Do you copy? SEC=UNCLASSIFIED

Fresh out of radio training this morning, learning how to do a radio sitrep back to Davis Station when you’re out in the field, letting them know how you’re doing and what your plans are, in a predictable and useful format in case something goes wrong. I can see that so much rests on the comms in Antarctica, with the station ready to start SAR (Search and Rescue) procedures if you fail to make your scheduled report. If you’re working on sea ice, you report in every hour so they can ensure you’re on the right side of the ice (over not under). We had to go out on deck to do our practice scheds – it took more time to get dressed for outdoors than to do the report, but it’s -2 on deck, and with the wind chill it’s -13, so it did start to feel quite brisk and we were glad of the extra clothes. We all stood around self consciously and read out our prepared sitreps into the radio handsets when it was our turn. It took me back about a million years to when answering machines first came out and how embarrassing it was to record your own greeting, especially if anyone else was nearby. How last century to even remember that.

I’ve done three training sessions now – comms (radio), patient handling (getting a cold person into a sleeping bag) and navigation. Being such a beginner in all these areas I learned heaps and found them fascinating. The only thing missing is acronyms and abbreviations training, which would be handy. We’ve also had a helicopter safety briefing and this afternoon we’ll have station inductions and environmental briefings. The days are starting to get much busier.

It’s a long voyage and the first half of it is the longest (if that makes sense). We’re starting to see some changes now, with a few more icebergs and birds showing up. Saw a penguin porpoising along yesterday. A big berg passed by yesterday and lots of passengers crowded on the bridge with their cameras and went outside to watch it go by. Someone asked one of the captains if he ever gets bored seeing it all and he said that every iceberg is different. It’s true, I looked at that one with just as much awe as I did when seeing them last year, though perhaps less surprise. I’m on iceberg observation at 7am, 8am and 9am. You go to the bridge, check out what icebergs are around (not many yet), try working out their distance away and size using the sextant if you’re feeling adventurous, or get the figure from the radar if not. It’s not terribly demanding now – seeing one iceberg on the horizon is still exciting – but I expect it will be much harder when we’re surrounded by them.

One of the decks is now closed because of ice and the front of the ship looks quite ghostly, with all the railings covered in a semi-translucent coat of ice. Interesting though – when you come out of a very warm ship and go back into it pretty quickly, the cold seems quite benign. I imagine this temperature would feel completely different if you were out for an hour or two.

Some communally minded souls got together last night and decorated the lounge for Halloween (I was fast asleep by then), so it’s draped with black balloons, spiders webs, witches hats, skeletons and all that kind of stuff. I slept through the first special occasion on Saturday night, so I’m looking forward to the second one tomorrow. I notice I wrote ‘Watch the Melbourne Cup” in a previous email. Ha. What I meant was that we can hopefully listen to a recording of the Melbourne cup about eight hours after the event, over dinner in the mess. The sweeps are already underway, with small prizes and a nice donation for camp quality.

It’s a wee bit rough again today. There’s a few ways you can estimate the height of the swell. I go by the Louise factor. At 1-2 metres my cabin mate looks fabulous and is chatty. At 2-3 metres she gets pale and quiet. When the swell gets above three metres, she’s in bed. Above 4 metres she’s probably vomiting and then she’s no good for further calculations. At 5 metres I start sliding off my stool when I’m working. Everyone on the ship starts doing the waltz – you start walking somewhere and find yourself going one-two-three, one-two-three in a side to side motion to keep your balance. When things start falling off the benches and you find yourself clinging to the railings in the hallways and bouncing from wall to wall, it’s probably getting around 6 metres. Higher than that, it’s time to get into bed and find something to hang on to.

Two crewmen in orange jumpsuits have just come in to lab 3 and started waving a very blokey hairdryer (which I presume is a heat gun) at the heat sensors on the ceiling, calling the bridge by radio to check if the alarms are going off and then re-setting them. Never a dull moment.

Louise is in bed. Lunch is in ten minutes. I’ve got work to do!

You’re not meant to say ‘Over and Out’ at the end of a radio call as they mean two different things. Over means you’re waiting for the other person to respond, out means the radio call is finished. It seems a bit abrupt really.

Jesse xxx

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About Jesse Blackadder

Living at the easternmost tip of Australia on the caldera of an extinct volcano, Jesse Blackadder is a novelist, freelance writer and Doctor of Creative Arts. She is fascinated by landscapes, adventurous women and very cold places and has published three adult novels and three novels for children.
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2 Responses to Do you copy? SEC=UNCLASSIFIED

  1. Kathy Holder says:

    Vivid description of ocean swells. Yikes!

  2. Julie edwards says:

    Jess it all sounds so awesome and out of this world , like I’m watching a documentary u take care and enjoy. What amazing memories to hold onto for a lifetime and stories to tell your updates are wonderful lots of luv Julie lee and bet xx

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