Friday, 26 January 2007

The Garage move, Halley Derby and camping in the Halley Gardens 25th jan 07

Life at Halley is slowly settling into a work and leisure routine. I tend to work from 8am through till about 9pm, with a few hours in the afternoon at my own leisure. There are always things going on, things being made, updated, transported, pulled and tested. With the new halley project developments underway, there is ample photo opportunity, of seeing large things pulling even larger things. The new sledge that Halley 6 will be made to sit upon, 43 tonnes, has been under going its fair share of treatment, being pulled by various tractors and dozers, assessing traction and pulling power. The 2 Challengers on base managed a combined pull of 155 tonnes, which is well within the boundary of weight from the new Halley 6 modules. The smallest module being 95 tonnes and the heavyest being 140 tonnes. Each module will be towed separately to its new site on the ice, until all 8 modules form a connection like a train.

The move of the garage, will follow shortly after the success of the sledge testing, which, so i'm told usually takes just 2 bulldozers, using their winches, (but in this instance every vehicle on base), will move closer to the Laws building, with the drewery move close to follow.

The trench through the ice, by the garage's skis.

Amongst the summer work, the mast erectors extend the "inverted V" radio mast, adding a section each time the ice takes too much of a hold. This year, its been extended to 21 metres.

Amongst the leisure activities, is the more serious affair of real hardcore men (and women) taking part in the Halley Derby. This is not for the feint hearted, sliding tackles and bare skin grating on frozen jagged shelf ice, spilt blood galore and plummeting temperatures of minus 1.5 degrees. The Laws verses The Drewery, Winterers verses Summerers. Nothing held back. The Derby of the year 2007.

I've still got it? James shying away from the ball, while Thomas - no chance matey!

However, due to a particulary heavy saturday night drinking, the drewery, being the weaker men, failed to gather any form of manly competition compared to the laws, and so it was, a select few changed sides to make up the numbers. Myself included, seeing as i was working their for that particular day. The Drewery's newly developed team stayed in a comfortable lead, striking in goals left, right and centre. With apple slices at half time the outsiders continued their onslaught, throughout the match, for a comfortable double figure win.

Got to keep on good terms with the Doc, you never know when you'll need him?

Typical woman, or typical meteorologist. It just so happened that in the middle of our pleasant sunday footie match, a Cirro - stratus was visable in the sky. This is the reflection of light due to ice particles in clouds, creating a halo effect.

A trip to "The Halley Gardens" on 25th jan 07, was next on the agenda for myself and the rest of the 8 new winterers. A chance to see and experience the splendid vistas, that we were living in from a completly different angle. The trip comprised of one full 24hr day per 4 winterers, plus 1 wintering GA, The Sune.

This was a chance to refresh ourselves on past training. Mastering the technique of singeing away any arm and facial hair instead of shaving. I mean, refining the art of Primus stove and Tilley lamp assembly and dismantle.

For the afternoon, a trip to the Gucci store. With every item of freezing, biting cold, brand new, protective clothing available, and all up for strong "price" negotiation with the store manager, The Sune, sorry Mr. Sune. "Please can i have a new Mad Bomber fur hat, yes i know i work in the kitchen, but i still NEED it?"

P bag preparation. Better here outside the shop, than a 7 day trek away.

After a spot of retail therapy, girls i know what you all mean know, and the gathering, and checking of our "P" bags (personal sleeping bag), consisting of a foam ground mat, real sheepskin rug, and a down sleeping bag suitable for -3o degrees, which sits inside a fire proof cotton sheet, a trip to wonky caboose was awaiting us. Wonky, not because it sits at a daft angle but because its 1 kilometre away. Hense "The Halley Gardens". We climbed aboard our skidoo and sledge and continued the exhilarating 3 minute ride to wonky.

Wonky Caboose.

Halley Gardens, with the Laws in the back ground. Inside a pyramid tent, with all you essentials in the middle, cooking equipment, food etc.

With Sune's instructions, our pyramid tent was dug out and erected, the stove and man food boxes placed inside and a quick lesson in the HF (high frequency) radio communication, with Halley base contacted successfully, all done before a cosy dinner awaited us - man food?

Halley, Halley, Halley this is field course training, how do you copy? Strong 5 over. (1 being noise and crackle, 5 being crystal clear)

Apparently these boxes are our best friends when we go on our winter trips. Hard to imagine, when most of the entire 28kg of dried contents is out of date by 7, 8, 9, 10 years. Although, the novelty value of looking at really old Cadbury's chocolate bar wrappers, brings back fond memories of past times. Any how, with the primus stove lit and ready, and fresh ice cut for the pan to make boiling water, my feast for the night was pasta carbonnara, or in cheffing terms, chippings of pasta with 1 or maybe 2 of the smallest, saltiest pieces of bacon you'll only ever swallow if you had the entire Antarctic ice shelf at your disposal for melting drinking water - damn i have. Probably the most ironic part about man food, is that you've got the most poorest of ingredients being put together with the worlds most untouched, pristine, water supply available, that a michelin restaurant would happily pay a ridiculous sum for.

One point about 24hr daylight in a pyramid tent, your eyes go from a blinding whiteness outside, to opening them in the morning to a luminescent orange inside. But you sleep fantastically upon a sheepskin rug and a down sleeping bag.

For my mate Mike "The Statatician"

January statistics:

Max Temp. 1.8 degrees C on 3rd
Min Temp. minus 14 degrees C 30th
Max Gust. 39.4 knots
Sunshine. 235.7 hrs
Total of 11 days of visibility below 1000 metres.

Monday, 15 January 2007

The new Year 2007, N9 relief 75* 13.59S, 025* 31.09W

New Year upon the ship was to be an uplifting affair, with the emminent excitement of our final destination fast approaching. With orders from the captain for Shackleton's bell to be placed on the bridge, both the eldest and youngest sea farers were in charge of ringing in the New year. Handshakes were exchanged and new year songs sung. Welcome to the new year 2007.

On sunday 31st December 2006, we had finally arrived at 75degrees 13.59South, 025degrees 31.09West, N9, Brunt ice shelf.

At 16.30 Captain John Harper took Ernest out of ice breaking mode, ignited some revs on the side thrusters and proceeded to prep the ice edge in readyness for mooring. 18.38 saw all 4 of the mooring ropes being run out by skidoo onto the ice shelf, 2 a breast, 1 stern and 1 bow, and by19.23 drilling commenced. In order to keep Ernest at bay 4 immense holes were dug by hand and shovel, some 6ft deep, depending on how much loose snow lay on the surface before hard ice was struck. Once ice was hit the drills were put through their paces, to a further depth of 2metres through the ice. 20.20 was the goahead for the gangway and scramble net to be rigged up in readyness for our departure, and by 21.00 we were all fast. Time to unload the holds!

With the excitement brewing as to when we would all depart Ernest, our home for 5 weeks, a slight reminiscing thought entered my mind, as i waited, waited and waited for the nod. A lucky few would have the twin otter flight from N9 to Halley, a flight time of around 15mins, while others, myself included would indure a long ardeous journey by snowcat, travelling at 18kph for 60 miles.

Welcome to N9.

At 4pm new years day i had the call up, my time had come to disembark. I bid a brief farewell to the officers, crew and Ernest, packed my belongings in the hold and stepped out onto the gangway for my first steps onto the ice shelf that would finally lead me towards my new home. We set off in people carrier snowcats, 2 at a time, each carrying around 4 people, it wouldnt be until 9pm that evening, that we would eventually arrive. We stopped at whats known as a caboose, on the halfway mark towards Halley. A container with a bunkbed and small rations of food and a Primus - camping stove, for a cuppa. Precautionary measures for shelter incase of a storm.

Feint dots in the middle, are the flag lines we had to follow, to head towards Halley.

So far all i've seen is a flat, white crevasse filled landscape as far as the eye can see. Its so flat that the guys pointed Halley out to me, which looked visibley like a shoe box on stilts in the far horizon, when we were still about 15miles away. In England you'd struggle to see the end of your drive!

Halley, named after the astronomer Edmond Halley, is the fifth station to be built on the ice shelf, due to the other four stations slowly being eaten by the ever present blizzards and snowdrifts burying them. Latitude 75degrees 35S, 26degrees 41W. Nearest Antarctic neighbours is the Argentinian base, Belgrano, which is 548 miles from Halley and nestles 77 degrees 52.12S, 034 degrees 37.48W. And London, a mere 14255 miles away. This was the place where BAS scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer in 1985, caused from CFC's and halons.

The temperature felt warm at 0.7 degrees C, and i felt a little warm and over dressed in my new Antarctic gear. I stood around dazed in my new surroundings, all dressed up, with no place to go!

On arrival, i had a brief tour inside the Laws Building, which is where the winterers stay, before a well earned cup of cocoa sent me crawling into my bed. An 8am start, saw us being whisked outside via a sledge and skidoo for a tour of our new surroundings. The other guys on the ship slowly got infiltrated into Halley, but first they needed to stay on the ship to help the crew with relief that end.

The Laws building, named after Dick laws, who is an ex BAS Director, and one of the last Directors who worked and wintered down south.

The laws building is the largest construction building, and is the sleeping and living quarters for the winterers. Below, the many toys (vehicles) to aid boredom (relief). The red buildings are the garage and behind that the Drewery, summer labourers sleeping and living accomodation, both are mounted on skis and towed each year to avoid burial. The Drewery building is a self sufficient living unit, named after David Drewery the BAS director, at the time halley V was being built.

Among the other laboratory buildings at Halley are The Simpson, that researches meteorlogy and cloud formations. Named after Sir George Clarke Simpson a meteorologist on Scott's expeditions between 1910-1913. It was here that BAS scientists discovered there was a hole in the Antarctic ozone layer in 1985, using a machine called the Dobson spectrophotometer, designed in the 1930's by professor GMB Dobson. The "Dobson" machine indicates and measures how much ozone there is in the air above a certain point on the Earth.

The Piggott, which studies space and radar readings, and is named after Professor Roy Piggott who is Head of Physical Sciences at BAS.

The CASLAB - Clean Air Sector Laboratory, which is geospace research, and is situated 2 km away. Geospace is the region of space where the sun's atmosphere interacts with the earth's magnetic field. The CASLAB monitors the effects of solar activity in the upper atmosphere.

It was here! The time had come! The long awaited RELIEF. January 2nd 2007

It was amazing the amount of cargo Ernest bought to Antarctica. There was everything you could possibly need to survive for a year somewhere cold. From birthday candles and pritstick glues, to dust pan and brushes, to scientific experiment equipment, to prime movers, to all manner of foods, to 1220 drums of fuel in 45 gallon drums. Plus there was quite alot of experimenting and building work to be carried out with the new Halley 6 project. Ernest for sure was certainly carrying his weight.
I was instructed to work on the cargo line, outside, delivering containers and boxes to the container line. I was soon strapping everything up from fuel drums, waste skips, skidoos and all the food boxes, to cranes, to and from the cargo line to the platform of the Laws building. On some days i'd be given the job of digging up empty fuel drum plots, each plot with 198 drums in it, which would be stacked laying down, but 3 deep and under the snow, so you could just make out the first layer. These would be transferred to a sledge ready for the long journey back to the ship. The process was endless when you consider what fuel drums were coming in (1220) and had to be layed in plots of 198 in the snow, and a similar amount to be dug out and returned. Endless even more so, when the ship would return in february with additional food and another 560 45 gallon fuel drums, all requiring a home in the snow. It took the entire base of 63 and ships crew of 23 all working 12hr shifts 24hrs a day to finish relief on sunday 7th January, which i believe to be ahead of schedule - i could have had an extra lie in then?

Cat Challengers pulling 3 German sledges, from the ship to Halley with 45 gallon fuel drums, making a journey time, one way of 2hrs 40mins at best. But easily beating the snowcats of a good 6hrs, with less sledges. The heaviest load moved in one rotation was 48 tonnes at 13kph, which also compares favourably against the snowcats of 10 tonnes at 8kph. Most of the loads averaged 30 tonnes for the Challenger and 20 tonnes for the john Deeres.

Real men at work. I aint just a chef. I'm a lugger!!

Fuel drums buried 3 deep, in plots of 198.

All needing digging out - great!

Wednesday 10th January 2007

Amongst the vast plateau of white everywhere, i saw what appeared to be huge icebergs, that have risen up from the horizon. I have recently been told they are mirages, Antarctica is a dessert, and where there are desserts you are sure to see mirages. On the opposite side to the mirages you can also see on some days a large grey, blue strip rising up from the horizon, this is the Antarctic continent itself.

I've settled in reasonably well with working life, i get up at 8am and have my 2 minute shower, get wet, turn water off, lather then rinse, and finish around 8.30pm with the occassional day off in the week. All water on base is dug up from the snow and ice and shovelled into a melt tank. A long labourious job which everyone gets involved with on a rota basis twice daily in summer and once a day in winter, thus making all of us realise how valuable water consumption is - the more you use the more you dig! Another chore for the rota, is "Gash". Which is basically domestic duties, washing up, cleaning toilets and showers, doing clothes washing etc. Although, as a chef, your always cleaning everyday, so we are luckily not on "Gash".

Beloved melt tank, and my new home - The Laws kitchen.

laws fridge, freezers and dry store areas containing a new shipment of fresh wintering produce from second call in february, 540kg of potatoes, 210 dozen of eggs, 410kg of onions, 122kg of apples, 78kg of oranges, and plenty more! All waiting to be counted.

Its all a bit hectic in the summer, trying to learn all aspects of my role here, imagine trying to stocktake a fridge and 2 freezers 10ft L x 7.5ft W x 8.5ft H, plus a shipping container larger than the average garage, plus an emergency shipping container. If thats not enough, there is also 2 dry stores, 19ft L x 7.9ft W x 8.5ft H, all stacked floor to ceiling. Everyone says it will quieten down for the winter so i'm told, when most normal humans will go home.

Drewery kitchen and one of the food containers, with emergency clothing on top, and a bit more food, just in case.

Its not all work, work, work, though, i've recently tried my hand at kiting with great success with plans to attach skis to my feet, propelling myself with wind power - natures kind.

Sunday 14th January, my first Antarctic BBQ at -3 degrees.

Me on my way to work, man hauling a sledge of food for the bbq.

Take note of the fire, sinking into the ice.