... On-air operating phase of expedition ends ...
... Equipment packed and transfered to M/V Braveheart ...
... Everyone transferred from shore to ship ...
... Equipment stowed ...
... M/V Braveheart departs ...
Around 4:30am Wednesday (Feb 27 Wed 1230z), a rain shower drenched Ducie Island. On-duty operators scrambled to close up the radio operating tents, which had been left open to enjoy pleasant nighttime breezes.
Two hours later, at dawn, Eric and Carsten *the expedition co-leaders) and Nigel (captain of the Braveheart) stood at the top of the shoreline, coffee cups in hand, discussing the recent rain. Bands of rain showers had been seen the previous sunset, and more were evident in this morning's eastern sky. The discussion was short, for each man had already privately concluded the on-the-air phase of the Ducie Island expedition should end immediately. The generators were switched off, and the roar of the surf against the shoals of low tide became the predominant sound.
The decision scuttled plans for a second night of limited on-air operations by a skeleton team of 3-4 operators, focused on the 160m-30m low bands. Instead, after a quick, light breakfast, teams focused on packing all equipment and exiting the island promptly, before the weather and sea conditions deteriorated further.
The men returned to their sleeping tents to pack personal gear into watertight cannisters for transfer back to the ship. Bedding was folded up. The tents were left standing for the moment: they were soaked from the early morning downpour, and if some sunshine developed, they might have a chance to dry before packing.
Thereafter small groups of radio operators fanned out along the northeastern coast to take down all remaining antennas at the east camp and pack them in their shipping tubes. Three men spooled thousands of meters of coaxial transmission cable and antenna control lines back onto their shipping reels, wrapping each completed spool in protective film. Two disconnected the electrical power distribution system, coiling up thick cables and packing distribution boxes, outlet strips, and lighting. Another packed computers, radios, antenna control boxes, footswitches, filters, DC power systems, and other miscellaneous radio apparatus into pre-assigned watertight shipping cases.
When each tube and watertight shipping container received the last of its items, it was closed, sealed, and tagged. The annotation scribbled on the florescent green tape stated the container was ready to leave the island, indicated whether it could be stored outside on the ship, and whether access during the return voyage was required. The containers were placed by the path to the beach, and "Braveheart" crew loaded tagged materials onto a hand trolley for transfer to the beachhead.
Others of the "Braveheart" crew disassembled and packed the camp infrastructure: food storage and preparation areas, eating tables and benches, washing stations, protective tarps, the beloved fresh water shower by the lagoon shoreline, and the Toilet With The Outstanding Scenic View.
Fortunately, the remainder of the morning was sunny and pleasant. Tents dried out by late morning. The "Braveheart" team emptied them of bedding and cots, swept out the accumulated bits of trash and dirt, and then sealed each tent after spraying the interior with an insecticide. An hour or two later the tents were struck and packed in fadges (large sacks), to be stowed outside on the "Braveheart". New Zealand environmental regulations require precautions to reduce the chances of importing insects. Later, when "Braveheart" is in French Polynesia, the tents and tarps will come out of the fadges to be washed down, scrubbed, rinsed, dried, and repacked.
With the arrival of high tide, a jet boat from the "Braveheart" came to the eastern shore's landing point to start the long process of transferring equipment from shore to ship. Sea conditions and the on-shore breeze combined to make this task a tricky one. The "Braveheart", pitching and rolling at anchor, lifted items off the transfer boat with a crane onto its rear deck. Careful timing was required to get materials hooked onto the crane, whose heavy hook and block swang around the bobbing jet-boat.
By 11:00 AM the radio teams had walked over to dismantle the west camp. The cable team extracted out of the low forest and underbrush the kilometers of wiring used for low band receiving antennas, packed the remotely controlled receive antenna switching hub, and reeled up several thousand meters more of coaxial and control cables. More watertight cases filled up with equipment... and everything rolled down to the lagoon shoreline on the hand dollies over the rough coral paths.
At mid-afternoon, the jet boat traveled around to and surfed across the shallow southern lagoon entrance. West camp materials were shuttled to the lagoon side of the east camp, then rolled or carried over the atoll to the seaside beach.
Low tide had arrived. The jet boat returned to the seaside eastern beach, but with low water could carry only a few items on each trip to the "Braveheart". The pile of material on the beach slowly shrank until nothing remained... and then the remaining "Braveheart" crew and radio operators shuttled to the ship in pairs.
Last to leave, Carsten and Eric took a quick look around the east camp site. All had been cleared away, even trash left by previous, unknown visitors. The jet boat returned, and Matt reported that all men were safely aboard the ship. Carsten and Eric shook hands on the beach and then, having been first to land, became the last of the 2008 expedition to depart Ducie Island. As a parting gift, the island's surf timed a wave set to completely drench them in a sea water bath on the way to the ship.
No rest for the weary! The "Braveheart" crew spent the first few post-sunset hours stowing everything for the ocean voyage. At 9pm the windlass lifted the anchor, the ship rounded the northeast shoals of Ducie Island, and set a course west-northwest in following seas.
By 10pm, all but the on-duty watch were asleep. Apart from a few minor bruises, scrapes and sunburns, to date no one had been injured. After a long day and an exciting life on a beautiful island in the South Pacific, the expedition was on its way home.