to a voyage, but it’s the folk aboard (crew and expeditioners) that make or break it. And the ANARE types on V5 made it for me: thankyou!
[ANARE Club Rep stats: 106 of 127 items sold, totalling $1056; seven new/renewing members signed up; 30+ back issues of Aurora (plus information and contact sheets) distributed; lots of people informed about the Club.]