Monday, December 16, 2013

Back Home

How disappointing and how frustrating it is to stand in front of the window waiting for a plane that will never come.

That's the end of the season for us. After a month waiting in Mawson for a good weather window, the first plane that came was to fly us back home. We then spent a week in Davis and finally flew to Casey and Hobart.

As people say. This is the 'A' factor. And we keep our fingers crossed that we will make it next year.

We now would like to thanks people that helped us during this trip and tried to make it happen. All the Mawson crew and specially to Cookie, who woke up very early every morning, John Burgess who worked hard on the logistic once on the field, Matty Donoghue and his *** runway, the Twin-Otter and Basler pilots, Bill de Bruyn Davis station leader, Tina Donaldson, Bill de Plant for their everyday weather forecasts and everyone who shared their smile and our frustration. You made this trip a fantastic one and hope to see you soon ! Thanks to all.

Departure of Mawson summer crew (photo: Justin Chamber)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Our life is now directed by the weather forecast. Flying tomorrow ? The next day ? Next week ?
Actually we have no idea. Our bags are packed, equipement tested and packed, food prepared and packed.


Waiting for a good weather window and the Basler to be back, we enjoy the most of Mawson and its surroundings. And as a famous Antarctic quote would say "Awesome is Mawson".

 Fearn Hill


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013


« VLV Mawson, VLV Mawson , this is VLV Bianca and Lydie on channel 7, over »

« Go ahead VLV Bianca and Lydie »

« VLV Mawson, we finally arrived at destination. 2 hours flight from Davis on a Basler, over.»

« Copy that VLV Bianca and Lydie. Can I get your SITREP ? over »

« Alpha : We are now in Mawson

   Bravo : Health of parties is good

   Charlie : No vehicule conditions. We are travelling on foot

   Delta : We should go to Richardson Lake early next week if the weather conditions are ok.

   Echo : The weather is nice and clear

   Foxtrot : No comments on track

   Golf : Survival training done, now able to travel. Over »

« Copy that VLV Bianca and Lydie. Have fun in Mawson. Standby on channel 7. Over »

 The Basler approaching Mawson

Mawson station

Survival training

Climbing Mount Henderson

 Mount Henderson Hut in the katabatic winds

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Déjà vu

1rst of November - 65°S 75°E

In embarking for Antarctica, one can never be sure how long it will take. Four years of experience, and six months at sea, including two months becalmed in sea ice has taught me this. Even when I change ships from the Astrolabe to the much bigger Super Ice Breaker Aurora Australis the results are the same.

For the past week our progression to Davis has been severely delayed with a band of sea ice encircling the station in a radius of two hundred nautical miles. Using MODIS satellite imagery we are attempting to play a game of strategy that will see us through a complex labyrinth of ice. Up to now three tentative attempts to find a way through have all ended in failure. But we play on with the tools at our disposal including radar, satellites and other gizmos. Some work better than others.

The two helicopters on board are unable to reconnaissance our path forward due to the low visibility and we rely on a Basler aircraft being sent out from Davis. It flew over our position in an attempt to break the ‘glace’ and orient the ship through the ‘issue de secours’ (emergency exit). After eighteen days of the ship playing checkers versus the ice, the morale of the expeditioners was lifted by the sight of the aircraft and the potential of a breakthrough.

 Basler flying over the ship

However this morning something has changed. The westerly winds that kept the floes of ice interlocked have calmed down. The weather that has been so grey and overcast since we left on our voyage is also changing and we can see sunshine on the horizon. This has meant the ice floes have begun to separate and we are seeing more and more of the ocean.

Crabies seal family

Over the last few hours we are now on a direct route heading South to Davis. On the Bridge, hundreds of eyes are transfixed on the horizon, where our destination awaits and an end to this journey can be envisaged.

Quote of the day :

« On balance the wait (weight) is increasing » by Dr. Judy

Davis, (still) 200 miles to go !

Thanks to John Kelly who took some time to improve the english version.

Slicing the ice

23rd of October, we spotted our first iceberg !

As our way is mainly Westerly, it took us a week to enter into the sea ice. And the landscape is worth the voyage ! For almost half of the expeditioners, the white world is a new discovery and makes for great excitement after a week at sea.

At this time of the season, the pack ice starts opening, and the icebergs stuck in the ice during the winter are released. They then sail Westerly, following the main coastal current and finally end up meeting the ship North of the continent.


The sea ice is still thick, and spread widely compared to previous years. In front of Davis, the ice is extending to 55°S, a record for this time of year. Our progression until 61°S has been relatively good, as the last windy days opened rivers in the pack ice, and spread the pieces. But as we are now approaching 62°S, our progression has slowed considerably. The most concentrated ice, results from the compression of sea-ice around Davis, and should be crossed in the next two or three days.

The types of sea ice encountered vary depending on its age (from the first year sea-ice to the multi year fast ice) and on external conditions. The first type is the frazil, fine spicules of ice suspended in the water, giving it a kind of oily appearance. Once the crystals have coagulated, they form grease ice (grey coloured), reflecting little light. Then appear nila, a thin elastic crust of ice, undulating on waves and swell; pancake ice forming under severe conditions of waves from nila or grease pieces striking against one another, and finally the floes, thicker and larger pieces of ice.

Pancake formation from grease ice

As the temperature drops, the environment changes, we sight new birds and mammals, specific to this region of the world. The large family of birds nesting on the coast of the continent are Petrels: the Antarctic, snow, giants etc… They follow the ship whose propeller breaks the ice, releasing organisms that the birds feed on.

Snow petrels (in white) and Antarctic petrels, landing on the sea ice and catching krill

 Antarctic krill on the sea ice

However, the most important is now to sight penguins, making their way to the continent.

At this stage, even a penguin seems to go faster than a ship. The race is starting, hope we will make it before them !

Davis, 400 miles to go.

Lydie and Bianca - 24 October 2013 – 62°S-84°W

Sailing on

The boat left the 15th of October. And what was expecting us, was 7 days at sea…
Due to the bad weather conditions, the plan was to head South first, avoiding the depressions, and then West making our way to Davis. 4800 km in front of us.

The Aurora on the Derwent river

After 5 days at sea, we are now passing through the 50 degrees South and into the « front », the Circumpolar Current, isolating Antarctica from the rest of the word. The Ocean temperature is now dropping and the familiar faces of the Albatros gives way to the Storm Petrels. The 60ies are now close and new faces appear in the kitchen.

Going West also means going against the main winds of the Circumpolar Current – The Westerlies so well known by the sailors. The ship is then taking some delay.

It’s hard to explain a week at sea. So little is happening even so everyday brings new things.

As pictures are always better than long speeches…

Wandering Albatross


Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Approved for boarding"

Equipment testing

Medical Screening

Pre-departure training

First aid training

Kitting ...

… and so on

The last two months have been incredibly busy getting prepared. But the Aurora Australis is now sitting in front of Mac-2 ready for sailing. The cargo is loaded, and the expedioners finish packing. Tuesday, we will start sailing down South to reach Davis, the first step in our Voyage.

The sailing across the 40 and 50 degrees is expected to be rough.
A large amount of depressions are following each other forming swells up to 7 meters high. "The roaring forties" and "furious fifties" haven't lost their reputation. Time for sea sickness.

Last but not least, we will have to find our way in the sea ice. And since 2011 the sea ice conditions are far from normal. The ice is now reaching 55° S in front of Davis, a record for the month.

 Compiled by the U.S. National Ice Center
Ice chart issue date: 2013-10-11

… See you in 2 weeks ?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Far (far) away

Before being able to reach the (far far away) Enderby Land, we have to sail. And fly. And fly again.
With the planning of the Antarctic Division and the visit of the three Australian stations (Casey-Davis and Mawson), we had only two different choices to reach our far away Land. Leaving early in the season (October) or late. So finally, we are leaving with the Aurora Australis the 11th of October.

The first part of our trip will be to sail to Davis. At this time of the year, the sea ice is at its maximum coverage, and the ice breaker has to manage its way through.

Way from Hobart to Davis

Then once arrived in Davis, we have to fly. Fly to Mawson, and then to Enderby Land. No boat is accessing that area, and no "normal" plane is able to land there. So the Twin-Otters will be our taxi to reach the Tula Mountains and Richardson Lake. 

Davis to Mawson

Mawson to Richardson Lake

We don't have any plans once there. We will have to deal with the weather conditions and the Twin-Otters planning to reach our stations and install the GPS.

The rest of the voyage will be sightseeing: Fly from Mawson to Davis - then Davis to Casey and finally Casey to Hobart. Two months of travel in the "big white".

Way back: Mawson-Davis-Casey-Hobart

To follow us in live, you can use the links beside.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Building GPS stations


To survive in Antarctica, the stations have to be completely autonomous and resist to the cold and windy conditions. 

To answer these requirements, we will set up a couple a solar panels that will recharge three batteries. Because of the polar night, the systems will hibernate through the winter period and, all going well, will recommence operation around August/September each year (when the sunlight is sufficient to recharge the batteries). An iridium modem and antenna will allow us to get the GPS (Global Positioning System) data transmitting them from Enderby Land back to Canberra. The structure has to be heavy and fixed to the rocks. The batteries, GPS and electronic circuit are protected in a insulated box, that should keep the warmth produced by the electronic equipment and the heaters.

The structure

Each element of the frame is logically numbered to facilitate their setting in the field. The structure is metallic, so heavy and resistant. It then has to be oriented in the Northern direction to provide the maximum solar light in a day.

Bianca installing the main frame on the roof

With the solar panels and the iridium antenna

The Electronic circuit

The circuit is installed in the insulated box and is composed of:
- One GPS
- Three batteries
- Three regulators
- A card frame composed of a small computer and a Power Controller
- An iridium modem
- Heaters, temperature probes etc...

The Solar panels will recharge the batteries. The Power Controller (PCON) will then separate the power between the Computer, the GPS and the modem. If any power cut occurs, a filter board will prevent any damage on the GPS or on the computer. 

The three batteries and regulators isolated in the box. The GPS has to find its place in there...

At the end, the system is sending every day the data acquired by the GPS, transformed into ASCII format and compressed by the computer, through the modem and iridium antenna. Away from the "wake-up hours", so when the computer is getting the data from the GPS and sending them via the iridium, the system is set to "sleeping mode" to reduce the power supply.

The card frame controlling the "waking" and "sleeping" state of the system and recording/processing the GPS data.