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Friday, March 8, 2013

Wooden Musical Instruments in Antarctica

In keeping with passing on tips about what one could take to Antarctica to make your extended stay more enjoyable, I should pass on some thoughts about wooden musical instruments. Many take guitars down to the Australian Antarctic Stations and form bands.There are in fact a range of guitars,drums,key boards and systems down on the stations already. But like most people, its not the same as having your own. There is nothing wrong with this provided you understand that the air moisture down in Antarctica is incredibly dry.This is the main enemy of most stringed instruments.  Wood will shrink in very dry conditions, and cracks may appear in your instrument.  Ideally, solid wood instruments like about 40% humidity.  In very dry weather try to keep your instrument in its case, with a humidifier.  There are lots of humidifiers available on the market, or it's easy enough to make your own.  One method is to cut a sponge to fit a plastic, travel soap dish.  Punch a bunch of holes into the top of the cover, and you have an inexpensive humidifier that works well. 

NOTE:  It is generally not necessary to humidify instruments made of plywood, just those made of solid pieces of wood. 

The only really dangerous element of cold for stringed instruments is sudden temperature change.  When going from warm to cold or cold to warm, your instrument needs to be insulated. If you have a padded case, use it.  If not, wrap the instrument in blankets or towels.  Once you arrive at your destination, keep the instrument cased or wrapped until the outside of the case has been at room temperature for several hours.  If your instrument is still icy when you open the case, zip it back up and wait a while longer.  If you take your wrapped instrument from your warm room, to the inside of a warm room,say a band hut, do not worry at all.  It is only when the instrument is left in the cold for a long period that you need to go through a warm-up procedure.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Packing for Australian Antarctic Expeditions - Some Personal Extras

PPE Bags on Helli Deck
 RSV Aurora Australis
So, it would appear your going to Antarctica for the first time or even your second or third time, but are wondering just what to take in terms of personal comforts.I have not included camera gear here as that is a whole blog in itself, and I will endeavour to address that subject separately. See also my blog on sleeping in Antarctica as it will also give other items you may wish to take.Here are some of my personal thoughts what to take to make things easier.By all means make up your own mind, and feel free to disagree.Add some of your own likes. You will be issued with work clothes and all the cold weather gear you will need for your Antarctic experience baring a good set of hiking shoes, especially if your going to Davis. I can't speak for Macquire Island as I've not been there, but I would suggest you will need extra good hiking boots for that place. Flash windcheaters and water proof duds from ski resorts may be great on the ski slopes back home, but have little use in Antarctica with the exception of Casey that does have cross country skiing in Summer.

Red Survival Bag
Whatever you bring with you,label it. You will find other expeditioners will have the same types of gear as you. Bring your own personal tags for not only your laptops and gadgets, but for your issued clothing like jackets,overalls and boots. When you go into a cold porch, there will be a sea of gear looking like yours. So I use pre-made  dog tags  with my name on them that can be attached to gear using an electrical cable tie.Other expeditioners use coloured ribbon or tap. What ever you use, make it unique to you.

 What to Pack

This is what I pack regardless, in terms of clothes.This is outside what I am issued.I have included where I intend on wearing these items. Remember that whatever you take to Hobart, you will have to take it to Antarctica unless you trash it or pack it up and send it back home. I'm no clothes Horse, and I can't speak for the ladies.In Antarctica, you can be a walking fashion statement or you can be more practical and utilitarian.I have masses of camera equipment to take so I tend to be more utilitarian to keep my luggage weight down.
LowePro Camera Bag with
Lap Top Carrying Capacity
1 x overnight bag/knapsack (Hobart & Antarctica)
1 x good jeans (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
2 x Shorts/Boardies (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
1 x hoodie or sloppy joe (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
2 x explorer work socks (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
1 x sports shoes(Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
4 x jocks/boxer shorts (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
4 x singlets/Jackie Howe (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
3 x T Shirts/polo neck (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
1 x pr crocs (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)
1 x pr suitable good lightweight hiking boots. (Hobart,on board RSV Aurora Australis & Antarctica)

Black Wolf Collapsible
Bag with Wheels
1 x wet pack.This will include but not limited to: razors, nail clippers, hair shampoo, personal soap bars.I make mention of these in particular because if you are traveling to Antarctica via the Icebreaker Aurora Australis,hair shampoo is not supplied, and the stuff on station is not to everyone's taste.Razors are supplied on station along with foam, but not on the ship.As for the clippers, well they are sometimes overlooked, and nails keep a growing regardless.As for soap bars, well, the ship does supply these, but on station it can be body soap from a wall  mounted dispenser which I hate. So I take my own. Now the water on station is very hard as is the water on the ship, so make up your own mind as to how many bars you take. Moisturizing soap is a good idea as your skin will dry out.

Remember: that you do get clothing issued to you, but varies dependant on what your role is on Station and whether your wintering or summering. So the number of ,say underwear may change for individuals.

If your wintering, or just like to dress formal, take a suit or formal wear. There are limited costumes down on Station and usually address the more bazaar tastes in clothing .

North Face Duffle Bag
Going On RSV Aurora Australis
On the ship you will need only a few things to wear. T-Shirts,jeans, even shorts are fine. You only need 3 sets at the most of underwear as there is a laundry on board. A footy jersey or "sloppy joe" if you feel the cold. However, you do get issued a polar fleece "jumper" and Sherpa trackie pants in your survival bag which are good for ship board life.It is mandatory to wear closed footwear on board. No bare feet or socks.Crocs are fine and are popular.
There is also a shop on board that sells a limited stock of Tshirts,caps,hoodies, jerseys and vests among other items. This is usually open at 1630 each day whilst underway.Notices are posted on a white board on "E" deck mess on timings. So take some cash on board if you like to buy some extra gear with the Aurora Australis logo on it.

If you are traveling south on the RSV Aurora Australis you are permitted 30kg of cabin baggage. This includes all your camera gear,laptops etc. (There are only two public computers on board with limited software and capacity. No Internet once underway and clear of land.)It does not include your survival bag or your issued PPE which are in separate bags.No bag can weight over 15kg with no limit on how many bags you take. So when packing use soft bags such as duffle bags or collapsible type cases.The problem with hard cases is storage of these when on board the Aurora Australis as more than likely you will be sharing with up to 3 others in a cabin the size of a shoe box for 2 weeks. These cabins have no storage for hardcases, so they have to be stowed in places that are just in the way. I use a Black Wolf collapsible on wheels similar to the one pictured and a LowePro Camera Bag to take on the ship.
Flying Down Via McMurdo.

If you are flying to Antarctica via McMurdo you should be aware that you may not actually stay there very long. In fact, you may not even get off the airstrip if the weather is good for flying. However if you do get to stay overnight or longer, make sure you get over to the NZ Scott Base as well. Both Bases have great little shops with them taking credits cards. McMurdo even has ATM's for cash withdrawal in US dollars. So don't withdraw large amounts.You only need a bit of cash for the coffee lounge and the bars. They don't take Australian dollars.If you are planning on walking around these bases it would be good to consider having your hiking boots in your pack as Scott Base is 3km away from McMurdo and there are a number of hikes up surrounding hills that are worth doing if time permits.
TVs and Other Techno Gadgets
Mini Projector
To start off with there is no Television reception in Antarctica. But, believe it or not  some wintering expeditioners take LED TVs down to Antarctica to have them in their room for watching movies.If your summering don't bother as your load limit will not permit it anyway.Personally I don't see the need as I don't watch that many movies. There are cinemas in each of the Australian Stations as well as McMurdo with great surround sound systems. Movies are much better when watched with friends anyway. But if you do decide that you just have to have a TV in your room, you may like to consider having decent headphones with either wireless function, or an extension lead of 3m  to reach your bed from where you place the TV. Remember, there isn't that much room, in your room. If you can put up with them, mini projectors off your laptop are cheaper and much lighter. There are heaps of different ones around and are growing in popularity amongst some "Antarctic Tragics".Some are as small as an external hard drive and give a reasonable quality picture.
Solid State Drives

Key Ring Tags for USB Thumb Drives
My advice for anyone coming south is to invest in solid state drives like USB thumb drives  as storage devices of images and video.I use a range of these from 4gb to 32gb. You can get much bigger, up to 256gb I think, but hell they're expensive. I use the thumb drives to put all my images on as a back up to those on my laptop, by subject. So I have a thumb drive for say, icebergs, another for penguins, and another for Antarctic Equipment etc. etc. I use key ring tags to identify each drive.I use similar ones to those above.Get good quality ones as the cheap and nasty ones don't last and the clear plastic tends to pop out of the holder.The tags can be handy for identifying all sorts of personal gear. Having a number of extra drives is also handy also for sharing images with others.

Audio Extension Leads

Retractable Male to Male
A handy little extension is the retractable 3.5mm male to male audio lead. I use this to plug my ipod into the sound systems of the vehicles on station.The vehicles include 4wd and the odd front-end loader and excavator.The station does have a closed FM radio station whose music is selected by the kitchen hands (slushie) of the day.For the most part I hate the music they select. The extension lead can also be used from your laptop to say an ipod station for better sound qualities when watching movies. Just be aware that the walls of bedrooms on Australian Antarctic Stations are very thin.So your neighbours may not like having their peace shot to hell by Bruce Willis.


When it comes to computers, its just personal likes and dislikes.Apple laptops are popular as are Windows based laptops.Nowadays ipads also are taking their place in Antarctica.The Internet is available but at a snails pace.So don't expect to go south and be downloading large files like movies and software updates. Even watching utube links can be tiresome.The stations now have WiFi, but still take a short (1m) network extension lead as the WiFi does get "bogged" down and runs slow.

There are community computers as well, so if you don't think you will need to fork out for a new laptop, don't despair, there are computers available for all to use.

Portable Scales

Portable Hand Scales
A handy gizmo is a set of portable scales for weighing your bags.These are relatively cheap and can be used over and over. They use 2 x AA batteries and have a digital read out. Mine can weight up to 40kg which is plenty for personal travel luggage.

Hobby Stuff

If you have a hobby, like wood work,making clocks,knitting,leather work or photography, Antarctica is a great place to pursue your interests. Some build models, but  you will probably have to leave the model behind as the packing of such things a challenge.If you are a woodworker, you will have to declare the wood through customs on your return through Australia.

The bottom line is to talk with some "Antarctic Tragics" who have been before as they will be only too happy to give their thoughts on the matter. You don't want to take more than you have to.