The journey or the destination? That is the question. We take our last boating trip for the season and get a turbine tour with Trent.

The journey or the destination?

Some say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

In our case, getting to Antarctica was an adventure in itself. We travelled to Mawson station on the ice breaking research and resupply vessel Aurora Australis, leaving Hobart on Sunday 13th January and arriving at Mawson station (via Davis station) on Tuesday 5th February.

During the voyage we were very lucky to have mostly fine weather as the master navigated his way between two low pressure systems. We passed the time by watching movies, attending talks, quiz nights and many other social occasions. When crossing the 60th parallel we even payed homage to King Neptune which was a lot of fun.

A contest was organised for spotting the first iceberg and this was won by Julie on Saturday 19th January. From now on the journey became so much more interesting with many icebergs being seen every day. We also took turns taking a watch on the bridge logging all large icebergs we passed.

At one point we stopped to launch an acoustic blue whale recording buoy which will remain on the seabed for twelve months before being picked up on a future return voyage. For me the most exciting time was travelling through the pack ice and watching and hearing it smash up under the ship as we carefully pushed our way through.

We finally reached Davis station on Friday 25th January. It was so exciting to actually see mainland Antarctica and most of us were lucky enough to set foot on land for a look around. Then it was all hands on deck as resupply got underway. We spent eight days unloading hundreds of tonnes of food and equipment before bidding the Davis wintering crew farewell.

At Davis we took onboard all the summer crew so the ship got quite crowded and many new friends were made. The voyage from Davis station took us parallel to the coast passing through large areas of pack ice where we saw many seals, penguins and whales and of course many huge icebergs. We even took part in krill fishing, working all through the night.

The final day of the voyage, when we approached the coast heading for Mawson station, was the most spectacular as the Frames Mountains came into view. This is one very beautiful piece of coastline and it seemed to take forever as we all strained our eyes trying to spot Mawson up ahead in the distance.

Finally there it was, the most scenic station in Antarctica nestled in Horseshoe Harbour below the awesome Mt Henderson in the background. It’s home, it’s Mawson.

Personally I think it’s about the destination AND the journey.

Last boat trip for the summer

The temperature had been dropping gradually since our arrival in early February and all on station were busy moulding into their various roles for the winter. With the colder temperatures came the beginnings of the sea ice and our window of opportunity for boating was rapidly closing. On most days there was frazzle and grease ice on the water with small pancakes starting to form in the more protected areas, and then there was the wind that always seemed to be blowing above 15 knots.

With time running out, it was decided to put the boats in the water whenever the conditions were suitable and our two keen coxswains, Chris and Craig, agreed.

The first trip out was to the Kellas Islands. It started well but conditions deteriorated and the trip back was a bit wet and cold though there were no complaints. The second trip was done with perfect boating conditions prevailing all day, something not that common at Mawson. The third, and what turned out to be the final, boating trip saw the last of the Mawson crew get their chance to go out onto the water and have a look around.

It all started well, with just a light breeze, so we decided to have a look at the ice cliffs from East Bay and use the cliffs as protection from the wind. The plan was working but then the wind changed direction and got a little stronger so it was decided to head back to station with the wind following at this point. On the way back, we went to check out the channel between the East Arm and Hump Island when the wind dropped right off so we changed plans again and continued on our original track back along the ice cliffs.

As it turned out it, was a wise choice to continue and there were some special sightings along the way such as a couple of ice caves, an iceberg with a huge hole through it, a group of skuas feeding on small fish, some good views of the Framnes Mountains and a lone Antarctic fur seal resting on a small island with a few Adelie penguins for company.

Many thanks to Chris and Craig for getting all of us out onto the water. It’s a tough gig but somebody has to do it. At the present time there is thickening sea ice as far as the eye can see and we can’t wait to get the quad bikes out there and do some exploring, but that will be another story.

Trent takes us up the turbines

One experience with being an electrician at Mawson that you don’t get at any of the other Australian stations in Antarctica is working on wind turbine generators. There are two of these wind turbines to maintain and at first it was a daunting task for me when I found out as I had no previous experience.

As part of our pre-departure training, myself and the other electrician (Peter) were flown over to Western Australia to complete a couple days of training. We were then lucky enough to have an engineer from the wind turbine company join us on our voyage to Mawson which allowed us to get some extra training on the ship and over resupply. I am glad we got this extra training as, when we arrived at Mawson, it had been nearly four months since we received our original training and some information had left my memory.

This month the turbines were both due for their annual mechanical maintenance and wind turbine number two had stopped with a fault which required parts being replaced. As the majority of parts are located at the top of the turbine, it is a great workout climbing the tower with tools and parts in a pack hanging from your harness. Once you have reached the top, the area to work in is limited and you have to be able to get your body through some small spaces. It is also very cold at times as a lot of the parts are metal and there is no heating.

Some facts of the turbines

  • They stand approximately 30 metres tall
  • They each can produce 300 kilowatts at full power
  • The tip of the blade is traveling at 300km/h at full speed
  • The blades are constantly pitching in and out to get the maximum power depending on the wind speed
  • The top rotates so that it is always facing into the wind

With all that said, the task now is not nearly as daunting as it first was, and there is not much that can beat the view out of the top of the turbine.

With a smile, Trent Juillerat