Return to index
REPORT NO. 1, 24 JAN 2010 - PREPARATION 1
When I first travelled to Antarctica in 1988, the preparation was
intense over a period of three months.
All of us had come to grips with the technical demands which we
facing in our various jobs, and the environmental
challenges (and dangers) which were peculiar to Antarctica. It was
exciting, demanding, and we were being paid for it!
This time I'm a guest of the AAD, and my only official job is to
expeditioners of the benefits of joining the ANARE
Club, flog club merchandise, and to help out wherever possible,
the ship and (if I'm lucky) ashore at either Davis and/or
I've had three days in Hobart to sort out the details, and it's
mostly social and always delightful. Friday was spent at "the
ostensibly to get kitted out with cold weather gear, most of which
be returned to the AAD after the voyage. But my presence
at Kingston provided the opportunity to catch up with old friends
'88 to'90, many of whom work in science and IT at the AAD.
It seems that a passion for Antarctic matters turns into a career
many who have had a taste of that amazing place.
The social aspect included a delightful evening with five other
expeditioners, two of them station leaders, one biologist and
one Comms/IT specialist, and our hostess, Dr. Ingrid McGaughey.
spent only one winter "on the ice", I was the least
experienced of them all! Between the six us, there were more than
winters spent at the various bases. The conversation ranged
from the beneficial effects of tight restrictions on the
alcohol, to the effects of high speed internet links
which allowed the bureaucratic tentacles of Kingston to reach into
minutiae of station management.
A good bottle of shiraz prompted an animated discussion of the
dysfunctional consequences of bureaucracy, and by the time we had
all sounded off on this it was time to go home. Thanks, Ingrid -
"chicken magic" really was!
REPORT NO.2, 25 JAN 2010 - PREPARATION 2
Although the Aurora Australis was not scheduled to sail until 5pm,
the day began with most passengers assembling at AAD headquarters at
11.30am for transport to the ship by bus. Two stops were made in
downtown Hobart, then we proceeded directly to Macquarie wharf no. 4.
There were no
friends or relatives at the wharf - just security, customs and
quarantine personnel. All farewells were made at bus stops - ship
departures now seem to be as sterile as airport departures. My
previous trip, 22 years ago, had families, sweethearts and friends
in an enthusiastic crowd on the wharf, and many tears were shed
and kisses blown as the "Icebird" pulled away. Not any more! This
time the whistle blew, lines were cast off, the side thrusters
started growling, and the "Orange Roughie" moved effortlessly out into
the Derwent. Sideways! The technical smoothness of the operation
was admirable, but the romance of maritime departures sank on
September 11, 2001.
The process of getting from the bus and onto the ship was tightly
controlled. Each item of personal baggage was weighed individually,
to check that the total of 30kg per person was not exceeded. The
bags were then stacked in metal cages for transfer by crane to the
heli-deck at the rear of the ship. A formal inspection of the
baggage was done by customs and quarantine officials, while the
expeditioners, having walked unencumbered up the gangway, were
subjected to a series of briefings on safety and survival at sea.
This edifying experience climaxed with Australian Customs
examining each expeditioner and his/her passport. I was ushered into
of a taciturn officer who took my passport,and looked at me as if
I had just hopped off a plane from the Middle East. He then handed the
document back to me, and I departed. Not a word was spoken by
either of us during this entire transaction. The technical efficiency of
the process was impressive, and the whole country has benefitted
from the fact that this bloke didn't pursue a career in the
Within an hour we were on our way.
REPORT NO.3 : A LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVES......
28 JAN 2010
This is our third day at sea, and this stubby but sturdy little
ship explores every bump in the ocean. I am managing to maintain a
delicate balance of inputs and outputs, but it ain't easy! I lie down
most of the time, take regular medications which are reasonably
effective, and venture down to the mess for every meal. There I am
faced with indomitable characters who eat like horses (I refer to
quantity, not to the manner of eating). I, on the other hand,
pick some morsel which looks nutritious and readily digestible, have a
cup of weak tea, then, having eaten, retreat forthwith to my cabin for
a little lie down. This procedure seems to work, but I'm not the life
of the party! Our Voyage Leader, Rob Bryson, is very helpful with his
They tell us how much worse things might have been had we not
taken the long way around some low pressure system bearing down on us.
There seems to be an unavoidable trade-off between the length of
suffering and the intensity of suffering; a bit like life, really. So
much for philosophy, I'm going to sign off and have a little lie down.
REPORT NO.4 : ACCOMMODATION ON THE AA
30 JAN 2010
There are about 40 passenger cabins on the ship, most of which
contain four bunks.
Each cabin has an en-suite bathroom, and a small desk plus four
With only 41 passengers on this leg of the trip, we are spread out
almost one to a cabin. Maximum
capacity is about 106.
This will change at Davis and Mawson,where we will pick up many
more passengers than we drop off.
But the low numbers are particularly obvious at meal times, when
less than half seem to show
up, no doubt due to "mal de mer".
Some regular "round trippers" have remarked that this one seems
longer because there is little
group social activity; a certain "critical mass" is needed to get
things rolling (!). The theory is that
you need a certain number of a certain personality type to have
them "spark" off one another, then when sustained
social fission is achieved, voila! - spontaneous outbreaks of
people playing monopoly, scrabble and deck coits.
Let's see what happens on the trip back from Mawson. With the
possibility of three hairy Mawson winterers in the
same cabin, deck coits could be attractive!
evening 31 Jan
Seas much quieter now - people emerging from hibernation -
most of us have lost weight - Jenny Craig, eat your heart out!
I'm eating and not throwing up, maybe I'll end up enjoying this
REPORT NO.5 : REMINISCENCES
Received Monday afternoon 1 Feb 2010
It's Sunday afternoon, most have recovered from their
sea-sickness, and the prospect of a Trivia Night
after dinner will probably induce the troglodytes out of their
caves. This could be our first big social
"bash". The other item which is raising spirits is the promise of
sticky date pudding, for which the chef
is justly famous. Since so many of us have lost weight over the
last week, we can confidently get stuck into
a good desert with impugnity. It's also comforting to know
that those who didn't get sea-sick will soon
be racked by guilt!
But the news that next week's flight of the A319 has been
cancelled because of weather conditions at Casey
brings back memories of the very first flight from Tasmania to
Antarctica in November of 1988. I had only been
on Casey station for less than a month, when nearly all of the
station crew were transported in various vehicles
up to S1 (an old glaciology site about 5km from Casey) early one
morning. There was little cloud cover, and the
sight of pink icebergs on a dark blue sea was breathtaking.
We had been waiting for no more than half an hour when VHF contact
was made with the Twin Otter aircraft being
flown by Dick Smith and renowned British polar aviator Giles
Kershaw. They had come all the way from Hobart,
with the aid of additional fuel stored in bladders in the
passenger cabin. A primitive runway had been prepared by
Casey staff, simply by dragging steel girders over the surface
with bulldozers. By angling the girders appropriately,
snow had been pushed to the sides over a distance of at least
500m, with a runway width of no more than 20m. When the
plane came into view, it first made a low pass over the
"facilities", then went around again for a landing. It was an
impressive sight to see that plane coming in with flaps down and
landing lights on. It touched down gently, braked with
reverse pitch on the two propellers, and stopped within a few
hundred metres. It then did a U-turn, and slowly returned
to a spot adjacent to the welcoming party.
As the turbine engines wound down, a window on the flight deck
opened, and there was the smiling face of the
"Electronic Dick" (as his company trucks loudly proclaimed). In
due course, the side door with integral staircase
opened, and out stepped the two intrepid flyers. The welcoming
party was led by our Station Leader, the indomitable
Tom Maggs. Tom was just starting to wax lyrical about the
staggering importance of the event, when there darted out
from among the assembled multitude two St. Trinnians schoolgirls,
with blond wigs, fulsome blouses, short blue tunics,
frilly knickers and fishnet stockings. They skipped straight past
the official party, and presented the startled airmen
with bunches of plastic flowers and kisses on both cheeks. The two
interlopers then dashed back into the crowd to put
on warm clothes, before anything that girls don't have dropped off.
Tom, ever the pragmatist, realised that he had no chance of
restoring that sense of decorum which is so characteristic
of ANARE ceremonies, and dispensed with further formalities. After
checking and securing the aircraft, the party moved back
down the hill to Casey, where Dick and Giles stayed for several
days as official guests of the AAD. Later that summer
the Twin Otter and its enterprising crew provided valuable
logistic support to Australian antarctic operations.
There are two important footnotes to this story :
1.Several years after the Dick Smith flight, Giles Kershaw, a
highly experienced pilot, lost his life while flying an
2.One of the two "girls" mentioned above went on to do great work
for the AAD over several decades; his contribution has
been formally acknowledged. However, defamation laws prevent me
from naming this fellow, who was the main conspirator in
this disgusting and reprehensible fiasco.
REPORT NO.6 : CEREMONIES
Yesterday was full of pomp and ceremony - Aussie style. King
Neptune and his entourage of sycophantic sadists visited us around 3pm,
and those passengers and crew who had not previously crossed the
Antarctic Convergence (where sea temp suddenly drops) were
subjected to processes which I thought had been banned by the
Geneva Convention. The hilarity was universal - even the victims
said that they enjoyed it!
Then, after giving the initiated ones time to clean up, a BBQ was
held on the trawl deck at 5.30pm. This ritual seems to have
become a standard feature of ANARE voyages. On the Icebird
in '88 the German crew thought we were all crazy to stand around
in the freezing out-doors, drinking beer and eating the burnt
offerings coming from a slightly modified incinerator.
Today was different - the beer ration was determined by the Voyage
Leader (it's a dry ship), and the barbecue was a purposely
built version reflecting Australian ingenuity and design flair.
It's amazing what can be done with a 44 gallon drum! The food
was consistent with the AA's high standards, and the jovial
mingling of passengers and crew was delightful.
REPORT NO. 7 - DAVIS
The first impression of Davis is that the station was not laid out
by Walter Burley Griffin. Perched on a peninsular,
this triumph of building technology over aesthetics houses a
community of workers whose hospitality has no bounds. Station Leader
Mike Woolridge and his people went to great lengths make us
welcome; their efforts were much appreciated by those of us who had
the good fortune to get ashore.
We "round trippers" were piggy-backed onto various modes of
transport which were carrying scientists into the field, and which had
spare seats. Executing these complex operations kept the comms,
helicopter and small boat people busy, but it all seemed to work
smoothly. Sleeping in the small hut at Platcha was an
unforgettable experience, and I'm well on the way to recovery. Many
to FTO Mike Grimmer.
The summer accommodation problem, common to all stations, is that
the numbers present in summer can be four times those present
in winter. Apart from providing sleeping facilities for all these
extras, heavy additional loads are placed on all the supporting
services, not to mention the longer term residents who have to
keep the whole show going. The frenetic summer programme in science
and construction adds to the stresses on the station, and those
staying for the winter heave a sigh of relief when the last ship
departs, leaving them in peace.
When the last barge left Davis, bound for the AA, the waving mob
on the wharf were almost jubilant ; were they glad to see us go?
This bodes well for the feelings which will accompany the
departure of the final ship (for this season) in March.
"Parting is such sweet sorrow"
Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2
REPORT NO. 8 - THE RUN TO MAWSON
The absence of sea-ice in front of the Amery Ice Shelf has allowed
the AA to cut straight across to Mawson, without going
hundreds of km north. We did the trip in 33 hours, only to be
frustrated by strong off-shore katabatic winds on arrival.
Being only 10km from the shore, we had a clear view of many rarely
seen land forms along the Christensen Coast.
Foremost among these was the Scullin Monolith, which one excited
old timer said he didn't expect to see in his lifetime.
I didn't enquire as to whether this was a reflection on his life
expectancy or the improbability of the sighting.
It's Wednesday, and we are still waiting for the winds to drop so
that we can get into Horseshoe Harbour.
Few people are showing up for meals. For those who left Davis, the
whole Mawson exercise is an irritating delay -
they just want to get back to Hobart. There is definitely a
post-Davis lethargy abroad; then, maybe it's a pre-Mawson
frustration. Maybe it's seeing the same iceberg go past the
There is only one cure - go up onto the bridge and gaze at the
Masson Range and Mount Henderson, poking through the ice-cap
just behind the station. The view is simply magnificent. I'm off !
Looking from AA towards Mawson; Mt Henderson on the left, Masson Range
on the right.
REPORT NO.9 - MAWSON 1 - TURNING COLDNESS INTO WARMTH
The above words have nothing to do with giving chocolates to your
mother-in-law. They are intended to describe the innovative
work being done at Mawson to increase energy efficiency and reduce
the consumption of fossil fuels and attendant CO2 emissions.
The most conspicuous hardware in this enterprise consists of two
wind turbines, each capable of generating 300 kW of electrical
power.The centres of rotation are 30 m off the ground; each of the
six blades is 15m long. There is no gearbox - the rotating hub
drives a multi-pole alternator directly. It's amazing to think
that cold, dense air, sliding down off the ice cap, could easily
drive 6,000 electric blankets! And only 14 expeditioners are
staying for this winter! Are those people in Kingston crazy? No way!
To substitute for 5,986 electric blankets (conspicuously missing
from the AA re-supply cargo) they have installed an espresso
coffee machine,the most important electrically powered flash
boiler and drug dispensing apparatus on the station. Despite having
received no formal training in the operation of this device,
old-time residents of the station can produce great coffee. The OH&S
implications of this lack of formal accreditation procedures are
disturbing, and inconsistent with the policies in force for all motor
vehicles, cranes, boats, staplers and pencil sharpeners.
REPORT NO.10 - MAWSON 2 - JOULE THIEF ON STATION !
Energy systems management is the big deal on Mawson. With about
500kw available from the main diesel generating plant, and
600kw available from the wind turbines under optimal wind
conditions, the big problem is to maximise energy delivered by
the emissions-free sources, while minimising fossil fuel
consumption. This is a tricky juggling act. Diesel engines/generators
(there are 4 putting out about 130kw each) like to be run near
full load, and they don't like to be stopped and re-started
often. And the waste heat from the engines' coolant is piped
around the station for building heating. But the power being delivered
by the wind turbines is highly variable. Furthermore, the
electrical load imposed by devices on the station is not constant.
Are you confused? So are the control systems which attempt to keep
this system stable!
When wind turbines are employed on big national grids, their
output has practically no influence on the grid's voltage or frequency.
But in situations like the one at Mawson (or any relatively small,
isolated system), power surges can be a serious problem.
Especially when there are sudden increases in electrical load,
caused by the turning on of heaters, pumps, or ovens in the kitchen.
Blackouts are not unknown at Mawson - last year one power
interruption reset the timers in an oven, and a birthday cake was
turned into a nutritious frisbee. No doubt there are more serious
problems arising from such interruptions.
Electrical engineer David Waterhouse has been looking after these
matters for the past year. This demanding job for the coming
winter has been taken over by Ruth Wielinga, whose professional
skills will be brought to bear on these novel problems. Ruth
mentioned, at a social gathering, that she was chasing a strange
cyclic load on the system. Someone or something was pulling
power from the system, increasing steadily to 40kw. Then it
dropped suddenly, before repeating the cycle. I suggested that it
was probably a perverse expeditioner with 20 fan heaters,
who plugged more and more of them in until a circuit breaker tripped
somewhere. S/he then unplugged all the heaters, reset the breaker,
and repeated the cycle. This was the Mawson joule thief!
Ruth remained silent, took a deep breath, and poured herself
REPORT NO.11 - MAWSON 3 - THE FIELD TRIP
One of the first things which people want to do when they get onto
a station is to get off it - on a field trip. FTO (field
training officer) Nick Morgan took three of us "round trippers"
out to "Rum Doodle" hut in the Masson Range. It's a 20km run
in a Hagglunds vehicle, which is as durable as a canvas
handkerchief and almost as comfortable. The trip was mostly over blue,
windswept ice, and the hut and its surroundings were impressive
(I'm running out of adjectives). Then came the walk.
For two hours Nick took us on a stroll through wind-scoured
gullies, across frozen lakes, between towering jagged hills.
This is the country which makes Mawson unique among the Australian
stations. It was a great feeling to be among those mountains
which we could see a week earlier from the ship. For all three of
us, this was the highlight of the whole 6 week adventure.
Rumdoodle - view from inside hut.
In the Masson Range, 20 km from Mawson
On the station, work was frenetic. Over 400,000 litres of fuel was
pumped ashore, and several hundred tons of supplies were
transferred by barge. Station Leader Mike "Duk" Craven went to
great lengths to ensure that all the ship's passengers had at
least one night ashore; most of the ship's crew managed to get
"onto the ice", too. All round, it was considered a very successful
re-supply operation, and the whole voyage is nearly a week ahead
I know it reveals an unconventional order of priorities, but my
strongest memory of Mawson is the food. Chef Maria Tomasi
makes a pasta to die for! If I spent a winter on Mawson, I would
certainly emerge a very round tripper!
REPORT NO.12 - SCIENCE AND THE IMPACT OF THE INTERNET
Much science must remain a "hands on" business, in that the
gathering and studying of specimens is labour intensive.
Biologists, zoologists, glaciologists, oceanographers and
physicists now have ready access to colleagues and a vast knowledge
base via the internet; this is of enormous help in exploiting
Even in remote field locations, scientists can use Iridium
satellite phones to dial straight into the global phone network.
The ability to exchange text messages, photos, and data from
sensors means that the scientist in Antarctica can remain a part
of the world-wide scientific community. Isolation has gone.
The instrumentation used in space physics, geophysics and
meteorology has also changed. Once equipment is set up, data links via
satellite eliminate the need for any people to operate it. The old
days of chart recorders, film development, and marginal equipment
design are over. Standardised hardware and standarised data
communications protocols have allowed widespread use of unattended
Twenty years ago, UAP (Upper Atmosphere Physics) had four
physicists and two support engineers (I was one) spread across the three
stations. Now there is one physicist only, at Davis, with more
experiments running than ever, and data is sent continuously
via satellite to Kingston. Much of it goes straight to websites
where it can be viewed from anywhere by anyone in real time.
Provided, of course, that they are affluent enough to have access
to a computer and the internet.
Biologists Luke Einoder and Daren Southwell have just returned
from a 6 week sojourn on an island close to Mawson.
Here is Luke's description of their work:
"A long term study of Adelie penguins at Bechervaise Island near
Mawson is one example of the logistical advantages of remote
equipment in the field of biology. Some years ago a low fence was
constructed around apart of the penguin colony forcing birds to
travel over a weighbridge as they come and go from the sea. At the
weighbridge are two antennas that are responsive to small glass
microchip tags. These tags, similar to those used on domestic
been implanted in many penguins from the colony and identify
The two antennas determine which direction an individual is
the weight of the bird upon arrival and departure is recorded. All
be downloaded via satellite in Kingston to allow calculations of
weight of food delivered to chicks through the season, and over
years. All this contributes to our understanding of the feeding
the penguins experience in the ocean at any given time, and
indirect indication of the health state of the chicks in the
colony, and the
variation in conditions from year to year".
While this technology may not have been readily applied to
elephant seals (just try to fence them in!), maybe the AAD could
licence the intellectual property to restaurants, gymnasiums and
porta-loo contractors. Anyone for a chip implant?
Civil libertarians need not apply.
Mawson - view from the lounge.
REPORT NO.13 - COUNTDOWN TO HOBART - ETA Sunday Feb.28
It's a long way from Mawson to Hobart. It can take up to a
fortnight, depending on weather. The journey started for us
with smooth seas and many icebergs north of the Amery Ice Shelf.
These spectacular views were interspersed with occasional sightings
of whales, orcas, and majestic albatrosses. Such sightings are
often announced on the PA system, resulting in a scramble of keen
photographers up onto the bridge. Impeding the climb of each of
these enthusiasts is invariably a digital SLR camera, with at
least 12 mega-pixels of resolution, and a zoom/telephoto lens the
size of two house-bricks (end to end). Sometimes, when I am swept away
in these waves of enthusiasm, I lower the tone of the whole
occasion by producing a 7 M-pixel pocket camera, which is regarded with
concealed disdain by others on the bridge. On several occasions I
have had the temerity to produce my classic Rollei B35 film camera,
leaving the impression that I have either serious techno-phobia or
early onset dementia. However, many of these very competent
photographers generously put their photos on the ship's file
server, for all to see. Nearly everybody seems to have a laptop PC
with wireless networking facilities, and all can exchange photos
Rob Bryson, Voyage Leader, has announced that Saturday evening
will be "special", with a barbecue on the helideck, and alcoholic
beverages provided. The AA should be close to Tasmania by then,
and we can all look forward to enjoying Tasmanian weather, rather
than Antarctic weather, regardless of the claim by some (from the
north island) that there isn't much difference. As someone who's
been snowed on twice on mid-summer bushwalks, once in the Walls of
Jerusalem and once on the Mt. Anne circuit, I intend to be fully
dressed for the occasion. At least on the helideck, regardless of
Tasmania's proximity, there will be no mud!
Giant Petrel photo Zina Sofer
CORRECTION : NO BBQ ON HELIDECK, OR TRAWL DECK, OR HOLODECK (for
"Trekkies") OR ANYWHERE. Just drinks in the bar at 1900. I'm confused -
time to go home!
REPORT NO.14 - SO LONG, IT'S BEEN GOOD
Sunday began early, especially for those of us who had disturbed sleep
patterns for the last few nights. The plan was to get all our
luggage onto the helideck by 0630, so most were up and about by 0600.
Then ,over the PA system, came the dulcet tones of Rob Bryson,
informing us that a tsunami warning had been issued for the east coast
of Australia. A four hour delay in the day's operations
would result. My first reaction was to check that the date was not
April 1 (Rob does have a warped sense of humour), but as the
implications dawned on the stunned listeners, a flurry of frantic phone
calls resulted. Friends and relatives had to be informed,
and transport arrangements changed.
The day which started with a rush suddenly collapsed in boredom.
Eventually, luggage was left on the helideck for inspection by
officers; it was then loaded into cage pallets for transport by crane
to the wharf. Finally, we were all checked out by Customs and
as a single group in single file, we were led onto the gangway. In
front was the conspicuous Jeremy Wills, in business suit,
baseball cap and sunglasses, followed by about 40 others variously
attired. Despite the intimidating appearance of this unruly mob,
the Customs officers remained calm even though they were unarmed!
We were led across the wharf and alongside tall security fences,
with regular exhortations from the uniformed ones that we should not
stray from the single line. In a few minutes we were "out",
among smiling, welcoming faces. I was reminded of the time I came
through Checkpoint Charlie into West Berlin before the wall
The reception was great! A "trad" jazz band was in full swing, light
refreshments were available, and AAD staff were present to
finalise paperwork and offer help wherever needed. Eventually, AAD
Director Lyn Maddock started the formal presentation of
certificates to the expeditioners. I was comforted by the knowledge
that if this ceremony had been held at the time originally
planned, the party might have been gatecrashed by the Aurora Australis!
But it all went smoothly, people collected their luggage,
and the crowd dispersed. Voyage 3 was over.
I would like to thank the Australian Antarctic Division and its
Director, Lyn Maddock, for their generous provision of a berth for the
ANARE Club on Voyage 3. Thanks also to the Executive of the Club for
choosing me as their representative. Lastly, thanks to Col
Christiansen for maintaining this website, and putting some structure
into my incoherent ravings.
Return to index page