Another day in the most beautiful yet unforgiving place on earth. Every day you lose yourself a little as you are consumed by Antarctica's enchantment. You step on the deck of the Australis in the early hours of the morning, your eyes drawn by the most captivating almost magical ice features. Deep blue seas, surrounded by towering mysterious mountains which seem to appear as if from nowhere through the sea mist, like a protective mantle to all of the secrets concealed in this magnificent silent land.
Each and every day for the team has been so unique. This morning was no exception. Our fantastic Australis crew rising early to drag the heavy anchors from the ice in order to get us underway and to the next part of our adventure. With the most amazing confidence, our boat captain Roger extracts the 75 foot vessel with ease and perfection from the thick sea ice and manoeuvres her into open sea. Assisting Roger is both 'Mags' and Sara, who diligently work with the team in every aspect of our somewhat more than 'innovative' plans, contributing at every stage carefully adding their years of experience, building on the rich tapestry of knowledge that sometimes leave you thunderstruck, but always deeply thankful.
With our big new plans for the day, we wonder with cautious optimism, at what the day will engender: will the weather hold? Will we get back through the ice? Can we find an accessible landing point? And perhaps most importantly, will the team find a rocky point to fit our criteria for mounting the GPS transceiver…which has been so elusive on our journey so far? Well, we were about to find out!
The team decided to push the boat towards Cornish Rock, a small island which our Captain Roger advised as a very appropriate location and was usually accessible by boat. Upon arrival it became clear we could not reach it by means of our vessel due to over a mile of thick sea ice blocking our path. Therefore a plan was devised to insert a small team via the ice and make an attempt to find a location for installation on foot/ski. With all the kit involved, including that rather large HGV battery we have all become rather fond of during our journey, the option required two pulks to be used. These would be pulled by Martin, our eccentric scientist in the making, and the ever enthusiastic Jez. Steve Riley and I were then left with the navigation and technical aspects of the crossing in the non-visibility.
The remainder of Blue Team helped launch the team for the days activities with Paul and Simon remaining on board, stood ready to deploy should an incident arise such as a member of the team falling through the ice. Steve Marsh and Toby were also tasked with another important project, which is now running parallel to our journey, conducting more Algae samples. As we were all about to find out, the weather was about play its hand in reminding us what a cruel mistress she could be. Winds picked up and no sooner had we departed than heavy snow started to fall, while the rest of the team watched the GPS party disappear into the mist.
After a short ski over the sea ice (approximately two miles), a small rocky outcrop appeared. As the temperature dropped further, the increasing driving snow took the team a little by surprise and we wondered if we could do the installation at all in these atrocious conditions. Firstly, we needed to get off the ice shelf and up onto the rock. Second, the installation of the GPS would involve hours of drilling the securing holes and bolting large parts of equipment into the ground, all whilst still hopefully being able to feel our hands and feet at the end of the process!
Meanwhile, back at the edge of the ice shelf, Australis had torn herself clear of the ice and was briefly drifting free. The crew and team quickly began trying to move Australis back to the same point in the ice. This involved members of the team jumping from the boat to drag the anchor further up onto the ice to allow the best purchase to hold the boat in these 'interesting' conditions. During this eventful time, the GPS team were spurred on with Martin's enthusiasm and were busy deploying a tent in order to allow a brief respite from the weather whilst drilling in the howling conditions. At this point certain moments pass through your mind…like: "are we all crazy?"…to "what an awesome adventure" the day had become.
Despite the terrible weather, the hours quickly passed, and the installation was taking shape. This involved the team getting very cold and wet, but we were working diligently to deploy the equipment as directed. Each team member took turns to drill while others warmed hands and changed between tasks. Big smiles quickly appeared across the team when we finally finished and were able to return to the boat successfully after all the challenges. The GPS team arrived back at the boat to see the other team members enthusiastically waiting for us, eager to help unload and stow our gear. However, one final hurdle remained: the boat was bow onto the ice! Once we had climbed up the anchor onto the front of the boat as the final challenge we could relax in the warmth of the boat. Hot soup awaited the team and we were glad to be able to thaw out and change from our waterlogged clothing. Bliss.
Now what will tomorrow bring? Adventure? Of that I am sure