The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Day 1 – We’re off to Antarctica

Posted by Chris - 8 December 2013

Departing Bluff

I’m used to turning things round quickly but reprovisioning a ship and rotating an expedition in one day is not something I would recommend. There really is only one word for it: madness.

We arrived in Bluff on the morning of the 7th December. The Sun was breaking through the clouds and southern New Zealand seemed very peaceful as we slowly approached the shore. But the immediate impression I had was of the overwhelming scent coming from the coast. I hadn’t noticed Bluff as being one of the great perfumed capitals of the world but it was certainly vying for a place in the top ten as our vessel, the Shokalskiy, approached land. I sat on the top deck, soaking up the sunshine and the closed my eyes, breathing in the fragrance. It was a brief indulgence.

There was so much to do and everyone worked so hard to make it happen. The challenge was trying to anticipate what was needed over the next 24 hours. At the back of our minds was the big elephant in the room: what might we have forgotten for the expedition? We have to be completely self reliant during our voyage south; there is no resupply. If we run out of anything during the next four weeks, there is no going back – it’s a sobering thought. Greg worked tirelessly with the crew getting the supplies on board and the cabins ready for our new shipmates, Chris stayed on the vessel, fixing vital gear and re-stowing the equipment for the next leg, and I rushed around on the mainland, purchasing replacement parts and spares. Alongside all this activity, most of our team mates packed up their gear and scientific samples, ready to be collected mid-morning for their return home. Their part in the voyage might have ended but the expedition would continue for them back in the lab; samples were prepped on the ship, ready for immediate analysis. It’s wonderful to think we will be generating results while the voyage continues.

We were incredibly fortunate it was a fine day; there wasn’t a drop of rain. Everyone seemed to be on a high from the success of the voyage but also perhaps a little relieved to be back on terra firma. It was sad to see our team mates leave. The spirit on board was brilliant. I had to remind myself that the first phase was now done and we had to focus on the longer, more challenging part of the expedition.

Visiting store after store in Invercargill, I ran into many of the expedition members of the second leg. Most were complete strangers to one another. But my concerns over the team spirit quickly subsided. Individuals were meeting each other in all manner of stores and getting on like old friends. Last minute kit was being discussed and bought, the last few cups of coffee were being drunk. And we all seemed to converge on the same half a dozen shops. I can’t imagine how much money we pumped into the local economy!

We almost have the full range of ages on the AAE. My children Cara and Robbie make up the youngest members of the team – they will be taking photographs and writing a blog for young expeditioners – while some of the team members are now retired. When asked about why they were here, the common theme was an excitement about blending science and adventure in the East Antarctic. The briefing the night before well. I gave an introduction to the 48 members of the expedition and Greg spoke of the logistics. Offers to check kit for any shortcomings found nothing of concern. Everyone seemed well prepared.

I grabbed the first seven hours sleep I had had for two weeks and felt so much better; it’s amazing just how refreshed you feel after one decent rest. A last minute rush to get the final purchases and deliver kit to the vessel meant I was back on board the Shokalskiy by 1230 on Sunday, just in time for the customs clearance in the bar – this time we’re leaving New Zealand so had to get our passports checked. Chris met me with the news that the multibeam system we have onboard for mapping the seabed is now fully operational. A great relief! With a few hours to spare we had one of the major scientific pieces of equipment ready to be used in anger. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.