Who says nothing happens on station in the middle of winter? Under a big, bright moon the team at Davis have been installing bedroom furniture, conducting field based search and rescue exercises, striving to achieve Olympian feats, taking field trips to the northern limits of the station operating area, munching on fresh green salads courtesy of our hydroponics gurus (and chef), and sharing their stories in the Doc’s Dozen. We're also busy with monthly maintenance checks, plaster board installs, ring main unit fit outs and stock takes etc.

SMQ bedroom refurbishment

One of the project jobs this winter is the installation of the new furniture for the 35 bedrooms in the sleeping and medical quarters (SMQ). With all the hard work of fine tuning the install, finding which bit goes where, and in which order, finding which container all the bits are in that we need first, patching and painting, we have finally completely finished one room and are 95% finished in the second.

So it won’t be long now before eviction notices go out to the ‘lucky ones’ that get to move from their all too familiar surroundings into these well designed and even better constructed five star rooms. The sooner the evictees book the removalists the sooner we can continue with the rest of the refurbishment in time for the summer season.

SAR exercise

This Monday, the whole crew at Davis were engaged in a search and rescue (SAR) exercise that involved expeditioners in a variety of roles: maintaining essential services on station, deploying as members of a SAR team and providing medical care to ‘patients'. In addition, the scenario incorporated two practical trainings in the recovery of Hägglunds overland vehicles arranged by our team of diesel mechanics, and some final components in field travel training for two expeditioners. 

The scenario was as follows: a field party operating a Hägglunds venture off station on their way to a hut, only to turn back having realised they are missing their personal communications gear. Sometime later, a distorted radio message from the field party indicates their vehicle has just broken through the sea ice, though there is no information as to their whereabouts or the health of the party.

At this point, the SAR alarm was sounded on station and the team gathered to be briefed on the situation. A team of first responders — on this occasion, members of the SAR technically trained team — deployed and began a search for the missing party along their intended route. Finding no sign of them there, they commenced an expanded search encompassing similar routes taken by the missing team. Eventually, the missing vehicle is located, with no sign of the two team members.

Spreading out on foot, the party are located taking shelter in rocky terrain, off the sea ice. One member is exhibiting signs of mild hypothermia, the other cuts to the head and a suspected broken arm. The SAR team responded well in working to protect them from the environment, assess their condition and relay this information back to station to inform follow up responses. Whilst all this was taking place, those remaining on station were taken through Hägglunds recovery training by Sealy of team dieso, before an additional four expeditioners, including Dr Jan, deployed as a medical team to recover and treat the ‘patients'. Once safely back on station the ‘patients’ kept in character to facilitate some practical training administered by Dr Jan with her team of lay surgical assistants (LSAs). Prior to the exercise being concluded, Dennis, our senior dieso, took the remainder of us through the Hägglunds recovery training.

It was a busy day, with lots of moving parts and plenty of spontaneous reminders that the station infrastructure doesn’t stop needing attention just because there’s a SAR situation. However, once again the team demonstrated their great ability to adapt and respond with professionalism and good humour in order to get the job done.

Davis Winter Olympics: part III

Round three of the ‘Davis Winter Olympic Games’ saw the competitors return to the hallowed turf of the green store. Moving away from the recent trend of ice based sports, this week a bit of brute strength and a little finesse was required to excel in the boot toss. Each athlete had three attempts to land the boot in the target area to record the highest total score. Double points were on offer for any boot that ended right way up.

'Team Chippy’ put in a cracking effort this round. David B took out the singles competition with enough of a points buffer to leapfrog to the top of the overall ladder. Dave’s score combined with Chris G and Scott W’s totals has seen ‘Team Chippy’ race to the top of the teams competition ladder, knocking ‘Team Ops’ from their smug perch. ​

Read part I and part II

Field trip to Bandits

Last weekend, four intrepid expeditioners headed north, off station. The goal? Bandits hut for the night.

After work on Saturday when all our Saturday duties had been completed, four expeditioners packed and alighted in the yellow Hägglunds vehicle and headed onto the sea ice and north along the waypoint line to Bandits. The going was quite good, the recent windy periods with little snowfall has swept the track clean. Along the way, we stopped at various locations to take photos of the icebergs in the low light conditions that we have at Davis at this time of year. The blues in the icebergs, set against the pinks and purples of the sky and the clouds made for a really incredible vista.

We settled in for our night’s meal, ably cooked by Dave and Sealy. E.T. made an appearance, or maybe just E.T.’s hand model. After a restful night’s sleep without snoring, we woke to bacon being cooked on the stove by Scotty and nice hot tea and coffee by Dennis. After these were consumed, the Hägg was again packed and we headed further north along very bumpy sastrugi to visit Mikkelsen’s cairn on a large island in the Tryne Islands group. This was the site that the first woman, Caroline Mikkelsen — a Norwegian and the wife of Klarius Mikkelsen, Captain of the Lars Christensen tanker Thorshaven - set foot in Antarctica back on 20 February in 1935. It was also the site of a depot of provisions that was set under a cairn of rocks during that same visit.

Heading off again, we set course for Sir Hubert Wilkins’ cairn, the site where Sir Hubert Wilkins claimed East Antarctica for Australia in 1939 by throwing a copy of Walkabout Magazine (the only thing he had in his aircraft that was uniquely Australian) out of the window of his aircraft as he flew over Walkabout Rocks. We unfurled the flag left by Sir Dick Smith on his 1988 trip around Antarctica in his helicopter and took some photos, signed the logbook and repacked the cairn.

All that done, we headed back along the wide expanses of bumpy sastrugi, setting course for Davis station. A great weekend was had by all.

Moonrise Kingdom (Davis)

Doc’s Dozen

Chris G, Carpenter

Also known as: Convener of Cheesy Tuesday Movie Night, President Davis Winter Olympics Committee, and Sartorial Trendsetter.

Chris how many trips have you done to Antarctica and what brings you back here?

This is my third winter having previously wintered at Davis in 2010 and Mawson in 2012. I had originally only planned to do the one trip south but after finding out that there is a never-ending supply of Fray Bentos pies and BBQ shapes I knew I had to come back for more. The scenery and the people are pretty special too.

What is it like being a chippie here Chris?

Life as a chippy here is pretty good as you get a variety of jobs (plastering mainly) and difficult conditions to do your work in, let alone the ingenious things you have to make when you run out of supplies. It’s a long way to the hardware store. 

If not a chippie what job would you do?

I always would have liked a life at sea maybe doing yacht deliveries around the world. It’s maybe something I will get into later on in life.

Best gig as a chippie?

My best gig as a chippie would be working on a small island in Tahiti for the best part of a year doing the final fit out on some exclusive boutique cruise ships.

What has been your best experience so far in Antarctica?

My best experience so far would be seeing the emperor penguins in the huddle at Auster rookery near Mawson, then retiring back to Macy hut for some cheese and wine. It was hard to beat.

What do you love about Antarctica?

Probably the things I like most about Antarctica are the long twilights with the pastel skies over the ‘bergs and the pleasure of not having a wallet, keys or a mobile in my pocket.

Who inspires you Chris?

Living, I would have to say Geoff ‘The Fossil’ Brealey. If I can do half what he can at his age I’ll be doing well. Dead, I would have to say John Rae the Scottish explorer who found the North West passage while looking for the ill-fated Frankland expedition in the 1850s.

(Doc: Excellent role models Chris. I am very familiar with that old Australian Antarctic Divison saying, “What would Geoff Brealey do?”)

What have you learned living in our small Davis community?

That not everybody will turn up to ‘Cheesy Tuesday’ movies at the bar even though some of them are that bad they are good? Be tolerant of others as none of us are perfect (sorry Rowdy not even you are perfect) and last one to bed, put the cat out.

Chris, what is the ‘must have’ item that you packed for Antarctica?

A tin opener for the Fray Bentos pies just in case the ones supplied are substandard or faulty.

(Doc: Fantastic idea Chris. Nothing worse than not being able to get the Fray Bentos in the oven after a long chilly day in the field.)

Chris, we have all enjoyed some of your colourful wardrobe choices throughout the year. Is this an expression of your otherwise concealed flamboyant personality or is it just bad taste in clothing?

I think it’s just bad taste in clothing. No comment on the second one and the third one hasn’t come out yet.

(Doc: Oh my goodness! I can hardly wait. Melbourne Cup Day perhaps?)

You are the driving force behind our current ‘Davis Winter Olympics’ competition. Who do you think are the current favourites and will we see any upsets in the final rounds?

I think the ‘Lord of the Tankhouse’ and number one plumber Mark ‘Davo’ Davis the Third is a good bet on current form. He certainly has luck on his side and I fancy Alex as a dark horse. He’s had a slow start but think he might shine in the Hägg slalom and I hate to say it but the carpenters will win the team event.

(Doc: Note to self — need to have a good pep talk to my OPS team mates. They let me down last week in the Baffin Boot Toss after my stellar performance in the Mess Indoor Hockey event.)

If you could be someone else, who would it be?

I think it would be pretty cool to be your mate Sir David Attenborough traveling around the world looking at the wonderful sights of the natural world and bringing enjoyment to countless others. 

(Doc: For those readers who haven't heard, Sir David and I had quite a lovely chat a couple of weeks ago when I invited him to the Davis midwinter celebrations. He sounds exactly the same as on the telly.)

What is in store when you return to home?

Waiting for all my stuff to turn up but while I’m waiting, I will probably pay my tailor in Bali a visit to get some more suits just in case the Australian Antarctic Division are mad enough to give me a job in the future. Also a trip to Scotland to visit family and friends is on the cards. After that I’m not sure, definitely some sailing in a warm climate and then get a job after I’ve put it off as long as possible.

Well Chris, your job in Tahiti sounds pretty idyllic and jumping on a yacht and doing a bit of tropical cruising is pretty tempting too. I can’t wait to see the next suit and the prospect of new additions to the wardrobe is almost too much to bear. (C'mon Team OPS!)