8th March

Hi everybody, and many apologies for getting so far behind but we have been having some wild times. We all bounded out of bed early and were ready to go ashore at !0.30am. There is no jetty, so just getting ashore was an adventure. We all ( about 30 of us ) lined up in the mess, dressed in our polar clothes, passed our packs forward, and then one by one, stepped into a space where a hatch had been removed so there was a big hole in the side of the ship. We put our life jackets on, then climbed out backwards and down a rope ladder with wooden steps, on to a slippery wooden platform ( a barge I guess ) that had been tied to the Aurora Two, a little tug boat that normally sits in the bow of the ship. It had been lowered into the sea with a crane. It was very cold and windy, though not as fierce as the evening before, when the captain had brought his huge ship into tiny Horseshoe Bay in 50 knot winds, and parked it like you’d park a car. We had to crouch down on the barge so we wouldn’t fall off, and the Aurora Two chugged us to shore and there I was, standing on Antarctica! We grabbed our bags and headed up the hill to The Red Shed, a huge two story building where all the Mawson people live. The ground was very rough and rocky, with patches of snow. Thick ropes linked all the buildings ( so in a blizzard you can get from one building to another without getting lost ). It was a relief to get out of the wind but as soon as I got inside I started to feel sick and giddy, and then I realised that the building was heaving like a ship, up, down. It was crazy, I didn’t feel seasick on the ship but I got seasick on land. This feeling stayed with me all the time I was ashore and I also kept wanting to push things to the back of shelves so they wouldn’t slip off when the building swayed, and hook chairs to the desk with octopus straps, like we do on the ship. Anyway, the station leader, Cookie, welcomed us and told us what was what, and after we’d helped carry medical supplies into the hospital we set off to go exploring. My friend Georgie, who is going to be a ranger at Macquarie Island, and I wandered along West Arm, a low, rocky bit that curves around the harbour just like an arm and looked at the three graves there, big cairns of stone with white crosses behind them. It was sad to think that these people had come so far and never gone home. One boy was only twenty years old. We watched a fat Weddell seal scratching his whiskers with his flipper, a beautiful little cat’s face on a very fat body. All the Weddell seals I have watched here look as though they have stomach aches, they roll and wriggle and moan, as if to say 'boy, I wish I hadn’t eaten those last five fish’. My next adventure was going up on to the plateau behind the station, where the ice levels out. Geoff, the station doctor, drove us in a Hagglund vehicle, two blue boxes on tracks like a bulldozer. Seven of us squeezed into the front cabin, and our bags went into the back one. It was very noisy and bumpy but went smoothly over the snow as we headed up and away from the station, until we got to a place where the fierce winds had blown all the snow away and I realised the hill was made of pale blue, hard, shiny ice. The Hagglund’s tracks couldn’t get a grip on the ice, and we slipped back until we hit snow again. This happened a few times until we did one huge backwards slide, for almost 100 metres. I was looking back at the sea thinking how bad it would be to slip into freezing water when we stopped sliding and Geoff gunned it to the top, with us all cheering. We drove for a few kilometres to where some huts and machinery, all on the same bulldozer tracks, were parked. Before we got out, Geoff gave us chains to hook under our boots, because the ice is so slippery. It’s not like walking on snow, its just hard blue ice. I walked ( very carefully ) towards the mountains for a little way and it felt wonderful to have all that enormous, empty landscape in front of me. Looking the other way, we could see the ship and the station, and out across an ocean littered with islands and icebergs. It was very cold, and when I took my glove off to adjust something on my camera my hand nearly froze. In the afternoon I explored around the station, taking photographs and at 5.00pm it was time to go back to the ship for dinner. We were ferried back in Zodiacs, little rubber boats with an outboard motor at the back. The expeditioners working on the boats have to wear immersion suits ( like a wetsuit but with air inside ) in case they fall in. It was good to get back to my cabin and warm up but I had to be ashore again in no time because Frances ( my cabin mate ) and I had volunteered for fuel duty from 8pm until midnight. A huge black hose had been run from the bow of the Aurora to the fuel farm, pumping diesel into the tanks, and it was our job to make sure the tanks didn’t overflow and that there were no leaks. The wind had really started to howl so I put on almost every bit of polar clothing I could find. I was so fat I couldn’t do my life jacket up. When we got ashore we met Neil, from Mawson, who was on fuel duty too and he really knew what he was doing. We just had to be with him in case there was an accident. We had a little insulated hut to sit in but very half hour we climbed up to the top of the tanks and checked how full they were. It was very cold and very difficult to see the diesel mark on a black measuring stick at night. The wind was blowing harder all the time and after the zodiacs took some people back to the ship at 11.00pm the captain decided it was too dangerous for any more trips. Frances and I were stranded ashore! At midnight we finished our shift and headed up to the Red Shed to try and find somewhere to sleep. It was very cold and dark and so windy that I could hardly breathe. It felt very good to get into the building and be out of danger. I found a bed in the hospital and had a beautiful sleep, but when the doctor came in he said I should not have been there, so I felt pretty embarrassed, even though he was nice about it.

Other items

21st February

Its about 5.00 pm on my first day at sea. We are 200 nautical miles south-west of Hobart in fairly calm seas. I’m still finding my sea legs but haven’t been sick. The anti-seasick tablets make me very sleepy and I had a delicious sleep last night, feeling snug and safe in my bunk as the ship crashed through the sea.

22nd February

Ít doesn’t really feel as though I’m on my way to Antarctica. It feels more like I am on a floating health farm, fabulous food, great gym, no stresses or worries. It has been foggy all day today with calm seas but even so I am very careful about going on deck. It’s such a big ocean that I can’t help imagining how terrible it would be to fall overboard. I watched shearwaters ( mutton birds ) flying around the ship yesterday.