We are now approximately 3 nautical miles off Davis Station and gradually ice breaking our way towards the station to our ‘parking’ spot which is approximately 1.5 miles offshore from the station.
In the final week of our voyage we continued to experience relatively smooth seas and open sea ice. In fact we hit no real thickness of pack ice at all, just occasional broad bands, sometimes up to a kilometre in width separated by large areas of open water. This is considered unusual, as are the relatively good sea conditions and the lack of any appreciable falls of snow.
Much time has been spent on the bridge and the upper decks making our first seal and penguin sightings and taking many photographs. The days have been filled with training on topics as diverse as helicopter operations, sea ice travel and radio procedures……and of course the use of the ‘she wee’ apparatus to allow ladies to wee into bottles without having to take their outer layers off, very civilised.
We arrived at the edge of the fast ice two days earlier than expected. The fast ice is the ice that is attached to the shore line and is in one large, intact sheet. This is what we imagined Antarctica to be like, large icebergs set in a flat plain of white ice. So many shades of white, pale blue, darker blue and grey. There are penguins everywhere, Emperor and Adelie. It is amazing.
The hills in the background of this photo are the Vestfold Hills, where we will be doing much of our work. The snow on the hills is a completely different colour to the pure white ice, a sort of an off brown colour. The colour difference is caused by the wind blowing soil from the exposed rocks onto the snow surface.
The first parties of people (the operationally most important) are being flown off the ship as I type. They will spend time setting up things with the existing Davis team in readiness to begin the resupply operation. The most critical part of the resupply is the refuelling. A minimum of 350,000 L, but preferably the full 800,00 L of fuel required by the station for the next six months needs to be pumped to the shore tanks. This involves a 1.5 – 2 km hose across the ice, which is constantly patrolled for leaks. I am on the refuelling team and will be helicoptered off the ship tomorrow morning to get ready for the operation. I have a shift at the fuel farm where the storage tanks are. We are required to dip the tanks every 15 minutes and radio the bridge of the Aurora Australis to tell them how much is in each tank. We also have to switch flow from tank to tank as each tank becomes full. It sounds a bit daunting, as does the midnight to 4am shift that I am required to fill – not my best time of day. No worries about it being dark at that point, night is more like a strong twilight now. No full dark at all.
Once I am on shore I will have internet and Facebook (in patches) so I hope to be able to update my blog and upload some of my more impressive pictures.