7–19 November 2016
Shortly after 8:30pm on the 27th of October the Aurora Australis departed Hobart (with Christian and myself on board) heading for Davis research station, East Antarctica (just less than 5000 km away). It took almost two weeks to cross the Southern Ocean and reach the fast ice that covers the bay in front of Davis research station. The passage through the Roaring 40s, the Furious 50s and the Screaming 60s was relatively uneventful, thankfully with only a couple of nights of mildly heavy seas.
It was fantastic waking up each day to completely different conditions. The sea and weather could change dramatically (even within a day) from sunny skies and smooth seas to strong winds and snow covering the deck. Spotting different wildlife such as whales, seals and penguins became a great past-time, with albatross and shearwaters, then snow and cape petrels, keeping the ship company as we made our way westward and then southward. The first iceberg was spotted on November 3rd, with more and more large tabular bergs appearing around the ship after this. Several auroras were sighted during the trip with a fantastic one drawing crowds to the helideck to watch it swirl and dance across the sky.
Once we were used to the movement of the ship Christian and I were able to get some work done, including site selection for the camera towers. We also attended training sessions on knot tying, navigation, radio handling and polar medicine. Copious amounts of Tim Tams helped maintain our concentration levels.
Due to very little pack ice being present we made great progress, reaching the edge of the fast ice on November 9th and in the evening we started to break our way through. However, two days later our progress was so slow everyone was helicoptered ashore to Davis, and it was still a few days before the ship was in a position suitable for unloading cargo. Upon reaching the station we had our induction tour around before finding our sleeping quarters. We received a warm welcome from the wintering crew and there were even chocolates on our pillows.
After a couple of days to get orientated and find our equipment from last season, resupply (cargo unloading) began on the 13th with everyone pitching in. Christian was busy helping unload all the stores that came ashore in shipping containers and helping in the kitchen as ‘slushy’. I was on refuelling duty, so I had several shifts of walking over the sea ice checking the pipeline from the ship to the shore for any fuel leaks (thankfully there were none), with Darren Shoobridge and Adélie penguins for company.
It wasn’t long after refuelling had finished that we had our first flight over the Sørsdal Glacier. This was to get an idea of the current surface conditions, locate site S02 that Sue had set up last season and to see if our selected lake sites would be suitable. It was great to finally see the glacier and the surface lakes; we took a lot of photos!
On the 18th November it was station handover, from station leaders Ali Dean to Kirsten Le Mar, and our new summer team took over the running of the station. It was time for the rest of us to start getting into the routine of station life, with the great food the chefs create and a view that constantly distracts. Recess is now underway, which means everyone has to stay within station limits while the fire and search and rescue teams get set up and ready in case of emergencies.