Friday, 22 December 2017

Busy times

It’s been a little while since my last post as usual…

That’s because it’s been a busy time here. A LOT has happened, and because I didn’t post about it straight away I have forgotten a lot. As we settle in to the season more I will try to improve.
We are now in the Modules thanks to a great team effort from everybody. We were massively up against it thanks to various delays meaning we lost a good few hundred man-days of work. We had a good few delays to a couple of large inputs of people coming in from Cape Town. That meant we had to get on with quite a few jobs before they arrived.

One group arrived in time to move the garage. Both the garage and the Drewry building get moved each year to manage snow accumulation around each structure. They are moved one by one. It is a lot of work preparing the level plinth on which each building is dragged on to, and the ramp up which it is moved. Air bags are inflated underneath to help with the initial slight shift to break it free. 

Then two bulldozers, anchored by two Piston Bullies and another two dozers, begin winching it forward. 

Everything inside is secured or laid low on the ground (as it can be pretty juddery) and a few people stay inside to keep an eye on things throughout the move. In between my cooking duties I was able to head out to catch some photos. 

I was inside the Drewry for when that was moved so didn’t take any pics. It is done in the exact same way as the Garage. 

Quite a bit of stuff had been stored in Module after the move, ready for winter. After one delay too many I decided to simplify my cooking and head to the Modules for a few days to start clearing. After a good couple of solid days Al and I were able to clear A Module of anything that didn’t belong there. Luckily we had a lovely sunny day to do this on. We carefully dragged large boxes on to the Bridge. There is a crane on the Bridge that could then lift boxes off on to a sledge on the snow below.  

It was a lot of work for a small team but we managed to sort it, leaving A Module clear. It still took a team of 10 of us to deep clean it all and get everything where it needed to be.
But we got there in time and we were still ahead of schedule somehow! 

We squeezed in a small celebration and flag raising just before the final input of people from Cape Town last week. Thanks to our doc Neil who takes wonderful photos of these moments for us.

This week we have had Relief – when the ship comes with our supplies. We have three ship calls scheduled this year with the next one early/mid January. We had extended work hours and some people on nights or working shipside to deal with outgoing and ingoing cargo. It’s now roughly a 4 hour drive to the relief site! But as of later today we will have completed Relief, we have just about everybody here for the season, and can actually celebrate Christmas on Christmas day and not just have Fakemas this year.

And hopefully I can get my act together and post about that very soon!

Friday, 24 November 2017

Cracking on

We are still 13 people on station…

More people were scheduled to have arrived by now. There have been hold ups on the route from Cape Town to Novo outside of BAS’s control but these will hopefully be resolved this coming week. There is quite a lot of work building up that we need more bodies for but having less people on station does make it a little more peaceful on the living front. I think we are all enjoying that.

We are all staying in the Drewry building while the tech team work at getting the modules up and running. As more people arrive we will need the Modules living space, kitchen and bed spaces, but the Drewry sleeps about 30. I put a little short post with some pics at the end of last season here.

As we were expecting more people, it was crucial to gain access to more food. Up until now I have been working with what dry stores we stocked the Drewry with and some frozen food that had been buried at the end of last season. The buried supplies were in two different locations but both survived the winter well and proved invaluable at start-up this season.

The freezer hole marked by flags. It's covered by two boards - one of which I can dig free and pull out to gain access. That's some good snow build up behind!

I can jump down in to the freezer and grab what I need. I dug some holes in to the side of the wall which enable me to clamber out.

We buried two reefers with the majority of our frozen stock in a large hole last season. This was only accessible using the digger to dig it out and the crane to lift it out and onto sledges to move it to the Drewry with the Piston Bully. So it's a big big job for the garage as they had to get all those vehicles de-winterised and then get time to excavate these containers. The frozen supplies have done well over the winter, as expected, and this week they were dug up and relocated to outside the Drewry to be plugged in. I had mentioned my little hole-in-the-ground freezer and the reefers in a previous post here.

I plucked up the courage to have a nosy at them yesterday. It’s a daunting prospect having all that food to manage (I haven’t even posted about the containers full of dry food yet!). All our food is packed into containers in the UK – on to pallets that are stacked high and then cling-filmed around to keep them in blocks. And this is the case in these reefers too. They also get moved around quite a bit before they get to us, so if there are loose bits and bobs these get shimmied from side to side quite a bit. We do not have the luxury of unloading these into better spaces and organising it and so all our food is there,... in those containers, ...but not necessarily accessible. And of course the item you want is at the bottom of a huge stack right at the back! The reality is you just work with what you can get your hands on, until you work through enough stuff so you can get your hands on other items.

In other news the Weatherhaven tents went up this week giving the Field Guides and Scientists sheltered areas they can sort their kit out in . Space is at a bit of a premium here ironically.

And in amongst worky bits and bobs there is the odd moment for a bit of down time. Al and I have managed the odd ski out to the perimeter.

A couple of weeks ago we had a little ceremony here to put the Halley signpost back in its’ rightful spot. Stu, one of our mechanical services leads, took this lovely pic. The small team who were first in at the start of the season had done a really great job, which enabled the rest of us to be there. So it was nice to acknowledge that and to take a bit of pride in our base and keeping her going under difficult circumstances. It’s no mean feat!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

It’s a long ol’ way South!

There is nothing simple about the journey south - least of all the difficult goodbyes. And then there are the hours...and hours...of travelling!

This time I headed to Punta Arenas again, which is where I travelled on my first time to Antarctica. Heathrow – Sau Paulo – Santiago – Punta Arenas (with a short stop off at Puerto Mont without getting off the plane) to be more exact. There had been some delays in Punta Arenas for some parties before us so we were unsure how long we would be there for. As it turned out it was only for two nights. Enough time to have a little walk around Punta and feel terrible about your absolutely rubbish Spanish! Then it was on to Rothera on BAS’s Dash 7 aircraft. The flight took about 5 hours and it’s pretty comfortable – especially when compared with commercial airliners and their lack of space!

We arrived at Rothera on a lovely sunny evening with clear views as we approached.

 We arrived right in time for dinner, after which we were able to stretch our legs on a walk around the “Point”. It’s great to catch glimpses of the wildlife there – a few seals, gulls, terns, snow petrels and shags. And the icebergs are really quite impressive too.

Lounging seal!

Some snow steps up a steeper bank of snow.

The above picture is the memorial at the highest part of the "Point". It commemorates those who lost their lives at Rothera and also pays tribute to the dog teams who worked at Rothera over many years.

This is the view looking back over the base from the memorial. You can see the runway to the left, with the hangar next to it, and the larger green building centre right is New Bransfield House. This is where the kitchen, dining room, bar, tv lounge, library and computer rooms are housed - nearly all with wonderful views of the bay. To the left of the pic and out of shot is the "Ramp" which is the gateway to skiing and climbing areas.

New Bransfield House from the opposite direction.

We had no idea when we would be heading on to Halley. It’s all about weather and you can never take the flight schedule for granted. We had arrived on the Friday and had been told we may need to sit tight for five days or a week but come Sunday evening we were told we should be ready to go in the morning. That means meeting for 8am and awaiting news from the pilots briefing. If it’s a goer you have half an hour to grab your things, get your warm gear on and meet down at the hangar. So that is what we did!

The first time I made the journey over to Halley three years ago we stopped to re-fuel twice. So I was all set for a whole day’s travelling. I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out the Twin Otter was fitted with a long-range fuel tank. This meant we could carry more fuel with us and so only needed to stop the once – brilliant! 
I was able to take the co-pilot seat until Fossil Bluff. It was pretty over cast with low cloud so we only had views at take off and landing. Fossil Bluff is a small fuel depot staffed by mostly a couple of individuals - BAS staff from Rothera swap in and out throughout the season. We re-fueled there, stretched our legs and used the facilities (a pee flag - a flag off to one side to use as a designated area for having a wee so people don't just go anywhere!) and from there it was about another 5 or 6 hours to Halley. 

Fuelling up at Rothera before heading off.

Take off from the co-pilot seat.

Back through the clouds approaching Fossil Bluff.

View from the pee flag - refuelling.

 The aircraft is not pressurised so the air can be a bit thin, but apart from that it’s pretty comfortable and you get to stretch out for a bit too. On the Twin Otters we always have to travel with a “P-bag”, which is a super cosy sleeping bag system, in case the weather turns and you have to stay out in the field somewhere. These were secured inside the plane in a way that we could then use them to stretch out for a snooze. I was travelling with Jan, our glaciologist, so we took it in turns.

 View from the passenger seat looking towards the back of the plane. The long range fuel tank is at the right of the picture.

View from the passenger seat looking forward in to the cockpit.

The weather was mostly cloudy again on our journey over so we couldn’t see too much. But it cleared up a bit over the Weddell Sea so we could look out over the sea ice. We also flew right by a huge berg the size of the M25! We then flew into some cloud as we came to the ice shelf so no nice views there and it continued to be a little rubbish until we landed. 

That is one huge berg!

And so here I am at Halley once more. I've been here just over a week but I haven't been able to log on to sort this post out until now. I’ll make another post describing how things are around here at the moment in a few days. In numbers we are 13 right now. We have plenty to do, though it is nice for it not to be crowded with people quite yet.