Thursday, April 21, 2011

34 - The journey home and the end of the 2010-2011 season...........PART 1......

Hello friends,
Well the time has come and I now write the final blog for the 2010-2011 season and  its been an emotional roll-a-coaster of a ride to get to this point and I'm sure some of you will be sad to know that I’m now back on Australian Soil.........It has been a little difficult to get everything done to get this done. I hope you have a coffee in hand and ready to be here for a while as this is a BIG BIG BLOG, you have now been warned!!!!!!!
So let’s dive in a couple days before the ship arrived. We needed to prepare the helli pads  which basically involved was moving a couple machines and clearing as much of the snow from around them as possible. Without moving this snow the helicopters would picked up that much snow that the pilots wouldn’t be able to see anything. The Aurora Australis or AA had on board 3 choppers in total, 2 Squirrels and a S76. Before the ship arrived we needed to complete all the safety briefings on both the helicopters which involved watching a couple videos that looked like they had been shot in the 80’s.I kept waiting for Magnum to make his entrance.
As there were lots of unknowns being that we didn’t know exactly where the ship was going to pull up and from my perspective this was new territory. If the ship wasn’t able to make it very close this would impact helli opps but as it turned out they were able to make it within 6nm making it a very short ride out there. But all would soon be realized once the helicopters were in the air and on their way!
Day 1
8am in the wallow, main living area, with bags and ready to go at a moment’s notice we had been told. We had been warned that things could start slow then fly quite literally so have your goodbyes done and gear handy ready to run.
Getting into the emersion suit proved interesting to say the least and I did choose the XL but it might as well have been a small. An emersion suit is something between a day suit and a wet suit and is designed to enable its occupant to be able to survive for a short period of time in the fringed waters until rescue. First helicopter arrives with all the emersion suits where we were instructed to get into them. Two people later and about 10 minutes I’m in, how I should have gone for the XXL not just the XL. Here I am in the wallow looking all............well all orange really aren’t I.
Picture: Peter McKernan

After struggling into the suits we were soon directed to make our way down to the helli pads as the first group would be flying out shortly. Sure enough the first flight took off and the second closely followed. Within no time it was apparent that I would be on my way. Here is a couple pics taken just before I jumped onto the helicopter.
Picture: Peter McKernan
 Picture: Peter McKernan
I know I have talked about how incredible this place is before but at that moment while waiting for the choppers I do remember thinking that it wouldn’t be the place it is to me unless the people I share it with aren’t as good as they are. I mean at the end of the day the HR dose an amazing job of employing a very talented group of people that come from a wide and varied background that get along so well, adaptable through many disciplines and tolerant of all. I only wish more people could experience what a unique workplace the Australian Antarctic Division offers. I know that sounds like I'm blowing smoke but really I'm not.............ok would you believe then I’m just making sure I get back for another season! LOL
Here is a video of the trip out to the AA............

Before we knew it all this season is, is nothing but memories now and the adventure of a boat ride home in front of us. First we needed to get our cargo on board. Simple sling it under a chopper and drop it on..........
23 passengers on and 20 something cage pallets off and same sort of number on and around 4pm Saturday we slowly started making our way through the ice building speed as we went. The ice was not that thick probably only around 200mm but occasionally we hit a chunky piece and hit it with a thud. Was a little eerie at times but jaw droopingly beautiful. Here is a bunch of little clips I have put together into a video of our journey through the ice.

It only took until morning to make it through the pack ice surrounding Casey Station/ Antarctica but what a sunset. The following pictures were taken on our way out through the ice......

 Pancake ice.......

That night I found it very difficult to sleep, I was like a kid in a candy store. The excitement came over me like the waves I was hoping for once we made it into the Great Southern Ocean. Since 9/11 the rules for travel both in sea and air have been changed forever. Notice that when we were kids going up to the cockpit on a flight to talk to the captain was the norm, same as on a ship. Well as we are considered as temporary crew of the vessel entry to these areas that are normally off limits is open. Here are the guys doing all the hard work...........

After the sun set and dinner most were exhausted from a massive week and with not much sleep on their last night on station. Dinner was served and to everyone’s joy there was fresh salad, fresh carrots, fruit, fresh fresh fresh fresh fresh fresh.....................ohhhhhhh lordy it was good. We all gorged ourselves in whatever we could get our hands on and well there was only one down side. YEP THE BLOODY COFFEE MACHINE WAS BROKEN....................aghhhhhhhhhhhh anyway got to have something to look forward to when getting into Hobart I guess.

After dinner I was still buzzing, while most had gone to bed for some well deserved rest, I was up on the bridge in a chair on the port side overlooking it all.
All the time the spot lights pierced through the darkness, pin pointing the safest channel through the pack ice it was mesmerizing to watch. 

By about 1130pm and having been up in the bridge for well over 1 ½ hours I was now getting the nods on and thought it was finally, much to my disappointment, time to go to bed.

Had a very strange dream overnight nothing too strange from some of them I have had but it revolved around the fact that I couldn’t stand properly. I could feel something pushing me down then the pressure would be taken off only to be put on again. I soon would understand why I was dreaming that. Pictures speak a million words so have a look and the little video was taken a little later in the day............

Here is a short video of the rough weather from the both the back of the ship and from the bridge..................

Cabin view were like this from Becs room.
Video : Rebecca McWatters
So needless to say there was a fair few people out of action, with the exception of me LOL. That being said there was one occasion I was getting some food for Bec as she was kinda crook and as I was walking the hallways bouncing off each wall with the tossing and turning of the ship I felt a little clammy but I recovered quickly.
The weather kept up all day and there really isn’t all that much to do on the ship so much movie watching was taking place in the cinema, cabins and in the old bar. Yes there is a bar on the ship but not it is used to house the AA DVD collection. Why you might ask well that’s simple the AA for a while now has been a dry ship and going through this sort of weather and seeing how many people had been struck down I cant imagine what it would have been like before..

The weather was a little better but not that much. Spent the night in the bar watching movies as there were a couple people who weren’t too good down there with me and the bar is at the lowest point of the ship so the lean wasn’t so exaggerated. Mind you there was some very strange noises down there, every now and again you would hear what sounded like weights racing past and compressed air moving. I was later to find out that this is the dampeners which work by air. Still was an interesting sound in the heaving seas.
Here is a little video from day 3 from the bridge, you'll notice that the sun is out but we are still rocking and rolling..........
Video : Rebecca McWatters
Highlights of the day included breakfast, lunch, dinner, 50 cups of tea, talking other expo’s, the weather and movies. Forced relaxation is taking its toll on some, me............I'm in my stride and loving it EVERY second!!!!

After another night in the bar with some people still feeling the effects of the rough weather we were going through. When I woke the weather seemed to be a little nicer for a majority to be out of their room. There were more people on the ship than I initially though some I hadn’t meet before.
Today’s highlight was a tour of the engine room of the ship and they went throught all the techinal stuff but unfortunately it was so loud in there i didnt really hear much. However i found a couple web sites that have some intresting stuff on the AA. this site has an  intresting pics of the AA in dry dock last year in Sydney.

Anyway here are the pics from my tour..........................

The control room where all the buttons get pushed.........”captain I'm givin her all she’s got!!!”
 The engines, the captain can call on one or the other or both to drive the ship.

Heat exchanges..............what for I have no idea but they are big!

The ship has 3 generators powering everything from lighting to the box and stern thrusters.

The gearbox............the two big drive engines both go through this gearbox

Well as i have a fair bit more to dribble on with i think i am going to have to break it into two parts SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.............until the next exciting post!


P.S..............I do not know what "moss" stands for in the proverb, but if it stood for usefull 
                    knowledge.............I gathered more moss by rolling than i ever did at school.
                    Ernest Shackelton 1914