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Captains' Log: Antarctic-bound on the Aurora Australis

Captain Paul Clarke gets a taste for Australia’s Antarctic operations on the Aurora Australis’s voyage to Davis.

7 November 2019

I’m writing this as we are passing the first iceberg of the Antarctic season, almost exactly on the Antarctic Circle, at 60 degrees south. Not from the Nuyina quite yet, but from the 30 year veteran workhorse Aurora Australis.

As part of the process of Serco bringing Nuyina safely into the Australian Antarctic Programme, we are focussing on writing all the procedures, checklists and manuals for operating the ship. So I’m lucky enough to be sailing down to Davis station as an expeditioner on the Aurora Australis’s first voyage of the season. I have previously worked for the British Antarctic Survey and offshore supply rigs in south-east Asia, so this is an opportunity to familiarise myself with the Australian Antarctic operations and sea route.

As part of this process I joined the pre-departure briefings at the Australian Antarctic Division (the ‘Div’) in Hobart in October. This was a great chance to see how expeditioners are prepared for their voyage south. (This pre-departure briefing is the final step in a long pre-season for many).

I was issued with all my polar clothing, including my survival bag that must be carried wherever I go in the Antarctic, as part of the Polar Code that the Nuyina will comply with. Everyone onboard the ship is issued one, and also carries general survival kits that contain the equipment and supplies necessary to survive on the ice until assistance comes.

Departure day arrived and once all the farewells had been said the shipping team waved us off; a little too enthusiastically some might have said. Another great job was done to get the ship loaded and everyone on it in time for Captain Gerry O to move off the wharf, exactly on schedule.

Since then it has been a week of eat, wind, eat, roll, eat, pitch, eat, sleep, eat, repeat! What a job the catering team do to ensure that we are all following the first rule of survival and putting on that important first layer. 

Between enjoying watching the albatrosses, petrels, snow flurries and a few penguins, there have been a lot of training sessions on sea-ice travel, radio communications, and the environment, and inductions for over-ice refuelling, as well as some underway science. 

I gave a presentation on the Nuyina one evening, showing some recent photos from the ‘Galati 4’ (see previous blog). It was great to see the excitement for the new ship, especially once the in-going wintering teams for Davis and Mawson realised they would be coming out on Nuyina next season!

Having been working on the Nuyina’s operating procedures since July, it is useful to now compare how we will need to operate her with how it is done on the Aurora. Things like the initial familiarisation tour that the crew give all expeditioners, for example, will take much longer because the ship is so much bigger. So we will have to work out the best way to do this to ensure everyone receives a comprehensive tour, covering all safety related items. 

King Neptune paid a visit on Sunday as we neared the Antarctic Circle. One of the oldest of seafaring ceremonies was carried out, and all those who asked for permission to ‘cross the line’ were granted that wish, after the small matter of having green slops poured over their head, kissing the fish and taking their ‘medicine’. While the voyage leader, Doug, and I, have been across many times, the King wasn’t feeling very accommodating and decided we needed to be initiated again. The King was obviously happy with everyone as he provided a nice snow storm just afterwards, and it was a joy to watch the faces of people who had never seen snow before.

There is a lot of anticipation of entering the sea ice tonight, arriving at Davis by the end of the week, ice permitting.

Images: Top: Captain Paul Clarke is on the Aurora Australis, familiarising himself with Australian Antarctic operations and sea routes. Above: Despite crossing the Antarctic Circle many times, Captain Paul (right) was not immune to the whims of King Neptune. Neither were Voyage Leader Doug Thost (left) and ingoing Davis Station Leader David Knoff. (Photos: Mark Horstman)

More from the Captains' Log:

The Galati Four

6 November 2019

Captain Scott Laughlin introduces the ‘Galati Four’ as they form their first impressions of the ship.