Friday 23 February 2018

Nearly there

Once again, I have been totally rubbish with updating this blog. And it’s the usual excuse – general busyness.

We are gearing up to us closing down for the season. In fact, I am heading to Rothera in a BAS Twin Otter tomorrow already! 30 people left, nearly a week ago now, on the Baslers through Novo and on to Cape Town. The rest of us moved out of the Modules and in to Drewry. The Modules are now being decommissioned and winterised and general end of season prep is well underway. I helped Ollie (our chef) set up in the Drewry kitchen, and yesterday we finally said goodbye to our outside reefers. They are now buried, once again, for the winter, and the Drewry has a little outdoor freezer pit, just like last year.

Preparing to move the reefers. 

Lifting them on to sledges to tow them away to be buried,

The hole-in-the-floor freezer covered with a couple of sheets of ply wood. The yellow plastic drum is somebody else's kit.

The garage have been busy building berms for various items to winter on. These are raised platforms built purely out of snow. It means items parked on top of them will not get as badly buried in snow as the berm get's buried first. Containers, fuel bulk tanks and sledges all get parked up on berms to avoid all the snow accumulation. 

Items are placed on berms far away from the modules and other structures to avoid more snow accumulation.

Al and I have been staying in one of the Emergency Cabooses for the past few nights. They are kitted out to be stand-alone living spaces and are pretty nice inside. The under floor heating can be a bit savage, but these are first world problems I think! 

A few weeks ago we had a brief visit from the AWI (German polar institute) helicopter. Their ship, the Polarstern, was in the vicinity and they came over to have a quick logistics chat and for a quick look around. They also took some pics on the way over to give us a clue as to how the very edge of the ice shelf was fairing. 

Cool mirages in the background here.

The Shack picked up some AWI Pistenbullies earlier in the season, which the Polarstern will pick up in a week or so. It will also take nearly 20 of our folk to Punta Arenas. The Shack is a smaller vessel and the part of the edge of the ice shelf that we used for Relief is no longer suitable. And other parts of the ice shelf are a bit too high for the Shack to work with. As the Polarstern is bigger, it does not have the same difficulties, so it will pick up our people instead. I have been lucky enough to squeeze on to a flight though, so I won’t have to die of sea-sickness (as was the case a couple of years ago).

We had our annual Folk Night a couple of weeks ago too. It’s not just for folk music – it’s just an open forum for anybody to get up and entertain the rest of us. There was a lot of musical talent on station this year, but we also had readings, self-penned verse/poems and some dance. It’s always a great night, but especially this year some how. It’s so nerve wracking getting up in front of people, but there is always a supportive vibe from the rest of the base so that helps a lot.
I like to put myself forward to do something at Folk Night in order to do something a bit out of my comfort zone and scare myself a bit. Essentially, I know I can do it; it just makes me so nervous. I thought I would do a couple of bits singing with my bad uke playing. And I also agreed to do something with the other Sarah’s - there were three of us on base this year. We somehow settled on playing Kazoos. Just as our two masterpieces were coming together, Sarah Comms (our resident comms manager) was sent out into the field and stayed out there due to bad weather. This left Sarah Sparky (obviously our electrician) and I in a conundrum – to betray Sarah Comm’s efforts and go on as a duo, or wait and see if we could do it another time with all Sarah's present. What would Sarah do? was the question. After a final practice, and realising it was totally stupid, but actually pretty good, we decided to just do it. And it went pretty well. Who’d have thunk?

I designed a quick poster leading up to the night.

And a quick running order

Captive audience.

Some of the guys got together to form a very good band and did a few numbers.

Kayoing. Not a photogenic hobby.

Not a great angle, but proof I did something :)

Last night we had a little Flag Down ceremony. This is usually done in winter when the sun sets for the last time. Of course nobody will be here then, sadly, and as the Modules have been vacated, half the station folk have gone, and we are only set to shrink in numbers, it seemed as good a time as any to reflect a little on the season. The would-be-winterers did the honours, while a few of us stood at ground level and listened to a few wise words from Al. It’s one of the few nights we’ve been able to see the sun set due to clouds/weather on previous evenings.

And so tomorrow I will start the journey home. First to Rothera, once again, for a couple of nights and then on to Punta. I have yet to get my exact travel details, so I will get back when I get back. How did the season go so quickly? And how have I not got better at this blogging malarkey yet??

Saturday 13 January 2018

Field Trip

Last week I had the opportunity to head out on a co-pilot flight to the Theron Mountains. There is a fuel depot there that field guides Tom and Julie had been working to raise. If they aren’t raised they will eventually bury under meters of blowing snow over a year or two.

The plan was to get me to stop over with Julie so Tom could head out with the pilot and a couple of other people to service some science equipment at various sites on the Filchner Ice Shelf. There was the possibility of staying out for up to a week, but in the end, due to weather impacting the flight schedule, it was only a couple of nights. However, it is always good to get off base – so I wasn’t complaining.

I gathered my bits and bobs together, including a P-Bag (the BAS lovely cosy field sleeping system), and headed down to the ski way. Daniel and Mark had gathered all their science equipment too so we lined it up to keep it all in one place. 

We helped the pilot load the plane while Paul and Doug fuelled the aircraft. After a safety briefing and the pilot’s final checks we were on our way, with me in the co-pilot seat.

It was only about a two and a half hour flight to the Therons from Halley. It’s great to see the ice shelf from up above and see the massive ice flows and crevasses. We had a great clear approach to the Therons, which looked amazing as we got up close. 

Cool clouds with shadows on the snow below.

Little specs of the camp below

We topped the plane up with fuel, I said a quick hi and bye to Tom, and then it was just Julie and me. 

I quickly laid out my P-bag in the tent and that was us sorted.
The next day, the cloud had really come down low. It was pretty still, but we couldn’t see the tops of the mountains sadly. The previous evening had been spectacular! Julie had to pop out every hour to do a weather observation that she would report back to Halley with. This helps to give a general idea of the weather in the area if the pilots are out and about. Other than that we took the opportunity to have a chat, drink some tea and work on our craft projects (Julie knitting a buff and I Nalbinding a head band).

Murky outside.

Cosy inside.

We had quite a leisurely start to the next morning. That is until we found out the plane was heading back our way to get us, as the weather was too bad elsewhere to do any work. We had 20 minutes until it would be on the deck! So we quickly slurped our brews and sprung into action. We first packed the boxes in the tent and got them out. Then I jumped out and while Julie rolled up her P-bag and sorted her things, I gathered up items from around the tent. Then it was my turn to dive back inside and roll up my P-bag, sort my few things and pull up the ground sheet. 

Packing up!

The plane was down by then so then Tom (the co-pilot) helped us ferry things to the plane using the skidoo. Once everything was packed up we lined up the fuel drums they had brought with them with the other drums and made sure everything was left neat and tidy. Julie took photos and GPS coordinates and then we were on our way back.

Depot lined up into the wind with markers.

We had a lovely clear run back to Halley, with just a very strange fog clinging on to the Halley perimeter as we landed. And I had had a lovely time on my little mini-break in the field. 

Cargo in the plane

Pilot Mark and co-pilot Tom

View from the plane window.

It was so nice to see some different scenery and have some quiet time. There isn’t too much of that during the summer here on base as there’s always somebody somewhere banging a door or calling somebody on the radio. Field and tent living is the perfect antidote.

Monday 1 January 2018

Happy Holidays

We had a nice Christmas and New Year here at Halley. It’s the first time I have had Christmas on Christmas day here as it’s always fallen during Relief and so we have always celebrated it a number of days later as Fakemas. Not so this year, though, so we had Christmas Eve and Christmas day off. It’s the first time I haven’t been in the kitchen too, so I was able to sit down with everybody else and enjoy what the chefs had prepared. They did a great job and we had yummy Christmas brunch at about 11 am and then even more yummy Christmas lunch at about 4pm. I lead a team in setting up the tables and we just about managed to make it look festive. The decorations, complete with two fake trees, had gone up a few days before. And we had just enough Christmas crackers to go around.

Christmas excitement! Kind offerings from my family and Al's mum and dad.

Jolly hats from our Christmas stockings.

Al modelling his Christmas cracker prize.

Maybe the most festive outfit. Christmas pud jumper and beard baubles. 

Fantastic cakes from by the chefs.

It was back to work on Boxing Day with a lot to do before the ship’s second call, which will be in a few days. Thanks to a lot of help on station, we managed to get our big food move done, which involved emptying two containers of dry food and splitting it evenly (more or less) into two other containers we had emptied. This will make up the dry food for the next two summer seasons so it was important to get that done well and with an accurate stock take. A big job, but with some organisation and some good weather, we got it done and that takes the pressure off for a little bit. It also means we don’t have to panic about squeezing it in this week.

And it meant I could celebrate New Year without thinking about food spread sheets! Once again the chefs did a great job and laid on a wonderful BBQ for us all. We had some volunteers to set out the BBQ’s and source some scrap wood to burn, so they set it up just across from the Modules. And they dragged over the picnic benches we had dug out earlier in the week. The weather wasn’t quite as good as the evening before but it was still pretty warm and, more importantly, not too windy. I managed to stay up to welcome in the New Year, but headed to bed straight after. And it was nice to be able to enjoy a nice day off to catch up on some much needed sleep and just have some down time.

It looks like I am lucky enough to head out in to the field tomorrow on a co-pilot flight with the added extra of staying out for a few days. A great opportunity! So my bag is packed and my wonderful P-bag (super duper cosy BAS sleeping system) is ready for a few days in a tent with Julie, one of the field guides. I will make sure to take lots of photos and sort as post about that as soon as possible.

Happy New Year to all my friends and family. I hope 2018 will be a wonderful year for everybody. I look forward to seeing everybody when I get back – in just over 2 months (all being well). I miss you and I’m sending lots of love to you all. All the best xxxxxxx