The Challenge – Getting Gear Onto the Islands

By Stephen Horn

In August, a team of builders and scientists went to the Antipodes Islands to repair the main hut, which was severely damaged in a landslide. The main challenge to the team was getting building supplies from the ship to one of two landing spots within reasonable distance to the main hut. Stephen Horn describes the experience below.

IMG_5313Time has been rolling on quickly since we returned from the Antipodes. The trip was a battle of nerves as we waited for a break in the persistent sea swell that rolled in to quash our opportunity to access the island.

We arrived at the island before day break on the 3rd of August, ready for a southerly change that would give us the chance to land in Hut Cove to the north of the main island.  As the sun rose, we began to see that the large northerly swell had not abated. Little did we know that it would continue to roll in for another seven days.

There is no harbour on the Antipodes Islands – just two main landing sites. The first is a rocky platform near Reef Point, which is exposed to a sizable westerly swell. It seems to find its way around the corner of Perpendicular Head and peel across Anchorage Bay, continuing towards our second landing site – the mouth of Hut Cove. This was the most preferable landing spot because of its proximity to the hut.

The third landing possibility was Stella Bay just to the east of the hut site. However, looks can be deceiving, and after many mornings assessing the waves on its slippery boulder beach I was relieved the conditions didn’t allow us to attempt an offload there. The apparently short distance is deceptively tough going and would have been a near impossibility with our equipment, supplies and building materials.

HutCove_DaveSmithFinally, on day 8 the weather delivered. The Sunday following our arrival dawned clear with light winds and a much calmer sea. We ripped into action and began using two tender dinghies to deliver goods back and forth.

Most of the crew, tools and awkward shaped gear was offloaded via the rock platform at Reef Point and stashed up the hill out of the wave zone for the night. The heavy and long timber supplies were strapped together with short rope tethers and looped onto a main tow line before being heaved overboard and towed ashore through the sea.

An anchor system and shore line was established at the mouth of Hut Cove and the tender backed in towards the beach, staying just offshore so that not to be dashed by any rogue waves on the beach. Once close enough the tow line was thrown ashore and the materials hauled in and offloaded. Other large items to be towed in included a kitchen bench and water tanks to replace those smashed by the hut as it was swept down the hill by the landslip earlier in the year.

 

P1080768The next day, we began hauling the gear over the rocks, the abandoned penguin colony, up a small ladder and steep tussock bank and across the tussock track to the hut site.

Finally, we began hauling the larger items from Hut Cove using a cable line anchored at the top of the cliff. We constantly battled the tide, having to assure ourselves of that the ratchet straps holding the bundle of materials together against the incoming waves was secure.

Fortunately, we lost nothing to the waves nor the exploits of an enormous elephant seal that had turned up and was intent on making himself at home. Tucked between the Cliffside and the cache of materials, we carefully worked around the seal but occasionally copped a whiff of his breath from a bellow of displeasure at being disturbed from a sleep that he had obviously been looking forward to for months.

We finally got the last loads to the hut site. The impending weather and end of our charter left us barely a day to make progress on organising the site and securing all the items before a departure had to be made.

Thanks to the Evohe and the superb crewmembers for the way they handled their vessels and the conditions we faced. Also thank you to the team on the island for the huge effort to get the gear in position for the next opportunity.