Shipwrecked in Antarctica

Outside my window, the wind is pumping 130kmp/h, then I hear the loud scream of the SAR Alarm. I grab my survival bag and head to the mess, the primary muster point. That is where I am informed that the Aurora Australis, Australia’s Ice-Breaker has broken its moorings and run aground in Horseshoe Harbour. This is going to be a long day.

The local time is 9:15am (3:15pm AEDT) on Wednesday the 24th February 2016. Mother nature is showing us how much power an Antarctic blizzard has, sustained winds of 130kmp/h and zero visibility. You can hear the wind hitting the “Red Shed” (Living Quarters) the windows, they are pure white, you can’t see a thing out there. We all gather and our Station Leader Jen Wressel informs us that the “AA” has broken its moorings and run aground on West Arm. “The ship remains watertight, with no damage to the hull of the vessel”

The Aurora Australis departed Hobart on the 11th of January 2016 carrying 66 expeditioners and has been conducting marine science around the Kerguelen Plateau Region in the Southern Indian Ocean before arriving at Mawson Research Station on the 20th of February 2016 to conduct the Mawson Re-Supply.

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Aurora Australis on the Rocks

After the briefing the Field Training Officer who is also the Emergency Response Team Leader calls the ERT which I am a part of, to meet up stairs. We gather and discuss the options. We know that we can’t go out there now it is too dangerous, we also know that the crew on board are safe and that the ship remains water tight. So we gather all our ERT equipment and return in an hour. This goes on for a while, the weather is atrocious, and stays this way for 2 days.

The next day I managed to get the first image of the ship. It really looked battered, there were huge pieces of ice, frozen on the bright red iron, you could only just make out the tiny AA 2, the Aurora Australis’s little tug boat moored to the side of ship. It was strange to see the ship there. We new where it was, but the last time I had seen it, it was moored in the middle of the harbour.

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Aurora Australis Icebreaker

Blizzard conditions remained for 2 days, the crew on station were doing well, our concerns lay with those on the ship. We have been working hard and by this time we had laid plans for the crew aboard the AA to transfer to Mawson, when the weather conditions allowed. We have now been informed that there is a breach in the hull. It is only minor and in a section of the hull that normally holds ballast water. “This breach has occurred in an area of the ship that poses no risk to the stability of the vessel or of fuel leaking into the environment”.

The following day the weather lifted and we initiated our plans to transfer all expeditions from the AA to set foot on Antarctica. This was a real relief for the current team at Mawson and I am certain for the crew that have been aboard the AA since it left Hobart 7 weeks ago. We welcomed the AA crew to Mawson and escorted the new Mawson-ites up from the wharf to the warmth of the Red Shed.

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Aurora Australis Mawson

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Aurora Australis A ground at Mawson

On the 27th of February the ships crew managed to re-float the AA at 7:20pm AEDT (1;20pm Mawson time) using the ships ballast and work boats. The crew aboard the AA conducted a full assessment of the ships damage, whilst the AA stayed with in the vicinity of Mawson Station. This took 4 days to complete and on the 2 March the AA sailed, on its way to Fremantle in Western Australia.

The marine science expeditioners aboard the AA and the previous wintering crew remained at Mawson until the 2nd of March. They were transferred to Casey Station via the Japanese Ice-Breaker The Shirase, and onward to Hobart Australia on the 14th of March via a C-17A Globemaster III, operated by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The Shirase is operated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (Japanese Navy) for the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE)

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The AA Shipwrecked

It was an incredible experience, super challenging for everyone involved on so many levels. Mawson is designed to house 40 Expeditioners, during the grounding there were 80 people on station. This stressed the very small water producing capabilities meaning the entire station was on strict water restrictions. One, three minute shower every three days. The waste water treatment plant was well over capacity, however “Team Plumb” did an incredible job at keeping everything working well. There are only 42 rooms on station, which meant many people needed to share the very small rooms, some slept in the library and some in the “Dog Room”. There were many little things that popped up as well, we didn’t have enough chairs in the Mess for everyone to sit down for dinner, we needed to get more coffee mugs, plates, cutlery and glasses from “The Green Store” and the very small dish washer, well that was pretty much going all the time. Even with all this extra stress on the station, everyone got along great. It was great to have the scientist on station. In my field I tend to talk to other tradies, Electricians, Plumbers, Mechanics and Carpenters, so having someone from a field so far away from what I do was super interesting. I spent a lot of the time asking questions about their research and about their time at sea. I also found a new light on my trade. I don’t tend to see what I do interesting, the things that I do everyday for work are just work, however these were interesting to them. It was a mutual cross skilled interest in someone else’s life, something I really valued and something you just don’t get anywhere else other than here in Antarctica.

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Mawson and The AA

After this huge start to our season, the Mawson Wintering crew, the 69th ANARE had settled into station life and had built a community we are all proud to be a part of. This does happen usually but the challenging start, I felt helped it along. I look forward to what this season brings and I invite you to join me on this adventure. It will be a long year down here, there will be ups and downs, there will be incredible challenges and lifetime friendships. This is going to be one adventure I will never forget.

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One Life, One Search,
Peace Out,
Shane.

Flying from Tasmania to Antarctica.

Hobart Tasmania, Australia to McMurdo Station Antarctica.

Its 1:30am and we are sitting on the verge waiting for our bus to pick us up and take us to the famous Sapphire Lounge at the Hobart International Airport. For those of you that don’t know where Hobart Tasmania is, well its the little island state off the bottom of Australia. Tassie as us Aussie’s call it is a seriously beautiful location, with picturesque mountains and unusual to the rest of Australia it is very green. Tassie’s airport is very small, however tucked away in the corner is the Saffire Lounge, the international terminal. The only international flights that leave this airport are those that fly to most remote place on earth, Antarctica. Today I am one of those lucky few that get to not only visit this amazing continent, I get to live and work there for the summer season.

We board the AAD, (Australian Antarctic Division) A319 jet plane. I feel this sense of, is this really happening? Am I actually going to Antarctica? We are in the air, this is no ordinary flight, the cock pit is open, there are a bunch of seats in the middle of the aircraft that are missing, there are all these red bags everywhere, and everyone is chatting. Some are reminiscing of their previous expeditions, some are getting to know the other trades are some are just stunned into silence. As we settle at our cruising altitude we are able to move about the aircraft. Everyone seems to congregate in the large open area in the middle. This is so unusual, its like a lounge area, we sit down, chat amongst our selves, we have a few cups of coffee and eat our muffins. This is how air travel should be. I am asked if I wanted to have a look in the cock pit, “Um Yes!” So I walk up to the cock pit, I walk through the door and I am welcomed by the two chilled-out pilots. I sit down next to them and have a great chat. They point out a few things, like the pancake sea ice that is forming, a few small icebergs and a bunch of switches. It is amazing to look out the front window of an aircraft, then to look out and see sea ice, well it’s just breath taking.

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AAD A319

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Antarctic Pancake Ice

As we start our decent, we are instructed to start putting on our survival gear. Now its starts to get really hot. I have so many layers on, of hard core Antarctic survival clothes, but I am still inside the aircraft. I look outside and I can see huge expanse of sea ice, then I see mountain and I can actually see land. I can see Antarctica! We drop below the clouds and I can see the runway. Then we land. I am now on the Frozen Continent. I step off and I am struck by the freezing -17c. My glasses instantly freeze up, my camera lens fogs up and I can feel the hair inside my nostrils freeze. I know that I am here, I am standing on Antarctica. The airstrip at McMurdo is the Pegasus Field and it is on sea ice. It is incredible that the huge A319 Aircraft can land on the sea ice. We are quickly escorted to the infamous “Ivan The Terror Bus”. This huge all terrain people carrier vehicle that looks like something from a Mad Max film, for the very slow drive to McMurdo Station.

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McMurdo Station

Once at ‘Mc Town’ we are informed that we will be staying here for a few days, because of bad weather and that we will be sleeping in the gym. After setting up our camp we get to wander around the station and find our way to Scott’s Discovery Hut, and up on top of a nearby hill to have a look over the Ross Ice Shelf. There I get to see my first Seal, basking in the Antarctic sun. After our long day, we search out one of the two bars that McMurdo has and find ourselves the centre of attention. We play pool, learn a game of Shuffleboard, which has now become one of my favourite pub games, and as Aussies do, we have a few drinks.

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My First seal spotting in Antarctica

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Looking out over the Ross Ice Shelf.

As we leave the bar we are greeted by a perfect midnight sun. This is the first time that I have seen the midnight sun, it is out of this world beautiful. I have a moment and flip out a little. It is midnight and the sun is high in the sky, it is so bright I am forced to wear my sunnies. I am in Antarctica, it -17c, it’s midnight and the sun is shinning bright. This is going to be an EPIC summer.

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Antarctic Midnight sun.

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane.

The day I start my biggest adventure ever.

Today is the day, the day I start on my biggest adventure ever. Today I leave for Antarctica. After a few delays we all meet at the bus stop in front of the motel that I have called home for the last week. Its a cold wet Hobart morning, the sun still yet to rise, the fog still yet to clear and the feeling of excitement is thick in the air. The bus arrives we chuck all our gear in the luggage compartment and the adventure begins.

We arrive at the Hobart Airport, its a small airport that pretty much only caters for domestic flights, except for the little terminal that is hidden away in the corner, the “Saffire Lounge”. The Saffire Lounge is the rarely used Hobart International Airport which each year says fare well to all the Antarctic Expeditioners. I enter the small terminal and feel a wash of pride flow through me. I am one of a very small selected group of people who are lucky enough to see this very unique terminal and all that it represents.

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Antarctic Pancake Ice

The flight was not your average international flight, the A319 is a very unique aircraft. The middle seats have been removed to carry luggage, however in this instance the large space allowed the expeditioners the perfect place to mingle. We all hung out in this space, drinking coffee, eating muffins, chatting and of cause taking plenty of photo’s. We were also allowed to walk straight into the cockpit and chat to the pilots. This was a very unique experience. From the cockpit you got the best uninterrupted view of the large expanse of pancake sea ice and huge ice bergs.

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AAD A319

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The AAD A319 at the Pegasus

Once we closed in on Pegasus airstrip, the huge glacial runway at McMurdo the US station inside the Antarctic circle, I started to realise how lucky I was to have been selected for the Australian Antarctic Program. Then I stepped onto the ice and it hit me, A huge smile crept onto my face which 2 months in still has not left. It was bitterly cold, -17c but I did not care. I was here, I was in Antarctica. I quickly snapped a bunch of rushed pics as were getting guided over to “Ivan The Terra Bus”, the single most epic vehicle I have ever seen.

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The most epic vehicle anywhere

After a very bumpy ride we arrived at McMurdo. McMurdo is huge, and I mean huge, I had been told that it was big, but I guess I had no real idea what to expect, but this was not it. My first Antarctic experience was of this massive city, with 1100 people living and working there. I could see massive accommodation buildings, heaps and heaps of vehicles, there was a fire station equipped with a full size american fire truck and I had heard rumours of 3 bars. Was this really the Antarctica that I had expected???

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Chief Gareth and Sparkie Nessy at the famous McMurdo Station sign

Thank you for stopping by Tattered Passport, if you have liked this post please Like and feel free to share. You can also follow by simply clicking on the “FOLLOW” button on the bottom of your screen. I will be posting regular updates from my time in antarctica so stay in touch. You can also find Tattered Passport on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

One Life, One Search.
Peace Out.
Shane.

(PS: I have been filming heaps, including our trip from Hobart to McMurdo, However due to the limited bandwidth we have I can not upload to YouTube. I will upload all my YouTube content as soon as I return to Australian around late feb early March 2015)