This week at Davis we're still savouring the midwinter celebration and visited Kazak Island.

Midwinter swim

I can now say I have swum in Antarctica in winter. There was much building up and excitement for the event. I don’t understand the logic for swimming, but now having done it, I would definitely do it again.

The pool was dug and the Davis swimming and aquatic centre brought into being via two Hägglands and a Rimmit van (think little hut on skis). Something I am learning here is that it’s the props that make a costume. For our aquatic centre it was the lush vegetation due to a local reforestation program around the site which gave it a near tropical feel. While a penguin, and reasons unknown fish, did make it into the audience, pride of place went to the station mascot, Napoleon the wonder pig, who now has considerable field and pool side experience.

The swim was an orderly affair with each person facing the prospect of very cold water in their own way. Everyone gave their own spin to their swim, be it a costume, a pose, or in one safety focused individuals case, a ‘Take 5’. For my own I took the Darlington Sunday shirt on another adventure (something I am trying to get into as many photos as I can get away with). While it is a great shirt for Townsville, it was rather lacking as a swimming garment.

There was a lot of waiting time before and after the swim (for safety reasons it is only one person at a time and there was a lot of layers to get on and off). One of the team, not to mention anyone by name, built himself a chair to enjoy the show and made an attempt at napping before a handful of snow dissuaded him from the notion. Another much loved item was the Herman Nelson heaters which blew gloriously hot air and was a great way to warm up afterwards.

In between trying to freeze back over the water was crystal clear, though very dark and very salty compared to normal ocean water. Inviting, is not how I would describe the body of water. Either way you could see hints of the bottom with what we thought were white shells on the seafloor. We had a light under the water for a while and the shimmer of the ice crystals was spectacular.

It really was a great way to sign off on our winter, though we will have many a cold day ahead of us.

Ralph (Doctor)

Project penguin

As the last few editions of Station News have made clear, midwinter down here is a big deal. The days here can get a bit repetitive at times, so any excuse for a celebration is welcomed. Especially a big celebration. A month or so ago our chef, Kerryn cooked up an idea. That idea came in the form of an ice penguin. It’s a slightly long winded story so I'll shorten it down.

A weekend trip was organised to find a piece of freshwater ice. After searching high and low in the Vestfolds we found a certain piece. It was a bit fresh that day, so starting the chainsaw was a task in itself, once started the chain wouldn’t run. The environmentally friendly vegetable based bar oil had solidified and stuck the saw solid. Luckily we had our trusty generator and heat gun to fix that problem. With some fantastic teamwork, we loaded the ice in the Hägg and returned to station. After a couple of Sundays using a much smaller chainsaw I turned our oversized ice block into a penguin sculpture for the celebrations here at Davis. A small addition of an LED strip light down its back and the piece was complete.

This all happened a fortnight or so prior to the sumptuous feast. Fortunately for us the Antarctic weather held out and the penguin could be stored, in the balmy −30°C boat shed until our day of celebration.

The big day came and a small team of trusted souls was gathered. A covert mission: To bring the sculpture inside and put it in place. The SAR Hägg was enlisted, a stretcher brought forth and the penguin (covered in a sheet), loaded aboard and strapped in. A short ride to the living quarters (LQ) and using our four man lift technique, mastered from our summer SAR training, we carried the ‘patient’ up the stairs and placed him inside in the warmth of the LQ to thaw out and with the LED’s on; brighten our day.

Happy midwinter to all. Big thanks to Lötter, Tony and Daleen for their assistance with retrieving the block of ice and again to Lötter for the use of his strip LED.

Jock (Mechanic)

Hydroponics update

Our hydroponics has been chugging along nicely, putting out a lot of herbs, salad leaves and some other niceties like snow and sugar snap peas, a few tomatoes and cucumbers. Most of our tomatoes are just coming in now, unfortunately a couple of weeks late for midwinters celebrations.

As with all things – some worked and some didn’t! Something surprising was broccoli. It takes a long time to grow broccoli and I was hesitant to plant it for that reason, but we have been harvesting the vigorous leaf growth for months now, from the same four plants and they make a great addition to bulk up cooked vegetables on station. They taste just the same as broccoli itself.

I experimented with alpine strawberries because I could get seeds for those and planted them four months ago, but they have only just started to flower so here’s hoping they fruit soon. Another thing that didn’t work was a variety of squash that I’d grown previously and is very productive, but it just didn’t like the conditions here for some reason. Oh well, I'll replace it with zucchini.

Now that many of the plants are getting a bit long in the tooth, we've started rotating them out for newer seedlings, for a proper crop rotation. This will allow us to have a steady harvest over time, rather than a ‘feast and famine’ type situation, where everything is ready at once, then you have nothing while waiting for it all to grow again. So, with some plant reshuffling to make the system a bit more space efficient, we should have the hydro running full swing for several months before we need to ‘nuke’ it.

Once per year everything is removed from the system and everything is cleaned down. This means you have to destroy all the plants. My plan this year is to do this roughly 6–8 weeks before the ship arrives so that we can clean the system out, replant it and then get a good harvest for our end–of–winter dinner and then hand over a clean system that is operating at capacity to the summer crew. Although, as always, plans are subject to change due to the A–factor!

Happy gardening!

Marc (Mechanic)

Kazak Island

In the past week a few fellow expeditioners and I were fortunate enough to visit Kazak Island for some annual maintenance and data collection from the automatic weather station (AWS) and the automated camera.

Kazak Island lies just to the north of where the majestic ice walls of the Sørsdal Glacier tongue calve off into the ocean. This truly is a spectacular vantage point and one of my favourite places in the Vestfold Hills… thus far. Kazak also marks the most south western corner of our universe in winter –the station operational area. 

The AWS and camera is recording information for a project that is measuring variation in sea ice throughout the year. In summer Kazak Island is home to a few thousand Adélie penguins which shows, it is not only us humans who want a house with a view. 

Lötter (Electronics Engineer)