Seafaring life highly rated

Man standing on ice beside ship
Integrated Rating Doug Hawes during the SIPEX-II voyage. (Photo: Wendy Pyper)
Man holding a large pearlMan holding miniature shipExpeditioners posing beside stack of wood and kindling and BBQ on the ice beside the ship.

Thursday 8 November 

A critical part of the success of Australia’s Antarctic program is the crew of the Aurora Australis, who keep the ship in seaworthy condition and operate all the machinery and equipment that allows many scientific projects to proceed.

On this voyage there are 10 crew members working as ‘Integrated Ratings’ (IRs), overseen by the Chief IR. These crew members move or ‘integrate’ between the Bridge deck and the engine room, performing a range of essential functions. IR Doug Hawes, for example, operates all the deck machinery, including cranes and winches, conducts monthly maintenance on the ship and any cabin repairs, performs watchkeeper duty – watching for icebergs and other ships – and works in the engine rooms under the guidance of the First Engineer.

Doug has worked on the Aurora Australis for 4 years and has visited Casey, Davis, Mawson and Macquarie Island. To work as an IR he says it helps to have a basic knowledge of how machinery and ships work, so many crew come from backgrounds in the fishing industry.

Doug began his shipboard life working with Paspaley Pearls in Darwin. He started as a deckhand and progressed to being a skipper of a small boat, before working his way up to second mate on a supply ship run by the same company. After 6 years he moved to Cairns and worked as an Able Seaman on a coastal ship running supplies to Thursday Island. He then relocated to Ballina in New South Wales and joined P&O Maritime Services.

Doug spends 6 months working and 6 months on leave. He loves it, and to us land-lubbers it sounds great too, but only if you like spending 24 hours a day on a ship, in heaving seas or outside in sub-zero temperatures, with the same people for 6 months. Doug says having confidence in yourself is a big part of the job as the crew are responsible for their own safety and that of the expeditioners, including, for example, fire safety and deploying the life boats. He’s also a big fan of having something constructive to do after work.

“I think you need to have hobbies you can do after work. I’ve taught myself leather work, making picture frames and carving animals out of timber. I like reading and watching movies but I prefer to be doing things,” he says.

Despite the sometimes challenging conditions of working in Antarctic waters, Doug says he loves the variety, the excitement and the adventure. The environment and the wildlife are also big drawcards, as is the company of the people he works with and meeting new expeditioners on each voyage south. He also loves to travel in his time off.

“Since I started this job I’ve visited Thailand, Africa, Bali, Cuba, Mexico, Canada and New Zealand,” he says.

Doug worked at a variety of jobs before his seafaring career and says he may return to a land-based job again one day.

“But it might be nice to be on the Aurora Australis’ last voyage as an Antarctic vessel,” he says.

Like Doug, Chief IR (or Bosun) Joe Mcmenemy loves his job and the sense of adventure. Joe manages the 10 IRs, organising their work program in collaboration with the First Mate and First Engineer, and allocating jobs according to individuals’ skills. Along with the other IRs, Joe could spend hours deploying scientific equipment from the trawl deck, refuelling on the helideck, working in the engine room, or craning shipping containers over the side of the ship during station resupply. As a manager, Joe says communication and being a good judge of character are among the most important parts of his job, as are understanding and doing his job well.

“In terms of my career, I’ve made the cake and this job is the icing on it,” he says.

“The work is more diverse here than on any other ship.”

Joe started his career in 1981 as a ‘greaser’ (in the engine room) on the bulk carrier, Australian Purpose, carrying coal from Hay Point in Queensland to Japan. He then worked on a pipe-laying barge on the north-west shelf of Western Australia, and various other ships, before a 16 year stint on the tanker Stolt Australia, which carried fuel to points around Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea. He began working on the Aurora Australis in 2006.

In his free time Joe likes to build small ships and create works of art out of rope, including rope mats, knots and knot boards. It’s a traditional art, but one that is less practiced now that ratchet straps have minimised the need for knots. Joe is also a keen footballer and Junior Vice President of the Orara Valley Axemen in his home town of Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.

Joe credits a helicopter flight over the Vestfold Hills near Davis as a highlight of his Antarctic work. As is catching up with expeditioners he’s met on previous trips – including the first Sea Ice Physics and Ecosystem eXperiment voyage in 2007. Like Doug, he also plans to be around for the last Antarctic voyage of the Aurora Australis and to continue his seafaring career for as long as possible.

“I always look forward to getting back on the ship after a few weeks off. I love this life and I love being at sea,” he says.