Master mariner lands medal

Written By miftah nugraha on Jumat, 21 Juni 2013 | 19.55

Master mariner and Aurora Australis captain Craig Laughlin has been awarded the Australian Antarctic Medal for outstanding service over 20 years. Picture: AAD

FROM the moment the Antarctic icebreaker Aurora Australis leaves the wharf until the moment it docks, Captain Scott Laughlin takes nothing for granted.

The skipper of the bright orange Hobart-based icon navigates some of the world's biggest seas and trickiest harbours in the six months he spends at sea each year.

"You can encounter anything from force 12-plus gales with anything up to 20-plus metre seas," he says.

That's hurricane-strength gales at close to 120km/h when the sea becomes a mess of white.

"Although the ship can handle it and the cargo can handle it and the crew can handle it, there's a high possibility of hurting someone on board with the heavy roll," he continues.

"You heave to, put your head to sea and sit there at minimum speed until the storm goes through and that can be anything up to 72 hours."

Captain Laughlin has been making the voyage from Hobart to Antarctica for 20 years, more than 10 as the Aurora's skipper.

The 43-year-old's dedication to making it safe has been recognised with the Australian Antarctic Medal (AAM), appropriately awarded in midwinter by the Governor-General.

The trip south is just the first part of a journey that can also be hit by blizzards and pack-ice, which can trap or damage a ship.

"Nothing down south can be taken for granted, from the time you're leaving the wharf until the time you're getting back to the wharf," he says.

"You can't be complacent at all otherwise Antarctica bites."

Captain Laughlin's time aboard has brought its share of hairy moments, including two fires.

In 2002 it took the Aurora's 24-person crew almost five days to break another vessel, Polar Bird, out of pack ice it had been stuck in for six weeks.

Then in 2011 Captain Laughlin led the rescue of a stricken fishing boat off Macquarie Island.

A childhood dream to visit Antarctica led him to switch from a commercial shipping job in 1994 and, apart from the difficulty of being away from his two children, the Master Mariner hasn't looked back.

"I love being down in the ice -- there's the animals and the kind of people you have on board," he says.

"The people that go down south are a cut above the rest. They want to do things."

Seabird ecologist Dr Barbara Wienecke has also been awarded the AAM for her research into the effects of commercial fishing on bird populations.


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