Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Beginning of Winter

So I'm still alive and fairly sane. I thought that as soon as winter started I would have loads more time to do things such as update the blog but there just seems to be loads of other things to do. Its nearly a month since everyone left and I am trying to catch up. I don't really know how good my memory is but here goes.

So everyone left and we returned to an empty base. Or virtually empty base. It was about 1am by the time we had got all the vehicles refueled and parked up. Suddenly it seemed as if there was no one incharge. Of course there was John the winter BC and the first thing that he told us was that the next day was going to be an easy day. He would check with the ship in the morning to see if they were going to come around and say goodbye to us. We would have to leave fairly early in the morning and meet the ship on the cliff to let off flares. We woke up but unfortunately the weather was rubbish with visability down to about 100 feet, so even if the ship had come around we would not have been able to see it. It was a bit disappointing and so it turned out that our last view of our way off this floating lump of ice was when we were driving up away the night before. So we had an easy day just making sure everything was ticking over and getting used to the extra space that we now have. In the evening we had a massive meal together to celebrate the start of winter. It was very nice. We also chose our rooms, which was done by putting all the good rooms into a hat and each of us then got to go up get a room. I got a pretty good room with a window facing the East, so at least I get the sun in the morning and get to watch the kiting in the evening if I happen to be in my room (unlikely as I will be out there).

Dinner on the night after the ship left with everyone else. Only us left. Dave still has all his hair at the moment. Photo courtesy of Bob Posted by Picasa

We also got to pick someones else's name out of a hat, this is going to be the person we will make mid-winter presents for. Since we are normally working over Christmas we tend to celebrate mid-winter (22nd of June?) as it is the darkest day of the year. For this you have to make a mid-winter present for someone else secretly. These tend to be pretty good and people put in a lot of time an effort. Last year there was a robot penguin and even a working steam engine (until it blew up). So I will have to make something good for... oh that was close... I will tell you who at mid winter. It turned out to be an excellent night and about 2am when we were really sloshed we decided to cut peoples hair.

Kirsty and I cut Dave's hair. What a good way to celebrate the beginning of winter. Photo courtesy of Kirsty Posted by Picasa

We also cut Liz's hair, but this time only a grade 8 all over. I must say its quite satisfying to cut someones hair and it turn our ok. I know the styles are not difficult but its still quite tricky.

We had a few days off, well most of us did. Of course science never stops, so some of the metbabes had to work. About two days later we woke up to a beautiful day and decided to try for a group photo. This also gives me the opportunity to explain who are the 15 other people that I am now stuck with for the next 10 months?

Group photo in front of our home. People from left to right: Simon H (GA (field mountaineering guide)), Alex G (Data Manager), Nicola (Chef), Andy W (Metbabe), Frances W. (Metbabe), Dave A (Comms Manager), Brian H. (Plumber), Mark W. (Electrician), Anto B. (Vehicle Mech.), John W. (Winter Base Commander), Liz K. (Chippie), Vicky M. (Doctor), Bob P. (Genny Mech.), Kirsty S. (Metbabe), Chris O. (Share Engineer), Me (General Dude and AIS Engineer). Photo courtesy of Bob Posted by Picasa

The other significant thing that happened in the first week was the melt tank party. This is something that happens every year pretty much as soon as the ship leaves with the summerers. The summer accomodation (the Drewry) building gets shut down as it is not used anymore. The Drewry has a melt tank to generate water so when it gets shut down we pump a lot more heat into in and have our yearly communal bath. Access is from the snow surface or through up a ladder and through a hole high in the side. It's ace...

Me just about to dive in. It got down to about -20 degrees that night and it felt pretty cold especially on your feet. Posted by Picasa

As you can see its really good fun.

The view of the melt-tank before I dive in. Posted by Picasa

Later in the evening the first nakedness of the winter occurred as people jumped out of the melt-tank into the freezing antarctic and ran around the Drewry building before getting back in. I tell you the snow was freezing and even though it only took about 30 seconds to run around the building it started to hurt by the time you got back. I think there were about 6 naked runners nearly all male. It was really good fun and I'm already looking forward to next years one.

The last three people in the tank. Posted by Picasa

The next day after the party sledge alpha started to prepare for their winter trip. Sledge alpha (Liz, Kirsty and I plus of course the GA) was the first winter trip out this year. So hopefully I will tell you about that very soon.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Second Call, the ship returns and takes everyone else away. Arrrgh!

I'm getting really behind on the blog but I shall catch up. The last entry ended with the plane leaving us and that was about ages ago. Oh well the day after the plane left we had about one more day and then the ship turned up and everyone left. In fact there was one last party in the laws for the old winterers and summerers, it was also the night that the leaving winterers set booby-traps for the new winterers to discover when they have left. These include leaving smelly fish in the heating vents, putting potato powder in the milk, tabasco in the ketchup (we actually really liked this). There are probably other jokes that we haven't discovered yet.
The next day everyone woke up early and nearly everyone assembled at the garage. Only about 20 people were left on base. Dropping from 60 people to 20 is a massive change and those that were left behind found it really quiet. Everyone else then got into the sno-cats and the convoy to the ship set off.

Matt (old winter Genny mech), Gemma (summer Civil Engineer) and Dan (old winter Chippie)(my summer room mate) leaving in K21. Thats it for them no more antarctica for them.  Posted by Picasa
I was co-driver with Ads in K21 the same sno-cat that I was driving for the first call relief which was really cool. It was a bit weird as there was a sort of party feel and at the same time we were all saying goodbye to all the great people that we had met during the summer. The weather was fantastic and the journey uneventful, the route was so smooth compared to first call and I even fell asleep in the passenger seat. We arrived at N9 and there was no sea-ice but the ship was moored up against the low shelf-ice. Very strange to meet all the crew who we spent about a month with and yet who we haven't seen for 2 months. So much has happened and they were not there. They were slightly shocked with the haircut but were all pretty cool. I then somehow got volunteered to work on the ice unloading the sledges that we had dragged from Halley, most of this was rubbish for recycling in the Falklands or the UK.

Unloading waste on the sea-ice. It was freezing and there was a crack in the ice just where the sledge was. Its risky but sometimes you have to take them and we had a GA on hand to save us if things got bad. Posted by Picasa
So a long day on the ice but the reward was great food and an unlimited bar. The ship doesn't limit beer to two bottles a night so it was a pretty heavy night later on. The evening was great though as the sunset was perfect.

The shadow the the ships superstructure on the ice shelf at N9. Posted by Picasa
The sea was also cold enough to produce sea smoke... ah just looked it up on the interweb, sea smoke is produced when frigid polar air meets the warm moist air that lies on the surface of the sea which is warmer. The warmer air rises and condenses on the frigid air producing a smoke, it looks like the sea is burning with invisible flames. There was also grease ice, this is when a skin of ice crystals begin to form on the sea surface making it look matt and greasy. In some places there was pancake ice, as you image the ice forms clumps together to form pancakes. This is just the start of the sea ice forming and it'll be two or three months until there is sea-ice thick enough to walk on.

Snocats on the ice-shelf waiting at the top of the ramp for us to collect the next morning and drive back to Halley. Posted by Picasa
The next day we woke up early with a slight hangover and left after a fantastic full english breakfast (I'd forgotten how good the food was on the ship) and then drove back to Halley.

Relief driving, better than motorway driving and I loved it. I don't know why you'd think that you'd get bored but its great, I guess its because its so alien to be sitting and driving on an ice-shelf. Cool. Posted by Picasa

Bob shot (technical term for taking a picture of yourself in such a way so that it looks as if someone else took it) of me driving. Posted by Picasa
As soon as I got back to Halley, I refuelled the Cat, had a quick lunch and then installed an optical instrument, which took the rest of the day. Looking around the Laws platform that evening it started to sink in the fact that everyone was leaving and that that was the summer over. There had been so much happening that it still really didn't sink in. The next day we had to wake up early and take the final summer stragglers to the ship. Once again it was a fantastic drive except that the contrast was a bit worse. I drove half of it with Lance one of the mobile plant operators in K21 and then swapped with Kirsty so that I got to drive K14 again. K14 is the oldest Cat and is a bit crazy with dials and switches above your head like a plane.

2nd Wave. View of the ice-shelf from just outside the bridge. The captain is looking out and down below the relief is ongoing. Once again the sno-cats await us at the top of the ramp. Posted by Picasa
We arrived very early and then had a wait around because the crane on the ship was broken. The engineers on the ship fixed it but it took ages. It wasn't so bad because there was a lot to look at. There were the penguins.

Penguin friends. Yay. Posted by Picasa
And the whales.

Killer whales. Wildlife! Its amazing after a few months you forget that there are other living things. We only get birds (skuas, petrels of various sorts and the occasional penguin). Posted by Picasa
So it was getting late by the time they had unloaded all the sledges. Still we had to get back and it was decided that we would drive back in the dark if needs be. There was a chance that the ship would sail further down the coast the next day to a creek closer to Halley in order that we could say farewell properly but it as we walked off the ship onto the sea-ice we knew that we would only seeing the 16 of us for the next 10 months. It was slightly emotional saying goodbye again to everyone.

Kirsty just before getting on the back of the sledge. In the background the shack is covered in ice. We will see the ship again at the end of November. Posted by Picasa
Then the word came from the winter BC to get on the final sledge and move out up to the waiting snocats and the beginning of winter.

John Withers the winter BC (base commander) rallies the troops before leaving. It was fairly emotional. 10 months man. 10 months. 10 months and only 16 of us. God I hope its good. Posted by Picasa
I acually got to drive the final snocat away from the ship, so I didn't get the view of the ship slowly receding in to the distance but instead had to concentrate on driving. We then split into our respective snocats and started driving.

Driving back in the night was interesting and odd as we never seem to use vehicles in the dark. I guess its going to get darker a lot more and we shall have to get used to it. Posted by Picasa

The dream team is reunited for the return journey. It was excellent to be in a snocat with the crazy one (Kirsty) again, it makes the journeys so much more interesting. Kirsty drives the final bit into Halley, narrowly avoiding crashing into flags even if there were a few scary moments. Posted by Picasa

Driving back was also a bit strange because I was constantly thinking about the whole 10 month thing but not in a bad way but just in a sort of "its finally happening" sort of way. I was enjoying the feeling of starting something that I've never done before and something that might be quite tough. Anyway winter began and we returned to an empty base, which is good as now we all have separate rooms. Whats more important is that it is our base for the next 10 months.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Blimp - Club Nido - Sunsets - Kiting - No more Plane

Its been sometime since I last wrote stuff on here. But it feels like it was about a month ago as so much has happened. We are actually on our own now. So much has happened that I will have to write another entry, maybe in the next few days, how we came to be left on our own. That is there are 16 left on base and we are in winter mode. So in the lead up to everyone else leaving I have been immensely busy. Most of it has been finishing off the last few summer jobs, these are outside jobs that will be too difficult in the winter. I have also been trying to absorb as much information about my job as possible. This has probably involved me asking far to many questions to people. I've also had some time for recreation of course, but its all been very similar to previous weeks. Its funny how the weather dictates so much of your life here. If the weather is bad the plane doesn't fly. If the weather is bad then all your work is indoors. If the wind speed is between about 9 knots and 20 knots and the weather is good then I, and normally Kirsty, will go kiting. If the weather is good and there is no wind then we will go skijouring. If there is no wind and the contrast is bad then we will go x-country skiing. Contrast is a difficult thing to explain unless you have seen it yourself. When the sky is covered in cloud the white snow surface loses all its definition and you can't see any texture or sastrugi. So we x-country ski when this happens so we won't injure ourselves doing a more high speed sport. So its been normal. One interesting thing that has happened recently has been the launching of the blimp.

MET people testing their blimp. The Laws building is behind them. Liz the chippie is on the right looking at the camera. The blimp is a bit flaccid but they were only testing it. They are going to attach instruments underneath it and then they let it rise and measure things. I think its something to do with sea ice break up. Posted by Picasa

Actually just been told that the experiment is all about ozone depletion events that occur when ice forms. So in the spring (October) when the ice is breaking and re-forming you get the whole ice cycle going on and they are trying to see whether the formation of frost flowers has anything to do with ozone events. Its too complicated for me to understand.

We also had a final party of the summer.

Club Nido begins to warm up as Craig, Vanessa and Dave the canadian start shaking their limbs. Club Nido is usually the garage. Its called Club Nido after the powdered milk we drink (Nido) which is actually really nice if you mix enough of it in. For the first few days here I didn't really notice that it was powdered. Posted by Picasa

Club Nido, is supposed to be the most exclusive night club in the world as it usually only operates in the winter. There was also a BBQ outside which was surprisingly good considering that it was about -15 outside.

Frances (centre) struts her stuff. Posted by Picasa

One of the things that is happening more and more is that we are having a few hours of relative darkness. It never quite gets completely dark at the moment but we get long sunsets as the sun skirts the horizon in the southerly direction. This has meant that in the last week we have been having some great sunsets. I guess this is another sign that winter is on its way. I am told that the sun departs very quickly and that in a couple of months we will be wishing for the sun. At the moment its really nice to be able to go outside occasionally and not have to wear sunglasses, of course your eyeballs just start to freeze if there is any wind. We will all be wearing clear goggles soon.

One of the amazing sunsets taken from the Laws building. On the left is the skidoo line where we park up the skidoos and night. Posted by Picasa

Craig kiting as the sun dips below the horizon. The building on the far left is BART where the weather balloon is launched every day, the next building along is the Piggott (my work place). Posted by Picasa

Sunset in front of the melt tank tunnel entrance. The mound is a mound of snow and ice piled up by the dozer which makes fill the melt tank easier. The melt tank is about 25m down so you actually shovel snow into a hole in the ground where there is a shaft to feed the tank. Posted by Picasa

If the weather is good then it doesn't matter how dark it is. Kirsty was kiting when I saw my first star/planet (you can't really see in this photo but its just above the cloud on the right hand side) since arriving at Halley. Posted by Picasa

We have also lost the planes. The planes are the only way to get around quickly and the only way to get out of Halley in a hurry as they can fly all the way to Rothera on the antarctic peninsular and from there you can get a bigger plane back to the falklands. This is what Dave the comms manager did when he broke a tooth see his blog. The plane foxtrot bravo bravo has been the Halley plane for most of the time and it was the one that I was in twice. It was also the one that was damaged when we went to M83. It was due to leave Halley a few days earlier than it actually did because when it got back from its last trip (I think to Neumayer, the german base) it was found to have a broken front ski/wheel steering link. This had probably cracked when we made our landing at M83 and fatigued until it had properly broken. Another plane was sent from Rothera with the spares and the air mechs changed the whole front wheel/ski assembly.

The plane takes off for the final time with the air mech Dave the canadian as co-pilot. We are left with no air cover. Posted by Picasa

So that was that for the planes. The skiway will remain open until the planes leave Rothera but that won't be long and then next year we will have to put the skiway back in its place and prepare the surface for the next planes which should be arount October/November.

Victor-papa-foxtrot-bravo-bravo leaves performs her final flypast before heading off to Rothera. Hopefully we will see Ian the pilot next year. Posted by Picasa