How did I get here? Well, after the training was completed we came down by ship. Whilst on the ship I almost started a blog… in fact, I wrote the passage below in a brief creative outburst before going back to playing lots of cards (Five hundred, of course!).
“Are you on drugs?”
“No, but I get asked that a lot”, I replied to Jen, one of the Aircraft Ground Safety officers (AGSO’s), on the second day on the ship bound for Davis station, Antarctica. I’d just told her I felt great, as we stood on the back helideck of the Aurora Australis, rocking from side to side, with a couple of expeditioners hugging the deck nearby, one holding a plastic bag containing stomach bile. Meanwhile Jen was talking about some ideas she had of isolated places to visit after this trip. She made the point that it’s a good way to find out about yourself.
For me there are several reasons why I thought this gig down south would be a good idea.
Stuck in Brisbane, single yet living a “settled” life, I’d come back to a job which was giving me cabin fever. Field work had always been a prime attraction but the promised workload after returning from Europe did not come to timely fruition. I began addressing the major impediments to a lifestyle change.
I put in an application to work in Antarctica, and I put my house on the market. If either was successful, I decided that was a good enough excuse to pack up and leave. The job application process was very drawn out but things were looking good. I somehow found a buyer for the house, so I began thinking of a trip to the Rockies or Andes if the job didn’t come through. In the end it did though, and with less than a weeks notice, I began my training in Melbourne.
There I realised I’d just found the perfect job. Sure there was some technical work, on a variety of equipment, with lots in common with my old job. Indeed each organisation has worked together before and one guy famously switched between working for each. But around three quarters of your time is spent fulfilling the role of a weather Observer. For a keen paragliding pilot, this comes naturally!
Four months of training is quite extensive. We had a lot of people tell us a lot of different things. My favourite was aviation observations, taken by a humble and thoughtful ex general aviation pilot. I learnt a few things about clouds I’d been wondering about, and of course there were plenty of flying stories thrown in too. The most intense part of the various training courses was sitting the practical exam for electrical safety. One wrong move in a 45 minute exam could result in an instant fail – I sympathised with our fijian indian classmate, the world’s keenest Observer, sitting his cloud exam – the pressure of being tested in an area of your supposed expertise! The most boring course would probably have been Electical Equipment in Hazardous Areas (EEHA), a book of rules, with thousands of variations.. a lot of lolly wrappers were discarded from my desk that week.
This last course was run in Brisbane, where I perhaps asked myself again, “why am I doing this?”. I’m not just talking about the good flying weather either. In an ironic twist, I met an amazing woman.. a reminder I was human before spending a year with the penguins.
Well, I might as well make the most of it – as we did. And lots of flying too, the paragliding communities in Victoria and Tasmania were very helpful and accommodating and it was great to see some new country.
It was also great to socialise with colleagues doing the training courses. On my first weekend in Hobart my Melbourne training room-mate and his wife, who have recently moved to Hobart, took me camping. The next afternoon the beach at Fortescue Bay was white with hail. What a good introduction to Tasmania!
I also caught up with old friends, getting some use out of the provided apartment accommodation that was really far too flash for me. For my 30th a few mates came to visit Hobart for a swim. Yes, at the beach during the night, and at a mountain lake whilst in cloud.
So far this lifestyle change has lived up to its expectations in the social sense. Various interesting characters to chat with and a range of new experiences, rather than the daily grind of traffic and commuting.
This is as far as I got on the ship… I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.
The evening where we approached Davis was for me the highlight of the two week voyage. Lots of photos were taken!
June 2013 – I have now made a five minute video of the ship trip.