February 1995
Living alone in Antarctica is teaching me how many everyday conveniences I took for granted when I lived in a city. Water, showers, washing clothes, the toilet, electricity, rubbish collection, recycling paper, glass and plastic. My list gets longer and longer. Right now the biggest one seems to be electricity.

Living in a city we just plugged into the socket on the wall. I think I took electricity for granted, sure we got a power bill every now and then but I never worried about where it came from. Sailing around the world I was conscious of electricity but after all I was on a yacht. In our little "Gadget Hut" (We have given our survival hut this nickname because "Gadget" was a favorite husky dog with Mawson's men) we need electricity for lights, the radio, the CD player, the tape player, the telephone, the computer and the microwave. Generating electricity requires a source of energy. We can use the wind, the sun or fossil fuel as energy sources. We have equipment with us to use all three sources. Right now because it is still light for a good portion of the day we are using solar energy. We have Solarex panels on the side of our hut. The sun shines on them and they convert energy of the sun to electricity which is stored in batteries so we can use it when we need it.

If you are studying solar energy then these details may be of interest to you. I have two Solarex MSX-77 panels. They are 77 watt modules and have dual voltage capability. 36 semicrystalline solar cells are arranged in two 18 cell strings. Combined in series, these strings produce 12 volts. The strings terminate in a junction box and can be reconfigured in parallel, or on- site, to produce a 6 volt output. This arrangement also allows bypass diodes to be placed every 18 cells (2 per module) improving reliability and performance in higher voltage (24V and above) systems. This is the latest technology in polycrystalline silicon photovoltaics and the largest solar cells in commercial production. They also have the highest power and charging current (4.56 amps) of any 36 cell PV module on the market today. The Solarex company claims they have had no failures reported since the first module was delivered in 1987. That was a big reason why I chose to take them to Antarctica.

I have three "dryfit Sport-Line" 90amp hour, 12 volt gel batteries. I used this brand of batteries on my yacht, "Buttercup" when I sailed single-handed around the world. They were great so I chose them for Expedition Ice-Bound. They are completely sealed and can work even in extreme situations like being upside down when "Buttercup" rolled degrees in the Southern Ocean near Cape Horn. "Dryfit Sport-Line" is the first sealed battery that uses the Sonnenschein technology of immobilised gel electrolyte. I like them because they can't leak acid and don't have to be filled with water from time to time. That could be a real problem down here.

The big excitement this week was hooking up our radio receiver. We really brought it along as an emergency transmitter but we thought it might be fun to get some news of the world. From about 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. it is sort of dark. The moon's out and we can see the stars. The night allows radio signals to reach areas far greater than what they can in the daytime. We heard stations in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland, New Zealand. The New Zealand station was a talk-back show. It was just after midnight and the presenter gave his telephone number on air. I turned on the electricity and picked up my COMSAT phone in a briefcase (an Inmarsat M communications system) and gave him a call. At first he thought we were joking about being in Antarctica but eventually we convinced him that we were serious. He was quite impressed to have a live via satellite call from the windiest place on earth. We told him all about Telecom New Zealand and how they are bringing news of our adventure to New Zealand schools. The microwave sounds like a modern luxury for two people living in a survival hut but when you consider how much fuel you use in cooking every day, especially baking bread you can see why it makes sense. We get the sun's energy to make electricity. The heavy, bulky liquid fossil fuel which we had to transport from Australia we are saving for when there is no sunshine. Using the microwave is quick, it uses sunshine and there's no pollution. Before we left Sydney we figured out the amount of fuel we would need to cook every day and compared it to using the microwave for a good part of our cooking. We still have a kerosene stove like I had on my yacht and we do use it but we really like the microwave.

We had another blizzard. For eight days we were stuck inside "Gadget Hut" with temperatures outside around -18 Celsius and 75 knots of wind. The visibility at times was only a few metres with drifting snow. We were getting low on water and decided to try and get out to the lake were we have been collecting water. The wind got down to 50 knots and the wind chill was -40 so tried it and we were able to get a bit of water. We did it as a training run more than anything else and we learned quite a lot. Mostly we learned that we'll only be able to get water from the lake for another week or two. Yesterday when the sun was shining we went back to the lake. The ice is now about 45 centimetres thick and I had to use a big mattock instead of the ice axe that I had been using to chop down through it. Today is the mildest it has been in almost two weeks. It was -8 Celsius outside when we woke up today. If you want to know what it's like in "Gadget Hut" look inside your freezer at home (unless you have a frost-free type). See how the frost extends out from the walls of the freezer--well everywhere there is aluminium inside our hut looks like that. The frost is almost 3 centimetres thick. The frost is even growing on the carpet we put near the bunk to insulate us from the frost. We are starting to get worried about what it is going to be like in winter when the temperature gets to -31 Celsius. We ripped all the carpet down and we've lined the inside all around our bunk with timber and high-density foam. We did that two days ago and it seems to be working.

There is moisture under our mattress and we couldn't work out where it was coming from. We thought it might have been dampness from the trip down on "Spirit of Sydney." We took the mattress outside, took the cover off it and tried to dry it. The very next morning the moisture was back. We think its condensation from our bodies going down through the mattress. We are wondering what is going to happen during the winter.

When we arrived in January there were lots and lots of penguins down here, Adelie penguins. One penguin stayed near our hut for a few days when we first put it up but he eventually found a friend. They joined the rest of the penguin colony. Most of them have gone now but there are still a few around. Margie and I are a little concerned about three penguins who seem to be moulting. They hide behind some rocks about five metres from our hut. Every day they seem to lose more and more feathers. We're not sure what's happening to these three. You'd think that they would have finished moulting when all the others did. I'll keep you informed. There were a few seals here when we came but now there are about 115 seals in Boat Harbour. They are all Weddell Seals which are large seals up to about 3 metres and 500 kilograms. They just lounge around on the ice of Boat Harbour. We go over and have a look at them every day we can get out. A lot of them have wounds and look like they've been fighting. Their mouths are bleeding too. We've seen then chomping on the ice.

I haven't got enough electricity to answer all of you individually but I'll use this journal to answer as many questions as I can. I hope that you send e-mail back and forth between schools and make this Antarctic adventure something we all share. I'd like to say that I'm amazed that schools from North Rockhampton, Geelong, Hill End and Alice Springs School of the Air and reading ICEJOURNAL. Keep those electronic postcards coming. Miranda Public School asked some questions about electricity that I hope I've answered this week. Several schools including Clovelly Primary, Woolooware and Millthorpe asked about where we store our "waste." HERE IS THE ANSWER TO THIS POPULAR QUESTION. We have black plastic drums that are made for industrial hazardous waste. We have two of them in the small room that I mentioned a few weeks ago when I wrote about taking a shower (see ALONE WITH THE PENGUINS, Taking a bath). There is a board in the annex at sitting down height with two holes in it, one is labelled "pee" and the other "poo." Beneath each hole is a black drum. The The penguins and seals don't take such care of the environment but we are the visitors and we care about their environment. We will take all the drums of solid waste back to Australia. The liquid waste will be put in the sea. The Antarctic treaty permits both types of waste to be put in the sea but we wouldn't want to do that. Our Antarctic bases don't do it either. If you ask a question and I don't answer it directly it may be because I've answered it in this journal or in a previous one. Or maybe the question is too hard and I don't know the answer yet. One school asked what I'm going to feel like when it's dark for ten weeks during the winter. The answer is....coming in the winter when I actually live through that darkness. Right now I'd just be guessing. I've read many books about explorers who lived in isolation. I wanted to experience it myself. I'll let you in on all the secrets. Keep reading ICEJOURNAL. Oh, I want to tell you about Mary Ann. She works in my office in Sydney. I've asked her to type up a list of my e-mail postcards and put them on ICEBOUND.BB so you can all see the schools and their electronic addresses. I'll get her to include PowerNet Keylink, Nexus and New Zealand schools. Soon we should be adding Japan and the United States to our e-mail ICEBOUND club.

Keep warm,
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