Special Report: Davis Operations
Day 1 (25 October)
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 in the ice. 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 the helicopter crews (two pilots, two engineers), some members of ships crew plus some expedition members starting preparing the helicopters, These are to be stationed at Davis during the time here, and do all required flying 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 travelled in the appropriate but relatively mild plus four 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 put 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 all 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 than 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.
While all this was happening the main unloading was taking place. The ships 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, for example 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 chilled and frozen goods. These containers had of course been on the ships’ power supply during the trip south and set to the correct temperatures (+4 for chilled, -18 for frozen).
Work stopped at 2000, 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.
Day 2 (26 October)
All work concentrated on the cargo in the front of the ship. It started with getting out the three big units which make up the new LIDAR building. Getting these off the ship and to the shore was 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. 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.
After the LIDAR buildings were out of the way we unloaded the equipment necessary for the pumping of fuel ashore. We attended a final Fuel Transfer meeting; the lines were pressure tested and pumping commenced at 1830. A very efficient operation - I’ll tell you about that a bit later as well.
Day 3 (27 October)
The day 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 travelling with loads in each direction though it was now taking slightly longer.
Gordon and Chief Mate Dunbar also took the opportunity to go ashore on a vehicle to check the remaining cargo to come back to the ship and 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.
By the end of the working day most of the cargo for delivery had been completed and quite a lot of stuff going back to Australia has also been loaded - in spite of one skidder being out of action for a few hours. Fuel pumping was completed at 1545; the fuel line was disconnected at 1930 - after some problems with first pigging; the hoses packed away at 2130. Pumping took a total of 19.5 hours. The fuel team did a great job in very cold conditions - and there was an excellent roster system in place for the monitoring crew. But I’ll tell you more about fuel pumping in another report.
Day 4 (28 October)
Expeditioners and Ships’ Crew are working in cold conditions - some plant and equipment is also feeling the cold!! We stayed on board initially finishing the last of the unloading and progressively all of the back loading.
Work stopped at 6.00pm by arrangement. All the cargo was on board and only required final lashing down tomorrow before we leave.