Hello again from the Aurora Australis after a whirlwind stop at Davis!
We arrived at Davis last Monday evening, and I got off the ship on Tuesday. I had a crazy four days ashore before we left again on Saturday. But first, back to where I left you at the end of my last email.
Before our final approach to Davis, the King Neptune ceremony was held for those of us who had never crossed 60°S before. This is meant to be a secret squirrel sort of affair. Those who have been through it are not meant to tell. What happens at 60°S stays at 60°S. But I’d heard about the shenanigans involved in this from people who had been through it before. They’d described things like kissing fish, having Vegemite spread on their faces or chocolate mousse through their hair. I’d been told to take old clothes I didn’t care about to wear. We were all given plenty of opportunities to opt out of the ‘ceremony’ if we didn’t want to do it, but I thought, “really, how bad can it be?”…
We were assembled for a briefing, when coming up the stairwell from the bowels of the ship could be heard moaning and growling, getting ever louder as the voyage leader hurried to blurt out what she had to say and get out of the way! Six of the crew emerged, decorated in blue body paint, with various wigs, Madonna-style cone bras, oyster and mussel shell necklaces and crowns, garbage bag singlets and chux-wipe grass skirts. King Neptune himself grasped his trident, resplendent in nothing but a garbage bag skirt and mop-head beard.
And then, the smell…
The buckets of brew they brought out looked like vomit and smelled even worse. The whole room was overcome. I have no idea what was in it, but I think I identified leftover porridge, rotting fish, fish sauce, cous cous and anchovies as I tried to extract it from my curls afterwards. One of the crew later told me they realised it was pretty rank after it had been fermenting in the engine room for a few days, so they made it nicer for us by adding vanilla. How lovely of them.
The first group’s names were called out. First was the easy part of hailing the King on bended knee, kissing his feet, kissing the salmon (fresh, at least that was one good thing) and being stamped with a cut-out potato. Then there was the ‘anointment’. Aaron might have been cursing his parents for giving him such an alphabetical-order-unfriendly name as the first in line to be covered in putrified gloop. He was dry retching. Plenty more struggled to hold it in too. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack, just when the floor was getting nice and slippery. I have since scrubbed and washed my shoes three times – they still stink. After it all, I was helping to scoop some of the floor stew back into buckets and clean up, next to Mike, who said, “bet you haven’t had to do this before Kristin?”. With anchovies dripping off my head, staring at the sea of beige covering the floor, I said, “well, actually, working in hospitality I did clean up a fair bit of spew in my time – though perhaps not of this quantity all at once”. To which Mike remarked that at least this wasn’t actual spew. I nodded. And then, right on cue, Zach (also with an alphabetical-order-unfriendly name: he got all the leftovers) vomited right at my feet.
So that was certainly not one of the highlights of my trip. Getting to Davis was though! The night we came in to the fast-ice near Davis was beautiful and calm. The icebergs on the approach to the station were lit up in stunning colours as the sun dipped below the horizon just before midnight. The ship continued to slowly eke its way further into the hard thick ice until the early hours of the morning to ensure we had a good, safe parking spot.
The next afternoon, I went ashore. I was keen to walk, after all the time on the ship, but a Hagglunds (caterpillar-tracked snow vehicle) was waiting to take us the 3km or so across the sea-ice to the station. It was fantastic (but slightly strange) to be on land after so long at sea. A few of the 25 winterers who had been used to seeing only eachother for the past 8 months also seemed to find things a little strange – the sudden influx was slightly overwhelming I think. They slowly got used to it.
That afternoon was spent having my station induction and tour. That night, straight after dinner I was lucky enough to get in on a walk with 5 others out across the sea-ice, past the ship to Gardener Island to visit the Adelie penguin rookery there. I just love watching the penguins. I could do it all day. Watching them at the rookery was amazing – some were courting, some sitting on eggs, some obviously youngsters wandering around on the outskirts learning what this whole breeding process is about, and others cheekily sneaking up to others’ nests to steal the best pebbles to take back to adorn their own. Though the sun does still dip below the horizon at the moment, there isn’t really any darkness – just a few hours of twilight, which we enjoyed as we walked back to the station.
The next day I had two shifts as part of the refuelling operation – from 12 midday to 4pm; and 12 midnight to 4am. This involved standing at the booster pump halfway along the fuel hose between the ship and the station, out on the sea-ice. My shift partner and I were responsible for monitoring the inlet and outlet pressures, making sure everything was running ok and being there in case the pump needed to be shut down. All sounded good in theory, and all went well on the first shift. Of course on the graveyard one though, at the coldest part of the night/morning, the pump decided to die rather severely and messily. We managed to turn the bypass valve on, and luckily the fuel still managed to get through. The mechanics looked at it the next morning and unfortunately it was terminal, but the refuelling was still completed in a reasonable time, without the pump. Phew.
That day (after finishing at 4am!) I was lucky enough to be told that I would be going on a ‘jolly’ that afternoon. One of the winterers, Linc, would be taking Dave (the other head office employee doing a staff familiarisation on this voyage), Lance (a voyage management trainee) and me out to Bandits’ Hut overnight. And we’d be flown there by helicopter! The chopper pilot pointed out points of interest along the way, as we zoomed above the sea-ice, icebergs and the awesome rocks of the Vestfold Hills. The hut’s location was just stunning: sitting on the edge of a frozen fjord, with icebergs frozen in just nearby. That afternoon we walked around a nearby island to look at some of the icebergs, and visit an area where Weddell seals were looking after their young pups. Gorgeous.
The next morning we walked out to visit a jade iceberg. We encountered some inquisitive penguins along the way, who saw us from afar looking all funny in our colourful clothes, and waddled and tobogganed over to check us out. The helicopter picked us up again just before lunchtime, and I was rostered for the rest of the afternoon/evening to help out in the kitchen. That night was the final night on station, and most people hung out in the bar saying goodbye to old and new friends, sipping various beverages served ‘on ice’. Glacial, of course.
The next morning it was time to pack up again and head back to the ship. It was actually sad to say goodbye to many of the great people I’d met. One of the girls was going to hide me in her bunk so I could stay the summer! We had beautiful weather again as we headed back out through iceberg alley away from Davis, and even the returning winterers couldn’t help getting their cameras out for some more photos.
It’s a much quieter ship now with only 29 expeditioners on board, compared to the 80-something on the way down. I’ve even got my own cabin! All those we picked up at Davis say they couldn’t have wished for a better group to have spent winter with. They are sad to be leaving, but happy to be heading home.
See you soon!