Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ice Cricket - Man Hauling to the N9 4 km marker - Sunset - AIS

It seems that some fans of this blog find it slightly annoying that I start each entry with an appology, well I am sorry for annoying you but that is the way I feel. Its nearly been another week and summer here is running out. So too are the large jobs that have to be done outside. This means that we are doing more and more tidying up and packing up boxes of equipment that is to be sent out when the ship returns for second call. We still have to go out quite a bit as there are jobs (raises) that are left late in the season in order that they (the things you are raising) don't get buried as quickly as if you had done it earlier.

The saturday after my last entry was a fantastic day and we had the afternoon off. Because of the fine weather a cricket game was organised. I turned up after a good skijouring session. Earlier in the week I had somehow done a few 360s on the snowboard whilst being towed by the skidoo but haven't been able to do it more recently. When everyone who wanted to play cricket had turned up we only had 14 players. So we split into two teams, with Ads (Adam the comms dude) and Ian (Pompey the steelie) as captains.
The rules were as follows:
Each team took it in turn to bat with two of their players, each pair faced 4 overs. If they were out then they lost 5 runs. All the rest of the players were fielders. The final player on each team faced the bowlers alone for two overs. Scores were added up for each team. We played with a tennis ball.
The final scores were Ians team 1 run, Ads' team 9 runs. I was on Ads' team. Woohoo! The scores don't really reflect the quality of the game nor the quality of the banter in the outfield. I guess the champagne moment was when Craig (the plant operator) made a running diving catch before smashing into the snow.

Post cricket photo. Posted by Picasa

You'll be glad to know that cricket has been the one sport that produced no serious injuries. You have seen that Alex's ankle was broken in the footie, but I haven't told you that Jay Blow's (John Blower - Sparkie) shoulder was torn when playing softball.

On the sunday I got off base again. This is the second time but this trip was less glamorous than the trip to windy caboose. This trip was organised by Liz (the Chippie- see photo below) and was intended to be a training session for manhauling. As the name suggests Manhauling is Scott's (of the Antarctic)way of travelling. You attach a sledge to you and walk or ski to where you want to go hauling your sledge. As I mentioned in the last entry, whenever you go anywhere off base you carry loads and loads of stuff incase it gets really bad. This means that you have to haul a lot of stuff. In order to do this over reasonable distances you need training, and this trip was intended as a training trip. We only took a primus, some fuel, sausage sandwiches and chocolate, extra clothing. As with every training exercise it was a learning process. We had a rubbish sledge to pull, we used an only climbing harness to attach the sledge to the hauler and we didn't tie down the stuff in the sledge. Not tieing down the stuff meant that for the first km bits kept on falling off the sledge. Luckily like a well trained boy scout I had two bits of string in my pocket and we fixed the problem.

Liz, dragging the pulk sledge back. Posted by Picasa

When we set out the weather was gorgeous and we just thought it was going to be another fine day on the Brunt Ice Shelf. As it turned out, because the clear skys it was also one of the coldest days. I hauled the sledge all the way to the destination, the 4km marker. Just further on from the 4km marker there is a small mast which holds a solar panel and a UHF transmiting antenna. This is a radio micro barograph (or rubaro) and this experiment is run by the MET babes on the other platform (Smelly Simpson Platform). We were only wearing normal clothes (thats the sort of gear you would wear outside in England) with some windies (thin cotton outer clothes which stop the wind) over the top. By the time we got there one of my sunglasses lenses had iced over, sweat on my forehead had frozen and my eye lashes had beads of ice on them. We quickly got all our extra clothes on and started the primus and began to melt some snow for a brew up. After about half an hour the water finally boiled, by which time we were starting to get really chilly. We posed for this picture, where we sat down on the snow sofa that KIRSTY and CRAIG made (what excellent craftspersons they are).

4 km man-hauling family portrait. Uncle Anto stands behind and Auntie Liz sits on the snow sofa with me. Posted by Picasa

Liz hauled the sledge back and we got warm again. There is a good reason to go manhauling, and that is it is lovely and quiet, except for the squeak and swish of the snow. And you get to feel like you are doing the proper antarctic hero thing a bit more, instead of getting you hands vibrated off by a noisy skidoo. I mean I love skidoos a lot, they are amazing, but it is the difference between steaming in a boat and sailing a yacht. The yacht is so much cooler and although it might not be quite as comfortable it feels right and you appreciate things a bit more. One of the amazing things as we came back was the miraging. Miraging happens alot here because of the ice causing air close to the surface to become colder than the air above. This causes diffraction which bends the light much like in a fibre optic cable. Sometimes we see massive icebergs on the horizon. On the way back from the 4km marker we were seeing different amounts of miraging across the base. So the Simpson platform was massive and the laws was big at one end. The garage and the Drewry were tiny. Its really odd. It would have been cool if people looking in our direction had seen three massive people sliding towards them but no one saw that.

Not much else has happened since then. Except for the poster incident.

Someone put up these posters of me doing a head stand in the snow. It didn't take long to find out who is was (Kirsty). I still haven't found them all. All I can say is that some day I will have my revenge. Posted by Picasa

We've done more packing and cleaning. Oh yeah my radar broke for a bit when a power supply blew up. This caused me and Bryn to work until 10.30 pm getting an old replacement to work. A lot of people have also been asking me what my job is. I think I have already told you that I am the AIS engineer. I think I will try to explain my job more fully in the next entry. As you can see below time is running out and apparently the light will fade quickly.

Sunset over the AIS transmitter masts. (Photo courtesy of Miriam the old SHARE engineer) Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 10, 2006

Busy - Sorry - Climbing the tallest erections in Antarctica - Trip to Windy Caboose - Ze Germans - Kiting.

More appologies for my tardiness on the blog front, two weeks is really slack. My only excuse is that I have been too busy working and having fun, so sorry again but tough. I should have more time in the winter. I've been so busy because all the work here has to be done in the summer and the summer season here is drawing to a close. I think the ship is due back on the 23rd of this month and apparently it won't hang around. Basically all the summering staff will leave along with last year's winters and we (16 of us) will be left to fend for ourselves. The other thing that is happening is that I am being given more and more responsibilities which is good but gives me less time to do other stuff. I have been made Winter Mast Officer, this means that I am nominally in charge of all the masts here and have to write a report for HQ about their state. Its not really much as most of the masts will be maintained by others but I should know what I am doing. Because of this I am always being called on to help the Mast Erectors (Fish and Jacko) with Mast erection. Its good fun unless its really really cold. The other bit of responsibility is that I am going to be Winter Piggott Coordinator, which means that I am supposed to coordinate the Piggott Science platform, once again there is not much to do except help my platform communicate with the rest of the base and HQ but I need to know what is happening, which I don't at the moment. So what has been happening in the last two weeks?

A lot has been happening in the last two weeks. I guess the first thing that happened was that the Laws building was raised. This required everyone on base except for those involved with the plane or the chefs and one person running each of the science platforms. They need so many people because each leg of the building (20 of them labled east 1-10 and west 1-10) needed two people to run the jacks and raise the jacking plates. I was on the west side with Jeff Cohen the passive engineer (passive engineers are not passive but deal will all the passive instruments, I will taking over half of his jobs). There are about 50 people on base so the other 5 or six people were coordinating stuff on the ground. It was a pretty long day and very cold as we stood around for ages waiting for things to happen. Apparently it might be the last time they ever jack the building as Halley 5 is due to be removed and replaced by Halley 6. We have actually had the Halley 6 architect and some engineers here testing things and changing their design. So the laws got raised 1.7 m.

The next day the AIS transmitter masts were raised. These are the tallest erections in Antarctica and are 46.3m above the snow surface after they were raised this year. There are two masts that hold a Log-Periodic antenna curtain between thenm. Because they are so high, raising them took two days. The mast erectors Fish and Jacko took it turns to climb the masts and Bryn and were the other climbers. I think I have mentioned before that Bryn is the old AIS engineer and that I am taking over from him. On the first day Fish and Bryn climbed the west mast.

The AIS masts with Bryn and Fish at the top. The snocat on the left is K21, the dream teams relief snocat (see previous entries). Posted by Picasa
In order to raise the masts you have to fit a new 10 foot section of mast to the top. So you drop the antenna curtain onto the ground. Get a pulley onto the top of the mast. You then haul a gin pole (long pole that fits to the top of the mast) with another pulley on it and fit it to the top of the mast, you can then pull things higher than the current top of the mast. You then haul the new section up and fit it to the top. The next day it was mine and Jacko's turn to climb. It was a beautiful day we raised the mast by lunch time.

The view looking down from the top. The smallest blobs are people, the next size up blobs are skidoos and the largest blogs are sledges. Posted by Picasa

Jacko the mast erector at the top. The spanner thing on the right is called a podger and has a tapered handle. Podgers are really useful for locating holes and tightening the nuts afterwards. Dropping stuff at 45 m is not good. Posted by Picasa
Once you have raised both masts you can raise the antenna curtain again. Raising the curtain was a bit of pain as the antenna had to be checked as it was raised and there was a bit of damage between insulators and the dipole wires but wwe fixed everything and it all worked well later. While we were doing all this work other people were invited to climb the masts as it is not often that you get an opportunity to climb them (they are transmitting a lot of the time with 10kW pulses 250 times a minute at wavelengths about the same size as a large human). Only one person apart from Bryn, Fish, Jacko and Me got to climb and that was Kirsty. She was just lucky and was there when we weren't too busy. So she is only spectator to have been up the largest constructions in antarctic this summer.

The rest of the week was spent helping the masties with raising turnbuckles. Snow accumulation causes most of the work here. I also started to prepare for the weekend away. This was an idea I had about a week before when I heard that some of the current winterers were going to a holiday caboose for the weekend. They did it and said that it was a lot of fun. Others were going and I thought instead that it would be good to get off base for a day trip. So I organised with the GA (Simon H.) to make it possible. In order to leave base, you need to have done co-pilot training and you need to take a half unit. A half unit is a small unit and a full unit is all the safety equipment that you need to take with you if you are planning on sleeping out it a tent. A half unit consists of Pots box (pots, pans, primus, tilley), spares box (plates etc...), inside tent box (loo roll and more stuff), radio box (has an HF radio), man food box (contains enough food for 2 for 20 days), P-bags these are massive bags with sleeping bags, thermorests, sheepskins and other bedding that normally makes it too hot to sleep and an iridium phone, rescue sack (we didn't take one as we were travelling along a drum line but this normally contains ropes, ice axes etc... for crevass rescues)... um oh yeah you need a jerry of parafin and some meths. A half unit is massive and a full unit is even more. So I did a small amount of stressing trying to locate all the bits and bobs and orgainise the rest of the crew. The crew turned out to be Liz, Kirsty, Anto and Me of course. It got to sunday and we as usual there were some late risers. We located the equipment and loaded up snocat with all the stuff. When you shove that much stuff in a snocat you feel like you are going on a massive journey, so the day trip did feel a bit weird.

Anto, me, Liz and Kirsty get ready to leave for Windy Caboose in the Star Ship Enterprise. Posted by Picasa

The trip only took about one hour at 20 km/h but for me it was great to be back in a cat, this being the first time I had been in one since the relief. It was great and when we got there Liz brewed up, which was fantastic. We got there at about lunch time and ate our picnic.

The team inside Windy Caboose. Posted by Picasa

We then had a bit of fun kiting next to the drum line and having a snowball fight.

Snow ball fight at windy caboose, Kirsty of course cheats by using a frisbee to hurl snow at me. Action shot from Liz the chippie taken from the top of the snocat. Posted by Picasa

We had dinner at the caboose as well. This time it was a slightly different meal, with tinned hotdogs, and tinned spagetti which turned into a bit of a mush. We drove back and arrived back on base at about 10 pm. What a perfect day!

Another week started and we got some great weather again. One of the highlights apart from the great weather and hence skijouring etc..., was the arrival and departure of the Germans. The Germans base to the east of us on the Ekstrøm Ice Shelf is called Neumayer and they have only one plane. They used to have two but they crashed one at Rothera a couple of years ago. The plane is a Dornier Do 228 and looks pretty aggressive when compared to the twin otter.

The Germans in the Dornier preparing to leave. Posted by Picasa

The Germans just leaving the ice Posted by Picasa

Neumayer base has a shorter summer season so while we are still doing things their one plane is leaving, refueling here and carrying on to Rothera. So at Neumayer they are going into winter mode. Which reminds me we are going to have to go to winter mode soon, I've mentioned that before haven't I. Anyway the weather has since got fresher and we are regularly having days when it is 20 below in the evening. The fresher wind makes it good for kiting.

Anto and Me kiting. My kite is the blue one and its 9.5 square metres large. Posted by Picasa

Me with my first kiting injury. How disgusting is that? The control bar for the kite smacked into my lip which then got cut up by my teeth. Vicky the doc said I it was fine and that I was a wuss. Posted by Picasa