ANTARCTIC SERVICE AS I REMEMBER IT
By Able Seaman FC2 Warren "Speed" Power RNZN
The first trip down to the Antartic I was a focsle hand. Once below 60 South, and into the calm waters, whilst I was lookout, above the bridge, I looked over, to starboard, at a set of mountain ranges. Above these were another set of ranges and I thought what a strange looking sight. I was later told this was a mirage that appeared from time to time, and the ranges were actually in another part of the world. Whilst lookout I saw the most beautiful sunset too, nothing to compare before or since, and as usual no camera to take a photo either.
Later, when I was a Quartermaster, the ship came in close to Mt Erebus. As we had to wait some hours before USS Burton Island could come out and make a channel we "anchored" to the ice. This was about 100 metres from the base of the Mount, where a channel of water flowed past. McMurdo was about 12 miles away. To anchor, a couple of guys jumped ashore and dug holes in the ice. In to each of these was placed a 4 x 4 piece of wood, about 24 inches long. The ship's ropes were passed down around the timber and back on to the bollards onboard. Water was added to the holes, and that froze over locking the ropes in place. Later, when we needed to cast off we simply pulled the ropes down past the timbers and back into the ship.
A number of the guys jumped ashore and played rugby on the ice. It was really quite hot and as duty Quartermaster I took my shirt off to sunbath. It was hot enough to do this but there was no heat in the sun to brown the skin. This was 2230. I watched from the bridge as they played football. About then 25 penguins jumped up on the ice by the bow. They gathered together and moved about 10 metres away from the water and sat down. They lay there for about twenty minutes before getting together in a scrum, appearing to talk to one another. Then just as suddenly they sat down again, with one penguin breaking away, and going to the water dived in. Another twenty minutes went by. The penguins went into another scrum and then another penguin broke away and dived in. The rest sat down again and waited. Ten minutes later the last penguin returned. He waddled over to the group and they gathered together once again. This time they all turned and headed back into the water. What had happened? I found out that there were shoals of Killer Whales cruising up and down in the channel and the penguin was their favourite dessert. The whales had the capacity to flick their tails on the bottom of the sea and propel themselves at a great rate of knots up onto the ice, almost beaching themselves, and snatching for any penguins that were within distance of them. Hence the reason for the penguins keeping a safe distance from the edge.
As Quartermaster I got to steer the ship when Burton Island finally came out to get us. As she carved a passage way ahead of us I had to follow in her track. To do this I would watch the two masts of Burton Island. Whilst directly ahead they appeared as one. Then, as she changed direction I would see the foremast come out, either to the right or left. At this time I would swing the wheel in the same direction so that by the time we arrived in that spot Endeavour had altered course to reflect the altered change. After a short while it became second nature and we journeyed into McMurdo without any mishaps.
On one of our other trips to McMurdo we had left and were headed back towards Mt Erebus. Once clear of the ice we stopped and floated. All divers were called to the tank deck and took turns in diving to check out the propeller shafts. It was found we had a bent shaft. Naturally we could not do anything about it but be aware of the problem. We headed back to New Zealand where we pulled into Wellington. The ship was checked over more thoroughly whilst half the crew were given shore leave. We travelled by train to Auckland, and our families. After a week we all returned and carried on to Auckland where the ship had to be taken into dry dock to fix the problem.
On another trip we took on some civvies. One of these was Mr Roydhouse from Remuera. He was an Audiologist. It was his intention to check the hearing of all the Engineers onboard, as he was shore that the noise of the ships would contribute to a decline of their hearing. Well.with only a few Engineers and a total of 70 onboard Mr Roydhouse decided to test the whole crew, so we got to find out whether we had a hearing problem or not. Of course he stated that I should not even be in the Navy with my hearing loss. I had been made to sit through a shoot off Jervois Bay in Australia whilst on Royalist when someone had taken my hearing plugs out of my lookout site in 1961. I am now 65% deaf.
Whilst tied up alongside at McMurdo we used to work for eight hours and have the next 16 hours to do whatever we liked. Usually we would go ashore to the Nissan Huts where an American was rostered as a bar tender for 24 hours. This poor guy had to tend to us ordering bottles of beer. Just when he sees us about to leave, another group would turn up from Endeavour. In other words this guy never got to sleep until he was relieved, or we went back to sea. I also remember buying a transfer of a penguin with the footprints all over himit was put out by the Seabees and really looked quite good. I eventually put it on my car window when I was Irrirangi
We found that the Americans started up their vehicles and let them run continuously from then on as it was too much trouble to restart if they stopped. When this happened, they pushed them over to a slight hill where a cemetery of vehicles stood. And before the summer came all the new unused uniforms were taken out of the stores and pushed out on to the ice. When the ice melted the clothes would then sink to the bottom of the sea. I remember being on the brow, watching this lone figure pull a double sleeping bag back to the ship, full of clothes. It took hours for him to drag it around the bay. Finally he got it back to the ship and it was taken aboard, on the tank deck, and stored in the starboard workshop. Later it was issued out to all the crew to take whatever they thought would keep them warm
Usually when we decided to go to Scott Base we would hitch a ride on a cat, a vehicle with full tracks, and operated by levers and brakes. However, once we decided to walk there as some of the guys were taking photos. As we came in site of Scott Base we saw a group of Sea Lions in the distance, and Gramps said he would like to get close for a photo of them. Well, I was leading so instead of following the road that curved in a long hook and back to Scott Base I started to cut across the ice towards the animals. I had only walked about a 30 metres, when all of a sudden I sank down a crevasse. Fortunately it was only 8 to 10 inches wide and one leg only went down. It was about then I told him he could go get his photos by himself and we all backtracked and followed the road around to Scott Base
Then there was the time I was on watch, up forward in the wheelhouse and as my watch finished I headed aft. We were at 60 South, where it was always rough (it is said that there is no land mass at this latitude and therefore nothing to stop the rough seas), and the seas were continually coming over the tank deck, dividing the ship in two. To get from one end to the other, one had to judge the waves and run along the catwalk as quickly as possible. This particular time there was a Stoker, off watch, started to run at the same time as I did. Well he was almost to the end of the catwalk when he slipped over and slid along the catwalk, around the side and headed for the guard rails. He was a good 12 to 15 feet ahead of me, and as he looked up at me he saw me wave to him. Nothing else I could do for him. Fortunately the guard rails stopped his slide and he was able to pick himself up by the time I got to him. Mind you I never lived that wave down!
And another time, on the way down, I had just come off watch at midnight and finally turned in. It was about 0130 and a fire alarm went off. Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire in A and X magazines! Well all ship's company were up and hunting for these fires, except one! The cook slept straight through it. The magazines had his vegetables in it. Turned out to be a false alarm. The circuits had frozen together setting the system off.
And on the last trip, in 1967, we had a new First Lieutenant come onboard. He decided that we should work long hours as we had to get the ship shipshape for a visit, or something. We were waking early in the mornings and cleaning ships, painting, etc; then going to breakfast, in turns, and then back to work. The only relief was when we went on watch! This continued for about a fortnight. One day I had gone up forward to get a couple of tins of paint from the paintshop. As I came back to the tank deck, on the port side, I felt funny and so put my cans of paint down on the tank. With that I fainted. I woke later, at about 2200, to find I was in my bunk, and had a seaman watching me. As I threw off the blankets he would put them back over me. Apparently all the extra work had depleted me and I had taken on a virus or something. The Medic had given me some tablets to make me sweat and put a watch on me to ensure I did not throw my blankets off. The next morning I was fine and went back to work. However, after that we returned to a normal routine, which everyone was thankful for.
I am proud of my service in Antarctica.