Thursday, 12 January 2017

Part 1. Coloured Lego Block Buildings, an Orange Roughy and Yellow Chip Packets in a White Winter Wonderland – the Colourful World of Casey.

Ice on the water's surface down at the wharf during resupply.

When I was writing this on Saturday evening I was sitting in the library in the bay window here at Casey looking up at the moraine line and it’s beginning to blow outside – the snow is being whipped up into the air and passing quickly past me outside as I write. It’s almost reaching speeds that are a “No Wisey outside speed”. Tomorrow, on Sunday the 8th of January, it’s meant to gust up to 70 knots, perfect Wisey flying weather if only was allowed outside. We have different levels of travel here at the Australian Stations: Green - Normal (unrestricted travel); Yellow – Caution (outside travel restricted to station or camp limits); Red – Danger (Outside travel restricted to movement between buildings within station limits or camp limits with Station Leader or Field Leader approval) and Black (No outside travel permitted). It’s very pretty to watch the snow bow past but you can see why it becomes dangerous when the wind is blowing there is snow being blown around – the potential to become disorientated and lost in these unforgiving conditions is real. Currently I can only just make out Penguin Pass which is about 1 km out from station as you head up towards the A line (sort of like an Antarctic Highway) out of station and can no longer see the moraine line.

Travel Conditions for various weather conditions in Australian Antarctic Stations
Note: No going outside when wind speeds above your weight e.g. 58 - 59 knots is my limit!

So let me pick up where I left off last time.  I’d arrived safely at Casey after a trip down in the Blue Hägg from Wilkins, for the record a Hägglund trip is not smoothest or quietest of trips, a bit bumpy and lumpy but loads of fun – well I think so anyway. I didn’t put this in the last post but here is a very short clip of what it’s like to ride in a Hägglund (hopefully it works if not you'll have to wait). No sooner had my feet touched the ground at Casey and I was well and truly back in the mix being thrown into Slushy the very next day, as one person commented to me “It’s like you’d never left”. Before we could venture and where outside the red shed we would need an induction by station leader Paul Ross.

Wilkes Station in February 2014 covered under snow and ice.
But before I launch into anything else perhaps it’s time for a quick history lesson on Casey as the current station was not the first in this area. Casey station as we know it today is located on the Bailey Peninsula overlooking Vincennes Bay on the Budd Coast of Wilkes Land in East Antarctica. However the first station in the area was the American station Wilkes. This was built during the International Geophysical Year, 1957-58, the main part took 16 days, yes that’s right a very short period of time. However in February of 1959 Australia took custody of Wilkes station from the Americans however the location of the station was less than ideal as it was subject to being buried in snow and ice. So it was decided to build another station across Newcomb Bay, this station was known as Casey Repstat (Replacement Station as I have just learnt). In 1969 the new station was opened and Wilkes was decommissioned, the station remains and is covered in snow and ice, during the melt the station becomes slightly exposed and in big melt events the whole station and old tip site can be seen. As part of the Human Impacts program we visit Wilkes to observe, photograph and record the tip site and station so standby for a blog post on Wilkes at a later date.

The construction of Casey Repstat started in 1964 and as mentioned was completed in 1969. In order to combat the build-up of ice the construction of the station including placing the buildings on stilts with the hope of encouraging the wind to blow beneath as well as above. The buildings were connected by a corrugated iron tunnel, leading the station to be known simply and fondly known as “The Tunnel”. However with time it became evident due to corrosion that Repstat would need to be replaced and in the late 1980’s construction of the current Casey Red Shed commenced. The Red Shed was prefabricated in Hobart and was erected on the wharf on Hobart as a trial before it was dismantled, packaged and shipped to Casey where it was erected during the summer months. My friend Jason fathers was one of the trades people who were involved at Casey in the construction phase. The new Casey station was first occupied in 1988 and over the coming years Casey Repstat was dismantled, all that remains of the station are some iron bolts in the rocks and the old chippy’s workshop. Casey as it currently exists comprises of the “The Red Shed” with the West and East wing extensions (the east wing is yet to take occupants) where all the living quarters are including bedrooms, mess, theatre and Doctors’ surgery there are various other coloured buildings –
The Green Buildings of the Water Treatment Facility and CUB
and the Blue Emergency Power House.
Green: the green store (where all the frozen, refrigerated and warm store foods are kept plus various other supplies), the water treatment plant and the new Casey Utility Building which is currently being constructed;

Blue: Main and Emergency Power Houses and Ring mains

Yellow: Operations Building which houses the Comms Team (Comms Techs and Operators) and the Met Team and the Science Building, home to all things boffin

Red: Emergency Vehicle Storage (EVS), fire Hägg and also has the dress ups and band area upstairs

Orange/Yellow: Home to the Field Training Store, and the workshops for the Sparkies, Chippies, Plumbers and Diesos.

As you can probably imagine the Casey footprint is quite large. It is however about normal size for an Antarctic research station with the exception of the American Station McMurdo which has 1100 people.

And where does the name Casey come from?

Lord Casey and the plaque for the opening of Casey Repstat
(Old Casey) located now in the Wallow at Casey.
Casey Station (Repstat and the current establishment) is named in honour of Lord Richard Casey served as Australia’s 16th Governor General from May 1965 until April 1969. Lord Casey was the member for the seat of Latrobe in the Menzies' government which came into power in 1949. He held various ministerial positions including the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organisation, what we know as CSIRO. During this ministerial position Casey became a keen supporter and advocate for the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) which had been established under the Labour government in 1947. Stations had been already established at Heard and Macquarie Islands but not on the continent. As chairman of the ANARE Executive Planning Committee Lord Casey worked closely with Dr Phillip Law, the head of the Antarctic Division at the time, and in 1953 he announced that Australia would send an expedition to Antarctica. This expedition in 1954 determined the suitable location for a station and in the December of 1954 saw the establishment of Mawson station. Davis Station was later established in January 1957. I remember talking with Nod Parsons just before I left where he told me of being on the ship in 1955 on the way to Mawson to winter and going into Prydz Bay and at the possible locations for second Australian station. I feel very fortunate to have met and spent time with Nod hearing him share and recount his Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stories.

Stacking fresh fruit, vegies and eggs from the ship in
the cool store.
Now back to business once we had received the station induction from the station leader and gone for a walk around the station with one of the scientists we would be allowed to walk around the station limits and the recreational limits which include Reeve Hill, the Ski Loop (ski here not really for walking) and down to the wharf. Although for now the road to the wharf was a no go as the following day we would be graced by an orange ship in the bay.  Low and behold that Saturday morning when I got up and headed down to the mess and looked across into the bay there she was the Aurora Australis in all her safety orange glory packed to the brim with goodies for the station including food, work equipment and over a million litres of fuel for the station. Everyone gets assigned duties during resupply whether it being helping down at the wharf with the containers coming off the barge from the ship to unpacking the food reefers as the come up to the Green Store to being part of the refuelling roster. However today I would be in the kitchen on Slushy which involves washing the dishes from the chefs (we have three here at Casey over the summer), wiping down tables and benches in the mess, restocking food items as requested by the chefs, cleaning the common area in the wallow, doing any additional chores as required by the chefs such as prepping vegies plus choosing/inflicting station with your music choices. Now there is more than slushy as with over 80 people on station you can imagine the numberof pots and pans that end up being used in preparing food for everyone, today there were 3 as there would be old stock coming over from the Green store to make way for the new food stuffs coming from the ship so a pair of extra hands would be required.

Marine Scientists came ashore with some flags made by school children
from Kingston, Tasmania.
MariSo let me now tell you the story of Casey Resupply, all the ins and outs. If I give you the simplified version first: ship arrives; ship discharges cargo; station receives cargo over multiple days certain containers are unpacked straight away like food reefers and personal effects which makes expeditioners very happy; round trip scientists visit station to conduct work; fuel line is deployed from shore to chip; fuel is pumped to fuel farms; fuel line is pigged (terminology used to remove any residual fuel from the line prior to retrieval of the line); fuel line retrieval; Cargo for Return To Australia (RTA) is sent back to ship over multiple days; ship completes discharge and acceptance of cargo; ship secures load; ship departs Newcomb Bay – Happy Days. But it’s never as smooth as this little things like the weather get in the way and change the course of resupply. During resupply at Casey in my first season here (2013/14) I remember getting up to do my refuelling duty on Christmas Day which was walking the fuel line to check for leaks and finding there was no line there – the line had been pigged. The ship had been called to respond to Maritime distress call by the Akademik Shokalskiy who had become stuck in ice in Commonwealth Bay, the Aurora was one of three ships in the “neighbourhood”, the other two being the Chinese icebreaker Xuelong and the French vessel Astrolabe. The Aurora Australis returned later with a few extra passengers including one very important addition - Stay to complete refuelling and resupply duties, it did have to leave the bay one more time during that resupply as the winds picked up for a couple of days. It was a long and drawn out event and we were all glad to see the tail end of her that season.

The Peter Gormly makes its way to the Aurora Australis to collect another
load of cargo.
Resupply this season ran smoothly like clockwork and was not a repeat of what seemed like the never ending resupply I encountered in 13/14. Each station employs different methods to get cargo to shore. Macquarie Island where I have spent two summer seasons uses LARCs (Lighter, Amphibious, Resupply, Cargo) and helicopters for ship to shore operations and then helicopters to resupply and collect RTA from the field huts down island. At Davis resupply is done over ice with some early high priority cargo flown off before the ship reaches its fast ice position, later in the season a top up resupply is carried out using helicopters. Cargo at Casey and Mawson is transported from ship to shore via a jet barge, this year the lucky barge to make the trip to Casey was the Peter Gormly. The cargo is offloaded from the ship and brought to shore using the barge where it loaded from the barge onto trucks using the crane at the wharf and then bought up to station where the container is unloaded. Now depending what the container/cage pallet holds then depends whether it gets unpacked straight away or it is left until after resupply. In the case of the containers which have the food (which come in reefers at -18 or +4), the station alcohol and personal effects, these are unloaded straight away or as soon as possible. Other items which get unpacked immediately is anything which may be required in an operational sense. Casey unlike the other 3 Australian Antarctic Division stations is fortunate to have the A319 and C17 flights and gets fresh food top ups, needless to say I am slowly making my way through the oranges and pears that came in on resupply.

Fuel line going from ship to shore with the IRBs patrolling
the line and pushing bergy bits out of the way.

Now one of the big and very important tasks of resupply is refuelling the station! In order to carry out refuelling good weather is required for the period. Unlike Macquarie Island where I am used to seeing  refuelling occur in a single day with about 8 hours of pumping (a lot less fuel is transferred at the Sponge), refuelling at Casey requires a couple of days and pumping of the fuel is done around the clock until the job is complete, endless days during summer help with this. Casey has two fuel farms, the lower and the upper farm where Special Antarctic Blend fuel is stored to run the station and Wilkins Aerodrome, fuel is transferred and transported up to Wilkins every couple of weeks. During refuelling there are various jobs which are carried out: setup and pressure testing of the fuel line, on the IRBs pushing bergy bits off the line and  checking the line for leaks during the pumping, walking the fuel line to check for leaks and the monitoring at both upper and lower fuel farms. This season I had drawn the upper fuel farm monitoring, my partner in crime for this would be none other than Dieso Pat. Pat works up at Perisher during the winter maintaining their plant up there, he trained the guys form the AAD on the maintenance, fine tuning and operation of the groomers and other equipment used at the Wilkins, Casey and Davis ski ways and last winter. I still remember one of the first conversations I had with Pat, he asked if I’d been to Perisher as he knew the snowflake necklace I was wearing came from the Alpine Bear. We had good chat about snow sports, where to go skiing/boarding and what he did at Perisher.

Pat the Dieso, partner in crime for Upper Fuel Farm monitoring.
There are various shift times for the refuelling roster and we’d also been allotted 12:00 – 16:00 and then 00:00 – 04:00, not the most pleasant of times but for someone who doesn’t require huge amounts of sleep worked out just fine. An added advantage of having a room in the West Wing is that your room is sooo dark, no windows, it makes it much easier to sleep especially when on shift. Our first shift was at 12:00 and while mainly uneventful, however we did help with collecting the hose from the barge and bring it to shore before it was towed out to the ship to be connected. Brad Collins is in charge of station refuelling so Pat, Lucius and I worked with him to bring the fuel line up over the ice – we didn’t go on the ice we pulled it up using another rope which it had been attached to and placed there by the field training officers (FTOs). Once at the connection point Brad and Pat connected the hose. The line was then pressure tested before it was time to pump the SAB to some of the ISO tanks down at the lower fuel farm, once these were filled they began pumping to the upper fuel farm, this happened on our first shift. Prior to this though Franz and Brad had come down from Wilkins and needed to fill up the fuel tank to take back up the hill, this was done before refuelling started. Once refuelling commenced the person on the focsle would radio in every fifteen minutes for the level in the tank we were filling. The first tank we needed to fill was not empty so within that first shift we topped up that tank before opening the valve to the next tank - I learnt a bit about how the fuel tank system operates. Pat and I did a quick calculation and worked out that we should have one more shift before the upper fuel farm was completely full. This season Brad would be trying to pump 1 million litres of SAB fuel to station, that’s a lot of fuel!!

The colours in the wee hours of the morning on a berg way in the distance.
So with our first shift over is was back to the Red Shed for some rest, I went to the gym before getting about 4.5 hours sleep. At about 10:45 there were a group of blear eyed people in the mess eating “dinner” before heading off to their respective refuelling duties. Pat and I headed back to the Upper Fuel Farm – standing on top of the tanks you are quite exposed to the elements so it can get quite chilly up there but you also get the most amazing views. Yes it did cool down during the early morning shift, my index fingers are always the first thing that go numb and start to get painful but the pain was dulled by the amazing colours in the sky and the snow petrel flying display we were treated to in the wee hours of morning. The sky was pink with a purplish hue in colour and the water was like glass the reflection of the ship almost mirror like. There was not a ripple except for those caused by the IRBs as the carefully manoeuvred up and down the lines checking it and pushing little bergy bits that could pierce it. One of the boat operators on this shift was Noel Tennant whose job back Kingston HQ is in operations in particular he works with the chefs on station, why mention Noel as I’d like to thank him for not finding my peanut butter and eating it, thank you Noel!!!  As it drew close to the end of the shift Pat and I noticed a change in the water, it looked like there was a breeze across the top of it but it wasn’t. Ice had started to form, this ice is known as grease ice and forms before pancake ice forms, interested to know more about ice formation in the sea check out this link: It was then time to tag with Woll and Lenneke and head off for a bite to eat and bed.

Taken about 3:00am in the morning from the Upper Fuel Farm,
so still and quiet and amazing colours.

The next day refuelling to the upper fuel farm had been complete so we walked down to the lower fuel farm to help out on anything that we could, also my body clock was out from the shifts. Pat helped out on filling the ISO tanks and I gave a hand switching in between the tanks which were being used to fill the ISO tanks. At the end of that shift I got a ride back up to station with Johan who was driving the Mack Truck, I was even allowed to blow the horn – no it doesn’t have one on the steering wheel it has a pulley J As refuelling had been completed in the upper fuel farm Pat and I were now stood down from the refuelling roster which meant I could go back to duties on the Remediation site.  But that wasn’t to last for long as it was time to do this little thing called Survival Training or as I like to call it – “How much sleep can you really get in a Chip Packet?”
Big Boss, Little Boss and the Mack Truck.

But you’re just going to have to wait for that in part 2 as I’ve managed to drag part 1 on for way too long and I’m worried about you all falling asleep out there. So wait you must for part 2 and the quote as they will come together with the tales of the Gobbledok monster (for those of you unsure what I’m talking about click on this Gobbledok).  So until then - Chiiiipeees or Penguin Cookie by Julia in this case!!!!

Hmmm Penguin Cookie and some Orange Ship.

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