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.