The voyage to Davis
One month after my previous post, I’m finally at Davis station with enough time on my hands to post about the amazing experience I had just getting here. The voyage was planned to take 12 days, and in the end took 22 days. The ice was so thick and covered such an are that it took more than a week, plus a few aircraft and helicopter flights to find us a way through the ice into the polynya around Davis. So without further ado, I give you the story of the voyage aboard the Aurora Australis.
This is the cabin I shared with two fellow expeditioners. As a communications technician, I was in cabin D5 as is the tradition (because it’s in a spot that’s easy to find for people with technical problems or questions). The cabins were modest but cosy, and nearly all of them have three or four berths.
The bathroom was small but functional, and also quite waterproof. This is an especially important feature when the ship is rolling thirty degrees to each side and you’re attempting to shower. A similarly handy feature is the very strong grab rail in the shower. The rolling (or pitching, depending on the day) of the ship was sufficient that the shower water would avoid the drain, begin pooling and eventually spill out of the shower to start doing laps around the bathroom. It was certainly an adventuresome form of hygiene.
Aside from the ~16 hours a day spent in bed due to both sea-sickness and the medication to reduce sea-sickness, there were plenty of social spaces to spend time in. There were also myriad nooks and crannies that serves as paths between various rooms, labs, decks, etc.
A short walk down the hallway from my cabin brought me to the cinema. The schedule was mostly open to whoever had something they wanted to play. Small groups were formed that were loyal to their chosen television show, of which two episodes would be played at the same time each day. One group managed to get through three seasons of Games of Thrones in the time it took us to arrive.
The other use for the cinema was presentations of various sorts. Some of these were all business, like the helicopter safety brief given near the end of the voyage. Many of them, however, were given by people aboard. Several of the scientists aboard gave us an insight into the research that takes them to Antarctica. Others gave us a look at life in their home countries. The artist in residence, John Kelly, gave us a recount of how he came to be a prominent artist Australian/Irish artist.
A walk up the stairs—all five levels worth—will lead you to the bridge deck. Foremost on this deck is the bridge itself, which was usually open for us to hang around in. The view was nearly as spectacular as going out on deck, but the convenience of protection from the elements made it a popular spot. It was amazing to watch the ship crash through the southern ocean swell, which would spray up over the bow and freeze onto anything on the foredeck.
This is the ice that was left on the deck and cargo after a week of the southern ocean.
The first of the above photos was my office for the duration of the voyage. In practice I fixed a lot of problems from my cabin or the downstairs conference room because of how much more motion the rocking of the ship caused five decks above my cabin. Next is the Meteorology laboratory, which was used for our daily forecasts and also for providing the helicopters with an up-to-date forecast before any flying operations. Walking around outside the ship would eventually lead you to the helipad, which is hard to discern in the last shot as the snow hadn’t yet been cleared.
Heading back down to the deck below the cabins (which were on ‘D’ deck) lead you to the mess. As you can see, we were very well cared for. The part you can’t see is just how good the food was. Every meal was fantastic and the ship has a long history of causing people to gain weight. With the combination of cabin fever (there isn’t much to do each day) and great food, it’s hardly surprising.
As our journey continued, we came across progressively heavier pack ice. For the first week of trying to get through the pack ice, the weather was miserable and visibility was next to nothing. Three times the ship came to a complete stop of an evening because lacking visibility made it unsafe to continue until daylight. For the keen photographers aboard, opportunities for a good shot were rare as the sky and the ice were a single shade of uninteresting (though we were still all awe-struck by the sight).
Still, those sufficiently eager to keep watch on the deck managed some good wildlife shots. The most numerous of our wild followers were the various Antarctic birds, including petrels, skuas and albatross. They seemed to revel in the updrafts created by the ship. Aside from a brief humpback whale sighting, our other regular patrons were penguins and seals. It’s still early in the season, but a few times each day we’d see one or two elephant seals being completely disinterested with the ship. The Emperor and Adelie penguins were more curious, often walking right up to the ship with their renowned curiosity.
The most visually spectacular part of the voyage, however, was when the weather finally cleared up. Without warning we had a perfect ‘blue bird’ day at the start of the third week of the voyage. The visibility was amazing and the mood across the ship seemed to lift, as often seems to happen when the bad weather finally breaks. The subsequent two days were even more stunning, with scattered cloud causing the (10:20pm) sunset to light up with amazing colours. Better yet, the grease ice kept the water calm and reflective in the cracks between the floes. These pictures just can’t be as good as the real thing, but I hope you find them as breathtaking as I did.