Well the time has finally come, after 419 days on the Antarctic continent; I am finally leaving Mawson station by helicopter to make the hundred kilometre flight out to the Aurora Australis ice breaker. While waiting for the resupply to be completed I will be able to be contacted by phone and email, but I will not have any Internet access so I will not be able to update my blog until I get back to Hobart sometime around the 2nd of May. My email address during the voyage will be email@example.com
This morning the blizzard is still raging outside and although visibility is improving I don’t think there is going to be any chance of flying today. Looking at the ships web cameras, visibility is even worse out there. This gives me more time to work on my annual report and to pack another box ready to fly out.
Today we have a blizzard gusting to sixty knots with visibility down to about five metres. Temperature is only minus eleven and there are no flights today. I have spent most of the day confined to my room writing my monthly report, getting my blog up to date and packing my gear ready to fly at short notice. This blizzard is long overdue and if the weather remains like this for the next few weeks it will cause some strife.
Most of the new people are shocked at the raw power and energy of a blizzard. With all the blowing snow there should be a few new blizz trails around tomorrow. I have just learned the ground crew will not lift anything over fifteen kilograms, and my large Pelican case weighs twenty six, so tomorrow I will have to offload eleven kilograms into a cardboard box just for the flight out to the ship. We will have a meeting tomorrow at ten thirty to discuss the plan for tomorrow.
Well today was a big day, we received our fifteenth thousand litre delivery of ASB which is the minimum needed combined with what is already here on station to run the station till November. After this the flight delivered cargo and food all day as well as some more fuel. It was a very busy day with thirty three flights in total. I think the fuel was increased to about twenty two thousand litres too. In the morning I had to do a fire team handover and after this my team got taken off the fire roster. After lunch Richard and I ran through the final handover for the new guys and in the afternoon we were pretty much redundant and it was a strange lonely feeling. Richard had to go for a fitness session on the running machine to get a bit of time out while I went off for a walk on my own.
I watched an Adélie Penguin appear from nowhere walking across the harbour so I went down to meet up with him. I caught up with him at the wharf and he was sitting on the sea ice asleep. I had a bit of a chat with him but he wasn't very talkative so I said goodbye and headed off for a walk up to Cos-ray. It was an awesome day for this time of year, no wind, 1/8th okta’s of cloud and only about minus eight degrees. It was like bloody summer. I laid on the smooth glacial worn rocks and listened to the west bay ice cliffs cracking for while and also took a few photos before wandering back to the red shed for dinner.
After dinner we had an official handover ceremony where I received my Antarctic service medal which I am so proud off. It means so much to me and is going strain in the pool room. After the ceremony we got stuck into the booze as there will be no flights tomorrow due to the weather forecast. It was a good night but we are all left with this empty feeling of not being required any more. I will enjoy a sleep in tomorrow without a care in the world, but like all the others I feel my time is done here and it’s now time to move on.
Today it was blowing quite hard and visibility was reduced so all flights were cancelled. We had all day to concentrate on our handovers and to bring the SAR and fire team up to speed. There must be close to forty people on site at the moment and it’s a bit overwhelming. There are people sleeping on the floor all over the place in the operations building. Last night I barged into my old room not thinking and lucky no one was in there. We had a black start power house test at one o’clock and this time things went perfect, unlike last year when one of the generators blew up.
After dinner we watched a few documentaries and as the bar was closed and everyone was tired, I had an early night for a change.
Every morning this week we have been having magnificent sun rises
Today the new communications wintering crew arrived and we have started our formal handover. It’s a beautiful day with no cloud and very little wind. The temperature is around minus seventeen, yet there doesn't seem to be much action on the helipads? I think these guys must be paid by the hour? We discussed past and current problems, ran through all the systems and then went for a long walk all around station checking out all our equipment on site.
After lunch I took Garry over to the absolute magnetic hut to do this week’s observations while the weather was so good. It was a bit cool walking from the dressing room (riggers loft) to the absolute magnetic hut and poor Garry just about collapsed with hypothermia. It took a couple of hours to run through everything with him and by then we both had had enough.
The helicopters managed to fly in fifteen thousand litres of ASB today which was pretty good as they are forecasting bad weather for the next couple of days and it looks like they won’t be flying tomorrow. Because of this we might get to have a beer tonight.
Today it was battle stations from seven o'clock this morning. The temperature was minus twenty one with a twenty three knot katabatic blowing, that’s a wind chill of minus thirty six which will sort out these new people. The ship is now as close is it’s going to get at ninety five kilometres North of Mawson. The first helicopter was in the air at seven forty three and touched down at Mawson at eight ten MBT with two ground crew and some cargo. I was Mawson air traffic control until the radio operator arrived on flight three. Two of our summer crew will depart today and I’m due to depart on the fifth flying day after the official station handover maybe on Saturday.
Well just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong today. Of all days to lose the MET data, and then suddenly all the radios disappeared off the console system and after sorting out these two things I discovered the HF radios were not working. Thankfully after the third flight a radio operator flew in to take over flight SAR watch and I could go and investigate the HF radio problem.
I ended up finding three faults with the system. It was working perfect until we were told to turn off one of the 1kW HPA’s to save power. Doing this killed the battery charger and the node controller gradually flattened the backup battery until the node controller crashed. This must have caused noise on the node controller Ethernet port and then the switch closed down its corresponding port. On top of this, one of the USB extender cables had come loose. I fixed up the USB cable and then went back to the workshop and grabbed a high current power supply to quickly charge up the battery and then I opened the port on the switch and all was good again.
By now I had missed smoko and lunch so I went back to my room to chip away on my annual report and I ended up falling asleep for an hour, waking up just in time for dinner. I was up late last night researching hot water systems. The bar is closed from now on so I might have an early night tonight. (Yeah right) The place is crawling with strangers now and the whole dynamics have changed, but at least we have apples, oranges and bruised pears for the first time in over a year. There are lots of very very serious and important people everywhere.......NOT. Helicopters seem to attract these types of people, even a couple of our guys have suddenly changed the way they talk and act. I have never seen that before working offshore, but Antarctica is swarming with them.
The fast ice region off Mawson Station is shown in Figure 1. Parts of the scene are obscured by clouds. The fast ice edge is indicated by the red line. This line is partly dashed in areas where the state of consolidation is unknown. The cruise track of RSV Aurora Australis (up until approximately 25/03/14 22:30 UT) towards the fast ice edge is shown as an orange dotted line. The general sea ice conditions have not changed. In Figure 1, three green shaded areas are identified where lee effects behind fast ice promontories creates persistent low ice concentration, thin ice regions. Those areas are high sea ice production regions, and sea ice accumulates at the windward opposite site of these embayment's where it thickens and backfills the bay. This same mechanism is seen clearly in the western part of Cape Darnley polynya, where new sea ice is rafting on top of each other and forming larger floes.
Once again we were all up at sparrows fart to be briefed at the seven o'clock meeting. The ship was still over one hundred and sixty kilometres to the north of the station and only doing three knots smashing through the pack ice. The weather again was perfect with little wind and minus twenty one degrees. We were told to ready at short notice for a helicopter so Richard manned the console while I retired to my room to work on my annual report while I tracked the path of the ship on the Internet and regularly checked the view from the ships three web cameras. It was obvious we were not going to see any helicopters today as I watched the ship struggle to find a way through the heavy pack ice.
They are hoping to push their way into a large polynya where they will raft up to the fast ice and conduct their resupply from. I hardly left my room all day and worked hard all day managing to get forty four pages done out of sixty seven on my annual report. At one stage I saw a helicopter rolled out and bladed on the helideck ready for flight. We all went to battle stations but they were only sending a bird up to do an ice recci. This proved to be a wise move as the identified a couple of large leads heading into the polynya and once in these leads they were maintaining a speed of up to ten knots for several hours. At four thirty we were told there would be no flying today and to stand down, that means the bar will be open for one more night as this year for the first time in sixty years since Mawson was established the resupply will be a dry affair.
Back in the fifties and sixties the station doctor used to issue all expeditioners amphetamines to stay awake and alert during resupplies. My how things have changed !! These photos below really highlight how isolated we really are trapped behind hundreds of kilometres of fast and pack ice.
Bow web camera
Port web camera
Stern web camera
Aerial view taken by the helicopter doing an ice recce, showing a couple of large leads heading into the polynya.
Today we all had to be up fed and watered ready for battle stations at the seven o'clock meeting. By eight o'clock we were expecting the station to resemble the set of "Apocalypse Now" with dozens of choppers flying over head, smoke canisters and over important aviation officials dressed in uniforms with glinting badges shouting at everyone with loud hailers. By lunchtime there was still and eerie silence hovering over the station and it was obvious they weren't coming. The ship was having extreme difficulties penetrating the pack ice and only doing a pathetic three knots.
We all had to remain on standby, but it was obvious there would be no flying today. Well that's another perfect flying day wasted. The weather lately has been amazing for this time of year as at this time last year we were having constant blizzards and so far this year we have only experienced one pathetic blizzard. It's a risky manoeuvre bringing the ship into the pack ice at this time of year. Just ask Ernest Shackleton how dangerous it can be. At minus twenty the sea ice is growing about ten centimetres a day and the days are getting about ten minutes shorter every day. If the ship gets trapped in the ice the only way out would be to call on the Americans, that is if their ice breaker is still in the southern ocean?
A lot of people have nothing to do (or don't want to do anything) but this was good news for me as Richard and I still have plenty to do. After doing ARPANSA I labelled and packed up all the air samples from 2013/14 and packed them along with the record books into the box containing the portable air sampler and RTA'd the lot to go back to ARPANSA in Melbourne. After this I made several trips down to the transmitter building to bring up to the operations building a keyboard, monitor, UPS and a bag of rubbish for disposal. After lunch I was determined to spend the rest of the day working on my annual report as I would really like to get this completed before I get sent out to the ship.
I'm not sure if I mentioned it or not but this year we managed to hydroponically grow a total of 198 kg of food compared to last years effort of 150 kg.
The old (1975) transmitter hut. This hut and also Wombat are made from asbestos sheeting and as you can see all the sealant has worn off over the years. After all the time I have spent in the building over the past fourteen months I hope I don't develop mesothelioma in years to come.
I have finally figured out what this bloody thing is. (Thanks George) It's a sundial made in 1984 by a bloke called André Phillips (nice work mate) and it is
calibrated in MBT. (Mawson basted time)
This morning, like everybody I think? I had a nice sleep in. I got up and had a shower and then went down to ARPANSA to do today's filter change. Outside it was about minus twenty and my hair instantly froze and I had lovely frozen dreadlocks. The 003 detector was working fine and I had the job done in no time.
Back at the red shed I dug out a leftover Fray Bentos pie from Friday's smoko and it was so good I nearly chomped up the can as well. Funny, I was fine but there were quite a few sore heads around me. I spent a few hours moving rooms and then cleaning my old room ready for the new bloke complete with a freshly made bed, a towel and a block of chocolate on the pillow. Shit, I hope he doesn't think I'm having a crack at him? Nar. After this I had to do all the washing and I think just about everybody else was doing washing also.
I had been saving a bottle of government issue champagne for my last day (drinking day) at Mawson which I wanted to share with Luc and Geoff my two Mawson bosom buddies, but Luc was working and Geoff was too busy, so I decided to have a quiet time alone out on "Craig's Rock" out in west bay. This is where the put the wings on the Dakota back in 1960.
It's quite a fair walk out there and once I got there I sat myself down and broke out the champagne. I popped the cork and it landed about ten meters away on the ice, then I filled my glass and quietly made a toast to Mawson and ticking off another one of my bucket list dreams. My arse started to freeze sitting on the rock so I had to use my backpack to insulate it and all the perspiration coming off my head attached to my hair froze and once again I had lovely frozen dreadlocks.
I love sitting on this rock listening to the huge ice cliffs cracking under the tremendous pressure. I would so much love to see a large ice fall, but no matter how loud the cracking and how much I urged it, it wasn't going to happen today. It was bloody freezing, but there was no wind and no clouds and the sun was beautiful and warm on my face. Any noise was instantly echoed off the cliffs and it was good fun.
I must have sat there for about two hours and I eventually came to the conclusion that its important to surround yourself with family and good friends and to treat everyone how you would like to be treated, But you come into this life on your own and you are going to leave this life on your own, so make sure you are happy and live the life you want because pretty soon you will be sitting back thinking shit where has it all gone? My only regrets in life are the things I haven't done yet.
Then I came back to reality as my arse was still freezing and my serenity was disturbed by Peter L who walked out taking photos. This bloke is gifted and can pull the most amazing shots out of things most people don't even notice. He didn't stay long and soon he buggered of over to west arm somewhere so I decided to get up close and personal with the ice cliffs. Getting close was a bit dodgy as there were a few nasty looking crevasses in the area and I broke a couple open to see the dark void below. One had some amazing feather ice crystals growing on its edges and after taking a few photos I thought I had better get back to civilization. By now it was late afternoon and the light was amazing, so I scurried all around station taking photos of all the building, fuel tanks and surrounding scenery.
It was so bloody freezing my hands were on the verge of going off and eventually I gravitated down to the radio shack and conditions were excellent. I had a nice long chat with a bloke in England who I have spoken to before and also about another thirty contacts all over Europe on 10m. At around seven o'clock I had to drag myself away from the microphone and pack up my radio station. Once all packed away into my big Pelican case, I swept up the floor and rolled up all the cables and bagged up the rubbish. On the way back to the red shed I weighed both my radio Pelican case and my laptop Pelican case and headed back to the red shed.
There was bugger all to eat so I nicked a cabana sausage out of the cool room for dinner and retired to my room to write up my blog. Looking at the ship tracker, the ship it about seventy miles offshore and weather permitting we should see some helicopters tomorrow.
This morning I woke up early as I must have had a lot of things on my mind. I did really well in the job interview yesterday and it looks like I have the job pending a security clearance and a medical. Considering I had to get a "Top Secret" security clearance to come down here and after the extensive AAD medical I don't think I have any issues to worry about there. I have also been told I have been selected for the other job I had an interview for, so I have some big decisions to make regarding which way I go.
I spent all morning doing this blooming online security clearance, then I messed about checking my super and downloading all my payslips and a heap of other stuff. For Saturday duties I had to sweep and mop the three sets of stairs in the red shed and then I cleaned my toilet and bathroom spotless. I tell you that is the LAST government dunny I will ever clean. By now I was starving and needed a coffee so I went and scrounged up some old quail and some cheesy pasta thing.
I forgot to do ARPANSA so I raced down and discovered the number 001 detector had failed. I spent an hour or so getting the 003 spare detector back on line and then went back to the red shed to sort a few more things out getting ready to leave station.
In the late afternoon I went down to the radio shack and conditions were not so good and I had to struggle to make about 20 contacts from Australia, Japan and Europe. We have gone onto ships time now and dinner was at 1630. I couldn't be bothered eating at that time so I wandered up late and had a feed on my own. After a chomp I wandered up to Club Katabatic and there was a party going on with everyone drinking all the leftover grog. The resupply is going to be a dry affair so all the booze has to go. I thought shit this is going to get messy and you know what? I was right !!
One by one people staggered out saying "I'm going outside and I might be gone for a while". Last thing I remember was making a guest appearance with the band "Bad News" singing for a while and then playing some awesome lead bass guitar riffs.
Today was a very busy day today. I had a lot of small jobs to get done and I worked hard and fast all day. I cleaned the whole operations building ready for the new crew and sorted out a heap of emails and last minute stuff. The ship has now left Davis station and is now sailing towards Mawson so we could expect the first flights on Monday.
Slushy FM hasn't been working for the past couple of weeks and I tracked the fault down to a faulty instreamer, so I reprogrammed a new one and replaced the faulty one and it seemed to work fine. After this I did what might be my last geo-mag observation. Once again today was bloody cold at around minus seventeen. The weather this year is colder than last year but with less wind and so far we have had only one mild blizzard. Compared to last year there is very little snow laying around also. I knocked off just in time for dinner and then later a heap of us watched a couple of David Attenborough documentaries.
Some statistics on the amount of fuel used at Mason station between JAN to DEC 2013:
126 x 200L drums of ATK (Special Antarctic blend jet fuel)
Out of these 126 drums, 68 were for Aviation, 2 for the outdoor Spa, 6 for "KATHY" the D7H Dozer and 50 for the Hagglunds = TOTAL 25,200L.
394,985L of SAB (Special Antarctic blend diesel)
Out of 394,985L, 344,024L was used in the power generators and 50,961L were used in boilers, incinerator, vehicles, plant, etc
The massive foundations of one of the wind turbines
This monument is part of the old station. I'm not sure what it is, I think it is a compass or represents the globe. If anyone knows the history, please let me know.