Translate Blog

Search This Blog

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Internet Banking In Antarctica

Who would have thought about internet banking in Antarctica and the hassles one can have in transferring funds to someone else. On the Australian Stations there is nothing to spend cash on, everything is supplied. However, there is always T shirts and other garments that are usually on sale that will require payments to an account so that they can be purchased back in Australia and be ready for pickup by cargo for transport to Antarctica on the next ship or plane.

So before you leave Australia, ensure that you talk to your bank about where you are going, and the need to transfer funds to an outside account without the need of SMS security codes going to mobile phones for verification.'Cause guess what, no mobile phone coverage in Antarctica. I know they tell expeditioners you do not need cash in Antarctica, which is true, but you do need to have the ability to transfer funds for those souvenir T Shirts.

Staying Busy in Antarctica

Emperor Penguin Sculpture
One of the many challenges when working in Antarctica is not getting bored. Although we work 5.5 days a week, there are still 1.5 days of free time and after hours. Well one would think you'd be able to fill your time going on walks, photography, reading, watching movies and writing blogs.  
This of course is all true, but for a lot of the time the weather out side is not great for walks and photography, and movies and reading is good for some, but not others.  The important thing is to get into a project that not only burns up time but lessens the chance of spending to much time thinking about home and finding yourself in the bar.

As a tradesman who can work metal I have found that fashioning sculptures is a good way for me to pass time both on bad weather days and at night after work. Others on station knit, form bands, make models, make jewelery, clocks, sew, read,go to the gym and leather work to name but a few.

Something about models is that they can be fragile and getting them home can be tricky. So before you buy that "Golden Hind" wooden model, think about how you are going to pack it up to get it home, or where it is going to be displayed on station. Also, stations do not supply much in the way of materials, so bring your own if it is specialized.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Type of Camera Should I Take as an Expeditioner to Antarctica

A question I get asked frequently about Antarctica is," what type of camera gear should I take?" The short answer is as little as possible.What you see here to the right is a portion of what I take. It doesn't show the video camera or the monopod, tripod, and a gorilla pod, flash unit, laser triggers, and a mired of battery chargers. Also I have to have large cases to keep it all in for transport.

 The fact is that it depends on whether you're a photographic tragic like me who was into photography long before going to Antarctica, or your someone who basically takes happy snaps when at home and only on holidays.The short and curly of this is that you will only need a good quality point and shoot or mirrorless camera for Antarctica. If your a "photographic tragic" , you will already have all the gear you need.
To get the full benefit from DSLR's and their associated  lenses, you need to have a full understanding of what all the dials and buttons are for, have an understanding of processing software, and or are prepared to find out.My advice is if your a happy snapper, then get yourself a good point and shoot (compact) or better still a mirrorless camera that has better quality than a compact due to its sensor size being that of popular DSLR's. 

There will be times when you wished you had a bloody big lens for an obscure bird flying around,and the auto focusing capabilities of the DSLR, but in reality you will probably just frustrate yourself because it takes more than a big lens to capture birds on the wing. Mirrorless cameras will capture high quality images for most "happy snappers".

I would be reading all the camera reviews online about the various types and brands. I do not recommend phone cameras as they have very limited abilities in coping with the extreme light contrasts of Antarctica and their sensor size is so small that the quality of the image is poor. They are fine for "selfies" and party shots, not Antarctic landscapes. 

If you do decide to go with the DSLR's, buy yourself a bloody good cleaning kit. This should include a "jumbo" bulb blower, cleaning wipes or "pen" and a bucket of patience. A sensor magnifier with light is also handy. I suggest this as surprising as it may sound, Antarctica is very dry and dusty during the summer months. Dust will get into every thing including the insides of lenses which usually can not be fixed other than by a professional camera cleaning service.Removal or exchanging lenses out in the open is fraught with danger down here as dust will cover your sensor and doesn't make for good images.In terms of lens focal lengths the "zooms" are more practical to carry, though they don't give as good a quality images as a fixed focal length, but not of importance to most amateur photographers. So I take a 18-55mm,24-70mm , 70 -200mm ,75-300mm,150-500mm zooms.I could in fact leave the 18-55mm and 75-300mm zooms at home, but they are my back ups if the wheels fall off the cart so to speak with one of the other lenses.If weight and a budget is a consideration, then go with two lenses,an ultra wide, say 10-20mm or there abouts for big landscapes, and a telefocal that goes up to 300mm or 400mm for wildlife.

Regardless of what camera you purchase, get a good protective carry case or bag. Also make sure you are familiar with the software that comes with you camera, before you leave home and it is loaded onto the computer you are going to bring with you, not the one you leave at home on your office desk. A gorilla pod is also useful as a small lightweight tripod that is used for "selfies" or self included group shots.

Another style of camera which is worth considering is an extreme sports camera. These cameras are great for capturing video and stills. The HD quality of the video component on these cameras are great and due to their construction can take a fair beating. Drift and Gopro both produce great cameras.

I could go on for ages about this subject and sometimes I do, but hopefully you will be able to come up with what bests suits you between my excessive amount of gear and a mobile phone.

Basler BT 67

The Basler BT 67 is old school external design meets new technology. Based on a DC-3 body these old birds have had their lives extended. Basler Turbo Conversions have re-powered them with turbo - prop engines and made fuselage modifications. 

They fly down each summer from Canada through the northern and southern continents of America and then on to the Antarctic continent. We as Australians, use them to transport cargo and people between our Antarctic stations. They can land on both sea ice airstrips as seen here at Davis Station, and snow airstrips when the sea ice blows out.
See also the Australian Antarctic Division for more specifications on this aircraft. I personally have not flown in one as of yet, but certainly look forward to that day. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crossing the Southern Ocean - by Horse

Icy Cargo on the foredeck
Finding Open Streams Close to Bergs
Nothing Keeps a Good Photographer Below Deck
I haven't sailed on many of the oceans of the world, in fact technically only three. Those being the Pacific, Indian and the Southern Ocean.For me, the Southern Ocean is as wild and unhospitable a place that any sailor could venture. It offers you beauty and splendor in the wildlife that follow you, the majesty of icebergs that you pass, and the full voracity of mother natures wind and sea.   The Southern Ocean was only defined as recent as the year 2000 as that stretch of ocean below 60° S that surrounds the continent of Antarctica and does not come into contact with my home continent of Australia. Anyway, regardless of the exact geographical locality of the ocean that stretch between Australia and Antarctica is "bloody" rough and once your past the 60°S mark, cold. This year I traveled down as usual on RSV Aurora Australis. The trip took a more southerly route this time to avoid a low that was driving strong winds and seas directly into our normal path. So we headed pretty much due south towards Antarctica rather than sloping off to the west soon after leaving Tasmania. The seas weren't too bad this year compared with other years (A Voyage to Antarctica by Horse) a maximum of 6m this year. The main difference this year was how quickly we came into sea ice, and how tightly packed it was around the 60°S mark. With overcast  days we were not able to launch our helicopters early to direct us to open "streams" (open water between ice packs) thereby allowing us to maintain good speed. On a few days we were only able to put 1 or 2 Nm(nautical miles) behind us.This in turn put us a week behind schedule in making it to Davis Station

Up Close and Personal with Ice Bergs
Ice Closing in Behind  Showing Little of Where We've Come From
The ice did however allow for some spectacular sights and the cold never keeps keen photographers below decks for long. Ice this year was they tell me some 6m thick  in places which is just amazing given this is yearly ice and not ice that has built up over a number of years like the Northern hemisphere. The RSV Aurora Australis is only a baby icebreaker and while it is a capable ship, she lacks horse power and size to handle that thickness of ice. Of course that is only my opinion as any old salts with years of maritime experience might care to disagree.With the weather not being on the side of photographers this year with cloudy conditions for the most part, my personal endeavours were limited as I find my images appear flat and not to my taste. The weather also limited the number of birds we saw. However, there were many whale sitings this year and crab-eater seals were abundant. Photographing whales from the ship and in those water a little uninteresting with my images looking like those of a slug on a board. Whales don't get up close and personal with ice breaking ships for long.

A Horse on the Helideck during one of our routine musters to explore our fashion sense on the Southern Ocean.Hey I don't pick the colour or style. The water was 1 to 3°C at this time opposed to -1.3°C when we got into the ice.What I have on here would be only good for 5 min. in the ice water before I went into shock. The yellow goretex outfit here is only good for windy days as an outter shell on land or on a helideck.

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.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Heading to Antarctica - Sleep Doesn't Come Easily

Mawson 1954
For those of you considering going to Antarctica, and especially those going as expeditioners to any of the 3 Antarctic continent stations of Mawson,Davis or Casey there are a few things that you might like to consider before you go.
Life at these stations is very easy when compared with those who started the stations back in the early 1950's. Today the stations are modern by comparison, but when spending from 3 to 18 months there, it is nice to have a few personal items that make it more of a home.
One of the greatest challenges in any camp, whether it be a mine camp in Australia or an Antarctic Station, is getting solid sleep.The rooms on any of the stations are comfortable, but have walls as thin as rice paper. Lying there at night overhearing your neighbour figiting around with draws, playing terrible music,snoring and the occasional farts, does not always make for good fatigue management.So, here a few things that one might consider taking to help getting a good night sleep.
The Construction of Mawson Station 1954

  1. Your own comfy pillow. While all the stations provide all the bedding including pillows, They aren't exactly comfortable.I take my own because I like a firmer style of pillow.I still use the supplied ones as packing for when I sit up in bed reading.
  2. Ear plugs for obvious reasons.Noise cancelling headphones are also good, but not so comfortable when you roll over
  3. Sleeping tablets in the form of natural herbs, ie Valerian. I find these not bad as I don't wake up groggy.As always, these things work for some and not others. Valerian for myself is a suttle sleeping tablet as it relaxs the mind, it doesn't stomp on it like codine based tablets or other chemical based sleep tablets.
  4. Humidifier.The environment in the Antarctic is incredibly dry. The rooms do tend to be on the dry side which does effect solid sleep.You can buy humidifiers but are expensive and just adds to the overall weight of your luggage. So, a handy thing is a couple of long "hockey straps" or "bungy straps" as well as 3m of nylon rope suitable for a cloths line. All cloths are dried in commercial dryers or drying rooms. These all have limitations when you have a large crew on station during summer. However, having your own clothesline rigged in your room allows you to dry your cloths without having them been mistaken for someone Else's on a community line, and they add to the humidity of your room which in turn helps with your sleep. Believe me when I tell you your cloths will be dry in the morning. You may have to be a little inventive with how you rig your line as rooms don't exactly have hooks hanging out of the walls and nor should you be putting your own in.If your not inventive, then talk to the "Antarctic Tragics" who have been before. Frankly, if your not inventive, then what the hell are you doing going to Antarctica!
    Mawson 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

Elephant Seals - The Davis Boys

This video is a collection of clips from the beach at the Davis Station. These boys are just playing,but they do get rough with blood being spilled.  

The Davis Boys - Antarctic Elephant Seals from Antarctic Horse on Vimeo.

For detailed information on the Elephant seal.More "Davis Boys" images below ↓

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Australia Day Celebration in Antarctica 2013

 Australia Day is traditionally celebrated on the 26th of January each year. It is the date back in 1788 that the first British planted their flag upon the soil of this country and proclaimed it to be theirs.

Personally, I don't celebrate that fact as my descendants are Scottish and German. I do however think it a time to reflect on the fact we are a free country, made up of the best that the world has and  that we have not had to resort to civil war or internal conflict to remain free. 

In Antarctica we celebrate the day like a lot of Australians by going to the beach. We also share the beach with the locals, Adelie penguins and Elephant seals. They don't seem to mind, watching our activities I'm sure with interest. The usual summer swim, beach footy and cricket are always the favorites. The water is nice and cool at  - 1.5° C and a suntanning is always good with the out of water temp. today at 0.7 ° C.

Now you may be wondering about the timing of this years celebrations by us down here in Antarctica. Well, we have our resupply ship Aurora Australis coming later in the week and nothing can hold up this resupply.So, we're just getting in before it comes.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Antarctic Wildlife - Snow Petrels

Scientific Name: Pagodroma nivea
Snow petrels are an all-white, small fulmarine petrel with conspicious dark eyes, small black bill and bluish gray feet. There are two subspecies of snow petrel that differ only in size.

Distribution and Abundance

Snow petrel breed on South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, Bouvet, the Balleny Islands, and Scott Island and at numerous localities on the Antarctic Peninsula and Antarctic Continent.

Snow petrel are almost entirely restricted to cold antarctic waters and are associated with pack ice, icebergs and ice floes. Flocks are characteristically seen sitting on icebergs.

Snow petrel nest colonially in small to large colonies on cliffs, usually near the sea, but also inland. Some birds remain at the colony all year, but the main influx of birds to the colonies is from mid-September until early November.

Conservation status: least concern


The nest is a simple pebble-lined scrape usually in a deep rock crevice with overhanging protection. One white egg is laid in late November to mid-December. The egg is incubated for 41-49 days and the chick is brooded for 8 days. The chick then remains in the nest for an additional 7 weeks. Snow petrel chicks leave the nest in late February to mid-May.

                                   Giant Antarctic Petrel flying with the Smaller Snow Petrel

                                                                  Snow Petrel off Shore

Diet and Feeding

At sea, snow petrel eat mainly fish, some cephalopods (squid), other molluscs, and euphausiids. They also feed on seal placenta and the carcasses of dead seals, whales and penguins, and occasionally eat refuse on land. The Snow petrel do not normally follow vessels.

Snow petrel tend to fly low over the water but very high over land to avoid predators such as South Polar skuas.

Skuas are major predators, but severe weather conditions, especially heavy snow that blocks nest entrances, may cause adults to abandon their eggs or chicks to starve. Egg mortality is approximately 50% while chick mortality is typically 10-15%.

Source: Australian Antarctic Division