Southern Ocean’s swell

This is the first of four posts, which were originally emails I sent while on a trip to Antarctica, aboard the Aurora Australis from October – December 2010. We were travelling to Davis station, on the first resupply voyage for the season. I’ll post these emails one by one, with some of the photos I took at the time. The posts are dated according to when they were originally sent. The first email was sent five days into the trip, after we’d left from Hobart.

Hi everyone,

The Antarctic Division had one of its voyages make it as a discussion point on talkback radio last summer.

Unfortunately not for any of the science that was being conducted, but for the fact that somebody forgot something. A rather important thing. The voyage was going to Macquarie Island to refuel the station there, but somehow the fuel hose didn’t make it onto the ship, and it wasn’t until it was well on its way that this was discovered. This prompted talkback hosts to ask listeners to call in with their stories of when they’d forgotten something. Tales were told of camping trips without tents, lunches without food, and departures from pit stops at service stations without children. I thought about the various times I’d forgotten things. Like a bushwalk with Jen where I forgot to pack cutlery and we ended up trying to eat our pasta using twigs. Or heading off on my round the world trip, only to get to check-in to discover I’d forgotten my ticket. Or turning up to an orienteering event after a four hour drive, when I’d forgotten to pack my shoes.

Forgetting things isn’t such a problem if you’re travelling to a city somewhere, because if you haven’t forgotten your credit card, it’ll generally be fine: you can always buy something if you really need it. But it’s trips like this one, where there are no shops, that I get a little nervous. I write lists and put things in piles and stress about whether I’ve forgotten anything. Before I left, I asked questions of colleagues who’ve been before about everything from tea bags to toiletries, shoes to shampoo, pills to pillows, in the hope of having thought of everything. Despite all this, I still managed to forget something. All my family and friends who wished me ‘bon voyage’ said how they are looking forward to seeing my photos when I get back. I’m glad to say that I hopefully will still be able to show some, despite having left the charger for my camera, along with the backup camera I was going to take, sitting in the corner of the loungeroom at home. Thank goodness for the kind soul with the same camera as me who is letting me share his charger!

Tonight will be my fifth night on the ship, and I’m pleased to report that my body (or my stomach and inner ear, more to the point) now seems to be adjusting to the constant movement. Although I have been taking the maximum dose of anti-seasickness tablets, so that might have something to do with it! I still felt pretty bad for the first two days, and anything other than lying down was a challenge queasiness-wise. Overall so far though, I’m nowhere near as bad as I’d feared, and I’m glad to be able to get up and about. Other seafaring old-hands walk around the ship completely non-phased, as if walking with one foot on the wall and one on the floor is completely normal. I’m the uncool newbie who still finds it amusing to watch and take part in all the wobbling and leaning and swaying – wanting to point out how funny people look just trying to do something as simple as making a cup of tea! I’m glad no-one can see the ridiculous manoeuvres I’ve come up with to brace myself so I can have a shower!

The other good thing about being up and about is being able to eat the food! The galley crew (did you hear me just then? I said ‘galley’ – I’m so down with the scurvy seadog lingo) do an amazing job getting such a wide variety of food out every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything is served buffet style, and you just help yourself to whatever you feel like. There’s a huge continental and cooked breakfast buffet; salads, soup, breads, and cooked selections for lunch; and a choice of about three or four things for dinner, with the salad bar.

So life between eating at the moment for me involves waiting for food, wondering what we’re going to eat next, thinking about how much I’ve already eaten, and working out how many hours it is until the next meal. Once I’ve finished with all that, I actually haven’t found it at all hard to fill in the time. I’m keen to get into the gym, but unfortunately going down to sweat it out in a tiny room in the bowels of the ship isn’t all that appealing right now. I’m still ever so slightly nauseous, and the seasickness tablets make me feel just that little bit spaced out. I’m aiming to wean myself off them, and give the exercise bike a go tomorrow. I’ll hold off on the treadmill for now, because (although I’m sure they’d be amusing) I’m not sure my sports doctor would approve of all the arms-and-legs-akimbo-type movements I’d have to do to counteract the unpredictable lurches and rolls of the ship as part of my ‘gradual, gentle’ return to running!

I’ve spent a bit of time hanging out on the bridge, just looking out at the never ending expanse of ocean. I’ve seen a few birds, and I always wonder what they’re thinking, as they cruise along beside us and check us out. They look so calm and knowing, and it’s amazing having another living creature for company, so far away from anything for them to perch on.

light-mantled sooty albatross
Snow petrel with light reflection from the ship

I’ve also kept myself busy taking photos, and I’ve almost read the one book I brought already, even though I’ve been trying to pace myself. I’m glad there’s a library on board! I’ve managed to get some uni work done, and volunteered for the job of ‘talks and movies coordinator’. Organising the talks involves trying to coerce people into giving presentations about their work, hobbies, travels or interests. So far we’ve had one of the scientists talk about the sea ice project that’s taking place on our way down, and an expeditioner show some photos and time lapse sequences. This role isn’t too bad, but the role of movie coordinator is one where you can never win! I’ve just taken to asking anyone who complains about the choice of movie for the night whether they have any better suggestions. They invariably don’t, so I take that as my licence to tell them to “quit your whinging!”

I’m also involved in the ‘social committee’ – we’re planning a number of events over the course of the voyage to keep everyone entertained, including Halloween and the Melbourne Cup. We’ve got an ice berg spotting competition going (50c bets on 15 minute time slots for the appearance of the first berg), and I’ve just been to a meeting about the quiz night this Thursday. I’m one of the question writers, which is actually going to be a bit hard – no Google!

Hope all is well back on land!

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