16 March 1995

Blizzards and 80 knot winds have kept us inside "Gadget Hut" for 7 days. In the middle of the blizzards we had a heat wave. The temperature got up to one degree above zero Celsius. We had three days of this warm weather and we were worried about our meat defrosting. The wind was very strong and from the east instead of the south by south-east which is the usual direction. Yesterday the sun came out and we went over to the frozen lake where we collect water. The ice on top of the lake is now about 70 centimetres thick. We managed to get three drums of water. I think it won't be long before we are going to start melting ice on the stove to get water. I haven't taken a bath for fourteen days. I told Margie that I'm conserving water. She didn't let me get away with that excuse and now I've taken a bath. She thinks she is a lot cleaner, it was only nine days since her last bath. Our average water consumption so far is approximately six litres a day.

Yesterday we spent some time sitting with the group of penguins right next to the hut. They aren't afraid of us and don't mind us being here at all. We think they are getting used to us because they have been watching us for so long. We sat about 30 centimetres from them and they seemed to be talking to us. The blizzard must have been rough on them, penguins rely on their curved feathers and down to protect them from the cold. They look very scruffy. All their feathers are falling out. We felt sorry for them. Their flippers were frozen to the sides of their bodies and they were all caked in ice. The few remaining feathers were full of snow and ice. There were two penguins in the group of sixteen that had half their faces frozen solid with ice. They couldn't even see out. Another one had his beak frozen closed. We watched him and it took him about half a day to get his mouth open. When this group of penguins arrived about ten days ago they were all nice and shiny with all their feathers. They had big fat tummies full of food. Then their feathers started falling out like crazy. We haven't seen them eat since they began moulting. Penguins also rely on a layer of fat to keep them warm. These penguins have lost their fat and they just seem to stand around waiting for their feathers to finish dropping out. A student from Oamaru North School asked what type of penguins we have seen. There are eight types of penguins in the Anatarctic region: Rockhopper, Royal, Macaronit, Chinstrap, Gentoo, King, Emperor and Adelie. So far the only type of penguin we have seen here this time is Adelie penguins. There was a huge breeding colony here when we arrived. In January 1993 I saw an Emperor penguin here all by himself. Emperor penguins are the only other type of penguin that breed on the Antarctic continent. There is a colony of Emperor penguins over near Dumont d'Urville I understand.

During the blizzard I have to go out to put our waste water into the sea. I've put timber stakes along the path that I take to the sea because the visibility is sometimes very bad. One day I could only see about three metres. I put the stakes 24 paces apart so I may be adding a few more. While I was out during the blizzard I looked around for the seals. There weren't very many. But yesterday when the sun came out all the seals were out basking in the sunshine. Last week before the blizzard we had a calm day and the seals were dozing on the ice that was floating around in Boat Harbour. The tide went out and took the seals sleeping on the ice with it. When they woke up I'll bet they were surprised. There's lot of ice offshore now and the seals can rest on any of the ice floes. The sea is trying to freeze over. When it does the seals gnaw a breathing hole in the ice with their teeth. That's why they have the bloody mouths that I mentioned in my journal of 24 February. Margie and I keep thinking that when the sea freezes it will be a sign that winter is here. Once winter is here then it will soon be spring! We keep telling ourselves that when we look at the expected low temperatures for the next few months. These are the lowest temperatures in Celsius: March -25, April -24, May -35, June -34, July -33, August -34, September -30, October -20, November -19, December -9. January's not listed but never mind, we'll be leaving in January. We're using about ten litres of kerosene a week for the heater to keep us warm. Looking at these expected low temperatures I wonder if our consumption will stay about the same.

Last night we saw a fantastic sight. There was a full moon coming up on the eastern horizon just as the sun was going down on the western horizon. Between the two horizons and reflected on the frozen and shinny sea the colours ranged from gray, to several shades of blue, navy blue and then yellow. The colour was dotted with ice bergs off shore and the entire picture can't be painted with words. It was impossible to photograph because the panorama was so big. It lasted for half and hour. It was a sight we'll never forget. If it were a painting by a really good artist Margie thinks it would have been worth about $10 million dollars.

Our COMSAT phone is fantastic. It is our link with the outside world. We spoke with students in New Zealand this week. They had some interesting questions but the time got away from us. There were a few that we thought you might like to hear. About fishing: Students from Reporoa Primary School wanted to know what kinds of fish we will catch and eat while we are here. I really like fishing so I've been doing some reading about fishing in Antarctica. Before we left Australia, I applied for and received a fishing permit from the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories. I had to do this because of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act, 1981. I am now allow "to catch fish for recreational purposes -with respect to all species of fish." According to the books I've read there are four types of fish that I am likely to catch. They are Antarctic Cod, Crocodile fish, Icefish and Plunder fish. All these fish belong to one family, Nototheniidae. Their adaptation to the cold water here as given them some very interesting characteristics. Icefish, sometimes called white crocodile fish belong to the species Chaenichthyidae. They lack haemoglobin, the red blood pigment, which makes them almost colourless--so they got the nickname Icefish. The Antarctic Cod doesn't look very much like a cod fish from the pictures in books. They look more like Blennies. They are supposed to be delicious once skinned and filleted. They take bait from lines in shallow water. It is a curious thing that these fish don't freeze. Scientists have discovered that they have a sort of "anti-freeze" in their blood that is made of a protein-carbohydrate. The books say one other interesting thing about them. They are supposed to lie still after they are caught. No flipping around like regular fish for these guys. The books say it is because they dilate their spiny gill covers! I let you know if I find all these facts to be true when I catch some! About problems: Students from Rangi Ruru Girls' School wanted to know what we would do if we were separated from "Gadget Hut" in bad weather. That would be a life threatening situation and our plan is to avoid such situations. That's why I put the timber stakes out along the path I take to the sea. As I mentioned in my earlier journal (29 Jan. "The Crew Goes Exploring") I' m a bit of a safety freak. I don't believe in taking unnecessary risks. Margie and I plan to go camping in the spring and that will be a well planned and well equipped trip. I'll share all the details with you when I prepare for that little holiday. Oamaru North School asked if we have had any major problems so far. The flexing of the hut walls has been our major problem. Right now I'm getting ready to strengthen the roof. It has been flexing when the winds get over 70 knots. I've decided to put another support in the roof to stop the movement. It might not be necessary but I'd rather be safe than sorry. (I mentioned what I did to stop the walls flexing in the journal of 29 January under "Our First Blizzard, 1 Feb.") Several schools asked about our "mental attitude," for example how we felt when the crew left, have we prepared in our mind for the isolation, do we get on each others nerves, etc. I can tell you this so far. Margie and I are an exceptionally close couple. We worked together all day at McIntyre Marine Services in Sydney, we went home together, cooked dinner together, all that is different here is the weather and the scenery. The fantastic COMSAT phone is keeping us in touch with other people. All this might change over the next few months. I'll keep you informed. Maybe you'll notice changes in what I write about in my journal. It will be interesting over the next few months to see what happens. We've had poor radio reception this week. It's just a feature of Antarctica. Sir Douglas Mawson had the same problem more than 80 years ago. We have been getting some news from the outside world from Radio Australia and Radio America. One news story has made us worried. Harry Mitchell is sailing in the BOC Challenge, a single-handed around the world yacht race. I sailed in that race in 1990-91 and we know Harry. We learned on the radio that Harry's emergency locater beacon went off and they haven't heard from him. Fishing boats and a ship are looking for him in the Southern Ocean near Cape Horn. We are hoping that they find him soon or that he gets his radio working and let's the race organisers know that he is safe. We are missing a few things lately. Margie misses the beach and I miss my flying magazines. We are becoming amateur rock hounds to make up for these losses. Yesterday during our walk we found gold! It's probably not real gold but it looks good. There's mica , quartz, copper and lots of other interesting stuff. Still no meteorites or fossils but we are looking. Talk to you next week.

Keep warm,
Back to Index Ever Onwards