A windy week at Macca as expeditioners complete search and rescue training, remove huts via helicopter, take a trip to brothers point and more.

Station update

This week on Macquarie Island has been windy!

Wind gusts over 100 km per hour have been recorded on most days this week. Accordingly station activity has been focused on ‘battening down the hatches’, and ensuring that our infrastructure is storm ready and nothing has moved overnight.

Winds of these speeds whip the large swells of the southern ocean on our western shore into a formidable sight. One can only shiver at the thought of the conditions faced by the early visitors to the island, many of whom were lost in shipwrecks during storms such as these.

Monday saw waves breaking over the isthmus, and had quite a few expeditioners scrambling for cameras and finding good vantage points to gain only cold hands, and inevitably a salt encrusted lens, after enduring a long wait for the next wave.

Our all-station emergency response team has been busy training again this week. Friday afternoon was spent reviewing our emergency response procedures in search and rescue, followed by practical training and drills with our stretcher, complete with wheel, that may be used in the event of transporting an injured party overland for long distances.

Those of us on station have missed the company of our rangers this week. They headed out to the field huts at the beginning of the week, and have been finding sheltered locations to commence bird monitoring activities for the season.

In all, while our spare time has been focused indoors this week, we have all enjoyed the opportunity to engage in our various hobbies and projects in the evenings, or attend a movie in the cinema.

The Macca Mash Tun 2015 — World Whisky Day event

The week Macquarie Island participated in World Whisky Day, hosting the ‘Macca Mash Tun 2015, Whisky Appreciation Day'.

The Mash Tun was highlighted on the World Whisky Day website as being the most isolated event for 2015.

Our most isolated event on the sub-Antarctic Tasmanian territory Macquarie Island (1,000 miles southwest of Tasmania and 2300 miles north of Antarctica), where the winter population of 13 were set to celebrate in style at their Macca Mash Tun event.” — World Whisky Day website

World Whisky Day is an international celebration founded in Scotland, centred on promoting Scotland’s traditional drink and culture to the world. Whisky appreciation events occurred in 48 countries. Amongst the 2015 Macca crew are some whisky connoisseurs, and as it turns out, some very interested whisky tasting novices.

Generous expeditioners put forward their finest drops, and a world class selection was assembled. Ten different malts were selected for tasting to represent a diverse range of geography and flavour.

Rich opened with a presentation on the history and processes of whisky production. Distillery maps were posted so that we could virtually follow the journey around the distilleries.

Small 10 mL drams of uisce beatha (water of life), were prepared and sampled while we shared the distillery history and tasting notes for each drop.

Whilst the furious Macca winds raged outside, we sat around our imaginary fireplace for four hours sharing the intrigue of picking out the notes and bouquets identified by the tasting notes. Mangoes, vanilla, peat, fruits, cinnamon and other spices danced from the glasses to our discerning noses. Tastings were followed promptly by judgement, with different preferences dividing the opinion of the discerning tasters.

Wonderful whisky tales were shared. Most bottles came compete with a story of how they came to be judged worthy of being selected to make the trip to Macca. Other bottles were presented with fond memories of visits to distilleries, or significant occasions. We even discovered an expeditioner with whisky royalty lineage amongst us!

The most isolated whisky tasting event on the globe was rounded out, representing our home state of Tasmania, with a fine single malt from Nant Distillery, The Old Mill Reserve  – a cask strength offering created from selected barrels of American Oak ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.

A big thanks to all who generously shared their precious special occasion whiskies, and to Rich for hosting the event.

Our tasting list

  • Nant Distillery The Old Mill Reserve
  • The Balvenie Double Wood 12yo
  • Glenmorangie The Original 10yo
  • Talisker 10yo
  • Bushmills Irish Whisky 10yo
  • Bowmore Legend
  • Laphroaig PX Cask
  • Lagavulin 16yo
  • The Glenrothes Select Reserve
  • Drambuie Whisky Liqueur

MIPEP hut removal project

In July 2010, five water tank huts and two apple huts were set up on Macquarie Island to support hunting operations for the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP). With hunting operations concluded in 2013/14 the huts were decommissioned in early 2014, and scheduled for removal in April of 2014.

The April 2014 resupply was undertaken by L’Astrolabe, and no helicopter support was available. The decommissioned huts and their packed loads remained in situ for another year. This year, the voyage four (V4) resupply in April saw the Aurora Australis tasked to Macquarie Island, bringing with it four helicopters to complete a busy program of aerial operations including the removal of the MIPEP Huts.

The hut removal team included Team Leader Paul Helleman (Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service), Peter Preston (ex-MIPEP team 2011 and 2014), Eddie Firth and Rowena Lundy (TASPAWS) and Don Hudspeth (Australian Antarctic Division), who were assisted by Jarrod Hodgson.

The water tanks huts, as their name suggests are shelters designed from water tanks fitted out with two bunks and cooking facilities and were originally developed by Rod Ledingham for the AAD expeditions to Heard Island in 2000. Plastic water tanks were insulated with apertures cut out for windows and doors. These were refurbished by MIPEP.

The apple huts are a prefabricated fibreglass shelter. Huts were generally set up on a timber platform, complete with some sections of boardwalk, equipment stored in cage pallets and bait pods outside the hut. Gas bottles were on site to provide cooking and heating, and most huts also had dog kennels to provide shelter for the dogs accompanying the hunters.

When the huts were disassembled in 2014, they were packed up into loads able to be easily sling loaded by a helicopter and returned to station for sorting and fumigating, prior to being transported to the ship. Loads included cage pallets, bulker bags, bundles of building materials, disused ply bait pods, and of course the huts themselves.

Throughout the resupply, the team pounced on weather windows making the most of any opportunity to operate helicopters up on the plateau. The team was flown into a site and then prepared the loads for collection by helicopter. The helicopters worked back and forth between station and the plateau, shuttling loads piece by piece, to remove all trace of the MIPEP infrastructure from the island.

The operation was a resounding success with all huts removed with the exception of the Windy Ridge hut. As suggested by its name, conditions proved too turbulent on Windy Ridge to complete the operation to retrieve this last hut from the plateau.

The green apple hut, formerly Gratitude shelter, was relocated and now sits proudly on Wireless Hill forming the tsunami emergency refuge.

The Davis Point hut was also retained as an emergency refuge for researchers and PWS team members working on the exposed west coast.

Many expeditioners hold fond memories of nights spent sheltering from the elements in these huts. The tall tales from the huts of Caroline Cove, Tiobunga, Eitel, Gratitude Shelter, and Eagle Shelter will live on in Macca folklore.

Search and rescue training

This week we all participated in search and rescue (SAR) training with a skills development session around patient transport. SAR Leader Rich Youd planned a training session comprising some desktop revision of our response framework, followed by hands on skill development. The team practiced splinting and fracture management under the watchful eye of Dr Marion Davies.

Patient packaging and transport was our second focus. Specific pieces of equipment are packed with our Ferno basket stretcher here on Macca, unique from what may often be found in an urban setting. With exposure to cold and wet weather being a hazard here to an injured person, we practiced using the ‘orange carrot’ or the padded bag, an insulated and waterproof bag complete with Velcro access points to better attend the patient and their harness. Our stretcher is also complete with a float system in the event that we are evacuating via inflatable rubber boat (IRB). 

Macquarie Island is not accessible by vehicles and any stretcher movement would be undertaken overland on foot. Our stretcher has a wheel, which can be attached underneath, to enable long distance transfers over land. The stretcher was assembled, disassembled and moved around station and ultimately into the surgery, marking the end of our working week.

Brothers Point weekend adventure

With the work week winding up, some of the expeditioners on station were getting a little antsy to get out and explore this beautiful island we live on. Justin, Lionel, Ben and Dan decided an overnight stay at Brothers Point would help cure this, so everyone got up bright and early Saturday morning for a 0730 departure. We were greeted with gusty winds and horizontal rain.  We sat in the mess watching the weather conditions with eager anticipation for the improvement that the forecast had promised. Sure enough, we got the break we’d hoped for. The winds eased just enough to make the plateau travel that we had planned bearable, and so we departed a mere hour behind our original time.

Despite the substandard weather, we made excellent time conquering the imposing Doctors track with relative ease. The plateau walk was an exciting challenge with suddenly changing wind gusts knocking us off the track, or pushing us back a couple of steps.  By us I mean Lionel and Dan. Ben had planned ahead by weighing himself down with a replacement fire extinguisher for the hut, and Justin, with his extra ten kilos of camera equipment, didn’t appear too daunted. We crossed the plateau with an occasional stop so that Lionel could point out a coastline, or rock slide and impart a small fraction of his near boundless Macquarie Island knowledge.

We headed down to Sandy Bay, parallel to a track that the more adventurous king penguins take to access a relatively high rookery in the summer. Sandy Bay acts as a point of convergence for a myriad of wildlife all year long. This weekend was no exception with a large king penguin colony containing multiple crèches peppered by savage giant petrels, and encircled by disinterested elephant seals ranging from small pups to massive behemoths. We stopped to appreciate it all, some taking photos, others memories. The weather began to encroach on us once again so we hoofed it the last kilometre to the hut to dry off and relax.

The evening was the usual hut fair with many a card game over drinks. Dan was inspired to cook a loaf of bread to have with dinner and the following breakfast. The process started at seven, and as ten thirty rolled around the team unanimously decided to turn off the oven, leaving the bread half-baked and go to sleep. Justin cooked up amazing eggs and bacon the next morning accompanied by extremely dense, very doughy toast.

We planned to return via the coast, so had a late departure to avoid the high tide that often cuts off the ‘heads'. We found ourselves hiking into a strong northerly wind so didn’t stop again at the penguin colony, but enjoyed the company of the more curious kings that followed us inquisitively. The walk was a good mix of beach trekking, rock scrambling, and seal wallow diving. Elephant seal wallows are natural minefields with massive pools of septic waters hidden between tussocks or under floating weeds. It just so happened that one of the gustier moments of the day arrived just as we reached these wallows. Our walking poles saved us on more than one occasion from a face full of sludge.

We finally rounded the last head and meandered up to station in the waning afternoon light. Hot showers and hot tea were on everyone’s minds as the perfect way to finish up the weekend.

Dan Laban 

The last word…