The Southern Ocean

Hello again….

I don’t think I’ve said “Wow!” quite as many times in my life as I’ve done on the past month, I’m trying to put together some form of explanation of recent events and for once am quite short of exactly what to say and where to start…

Living on a boat isn’t a new concept to me, that said though the sheer numbers I’m sharing with are more than I’ve known before – there’d normally be four of us on our old boat, not quite up to the ninety odd people currently on board the Aurora Australis – The benefits for everybody are that a) I don’t cook or insist on rice pudding b) We sail through the night to our destination and not just pull into a bay and take shelter for an evening like I would, and c) there is a plenty of time to kill playing card games and reading a book unlike normal life where we’re always too busy… The flip side to that is of course that you are all rammed into this moving iron bathtub with very little room to find space for yourself – Exercise is a nightmare, ever tried to use a treadmill on a ship at thirty degrees? Interesting…

There is no internet aboard the ship, something that really hadn’t bothered me in the slightest when I approached this element of my journey but I have learnt that without it we recover the ability to be social human beings again, it makes us play card games, board games, draw pictures, make daft movies, have darts competitions, team up for on board quizzes etc, it’s become so routine it’s like an adult version of Kindergarten, we all turn up at the same time of day and look on the whiteboard to see which games we have to play.

Another quite astounding part of the trip is the food, dear god there is a lot of food, and it’s always constantly being placed in front of you…It would often only feel like about ten minutes between eating full meals. At one stage the Doc left some scales near the kitchen to weigh ourselves but they were quickly removed when some people really didn’t want to know how much they’d gained in such a short time.

We left Hobart on the 15th of October as planned and within 24 hours were trying to outrun a fairly heavy storm to our West, we were at worst I’d say in eight metres swells which, having been a Wellingtonian, is nothing compared to the worst of days on the Interislander Ferry (between NZ’s North and South Islands) – The ship handled it fairly well all things considered. Sea sickness can be an issue but mostly because we’re all down below in fairly cramped cabins (three or four to a cabin) without a great deal of air, I got onto the sea sickness tablets straight away, didn’t fancy taking any chances and have to say they were great, they make you pretty drowsy too so enjoyed some of the longest and bizarrely hallucinogenic sleeps of my life, it made up for the lack of beer on board anyway.

So, as I was saying, we headed due south to the 60th parallel and then due West in order to stay South of the massive area of low pressure in the Southern Ocean, It’s a pretty manic place and very unstable, I would certainly not want to be sailing a small 30ft yacht down here (remind me of this statement should I ever decide that it might be a good idea) – We started to hit the ice pretty early in the trip, sighting our first icebergs, then some occasional floes that had broken away, nothing happens quickly so you have plenty of time to get used to it – You take lots of photos of what you think is spectacular only to realise that two days later everything just gets way better so you shouldn’t have bothered. Now this journey was scheduled originally for 12 days, I’m now on day 22 and will be disembarking tomorrow so obviously not everything went to plan. About 600 NM from Davis we hit some very thick pack ice that took us literally weeks to get through, we have a pair of helos on board that were used a few times when the weather improved to allow us to recce from the air but it was pretty solidly packed with only a few leads we could chase. Eventually after trying to follow numerous leads through we ended up very West of our intended position and managed to track a South Easterly direction through some very thick ice.

Icebreakers are amazing bits of kit, eight thousand tonnes of steel and concrete driven at 15 knots towards a floating sheet of ice, we hit the ice, rise up on top of it and then crush down upon it using our weight, this eventually splits the sheet we’re resting on, as this happens broken ice is forced to the back of the ship by the direction of water and eddies created by the ships engine – I can only compare it to a large scale version of ‘Hungry Hippos’ except the ship is red and doesn’t have any eyes – We basically negotiate a path with very little space at times as the ice we break quickly gets pushed behind us to cluster together and close the path we created – Some days we would take up to six hours just to cut through a half a kilometre of ice, the ice was uncommonly this year and wasn’t budging an inch!
My biggest hobby aboard the ship has to be time lapse photography, I’ve not managed to upload any videos yet but as soon as I do I’ll post them here.

It’s been interesting getting used to the time zones and long days, we’re currently UTC +7 which is four hours behind Brisbane, down at this latitude it stays light for most of the night too, the other night I couldn’t sleep and was stood on the bridge chatting with the second mate at 1AM in what was equivalent to dusk type conditions, I get up sometimes at 4AM and it’s pretty much the same, it takes a while to adjust your sleep patterns.

We had a few ‘occasions’ onboard to keep people active, Haloween, the Melbourne Cup and also, and most importantly the visit from King Neptune. The King Neptune visit is for people who are crossing the 60th parallel of latitude South by Sea for the first time, it’s an old ceremony where the crew get dressed up as mad sea characters and we all get soaked in the slops of fish innards and other nasties…..Now I’ve no idea what else they added to this mixture but this stuff stunk, it was rubbed all over me by one of the crew so much so that I didn’t even realise how much I was wearing until I was having a shower and I actually pulled an entire fish from out of my bum crack….Not pretty but it was the truth…..It’s been an eventful trip as I said!

From a technical side it’s quite amazing that half the onboard equipment works, we have a full phone and email system that talks via a link back to Perth and tracks the geostationary satellites on the equator from right down where we are, sometimes if the boat turns round to head back north the chimney stack gets in the way of the sat dish as it tries to track the sat across the sky and cuts out, other than that though it’s been quite good.….

This morning I awoke knowing we were close and headed up onto the Monkey deck to take some photos of the amazing amount of icebergs we were now running through, as I looked forward I could see some rock, then some square rocks, bit weird that, then as my sleepy brain woke up I realised that they were in fact some of the buildings of Davis station off in the distance….A few high fives later and the realisation that we had arrived at my ‘home’ for the next twelve months was dawning upon me….It’s an amazingly beautiful place and the weather had put on an awesome show to welcome us….

We spent the morning getting the choppers up in the air to transfer the expeditioners who are heading to Mawson station onto Davis, from here they were quickly loaded into a Basler aircraft and headed off to their station. Some of the Davis guys were then picked up from the stationary ship in the Hagglands and transported to Davis as they have some priority jobs to do in the morning. Meanwhile myself and the rest of us left on the ship are spending another night on board tidying our cabins, playing a last few games of cards and preparing for the next step of this immense journey which is to actually get onto the station tomorrow and to start preparing our handovers for the forthcoming twelve months of work at Davis station…

Anyway, for now, some pics…

5 thoughts on “The Southern Ocean

  1. Great videos and photos … and blog. Wonderful to keep in touch and feel a part of your adventures. What a unique experience. Have a wonderful year!

  2. Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content.

    Please let me know. Cheers

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