Well, we made it. After two years of dreaming and a lot of hard work, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014 has finally set sail! Departing from Bluff in southern New Zealand yesterday, our ship the MV Akademik Shokalskiy headed off, packed to the gunnels with all manner of scientific gear and 41 team members, all squirrelled away on board. Chris Fogwill and I had a mad final 24 hours in the lead up to this special moment. Team members were delayed by flights, key forms granting permission for our research programme were finalised on the afternoon of sailing and one major piece of kit turned up 30 minutes before we departed – amazingly the latter had been sent to the wrong address and was about to board a flight out of the country! We ran round like headless chickens in the end, chasing the last things we needed and packing them away – all of which had to be stowed in anticipation for the wild Southern Ocean winds and waves. There were some highlights though: the Mayor of Invercargill Tim Shadbolt kindly came to view the ship and see us off. I couldn’t resist giving him an expedition T-shirt as a small gift of thanks!
By the end of the day and in spite of the enormous list of tasks we started out with, we had a ship and one ready to head south. Unexpectedly, the weather was stunning on departure. I didn’t dare hope this would be the case. It was windy but the wild waves didn’t eventuate. Getting out of Bluff can be a bit choppy, mostly because of the shallow sand bar at the entrance, but we hardly noticed it; the Shokalskiy seemed to glide out through the entrance. Most of us have heard horrendous stories about what to expect over the next few weeks so it was quite wonderful to have a reprieve … for one day at least. I know we’re expeditioning on borrowed time when it comes to the conditions but I’m enjoying them while they last!
And things have remained remarkably calm by Southern Ocean standards since we departed. Some of the team have complained of wild dreams and strong swell in the early hours but nothing serious; everyone has made it through unscathed and in good humour.
Excitingly, after 23 hours of travelling, we’ve just seen the northern part of Auckland Islands, morphing with the clouds on the horizon. We’re making great progress. More soon. But for those of you who can make it, do join us for the first of our Hangouts on Air Friday on Enderby Island. There will be a lot of wildlife in an amazing environment. It should be a lot of fun!