Resupply comes to an end at Macquarie Island, and the 2015 winter crew settle in.

Resupply part two: commemerations, barges and farewells

The winter 2015 team has had a busy week this week, seeing out the completion of resupply, farewelling the 2014 team and round trip expeditioners, and settling into station.

Part two of our resupply was hampered by some uncooperative weather. Low cloud restricted our helicopter operations, but the trusty LARCS (amphibious vehicles) came back into their own and kept cargo running when the air operations ceased. It wasn’t long before high winds then put a halt to our ability to run LARCS, so all focus turned to managing the shore-side logistics of packing away incoming cargo, and repacking cargo to be returned to Australia.

With the weather forecast predicted unlikely to improve sufficiently to enable us to recommence helicopter or LRAC operations, the voyage leadership team announced their decision to depart on Saturday night. This news injected a buzz of excitement into the wintering station team and we readied ourselves to farewell the Aurora and the outgoing expeditioners one last time, with the lighting of flares from the hamshack.

We awoke on Sunday to our first day together as the 68th ANARE crew. The 13 of us pulled together to tackle the cleaning and laundry of over 70 round trip expeditioners who were on station over resupply. Nick, Mark, and Ben reorganised the cargo on the isthmus, particularly the loads that didn’t make it to the ship. Dan, Rich, Louise, Andrea and Duncan started a cleaning blitz on the accommodation blocks so that we could all move into our rooms and get settled; Justin organised the kitchen and stores; and Marion ensured our medical set up was all in order. Anna led the laundry charge, coordinating an around the clock laundry blitz, whilst Lionel steam cleaned the carpets. We are now all settled into our accommodations and catching some well earned rest, and getting into our work routines.

On behalf of the 2015 wintering team, we extend our gratitude to everyone involved in the resupply activities. A special thanks to the voyage leadership team for coordinating a successful resupply in challenging conditions. We, the outgoing Macca 2014 team, wish our best for the year ahead to the crew.

Aurora island

One of the most spectatular moments one can have in life is to lay on your back and watch the sky above light up as an aurora dances from one horizon to the next. Being so far south, and devoid of any light pollution, Macquarie Island is the perfect grandstand in which to view this light show. We have not been disappointed. Over the last two weeks alone we've had five nights where auroras were observed, including our first three nights here. What a welcome! Some nights they come in large curtains fanning down from on high; other nights thin ribbons of colour snake this way and that, so fast that even the most adept photographers among us haven’t been able to keep up. If this last week has been in any way representative of the coming year then there will be many late nights perched outside, necks craned in awe.

The barge that almost was

One of our tasks for this resupply was to deliver a new JCB telescopic handler to Macquarie Island, and return the old one to Hobart. The JCB that is used on Macquarie Island has been here for several years now, and is due for replacement. The strong winds laden with salt spray that drive across station all year are particularly harsh on equipment that works outside every day. The opportunity to replace large items such as machinery is rare, as such items cannot be moved by helicopter sling loads or LARCS. A jet barge is required to be brought down to Macquarie Island on the deck of the Aurora Australis. Ideally, the barge is prepared and lowered to the water by crane from the deck of the ship, and the new JCB is loaded onto the barge. The highly manoeuvrable jet barge transfers the JCB from the ship to shore, landing its ramps on the pebbly shore so that the JCB operator can drive the machine off the barge.

Barges may only operate within a limited range of conditions, which include light to moderate winds and negligible wave height at the shore line. These conditions are not the norm in the subantarctic. An opportunity window with both favourable weather and barge availability has not occurred for the past few years.

Banter around the likelihood of the barge transferring the JCB ashore was a hot topic of discussion aboard the ship during the voyage down, and continued nightly on station at Macca.

Finally on day seven of resupply, we were lucky enough to be granted a reprieve from the weather, awaking to lighter winds and a minimal shore break on the east side of the isthmus.

The voyage leader granted a ‘go’ for barge operations. The station was buzzing with the news that the barge operations were commencing, and that the JCB might finally be coming ashore.

Throughout the morning the waves at the shore started to build, and despite the success in lifting the barge off the Aurora Australis, the operation was deemed too risky to continue. The attempt to land the barge was aborted.

The well-travelled replacement JCB will make the long trip back to Hobart. The ‘trusty rusty’ JCB will be staying with us for one more year. It couldn’t be in safer hands than with Lionel our dieso, on his 11th ANARE season, looking after it.

In the words of Maxwell Smart — “Missed it by this much…”

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Endeavour

During resupply the General Manager Support and Operations, Mr Rob Wooding, 2014 Station Leader Ivor Harris, and 2015 Station Leader Jacque Comery, unveiled a plaque commissioned by the ANARE Club, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the fisheries investigations ship Endeavour off Macquarie Island on the 4th or 5th of December 1914, with the loss of 21 lives.

The account of events and their place in the history of Macquarie Island has been provided below by the ANARE Club.

The SY Aurora (Captain Davis) arrived at Macquarie Island in November 1913 transporting the three-man 1914 Bureau of Meteorology party: Harold Power (meteorologist and leader); FJ Henderson (wireless operator); and J Ferguson (general hand). The Bureau had arranged to take over the Australian Antarctic Expedition hut and continue daily weather observations.

The changeover of the 1914/1915 parties had been difficult to arrange, with the Aurora undergoing a refit to take the Ross Sea party to McMurdo Sound as part of Shackleton’s imperial trans-Antarctic expedition.

Accordingly, the fisheries investigation ship, Endeavour, was chartered and arrived at the Island on 28 November 1914 via Hobart. Charles Harrisson, Mawson’s western party biologist joined the ship for the round trip.

With the resupply and changeover completed, Power and Harrisson, along with 19 officers and crew, including the commonwealth director of fisheries Mr Dannevig, set sail on the return voyage to Hobart. Providentially, the two other members of the 1914 Party, Henderson and Ferguson, had decided to stay on the island for a further year, with Arthur Tulloch, leader of the 1915 Party.

The Endeavour left the island on 3 December 1914 in fog and within 24 hours struck gale force winds and a storm which lasted for two days and was never seen again, despite searches by two ships, and a land search of the length and breadth of the Island by the 1915 party.

In view of the Great War, it was decided to close the meteorological and wireless station and the last meteorological observations were completed on 30 November 1915.

Unfortunately, by the time that the loss of the Endeavour had been acknowledged in Australia, the Australian Imperial Force had already set sail for Egypt and in the cataclysm of the Great War, the loss of these men was largely forgotten.

It is appropriate that now, a century later, their contribution to Australia’s Antarctic endeavours be recalled and that this permanent memorial to their service be erected. It is most appropriate that this has been undertaken by the ANARE Club, the fraternity of all those who have served Australia’s Antarctic ventures in the past century.

“They that go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters: these men see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep”.

Following the closure of the meteorological station in 1915, it would be another 33 years before the station was reopened by ANARE in March 1948. In 2018, it will be the 70th anniversary of the continuous manning of the Macquarie Island station, possibly making it the longest continuously manned station in the subantarctic.

Photo gallery

Nick’s cartoon of the week