Monday, 31 December 2012

Small craft boating course

Three days were spent doing small boat training at Kettering on the Derwent river near Bruny Island. This course is mainly aimed at people with no boating experience to make them a competent crew. As I have a coxswain license, most of the first two days was spent sucking eggs but on the last day we learnt how to run out, position and anchor the four kilometer fuel line we will be using to refuel both Casey and Mawson stations in a couple of weeks’ time. This I found very interesting and good fun. Having a coxswain license, I will be required to run mooring lines for the Aurora Australis and to run out and maintain four hour watches on the refueling pipe line keeping it in position, watching for any leaks and keeping ice burgess and growlers away. Once the Aurora Australis sails away, we will be using our two boats to go on evening ice burg cruises or burging as its known. It’s quite common to see pods of killer whales cruising around Mawson also.

Oyster cove - Kettering

Give it shit man !

Breaking for lunch on a secluded beach

Can you believe I'm actually getting paid to do this ?

Beautiful cliffs and caves

Inside a cave

What a day !!

Practicing refueling techniques

Fire fighting & Emergency response team training

Seven days were spent doing firefighting & emergency response team training at the Tas Fire training center. 

Over the seven days, subjects covered were;

Structural tactics

Confined space rescue techniques

Basic fire fighting

Breathing apparatus

Fire pump operation

Confined spaces

Foam systems

Hazardous material

Forensic investigation


Highlights of the course were holding (trying to) the 63cm fire hose, removing victims from fire & smoke filled rooms using breathing apparatus,  boiling liquid gas fires and working as a team to fight fires and recover victims. The course was very demanding and hot hard work but also very rewarding. Some of us remained another day to do forensic investigation & management where we learnt to identify and preserve burnt bodies and to investigate the cause of fires. Both the instructors and facility were first class. Let’s hope we won’t have to use these skills down south, but fire remains one of our biggest threats in Antarctica.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Quad bike training and survival training

Lately I have been very busy out doors doing quad bike training and survival training. The quad bike training was a defensive driving course which covered all aspects of riding and handling the machine in all different conditions. This was mostly an introduction and assessment to obtain accreditation to ride a quad in the work place. Further quad bike training will take place on site in real Antarctic conditions.

New type of quad bike being trialed in Antarctica

Survival training consisted of survival techniques in adverse conditions and getting familiar with equipment. We practiced putting up various tents and setting up survival bivi bags. Training then moved on to search and rescue techniques and advanced rope rescue techniques for recovering casualties from crevasses. As I have applied for the position of Search & Rescue team leader I was placed under pressure to organize the rescue team and perform several recovery's.

ARPANSA Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Radionuclide Station Training

Wow, that’s a mouth full.

For three days I was sent to Melbourne for training at the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. This is the Commonwealth Governments nuclear testing and safety agency and one of their tasks is to uphold the nuclear test ban treaty by monitoring for nuclear explosions or radiation leaks by a variety of methods including seismic, air sampling, hydro acoustic and infra-sound.

Air sample station at Mawson

At Mawson there are seismic and air sampling stations and one of my duties each day will be to screen the air samples for radionuclide particulates using a germanium high resolution gamma spectrometry detector. By examining the gamma ray activity of particular radionuclides in a sample, it is possible to determine what the material is, where it came from, where it was processed and who was using it before it was released to the atmosphere.
Dual germanium high resolution gamma spectrometry detectors at Mawson

All sampling test results and material is sent to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), an international organization headquarted in Vienna, Austria.

That's me tweaking a germanium high resolution gamma spectrometry detector

Just imagine if I wake up bored one morning and decide to put the smoke detector in the gamma spectrometry detector…….ha ha, bet that would make a few people shit themselves and cause a fury of activity. As trained professionals we don’t joke about these things.

Linear accelerator 3D imaging machine

On the last hour of training we got taken on a tour of the facility and got to meet a real nice nutty professor who gave us a tour of his two linear particle accelerators, both old and new. He was so passionate about his work and his machines and wanted to explain how every part worked. It’s nice to meet a genius using his powers for the good of mankind. If this bloke ever flipped out he would be the ultimate doctor evil toiling away under six feet of radiation shielding concrete deep down in the basement.

Linear particle accelerator

Another interesting thing we saw was the radio frequency test chamber. We kept hassling them to show us some glowing green fuel rods but they reckon they didn't have any.

Radio frequency test chamber

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Bill asked me what are the boots like that I will be wearing in Antarctica?

As you know, when your feet are cold your whole body is cold. Also, if your feet are wet or sweaty it doesn't take long before you end up with crook feet. The AAD issue us with two types of high quality boots for outdoor Antarctic conditions. For summer we use Baffin boots manufactured in Canada and rated to -40 Celsius.

For winter we use the extreme Sorel glacier boots also manufactured in Canada which have a 13mm felt inner boot and 13mm double felt sole rated to -73 Celsius.

While on the ice, boots are fitted with chains for traction and crampons for ice climbing.

Extreme weather mitts are made by Grandoe in the USA and are the Annapurna mountaineering mitt.

Maintaining body warmth is done by layering cloths.

The bottom layer consists of long thick woolen socks and a pair of woolen thermal underwear. (Top & bottom)
The next layer is micro fleece pants and top.
The next layer is polar fleece pants and top.
Depending on the activity, the next layer is Carhartt quilted bib and brace coveralls and a matching Carhartt quilted jacket.
If you are doing field work in extreme conditions or if it is windy instead of the Carhartt you would wear a custom made Antarctic shell bib and brace and jacket. These layers are adjusted for comfort and temperature control and is supplemented with gloves, mitts, neck warmer, hats, balaclava, goggles and sunglasses.

Whilst on the ship, at all times expeditioners have to have their emergency pack at the ready. This contains a basic set of survival cloths should it be necessary to abandon ship. Expeditioners have to carry a similar emergency pack whilst flying on aircraft or traversing on land vehicles. As well as spare cloths in case you fall through the sea ice, these emergency packs also contain habitations and food.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

66th ANARE 2012 - 2013 Logo

Keldyn Francis, my room mate and Mawson plumber designed our logo for the 66th ANARE 2012 - 2013 expedition. Well done Keldyn !!

Saturday, 17 November 2012


I have just purchased my year's supply of booze to take down with me.
Things have changed and these days there are strict restrictions on how much booze you can take to Antarctica and how much you are allowed to consume. Two standard drinks a day is considered a safe consumption of alcohol. On the up side, there has been a 100 year tradition of brewing beer in Antarctica and at each station a brew master is appointed and all hands get together to bottle the brew. Brew masters experiment with many new and exotic boutique blends throughout the year to supplement our booze rations. The formula used in the Divisions drug and alcohol policy is as follows;

From the Drug and Alcohol Policy

4.7.4 Alcohol consignments:

An expeditioner may send south, as consigned personal effects, a supply of alcohol based on the number of fortnights an expeditioner is at a station where a fortnight’s supply of alcohol does not exceed:
  • 1 carton of beer or cider; or
  • 4 bottles of wine; or
  • 1 bottle of spirits, port or liqueur.

Using these guide lines I have ordered the following booze to take down;

78 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon
1 bottle of triple sec (For cocktails night)
1 bottle of Jim Beam Black Label
2 bottles of Bombay Sapphire Gin
3 bottles of Vodka
1 bottle of Midori (For cocktails night)
1 bottle of Angostura Bitters
72 cans of Red Bull

All booze is purchased duty free and is locked up in Fort Knox and a weekly ration is issued once a week. To give you an idea of how much we are being ripped off, 1 bottle of Jim Beam Black Label cost me $17.85 for a liter bottle. ($39.95 for 700ml bottle in a shop) The Aurora Australis is a dry ship on the trip down and back.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Aurora Australis

So how will I get there ?

I will be traveling to Mawson station in Antarctica aboard the ice breaker Aurora Australis.
This purpose built vessel was built in 1990 and is owned and operated by P&O Maritime Services and is leased to the Australian Antarctic Division for it's Antarctic resupply, crew change and science programs. I believe the ship is now approaching the end of it's service life and will be replaced some time in the next five years. It's takes about 12 days sailing to get from Hobart to Davis station and the resupply will take about 8 days. It will then be a further 4 days sailing to reach Mawson station. On the extraction it should take about 12 days to sail from Mawson station back to Hobart if the weather is favorable. Shipping and resupply in Antarctica is very hit and miss due to the weather and the sea ice conditions. Resupply at Davis station will probably be done about two kilometers from shore unless the sea ice breaks up completely, using a two kilometer fuel line and helicopters while at Mawson hopefully the harbor will be completely free of sea ice and the ship will be able to moor withing the harbor and fuel resupply will be done with a short fuel line and boats will be used for cargo and personnel transfers.

TYPE: Polar Research and Supply Vessel
LOA / BEAM / DRAFT: 94.91m / 20.3m / 7.9m
GRT: 6574 tonnes
DWT: 3893 tonnes

Endurance - 25,000 nautical miles / 90 days
Speed & Fuel consumption
Max: 16 knots / 37 tonne per day
Economical: 11 knots / 18 tonne per day
Port: 2 tonne per day

Bunkers - 1.10 Mega litres of cargo fuel with
a transfer rate of 40 k litres per hour.

Capable of operating, refuelling and housing 2 x Sikorsky
S76 or Bell Long Range helicopters. Aviation refuelling
system of 120 cubic metre capacity. NDB and DME fitted.

Total 140 persons including: 24 x crew and 116 passengers in
one, two, three and four berth cabins. All cabins with private
facilities. Two bed hospital with full operating theatre.

A land of extremes

Antarctica is a land of extremes. It is the driest continent on earth - the polar plateau receives a comparable amount of moisture to the world's hot deserts. It is the coldest continent on earth - the lowest temperature ever recorded was minus 89.6 Celsius at the Russian Vostoc station, in East Antarctica, in 1983. It is the windiest continent on earth, with wind speeds of up to 320 km per hour recorded. Antarctica is also the highest continent, with an average elevation of 2300 m.

In winter, a band of sea ice surrounding the continent extends ice coverage from 13 million square kilometers  to some 20 million square kilometers. For millions of years snow and ice have built up on the land, so that now all but 2% of the continent is buried under a permanent ice sheet. The ice sheet holds 90% of the worlds ice, which is 70% of its fresh water. Bound into the ice is a unique environmental record stretching back to more than one million years. The ice and air trapped when surface snow turned to ice, provide a continuous record of earth's climate and other variables, such as changes in atmospheric gas composition and volcanic fallout.

The ice sheet averages 2.4 kilometers thick (4.7 kilometers at it's thickest point). If all the ice were to melt, the level of the world's oceans would rise by 70 meters. If the weight of the ice were removed, it is estimated that the underlying rock would rise by 1000 meters. The Antarctic ice sheet is moving gradually outwards at speeds varying from a few meters to several kilometers each year. When it reaches the coast as glacial ice, it breaks off to form ice bergs.

Antarctica has not always been an icy continent. Two hundred million years ago, Antarctica was joined to Australia, Africa, India, New Zealand and South America in the giant, mid - latitude, continental landmass of Gondwana. When Gondwana broke apart some 60 million years ago, Antarctica became cold and geographically isolated  forcing many species to extinction. The surviving life forms evolved to endure the harsh environments. Many of them, including emperor and Adelie penguins, are found nowhere else.

Mawson station in the foreground with the enormous ice plateau rising up behind to meet Mt Henderson

Family history

53 years prior to my arrival at Mawson station, my step father Bill Kellas was wintering at Mawson station as a Bureau of Meteorology observer. Back then expeditioners were real experditioners and conditions were tough without all the mod cons and fancy equipment I will have at my disposal. During his visit to Mawson, Bill was the first person to bring a motor bike to Antarctica. You can read more about this here.


Bill also has two small Islands named after him North West of Mawson station.(Kellas Islands) This was common practice back then. Most of the buildings Bill worked in at the station are still there and still in use. They are now protected under the heritage act and are maintained by station staff. It is going to be a strange feeling working in the same buildings where Bill worked 53 years prior.
In Bills day, most of the travel in Antarctica was done by dog sled. Here is an example on display at the Australian Antarctic Division headquarters. Maybe Bill even used this sled?  There are many fascinating old relics stored at the Australian Antarctic Division headquarters including old skiddo's, accommodation huts, tractors and many other interesting artifacts.

Huskies were used up until 1992 when they were all removed from the continent as part of the Antarctic treaty. All the dog kennels are still at Mawson and I am told you can still smell the seal blubber that was used to feed them in the dog food storage area 20 years on.

All that’s left

It’s amazing the changes in just one generation as my mode of transport will be by quad bike close to station and by Hagglund during deep field trips.


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Training has begun

Well, I have now moved to Tasmania and living in a nice apartment in North Hobart only a short walk to the CBD and wharf area. I am sharing the apartment with the lead wintering plumber for Mawson, so there shouldn't be a problem if the dunny blocks up. The weather has been fine, sunny, windy, raining, hailing, snowing, tornadoes but the afternoon was fine, and guess who packed shorts and T-shirts and never even thought about a rain coat or winter cloths…..ooops ! Hobart is very beautiful and like a big old country town with lots of old stone buildings and little wooden houses. The fishing port is right on the main street. One of the best things is the cheap fish & chips on the foreshore, the big juicy scallops are awesome. 

My apartment

Mt Wellington

Constitution dock

The Australian Antarctic Division facility is ultra-modern and very large and the people are all friendly and happy to help which makes a refreshing change. It’s been a long time since I've had a job where everyone is keen and happy to go to work !! There is a really good display setup for tourists in the front of the building with husky’s and sleds that Bill probably used at Mawson. Out the back are all the old machines, accommodation & equipment also possibly used by Bill. The kitting store is wicked, it’s like a Kathmandu store the size of K-mart ! Everyone is envious of me going to Mawson especially on my first trip as it is the most sort after Antarctic station with the best scenery, wild life, history, small crew and great facilities. There will only be 15 expeditioner's wintering at Mawson and this is the first time in a long time there will be no women. One of my secondary rolls will be the Environmental Officer.

Australian Antarctic Division head quarters

The Mawson wintering team will be made up of the following people;

Station leader
Senior Communications Technical Officer
Communications Technical Officer
Senior Plumber
Senior Deisel Mechanic
Deisel Mechanic
Field Training Officer
Senior Electrician
Meteorological Observer 1
Meteorological Observer 2

Training I have to comple before going South;
Kitting out (Approx. $4500 worth of clothing)
Maintenance planning (Maximo)
Polymobile X-ray operating & maintenance
MFD (Fax/Printer/Scanner) maintenance and programming
Safety at heights
Vertical rescue techniques
Windows network 2008
AAD IT Environment
Asterisk VoIP PBX
Satellite Communications
Science Briefing
ARPANSA - Nuclear air sampling
Antarctic community
Manual handling
Asbestos awareness
Quad bike training
Search & rescue
Fire training
Leadership workshop
Pre-departure training
Voyage briefing

Vertical rescue training

Vertical rescue training

The Aurora Australis has been stuck in sea ice for the past two weeks so this will probably push the shipping schedule forward for the next three voyages including V3 which is mine, which was due to sail on the 9th of January 2013. The first thing they tell you here is you must be flexible and I'm starting to understand why. If you wan't to follow my voyage to Antarctica, first to Davis station for crew change and re-supply and then onto Mawson, you can check the ships position at this web address;

The live web camera on the Aurora Australis can be viewed here;