Favel Parrett is a fiction writer who was awarded the 2012 Antarctic Arts Fellowship. She is on her way to Casey Station in the Antarctic on board Aurora Australis.
At 3.30 pm on Monday, 17th December 2012, 34 expeditioners, 24 crew and I set off from Hobart aboard the icebreaker Aurora Australis, Australia’s Antarctic resupply and research flagship, and glided down the very calm Derwent River.
I went to bed early that first night and woke to the ship rolling and bucking and knew we were well on our way – out on the wild and beautiful Southern Ocean. At 4.30 am I left my cabin and successfully negotiated the steep stairs to the bridge to witness my first sunrise of the trip. Magic!
A few people suffered from seasickness over the first couple of days on the ocean, but everyone has now found their sea legs and are climbing the very steep stairs like they have always lived on a rolling ship.
We are making good time and are expecting to be at the ice edge on Monday, which is Christmas Eve in Australia. Due to the fact that Christmas Day will likely be a very hectic first day of resupply duties, the ship’s captain has brought Christmas celebrations forward to Sunday. Most areas of the ship have some kind of tinsel and Christmas decorations up (including the bridge) – and there is a large fully decorated Christmas tree in the library with lights and all sorts of ornaments. I took part in wrapping about 70 presents yesterday alongside a dedicated group of gift wrappers. The sticky tape was a very hotly desired item as we only had one roll between six of us. Talk about team work!
The food on board the Aurora Australis is incredible and the two chefs and two stewards do an amazing job to get breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner (which includes dessert) ready for us. I think that many of us are going to come home a few kilograms heavier than when we left.
We are all expected to help out and take our turn at being ‘Slushie’ – an affectionate term for dishwasher. It is enlightening to get a taste of how hard the crew work every day.
The iceberg sweepstakes has begun and we have all had a wager on when the first ‘berg will be sighted. My money is on 7.30 am tomorrow. All money raised goes to the Camp Quality charity, whose aim is to create
a better life for children living with cancer. There is also an iceberg observation roster up and running. I am part of the team and am down for the midnight to 1 am shift tonight. The objective is to count the number and make an estimation of the size of the icebergs that can be seen from the ship. This data will be collated and compared to other years and voyages.
There are other science projects happening on the ship and include:
The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) – a device towed astern of the ship which collects and measures the number and type of plankton in the water column. This has been an ongoing project for many years and a large body of information on plankton (the building blocks of marine life) has been collected by the scientists of the Antarctic Division for analysis.
There is also lots of weather monitoring. A dedicated team of three expeditioners are up at all hours of the day and night observing the clouds, monitoring the swell direction, taking water temperatures, noting swell size and all the while taking detailed records.
As we speed towards Casey Station, the ship’s crew is preparing for operations in sub-zero temperatures. This means doing things like putting steam into the ballast tanks to keep them from freezing, and draining the pipework so that residual water can’t freeze and burst the pipes. The crew are all very busy and work in cramped, trying conditions to make sure all goes smoothly in the weeks ahead.
We are currently 52 degrees south and so far have been blessed with a fairly calm ocean and great weather. May it continue!
More soon from Casey Station.