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Davis Station

Subj: What we did at Davis

Date: 11/1/0010:13:22 PM Pacific Standard Time

From: [email protected] (Gordon Bain (on Aurora)

Hello all

I think we've finally caught up with sleep after a busy few days at Davis. We are now well on our way to Mawson so thought we'd better tell you all about Davis before things get busy again.

Some background to Davis station: Davis station was opened in 1957 and apart from a two year break in the mid 1960s it has been open and staffed continuously since. Its establishment was during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The students amongst you might like to have a look to see what you can find out about the IGY and why it was so significant.

Davis was named after legendary Australian Antarctic navigator and ships captain John King Davis (you might find references to him in the literature or on the web). It is the southernmost of Australia's stations at 68 degrees, 35 minutes south, 77 degrees, 58 minutes east. It is located on the northern edge of the relatively ice free Vestfold Hills an area of approximately 400 square kilometres -the start of the polar ice cap is some 20 kms from the coast. The area is bare, low lying hilly country deeply indented by sea inlets and studded with lakes and tarns of varying salinity. Numerous islands fringe the coast up to 5 km offshore.

Davis is located on Heidemann Bay on the south-eastern side of the much larger Prydz Bay.

The approach: We reached the outer ice pack several days before we made the run in toward Davis through varying concentrations of ice -much of it was pretty easy but at times we had to stop, back off and take a second and sometimes more 'runs' at the ice to force our way through. On a couple of nights we actually stopped the ship in the ice because the visibility (blowing snow or darkness or both) wasn't good enough to pick a suitable track through the ice. We are never in any danger being stopped like that - the ships engines keep turning and keep an area of open water behind us so we don't get frozen in.

We had thought of stopping the ship 50-100 miles out from the station to allow us to prepare the helicopters and fly in a number if people to get started on their work - but decided against it as that would take time when we could be better continuing to sail to the station and get there in good light for our final charge.

In my last major report when I described sea ice, I told you about fast ice. Well, there is fast ice surrounding Davis reaching about 12 kilometres off the coast.

Tuesday 24th October: We reached the edge of this about mid afternoon - the ice was up to about 1.8 metres thick with a snow layer of about 250mm on top. The main thing about breaking through fast ice is the ice has nowhere to move to. In the pack the ice tends to get pushed away from the ship and more easily rides up on to other ice. Because the fast ice is so much thicker and in an unbroken sheet a different approach is needed to ice breaking.

So for the next 12 hours we broke in about 9 kilometres - to reach the anchorage/tie up point at about 0414 on Wednesday morning -that's pretty slow, but the ice was thick and it's hard going. This is how the ship breaks through the fast ice. With both engines going and a lot of power the ship hits the front edge of the ice and with the shape of the bow starts to 'ride up' on to the ice and slides along the top of it until it starts to break with the weight of the ship coming down on it. The ship gradually loses speed and forward momentum till it comes to a stop - this is typically after about 60-80 metres not quite the length of the ship. The ship then backs off more than a ship's length and takes another run at the ice, following the same procedure and making perhaps another 60-80 metre gain. Some of the broken ice gets pushed up onto the fast ice but most of it actually goes under the ship and gets churned up and broken and comes out in the channel at the back. As we go further in, the channel behind us is filled with broken up blocks of ice and slush and all and starts to refreeze into place -it will be interesting to see how we go getting out of this channel -which is only as wide as the ship.

After we had gone a little way into the fast ice, two Hagglunds, all terrain vehicles (a tracked vehicle very suitable for these conditions) came out with the Davis Station Leader Bob Jones and a couple of his main people who will be involved with our resupply job here. Bob spoke to all expeditioners as a group - welcoming them to Davis and giving them information about the Station and some of the early rules they needed to know about.

After that Gordon and a couple of others gathered together some urgently needed equipment, all the Davis mail (about 18 bags), and a few boxes of fresh fruit. These were all lowered over the side and placed inside the vehicles. There were a number of people who had very important work to do on the station so they went off the ship as well, and the vehicles drove off to the shore. The ship then kept breaking ice and finally reached its end point at 0415. This was about 3 kilometres from the station.

No one got much sleep that night because fast ice breaking is a very noisy, uncomfortable situation with the ship lurching about and going forward and backward, with motors alternately going quiet and very noisy. Gordon, just to be contrary, said it was one of the best night's sleep he'd had recently - actually slept from 11 at night till about 5 in the morning!!!

Wednesday 25th: It was all go today. The weather was pretty good to start, about minus 19 Celsius in the middle of the day. The day started with breakfast (of course), then those who were to disembark here started getting all their personal cabin luggage and stuff together - some vehicles came out from the station driving over the fast ice. Luggage was put into the vehicles but most of the people took the opportunity to walk ashore - not only to get a good leg stretch after three weeks on the ship but also to put less strain on station transport resources. Gordon arranged to offload a number of smaller items which were scattered through different parts of the ship - in laboratories, cool rooms and so on.

While all this was going on some bulldozers came out from the station and built the 'road'. This was a track along the ice that vehicles would use over the next few days to go back and forth with cargo. The work involved scraping away the snow cover and knocking over any rough spots. Closer to the ship they carved a special turning area for inbound and outbound vehicles to use. Right alongside the ship they carved away a biggish area where the main cargo loading and unloading was to take place.

Meanwhile helicopter crews (2 pilots, 2 engineers), some embers of ship's crew plus some expedition members started preparing the helicopters. These are to be stationed at Davis during the time here, and do all required flight operations from there. However there was a slight change of plans and, because the weather was good, the Station and Voyage Leaders decided it would be a good idea to launch both aircraft direct from the ship to take some urgently needed technical help, equipment and some fruit and vegetables to the Chinese station Zhong Shan about 80 nautical miles away in the Larsemann Hills. So this required a bit of a reshuffle in what had to be done - this meant for example unloading a refrigerated container which contained about 1000 kgs of fruit and vegetables. This had to be done very carefully because while the fruit and vegetables had traveled in the appropriate but relatively mild 4 degree temperature of the container, it was a different matter outside where the air temperature was around minus 18 and the last thing we wanted was for the commodities to freeze and turn to pulp. So it was a case of quick work to get stuff out of the container race it along the deck and pout it into the hangar, weigh the boxes quickly and put them straight into the helicopters. We hope we didn't damage anything.

And then curses. One of the helicopters had a problem with some frozen linkages and couldn't take off. In the meantime the other made the trip but when it came back to the ship it had a wheel problem which required a tyre change -while seemingly minor it meant locating a special jack etc. and it took time. So we had to put the remainder of the fruit and vegetables back into the container - which is on the hatch covers in the front of the ship -requiring all the stuff to be moved along the decks, down some steel stairs and then be lifted up onto a rack then slid along a bit of a ramp then lifted up and walked into the container. The weather had closed in a bit by then and it was blowing a bit with some snow in the air -so with minus 20 degrees and a bit of wind blowing a wind-chill of something like minus 35 it was decidedly unpleasant work. Eventually both helicopters were made right and the next day they were both flown off the ship and they remained at Davis and working out of there till we sailed on to Mawson.

While all this was happening the main unloading was taking place. The ship's crew operated the crane and did work attaching the hooks on the containers and the like. Once lifted over the side the large containers were put straight on to skidders where they were 'undogged' by an 'ice' crew of expeditioners, and driven straight off to the station. There they were unloaded and mainly stacked for later opening, others were taken directly to the store where work gangs opened them up for checking and distribution. Smaller containers and boxes and crates were mainly lifted onto the ice and they were moved by large forklifts to the side for later loading on to the skidders for delivery to shore. There were only two skidders operating and each would take around 20-30 minutes to get ashore, be unloaded and return to the ship. As the containers were leaving the ship Gordon was calling up his counterpart of the shore, Wally, and telling him what was coming so Wally could decide where the load was to go. It was a constant round of decisions based on what the next accessible item was, how it had to be dealt with (some cargo cannot be allowed to get too cold so has to be moved as quickly as possible.

As the day went on, the crew had intended to get into the holds below deck level to get out some very important items (the LIDAR buildings) but after further discussions it was agreed to leave those till the next day and to continue concentrating on the cargo on the top level. This included three refrigerated containers containing refrigerated and frozen goods. These containers had, of course, been on the ship's power supply during the trip south and set to the correct temperatures (+4 for refrigerated, -18 for frozen).

Work stopped at 8.00, though there had been meal breaks during the day. It was a long and tiring day for all concerned. Gordon took us for a bit of a walk on the ice in the \very late evening and took a few photos.

Thursday 26th: All work concentrated on the cargo in the front of the ship. Started with getting out the 3 big units that make up the new LIDAR building. Getting these off the ship and to the shore were a major task we had (I'll try and remember to tell you about the LIDAR another time -but you will probably find some information about it on the Antarctic Division's website). Once those big bits were out of the way we could get at the equipment necessary for the pumping of fuel ashore. I'll tell you about that a bit later. Then it was back to general cargo -just a long continuous grind of pulling stuff out of the holds, putting it on trucks, skidders or on the ice and shifting it ashore -much the same routine as yesterday. Gordon had thought of going ashore for the evening and remaining overnight but he decided against it and we had a quiet evening on board - with only a few people here. Gordon actually found time to pull out his book and read it on the bridge for a while.

Friday 27th: Started much the same as yesterday, but we started to receive cargo items which we are to take back to Australia. As space became available in the holds we began stacking it in; so trucks were traveling with loads in each direction though it was now taking slightly longer. Gordon and the Chief Mate Dunbar also took the opportunity to go ashore on a vehicle to check the remaining cargo to come back to the ship to start making some choices as to what we could carry and where and at what time and in what condition.  Gordon decided he would remain on shore for a while, with the agreement of the Voyage Leader who came back on board for that time to do the sort of work Gordon had been doing. And guess what - OzGold and I got to go ashore as well in Gordon's bag. Once Gordon had finished doing the bit of cargo checking we went into the main living quarters where the first thing Gordon did was to record that he was now on station - this is for safety reasons, to make sure we can account for everyone in the event of an accident - Gordon also had to 'sign out' from the ship when we left there.

After catching up and chatting to a few people, Gordon went off to one of the expeditioner rooms and used the phone to call Hobart. Had a lovely long chat with Pat but then got cut off for a while, and managed to get a reconnection an hour or two later; Had a bite of lunch and then went for a stroll around the station looking at all sorts of things - at the different buildings and inside them, people at work, equipment and so on. It was really exciting. Gordon took lots of pictures including many with OzGold and I.  We noticed the Station was flying the American flag as well as the Australian one and the ANARE pennant. Someone told Gordon this was as a mark of respect for some Americans we had on the trip who are to stay here for the summer -Birgit National Geographic Washington DC, David University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Jon New York but attached to the Leopard Seals program team, but I know it was really because of me, Berkley, from Crystal Lake IL.

Late in the afternoon OzGold and I did a bit of skiing and walking about with crampons. In between looking at things Gordon finished up in discussions with all sorts of people about all sorts of things. In the evening after dinner Gordon sadly packed up his bag and we climbed back in again for the Hagglund's trip back out to the ship.

It was a wonderful day.

Saturday 28th: On board initially finishing the last of the unloading and progressively all of the back loading. Gordon made a quick trip back into Davis mainly to make a phone call to talk with Betty in Crystal Lake, USA. No particular reason other than to take the opportunity to actually talk to each other after nearly a year of e-mail contact. It was close to 11:00 pm in the US and Betty had dozed off in front of the TV. It must have been such a shock getting the call right out of the blue.

Work stopped at 6:00 pm by arrangement. All the cargo was on board and only required final lashing down tomorrow. Gordon decided to remain on the ship but nearly everyone else including all available crew members went ashore for a barbecue and party. It was apparently very good and very noisy and the last visitors came back to the shop at around midnight.

Sunday 29th: Gordon had been planning on going ashore for a while this morning to say goodbye to a few people but changed his mind at the last moment (he wont say why). Work continued to prepare the ship for sea. Temperature was around minus 20 all day, and in the afternoon about time the boarding passengers came back it was quite windy making it very cold indeed. Last passengers aboard about 4.15, and at 4.45 we started to make our exit.

I'm going to stop this now, because it is already very long. This afternoon I'll do a Part 2 in which I'll talk about our fuel oil transfer, the way the ship got back out of the fast ice and the sort of cargo we took on board from Davis to go back to Australia. We are now 31 expeditioners and 21 crew. Compared with a total of 103 when we left Hobart.

Till then Bye

Berkley, OzGold, Dreena, Puff, Olly, Milly & Syd and not forgetting our host, Gordon




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