Monday, 26 November 2007

Arrival & 1st week

23rd Nov 2007 - Wa-hey, I'm here!

And my oh my, what an amazing experience my first day in Antarctica was.

(Please indulge me while I spend a few minutes explaining about the experience, and then I can get back to talking the usual rubbish)

Stepping out of the hatch of the aircraft and seeing Antarctica for the first time was probably one of the most amazing and incredible experiences in my enitre life. It was almost poetic...seeing a vast white plain for as far as they eye can see in each direction broken only by the occasional white capped rocky outcropping, the surreal peacefulness of the place, the still, crisp and fresh unpolluted air, the cold nip, and the remoteness of it all was complete sensory overload. Unforgettable.

It was when I had the sudden realisation that I was standing on the most remote and inhospitable continent on the earth, a place capable of killing those who disrespect it. I was feeling at peace with it.

Anyway, that's enough of the mushy side of it. Let me tell you about the lead up to arrival at Novo, and then I can go onto telling about arriving at Halley.

Cape Town

We arrived in Cape Town at 0630 local time after a 12 hour flight from Heathrow. We dropped our luggage off at the hotel (a hotel booked bizarrely a good 70km from town, so there was no chance of exploring the night life of Cape!). After dropping off the luggage we then immediately all got back into the taxi to go all the way back into town to the quay to collect our kit-bags containing our Antarctic clothing. It was a hot day and we all roasted ourselves in the southern hemisphere's hot summer weather, getting rather lobster-like in colour. However, we didn't care, as it'd be the last time to experience such hot weather for a good while...

...or so we thought!

The following 2 days were p***ing down with rain. It was cold, windy and we felt like we were somehow inadvertently back in England without realising it!

At least before the rain we managed to get to see the Halley VI prototype / test-build "in the flesh", so to speak (it was pretty bare you see). It was quite a sight.

This is what will be constructed over the next 2 seasons at Halley. There's going to be essentially a production line of these things which will eventually link up to create a big brand new base on skis 20km or so up the ice-shelf from the current site.
See the BAS website for full details:

After 2days, it was soon time to start the next leg of our journey
to the Russian Antarctic base of Novolazarevskaya (commonly known as Novo to save one's tongue strangling itself in the process of pronouncing the full name). This journey was to be the most completely surreal flight of my life.

The Flight to Novo

Well, what can I say?

"Oh my God" would probably sum it up!

(Disclaimer: the next few paragraphs are aimed to be a light-hearted oversight of the flight. Although true, the entries have had a spin added to them to make the events appear comical, and are not intended to be interpreted as smear to a professional service)

The aircraft.
What is essentially a cargo plane with a section adapted for passengers.
The aircraft is stripped bare of any internal fittings and decor to expose the basic airframe and superstructure. All cargo being transported to Antarctica by the various research teams on board is stored in the rear of the craft, and the passenger section makes up the front. Between the two are the in-flight "facilities", (by which I mean the toilets). These consist of two chemical toilet porta-loos ratchet-strapped in behind the passengers.

It was like flying cattle-class. The seats were crammed in together to compress as many human bodies into a single square foot of space as possible...something to do with the economy of scale I guess. Considering that we were flying with our hand luggage, plus all the Antarctic clothing we'll be needing when we arrive, it was a struggle to fit into the seats and slide the bags under the seats.

Upon settling into our seats it was time for the flight safety presentation:

First, the lifejackets under the seats:
Now, considering that the emergency life jackets are under the seats and there are rows and rows of three people crammed into a tight spot, each wearing bulky Antarctic clothing with our hand luggage stuffed under the seats, the chances of getting the jackets out and on is somewhat minimal in a situation requiring speed mixed with mass panic.
As I said to Karl sitting next to me "Basically, if we end up ditching, we're buggered!".

Second, the oxygen masks.
It was explained that the oxygen masks are located at the sides. Again, in a situation requiring speed and mass panic there was a very minimal chance of managing to obtain one. Particularly when looking to the sides of the aircraft cabin these so called oxygen masks were nowhere to be seen. I refrained from repeating my previous comment to was apparent from the look in his face that he was already thinking it.

The emergency exits.
There is only one!
And that is the same hatch that we entered to get on the plane.
Unfortunately, before taking off, the aircrew had to strap the step ladder in front of it to make the ladder "safe" during flight!!! Oh dear.
Nervous laughter was quite a theme during the presentation. (for me anyway)

Time for take-off. The pilots started the jet engines, goosed them up and started taxi-ing down the runway...with the door still open!
I had fears that they had forgotten that it was open and would take off and we would be sucked to our death. But they hadn't forgotton, they just wanted to deafen us all from the whine of the jet engines before we took off.

As you can see, there are no windows, so there was no way of watching the take-off, the flight, or unfortunately the approach to Antarctica. The only view we had was from the projector showing an image from a camera mounted in the flight deck.

Arriving at Novo

Finally landed at Novo 0600 local time, landing on a blue-ice runway (which is essentially solid ice).
I tell you, you don't know what flying is until you land on solid ice in a huge jet-aircraft with rubber tyres. It's quite an experience. As soon as you touch the ice, you realise that you are trusting yourself to the knowledge of man in engineering to tame the laws of basic physics.

Once the Illyushin came to a stop, and the step-ladder dismounted from its position in front of the emergency exit, we all piled out of the aircraft, thanking whatever God we worshipped for our lives. And then it hit're on the continent of Antarctica. And what a view.

We had a little time to explore around the area near the airstrip.

I was privaledged to spot my first meteorological phenomenon during my first few hours in Antarctica. The sun produced an amazing Halo. This is caused by the moisture content in thin high strato-cirrus clouds diffracting the light rays coming from the sun.

With my limited skills in photography, I managed to capture a slight snap of the halo using a quick apperture speed. (Sorry Laura, I've not had time to become a photography expert yet, but I'm working on it!).

Novo to Halley

Soon after unloading the aircraft our kit and equipment was collected together ready for loading onto the smaller Basler aircraft for transport to Halley.

This was a 5 hour journey requiring a refuelling stop at the Norwegian base Troll. Again, another cramped flight, but forgivable as I was so bloody knackered I was able to sleep with the noise and the awful position...the seat like the most comfortable bed in the world at the time

And then we arrived at Halley. We circled the base a couple of times on the approach to the ski-way. From the window, I was looking at a tiny collection of buildings and vehicles on a vast flat open expanse of whiteness...home for the next 15 months. It kind of put it all into context at that point.

At arrival at Halley, we were greeted by a welcoming committee. And then we were carted to base (quite literally, as we were pulled on a sled towed by a ski-doo).

A few minutes to get over the shock, and then we followed the most British of traditions performed after suffering an ordeal and had a cup of tea!

A safety talk and tour by the base commander followed.

D'oh...why did I ever decide to forward a pic of me before I even arrived. More to the point, why did I send a pic of me dressed in my Saturday Night Fever garb? How degrading!
My image already tarred before I was even on station, there was obviously no longer any point keeping up a fracade.

Metbabe - a definition
I must stop and explain that I am known in Halley speak as a Metbabe
I am the station's meteorologist, ergo I am a metbabe.
Metbabe is a term that started when there was a team of 3 (and quite hot) female meteorologists on station several years ago. They were called the metbabes and the name has stuck ever since (there has always been a girly in the met team at Halley each year).

Not anymore. It's just me being the meteorologist this year.

conference in September there were several surprised/upset people in the regular summer compliment to this news...particularly one. When I introduced myself as the meteorologist he focussed his somewhat bleary eyes on me and stated,
"Meteorologist? But aren't you supposed to have tits?"

How could I argue that point? I just hope after a few months with so many males on station that he doesn't start leering at me without tits!

Similarly, I hope I don't end up leering at him.
*double shudder*

Male or not, people by now know my penchant for dressing up, so he might be in for a treat.

So, what's home actually like?
The base is several years old, having been commissioned in 1991/1992 (I think, I'll have to look it up). However, it has a lot of character, developed over the years by the wintering teams.

"Yes yes yes Dave" I hear you say, "but what of the Antarctic Monkey? Where is he? We want to see him."

Well, he's been out and about, enjoying himself in his new environment. Surprising how well he settled in considering the vast difference between the climates of the Antarctic compared to that of the rainforest (or wherever he came from...McDonalds by the looks of his little tag).
(I'll let you into a secret...his hat and scarf helped).

Last night (27Nov07), we greeted the Twin Otter aircraft which will be supporting field ops this summer. With it came the pilot (an important component to any aircraft) Mark, air-tech Chad, and our field GA, Rich.
It landed at approx 2300hrs. And look how bloody bright it is outside. 24 hours of daylight. Weird.

BAS Twin Otter

Damn, I really should stop doing all the "tourist" snaps and just take normal pics. Apologies. Once the novelty wears off, I'll just be taking snaps of the scenery and maybe the odd setup comical pic.
But look, we have our own airport. Cool.

After unloading the plane, we went back to base and to bed as it was pushing midnight. Look. The sun. It's beaming down at mid-night! My brain doesn't like it. This is not right.

That's it for this entry. It's been a biggun.
I've omitted telling about the ski-jouring I attempted last night. I'll tell all in a later entry.

There's plenty to do on base (besides the work that we're employed to do). I'll try to record all in this blog, but even after not even a week, it's beginning to look a mammoth task.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Departure...and for goodness sake, Polar Bears do NOT live in the south.

Here he is...the Antarctic Monkey.

Please please please, I can't take it anymore!! I'm at my wits end. If anyone who hasn't asked me yet, and who's reading this I'll tell you now...I will not be seeing any polar bears when I am in Antarctica. Nobody will. They live on the other side of the planet!

Remember...Penguins South, Polar Bears North.

Sorry. I just had to get that off my chest.

Right, I've been getting a lot of grief as to why my blog hasn't been updated in a while.
I do have a good excuse. Basically, I've been spending all of my time since the met. training doing (would you believe) more training in Cambridge.

Well, more to the point, learning loads and loads of sciency and electronicy things which I will have to look after when at Halley. To explain all of these things on a blog would make me come across as
a) Boring, and
b) Totally geeky

I've seriously enjoyed my time working in Cambridge, and actually towards the end of the 6 weeks started to feel rather settled in the city and warming to my daily routine. I made some good friends, (all of whom are fully clothed and not closet naturists), and met many interesting people, and experienced a lot of fun (largely involving parties and a small tipple or two of course).


19th November 2007 - Departure

So, this is it.
It's the eve of my departure from the UK.
I suppose I am feeling a whole cocktail of emotions right now. But mainly, I just want to get there and settle in. All of this prolonged goodbye and emotional rubbish is now starting to get my goat!

The last time I made such a a change in my life was when I moved 200miles to a new town escaping the evil clutches of Great Yarmouth to set up a new life in Berkshire. And back then the stress of it all gave me itchy welps (or whatever they're called) all over my legs. And lo and behold, they're bloody well back with this new transition in my life.

I'll save you the horror by not putting a picture of them on here!
(actually, I've heard that the thought alone of seeing a picture of one of my legs sends flutters of ecstacy through many a woman's heart, but it would be damnable cruel of me to abuse the power of the blog and affect so many in one go!)

I've been very busy socially these past few weeks. I've been absorbing as much culture as I can such as theatre shows, visiting places of historical interest, country walks, parties, etc. These were all experienced with various people in my life.
I've never driven so many miles in such as short time in my life. I've been darting between Cambridge, Reading, and Great Yarmouth. Peterborough, Basingstoke, London, and Newbury.

However, I am glad to say that I managed to squeeze in one final performance with the Boundary Players by participating in a Murder Mystery event organised in association with Save the Children. This was performed at Wokefield Park on 10th November. And my, what a brilliant time it was. I was playing as an off-duty fresh-out-of-training policeman with a slight nervous disposition. A copper who just happened to be present at a meal/presentation put on by a theatre group who were using the evening to announce the next season's big production. Unfortunately members of the theatre group were being killed off throughout the evening after a spate of arguments between themselves. P'hah...amateurs.

Above is a picture of a not so intelligent looking off-duty copper having accosted the murderer after significant help from the guests/punters (it was Brett/Chris whodunnit). A very drunk (she was acting of course) Margot/Alice on the right.

This weekend was spend with my family. As I will be missing two Christmasses, we decided to have our celebrations early this year. Friday night was our Xmas where we enjoyed a fully decorated table at a restaurant (Quay Largo on Gorleston Seafront, this is your plug. Many thanks to you guys). As a going away pressie, I bought everyone a tiny fluffy penguin in hat and scarf.

Not to feel outdone, the Antarctic Monkey joined in by wearing his own hat and scarf.

As I said there are no polar bears in Antarctica, but I've heard they give good head!!

Saturday was our New Year celebrations.
Anyone who knows my brothers and I know that it is tradition for the Stephenson brothers to dress up. Not to let anyone down, we did just that. The theme for this year...

Penguins!!!(well, Duh)

That bloody polar bear...he gets everywhere.
Do not be confused. Polar bears and penguins do not generally mix.
As for the club. Well, we were going to go clubbing later...seal clubbing
(yeah, I know, it's a very tenuous link).
And I know some smart alec is going to comment on the lobster (we were hard pushed to find Antarctic marine life in the local fishing shops.

Right. I guess the next entry will be from the Antarctic, where I'll have much more exciting and newsy things to go on about.
But for now...bye.