Keith finally got his fishing trip in, on the last Sunday before the arrival of the ship. We had an extended period of brilliant weather whilst hearing updates from the ice encrusted VNAA Aurora Australis, a few hundred miles off the coast battling to find a way in through the pack ice. The ship had quite an epic trip of over three weeks, starting with a severe storm on departure from Hobart. They tracked slightly east of south to avoid the brunt of the weather on the Southern Ocean crossing. Nevertheless, an unprecedented amount of ice built up over the deck as sea spray froze on impact, closing the gaps between handrails to flood the deck and even causing concern due to the additional weight on the ship. And then they hit the pack ice…
After much repeated ice bashing and attempts to link together various dead end leads, they’d made an interesting track by the time they reached the open water of the polynya off the coast of Davis. On Wednesday 6 November, two days after resupply was scheduled to finish, they reached the fast ice edge a few miles off Davis. First the helicopters dropped off the expeditioners transferring to Mawson, including my boss, but I only had the office to myself a few hours as the forecasters Bill and Tina arrived around lunch time. It was only later that night when VNAA finally pulled up to its final resting place in the five feet of sea ice (I know because I drilled it for them, with Ellis, an enthusiastic chopper pilot on a break from the Navy) just under two kilometres from Davis.
The next morning after my final balloon flight I got an email from Layla on the ship after my 10am obs – “I can see you!”. Soon enough the new met crew (Layla, Alison, and my replacement Peter) were on station and happily relieving me of my duties. As part of their induction we were all standing outside the balloon room doors as I explained that a couple of times last summer the fire alarm had been set off by the UV flame detectors inside – and voila, it happened again! Apparently no direct sunlight is required, it only needs to be bright outside… off to a full station muster at the mess. They needed to get that out of the way anyway.
It was great to have all the new faces on station and new people to talk to. While my wintering crew was all Aussie it is always good to see plenty of kiwis around. It was nice to talk of “home” with Anthea (previously Search and Rescue at Mt Cook) and John (helicopter pilot from Oamaru). It can become tedious answering the same questions over and over “How was your year?”, “Will you come back again?”, and “Bet you can’t wait to go home!”. I guess I’ve had plenty of time to think of how I feel about it all but as I agreed with our favourite Irishman Seamus, it is better just to enjoy life as it happens.
The first major job for resupply was to refuel the station. I got the gentleman’s shift (8-12) monitoring the fuel line along the sea ice with Peter. Our first shift was enjoyed with a few Adelie penguins and beautiful evening light, and our next morning shift started a little late before we ferried Caleb out to the ship in the snow. He asked what the Hagglunds were like to drive, my usual response is that once you’ve been in one once you probably won’t really want to go in one again. But far from the grumpy reclusive mythical-winter-stereotype I am buoyed on by the keenness and energy of the new arrivals.
You would think that after enduring over three weeks stuck on a dry boat that one would deserve a drink. Regrettably, the AAD for the first time has blanket banned all alcohol during resupply. It is a real shame that we cannot be treated as responsible adults. The lack of a focal point for an evening social catch up has been frequently noted by many. Nevertheless I had a pleasant birthday evening playing table tennis with the “old but not decrepit” Renato, mocktails with the ew-oop sparkies et al, and an acoustic guitar jamming session into the night.
The following night the “key to the station” was handed over as our winter station leader Jason relinquished his duties to the same Bill who had done the ceremony in reverse nine months and nine days earlier. We received a medal of acknowledgement but a couple of hours later it was just winterers remaining – perhaps it was my grumbling which guilt-tripped Tina and Stacy (returning from a penguin walk) into coming to chat with us. A courageous effort I thought, the two of them were doing a splendid job of representing the entire summer crew, not to mention women. If they found beards and our blokey talk intimidating they didn’t show it, and they really rubbed us the right way when they asked us to pass on our “wintering expertise” – the chip packet bowl trick!
Our winter is over now though. The incoming crew are running the show whether it be by handover or simple majority rules! Myself I am quite happy to see them take up the reins with minimal assistance. In fact the roles were reversed when Layla took me to the ship to brief me on the next phase of my job, taking ship observations on the return journey. Her amusing antics in the snow epitomised the injection of playful youth and ebullient feminine qualities amongst seven women in next years’ winter crew. My last day ashore was spent clearing out everything from my room, including emptying my waste bin for the first time since summer. We then had a social evening playing “killer” darts with both new and familiar faces.
We now have a couple of weeks of quiet time in a relatively empty ship to reflect on our year. Once on the ship, voyage leader Tony informed us that there was still a lot of ice. Noting the amount of fuel consumed and the lack of progress made whilst bashing ice on the incoming journey, and the fact that we’ve just offloaded 600,000 litres of diesel to Davis, he warned that there may be times that our best move against the pack ice is to simply sit and wait. The ice pack drifts to the southwest at around 7 nm per day. Let our final phase of the Antarctica experience begin.