This week at Macquarie Island: 8 June 2018

This week on Macca we welcomed back a young fur seal, celebrated a birthday and went boating to Green Gorge.

Squeakie's back

This is my first winter down south and the experience of seeing an elephant seal within a few minutes of stepping foot on Macca was fantastic. On the short walk to the station I spied them lazing around by the side of the road, snoozing away in tussocks and gathered in herds on the beach. I couldn't believe that I was finally here surrounded by such incredible wildlife and laughed away to myself on the walk from landing beach to the mess where I met Nick, the 2017 chef who I was taking over from.

Next morning was the start of another hectic resupply and I was thrown straight into the deep end to cook for the hungry hordes of expeditioners, boaties and scientists. Macca’s kitchen and mess is one of many buildings huddled together on the isthmus, and though it does look somewhat rustic on the outside, it is warm and charming inside with a big picture window looking up towards the dreaded Doctors Track.

A few days after arriving I was to meet my first Antarctic fur seal. Just outside the kitchen storeroom a young mother and pup decided that the tussocks were a perfect place to feed and generally do what seals seem to do best, sleep. I was about to learn very quickly that fur seals aren’t quite as laid back as their much larger relation, the ele seal. Though impossibly cute with a pale silvery belly and sleek brown fur they are very cantankerous and one of the most agile of all the seals, very quick on their flippers, so to speak. Any unsuspecting person walking past was hurried on their way with a growl and occasionally chased up the path.

Every day mum would disappear for a while to go and find food for herself, leaving the pup asleep in the tussock. When the baby seal woke up hungry it would start calling to her with an incessant squeaking and squawking until Mum came back. They became part of my early introduction to the Macca life and several times a day I would put my head outside the door, keeping my distance of course, to say hello and like a lurking paparazzi take a candid shot of seal life.

After a few weeks mum and pup disappeared and we all started settling into our life and work routines on the island, until one morning at 5 am myself and everyone else sleeping in Cumpstons Cottage were awoken by the insistent squeaking of a young seal looking for its mother.

I started calling the pup Squeakie early in our relationship, not just because of the sound it made but because it reminded me of my cat back home who always squeaks before she meows and is also brown and cute, but much more amenable to a pat on the tummy than Macca Squeakie!

Eventually Mum and Squeakie stopped making an appearance around station until early this week when a young female Antarctic fur seal showed up early in the morning sleeping in her favourite spot in front of Cumpstons Cottage. The pup had grown up and was now on her own but still calling the tussock home. Hopefully over the year we are here there will still be the occasional shout of SQUEAKIE'S BACK!!!!!

Annette Fear 

Two elephant seals sparring on the beach on Macquarie Island
Welcome to Macca
(Photo: Annette Fear)
Two elephant seals lying on mounds of tussock on Macquarie Island
Ele seals lying on the tussock around station
(Photo: Annette Fear)
A female fur seal feeding her pup outside one of the accommodation buildings on Macquarie Island
Squeakie feeding outside Garden Cove
(Photo: Annette Fear)
A young Antarctic fur seal in the tussock on Macquarie Island
Young Squeakie
(Photo: Annette Fear)

Hut resupply mission #1

Macquarie Island Expeditioners, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to resupply all huts on the island by IRB (Inflatable Rubber Boat).

This week we accepted that mission, as we stretched our sea legs and journeyed forth to Green Gorge.

Last Friday marked 12 weeks to the day since we boarded the Aurora Australis to begin Voyage 4, the major resupply for Macquarie Island. Unfortunately due to the weather conditions during this resupply, there were no opportunities to deliver cargo into the field huts, leaving the task to the wintering expeditioners of the 71st ANARE. It certainly felt overdue for us to be getting back on to the water and heading off on our own little resupply mission.

We had been watching the weather with eagle eyes for the weeks leading up, and when a window of calm weather presented itself, the station was abuzz with anticipation.

All on station got involved with the prep, as we loaded up three IRBs full of food, fuel, new medical kits, some other work supplies, and possibly most importantly, new sleeping bags for the hut. With minimal issues launching the IRBs for our first big adventure, we were ready to go.

“VJM, VJM, VJM, this is boating party on channel 7. All three boats are on the water and ready to depart.”

And we were off. Heading south towards The Nuggets, passing Tussock Point, waving hello to the king penguins at Sandy Bay, slowing only momentarily to admire the waterfall at Red River as it cascades over the rocks and down into the ocean… and we got absolutely zero photos of all that – big apologies to everyone, I can only promise that we will do better next time.

We did however get some shots upon arriving at Green Gorge.

After landing the IRBs on the beach, the crack special-forces unit of Macquarie Island Winterers launched into action by unpacking the cargo, ticking off objectives and just generally 'gett’n ‘er done'.

Jez, our resident scientist, ran for the hills to collect his camera traps that had been monitoring the local population of blue petrels.

Greg, our plumber, sussed out the drainage issues he is going to fix on his next visit to the hut, with the kit we just delivered.

Peter, the electrician, took a good hard look at the RAPS (Remote Area Power System), just to make sure it was operating to its full potential.

Cathryn, our doctor, made short work of swapping out the medical kits and conducting the all-important sleeping bag changeover.

The other three (which just so happen to be the coxswains), Danielle, Chris and myself, did our best to look after the boats and make sure they didn’t get swept back into the ocean by the rising tide. We may have also done some of the unpacking, but as incredibly modest folk (as all seafarers are), we wouldn’t want to hog the limelight.

Getting back on the water we started the journey northwards back to station. We took full advantage of the lovely sunny day and reconnoitered the coastline in case future missions in the IRBs require us to land at random locations along the coast. Most importantly though, we scoped out the access to Brothers Point, which is likely to be our next resupply mission in the coming weeks.

Arriving back home safely, we were mighty happy with our efforts for the day and we are really looking forward to heading out again next time the weather allows.

Richard Youd

Dieso Chris Burns launching an IRB with Chris Howard and Jez Bird at Landing Beach, Macquarie Island
Dieso, Chris B, launches the first IRB with Chris H and Jez…
(Photo: Cathryn O'Sullivan)
Richard Youd, Cathryn O'Sullivan and Peter Lecompte in an IRB offshore in Buckles Bay
Rich, Cathryn and Peter loiter offshore, ready for the call to action
(Photo: Ali Dean)
The IRB's arriving at Green Gorge, Macquarie Island
Arriving at Green Gorge
(Photo: Cathryn O'Sullivan)
Unloading the IRBs on the beach at Green Gorge, Macquarie Island
Unloading the boats on the beach at Green Gorge
(Photo: Cathryn O'Sullivan)
The cargo taken to Green Gorge by IRB
The payload
(Photo: Cathryn O'Sullivan)
Chris Howard coming in to land his IRB at Landing Beach, Macquarie Island
Back at Landing Beach, Chris makes a dash to land his IRB…
(Photo: Ali Dean)

Cappuccino cake

We had another birthday to celebrate this week – Greg's!

He asked for a coffee cake, and got a salted caramel meringue and butter icing-layered cappuccino cake, with shots of espresso, made by our doctor Cathryn as chef Annette was away collecting marine debris along the west coast for Environment Day.

Needless to say we all helped to demolish this utterly delicious creation for the next few days.

Greg Sandrey cutting into his birthday cake in the mess at Macca
Greg cutting his delicious cappuccino cake
(Photo: Cathryn O'Sullivan)