The following is a story written by visitors to Casey station from the French station, Concordia.
Concordia station, January the 29th 2013, 9 PM, in the dining room: Sergio, the station leader says: “You are the fourteen persons about to leave Concordia tomorrow morning at 9 AM (1 AM UTC) for the Australian station Casey. Then, five of you will fly back to Hobart on Feb 5th, and the others on Feb 12th or 14th. Any questions?”. That is how we have learnt how our trip back home was planned. Most of us knew about the famous “Wilkins runway”, where planes from Concordia use to land and where the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) A319 departs to Tasmania. But almost none of us knew anything precise about the Casey station itself.
Wednesday January the 30th, sharp on schedule, the DC3 “Bassler” of Kenn Borek takes off from Concordia with fourteen members of the French polar expedition onboard including our station leader, Sergio. We are sad to leave friends but happy to discover a new polar station and to be on the way back home. Some three hours later, the Bassler lands smoothly on the perfectly flat and well prepared runway. Our luggage is loaded in a “Hägglunds”, a small polar exploration vehicle with a trailer. Passengers are invited to step in two other similar vehicles. It took some thirty minutes from the skiway to Casey station. At some places, the ice track has melted and frozen again several times, so that it is far from being flat. The “Hagg” passes all these obstacles easily. The vehicles stops right in front of a red metallic building, the “red shed”. We have all noticed that behind us, on a stone platform, a French flag was floating near the Australian and Canadian ones. We are invited to come into the red shed.
The building we discovered is vast, pleasant, warm and beautifully decorated. A large and high bow window faces a bay, where small icebergs were laying in the background. For the first time in several months, we could see birds, rocks and sea.
Allan, Casey station leader, gives a welcome speech, and leads us for a visit of the accommodation and common parts of the red shed. All seems so comfortable and well organised! We are accommodated in cozy and beautiful single rooms. What a contrast with our eight-person fuel stove-heated tents in Concordia!
After dinner, a meeting is held in the dining room after which the station leader announces the presence of the French team for some days. Each of us had the opportunity to introduce himself briefly, and to be “adopted” friendly by a member of the Australian crew. This tradition has been greatly appreciated by the entire French group.
Thursday January 31st, just after lunch, we are invited by the station leader to a safety visit of the station’s surrounding. Allan showed us the different buildings of the station: the meteorology and communication shed, the science building, the power plant, the general store (green shed) and the workshops. The potable water production facility has been a very interesting point in the visit. All is so different from Concordia! Of course the comparison is meaningless, since Concordia stands in the middle of nowhere, at more than 1000 km from any coast.
After dinner, some of us are invited to participate to a meteorological balloon launching, the same kind of probe as used in Concordia. The calibration and tracking systems also look the same but the balloon is inflated with locally produced hydrogen (instead of bottled helium as in Concordia).
Friday February the 1st, after breakfast, we all gather in the living room of the red shed. Doug, one of the station’s permanent staff members, proposes we participate to the daily life of the station, by helping different teams in their tasks. Some of us chose to help prepare lunch and the others will help to dig snow in order to make a cable tray accessible for modifications. The least we could do was to accept with enthusiasm! After a short stop in the general store, to pick up tools (shovels, picks, crowbars), we are led to the first section of the cable tray to be cleaned. In the middle of the afternoon, the job is done.
Later in the afternoon, Richard invited some of us to visit the power plant. The engines look familiar to us, since we also use Caterpillar engines at Concordia, but building is vast and all is so clean and efficient! Richard answered, patiently and accurately, all of our questions.
Saturday February the 2nd a boat party is proposed to get in closer contact with the local fauna and landscape. All the team is enthusiastic, to say the least. We first have to stop at the sport equipment store, to wear special safety gear for boat trips. Then, we are driven to the wharf where three “Zodiacs” (rubber inflated boats) had been prepared. The rescue equipment is loaded on board, and then we step into the boats. Six people can fit in these Zodiacs. One of the boats has a reinforced hull, to break thin layers of sea ice. This will appear to be useful in a narrow strait in which the three boats engage in, to approach as closely as possible to a penguin colony. The sea water had frozen to two or three centimetres and the metallic prow of the head Zodiac split the ice sheet. So, we were able to get close enough to take pictures of Adélie penguins and of a sea leopard, resting peacefully amongst its future prey.
The landscape is simply amazing, with several small islands covered by a thick layer of snow, small icebergs in the background and ice blocks delicately carved by the action of sea water.
After a very pleasant trip between islands and ice blocks, the three boats headed to the wharf. The entire group is delighted by this adventure that nobody will ever forget.
As a conclusion, the “French team” wishes to be very grateful to all the Casey station staff for their warm and friendly welcome and for these very pleasant and interesting six days. We hope that, one-day or another, we shall have the pleasure to welcome some of you in Concordia.
Thanks for all and we hope to see you again!
Merci pour tout et au plaisir de vous revoir!
The French Team