Ice is nice

Hi again everyone,

Most of you will have heard about the terrible accident that occurred with the helicopter flying to the French base Dumont D’Urville from the ship L’Astrolabe. It was with sadness that we had our final briefing about the incident on the weekend, and observed one minute’s silence as a mark of respect. When the incident occurred, the Aurora Australis was diverted to assist. We continued to remain on standby as the situation progressed, in an area where we would be able to assist with a rescue or recovery operation, and then to assist L’Astrolabe should she have trouble breaking back through the ice. We were stood down once L’Astrolabe made her way safely out of the ice. She is now on her way back to Hobart with the four bodies of those from the helicopter on board. In the words of the Director of the French polar program, we all hope that this accident will be the last for a long time in Antarctica.

We are now heading westwards again on our way back towards Davis. Saturday night and Sunday we encountered some of the roughest seas of our voyage. 8m seas, with some wave sets of around 10m. Although my first couple of days on the ship weren’t so good, I’ve surprised myself with how well I seem to have gained my sealegs (certainly a lot better than some other poor people on board)! Trying to sleep that night was a challenge though. There were some tales of woe told the next morning over breakfast (as we gripped the table and our breakfast bowls, adjusting the angle of the bowls constantly to save the contents). I’m glad I’m not in a top bunk!

Big seas

My social committee colleagues and I have been busy with a number of events since I last wrote. We made decorations for Halloween, and held our quiz night which was great fun, although not without controversy! Questions were read to the eager crowd, answer sheets were marked and correct answers read out. And this was when the inevitable heckles and challenges from the audience often appeared – including on one question written by my cabin mate Barbara. She had written all the questions in the ‘Antarctica’ round, including a question about when and on which voyage emperor penguins were first sighted. There were some hearty challenges thrown back from the audience, however what I think some of them didn’t realise was just who their question writer was! A penguin biologist, Barbara has written a paper on the discovery of the species. She knows her pengies!

It’s been lovely sharing a cabin with Barb. Her enthusiasm for her work and her love of animals – particularly birds – is a joy to be around. And it’s great having a walking talking bird identification encyclopaedia right next to me! Looking through our cabin window, she pointed out the first penguin I’ve seen for the trip yesterday afternoon – an emperor sitting on his lonesome on an ice floe 100 metres or so from the ship. A couple of people saw seals yesterday too. My camera has been getting a good work out trying to take photos of the petrels and albatrosses that like to keep us company. I’m now very grateful for having gone digital. With my current blurry bird to in focus bird ratio, I hate to think how many rolls of film I would have churned through.

Emperor penguinAntarctic petrel

We’ve been in and out of ice now since Monday, which is exciting. With all the ocean-going up to this point, things hadn’t been feeling all that, well, ‘Antarctic’. We definitely know we’re here now though. Ice means relatively flat seas (hooray!), but it also means that the iceberg observation roster of which I am part is finally starting to get interesting! I put my name down to be part of the team at the start of the voyage, not realising at the time that it would involve shift work! They are only 2 hour shifts, but still, on top of changing our clocks back gradually by four hours since we left, my body clock is a bit out of whack! Monday involved a 4am shift, followed by a midnight shift that night. Ick. Ah well, at least I have a nice shift partner to talk to, and I’m making my contribution to science!

Icy railings on the Aurora AustralisPancake ice and petrelPancake ice

We have seen a few icebergs now, mainly on the horizon. The very first one that appeared on the radar as close enough to be visible (and for which everyone gathered on the bridge in anticipation, camera in hand) unfortunately ended with squinting and vague hand gestures as people tried to point out “that slightly lighter bit” in the fog. It was decided that that one wouldn’t count as the first berg for our competition, as you couldn’t actually ‘see’ it. The next day there finally was a visible one, although no-one had put their name down next to that time, so the winner was Camp Quality, who will get all the money placed as bets.

Expeditioners gathering to see the first iceberg

Speaking of betting, we had the running of the Melbourne cup yesterday. Four sweeps were drawn, with most of the money again going to Camp Quality. We all gathered in the theatre at 2pm (four hours after the actual Cup had been run) to watch ‘the race’. No champagne nor chicken here, nor fancy fascinators – polar fleece was the fashion item for the day. Everyone sat in anticipation as the inevitable problems getting computer to talk to projector were sorted out. Eventually the words “Emirates Melbourne Cup 2010” appeared, everyone went quiet, and the audio of the race call started. And they were off and racing! The laughter erupted as the cardboard cut-out horses stuck on drinking straws danced across the screen. An orange cardboard chicken, a seal, penguin, and ghost leftover from the Halloween decorations also took part in the jostling. Eventually the horse won by a nose, but many cried ‘fowl’ – the chook was the clear favourite.

Since I found my sealegs, I’ve been trying to make it to the gym most days. You have to pick your times though – with over 100 of us on board, the mornings are always really busy, and it’s only open for one hour in the afternoon. I might have to try going at some strange hour of the night, just so I can at least get in there! There’s only one treadmill, which has been free for me to use once, for fifteen minutes, out of all the times I’ve been in there. There’s also a recumbent bike (yuk); rowing machine, which makes me feel sick (that extra plane of motion seems to be just a bit too much to handle); an elliptical trainer with a distinct limp; and two exercise bikes, only one of which has all its adjustable bits working. So that one decent exercise bike has had me give it a good work-out, whenever I can get on it! I’ve never really been much of a gym person though, so at the moment I’m really craving a nice long walk, run or ride in the sunshine!

Til next time, Kristin

Iceberg in pancake ice


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