Thursday, 6 December 2007

Cool chicks live here in the Antarctic.

Ski-Joring...ouch, ouch, ouch. Oh, the pain!
(Weds 28th Nov)

A popular sport here is ski-joring.
Snowboarding is popular here at Halley. But we live on an ice shelf, which is as flat as a pancake with white featureless landscape as far as the eye can see. Therefore, an alternative form of propulsion than the usual gravity often used by snowboarders is required. This is where ski-doos come in handy.

Ski-joring is an activity which involves using a ski-doo to tow someone on a snowboard. As it is my plan to take up kiteboarding (propelling oneself on a snowboard with the power of the wind), coupled with the fact that I have never set foot on a snowboard, I thought it would be a good idea to learn the hard way. Basically, launching myself into ski-joring with no prior training! Genius!

Well, I can safely say I spend more time flailing on the snow like a rag-doll been thrown to the floor. But I wasn't going to give up, damn it. Time after time, after only reaching a distance of less than 5m, I would fall off, unable to control the board. But, time after time, my technique improved a little. After three goes consisting of falling over an average of 15 times I was completely b****cksed. It was the end of the day anyway.

I had another go last night also (4th Dec) and I can confidently say I am beginning to get there. Although I still fell over a shed load of times and I completely shagged my arm muscles with all the straining of holding onto the rope and getting up in snow, I was starting to tame the board as my bitch.

Thanks to Dave Evans for the photography. He clinged on for dear life at the back of the ski-doo to take shots of us. the Antarctic context (yes, we do work here as well!)
(Fri 30th Nov)

I'm at serious risk of showing to everyone that working in Antarctica is just a great big jolly. isn't. We do good old fashioned hard work every day, working in our respective trades as we would in the UK, and often a lot more too.

Since arriving I have been familiarising myself with the role I will be taking on here at Halley station. The existing metbabes have been doing a fantastic job of training me and telling me what to do.
And to be honest I have no qualms with two attractive girls telling me what to do! None whatsoever. (Dave, the other metbabe, has been doing a grand job also. But he has a willy!).

One of the annual jobs is to calibrate the cloud base recorder.

Officially known as a "Ceilometer", the cloud base recorder measures the heigh of the cloud layer(s) directly above it using a low powered laser and analysing the backscattered light reflected by the various clouds above. It's a handy device in meteorology and conducting weather observations in that it allows us to see the change in cloud height over time and what height the clouds are directly overhead. The information helps in forming the synop code (a global format for recording met obs) which gets transmitted back to the UK Met Office.

Geeky huh?

I had the privaledge of clambering on the Laws platform roof with Tamsin to help calibrate it while Dave sat at the computer
in the office below sending us commands over the radio. The window of the ceilometer had to be covered with a delicate and specially formed cover to aid the process...Affectionately known as the witches hat!
Once the cover was on, and after several tweaks of the calibrating screws on the circuit board, we had nailed it.

Co-Pilot Training Field Course
(Thurs 27th Nov)

It's called co-pilot training.
If out on a field trip with the aircraft we need to know how to act as a "co-pilot" in emergency situations (field trips in the Twin Otter may involve just the pilot and an extra).

The idea of the field training is for introduction to camping in Antarctic field camps, both for the recreational field trips and in the case of an emergency situation.

Those of us of the new winterers who were already on station were on this initial course...myself, Joe, Bryan and Scott.

Scott and I were paired up, and Bryan and Joe were teamed up for the other tent. Scott is our veteran Antarctican. Our wintering mobile plant mechanic from NZ (south island), has wintered with more bases of other nations than I can shake an icicle at! With so many secluded winters, he's a bit more eccentric than the rest of us wintering "novices" (in a good way, as Scott is a good laugh). He knows what he's doing, and so it was a safe option teaming up with him. And a good choice it was too.

We pitched our field tents, which requires a lot of digging to set the ground, set out our sleeping systems and the cooked our evening meal .

In pitching the tent, the outer and innter door flaps had to be tied back. Halfway through the process, the opening to the tent started to resemble an opening that I am not going to be experiencing for 15 months or so...something that also has an inner and outer set of flaps *snigger*

See me acting like a baby in the opening to said tent.
Oh, how I sniggered.

With the limited supply of 7 year old rations in the field man-food boxes, Scott cooked up a real treat of spag bol with chedder cheese topping washed down with a good ol' English cup of tea. Like I said, he knows what he's doing...We ate like kings while the other two struggled on a prepack freeze dried sachet of macaroni cheese! Oh, how I felt so humble in the presence of those peasants.

After dinner, we had a little fresh air to "relieve" ourselves. Camping in the Antarctic has the same problems as camping anywhere else secluded from the home comforts. What goes in must eventually come out, and in this case the evening's meal had forced the conveyor somewhat, requiring the previous evening's intake to be expunged!

With food over, and the evening drawing in, we returned to the warmth and comfort of our respective tents. But not before Scott took advantage of the time to attack the enemy encampment as they were settling for the evening.

Fuel Raise
(Mon 3rd Dec)

Every year, a big activity on base is to do the fuel raise.
Halley station runs on generators fuelled by avtur (a kerosine and anti-freeze mix). Every year the fuel tanks need refuelling, as do the fuel tanks supplying the vehicles operating on site. Fuel is delivered to Halley in drums which are stored in four depots of 200 drums, about 1km away from the main buildings. And every year the depots get buried by the annual accumulation of snow...usually between 1m - 1.5m.

Volunteers are asked for each year to assist in the operation of the fuel raise. The process involves digging away the snow from the depots, lifting the drums three at a time with a crane onto a sled, setting the drums upright and into a neat position on the sled, dragging the sled to the station fuel tanks, and pumping the drum contents into the underground tanks called "flubbers" (cos they're made of rubber and they're fuel tanks).

All of this is a very labour intensive process, requiring people to man-handle fuel drums, use shovels to dig snow from around the drums, people to be underground with the flubbers to assist in the pumping, etc, etc, etc. Things in the Antarctic have to be done somewhat different to the way they would be done in the UK where all the right facilities, equipment and support infrastructure is available.

I helped to load the sleds up with fuel drums, taking turns in fitting the chains from the crane to the drums and working on the sleds to upright the drums once deposited.
It was good to be doing some real physical work outside in -8C. Beats sitting behind a computer in an office in the UK looking at a rain-sodden road below!

Unfortunately, the crane broke down halfway through our session, with a burst o-ring in the hydrauic system. (I'm proud to admit that I spotted the leak with my engineering experience and knowledge, realised the danger and informed Lance the operator immediately, hence adverting disaster and catastrophe and basically saving the lives of all those on station and generally fulfilling my role as an Antarctic hero and hunk!!).

While we waited for the replacement crane, we relaxed for a while and had a small snowball fight. Unfortunately the snow here is either as powdery as talcom powder or as compact and hard as ice. So, we resorted to playing cricket with the shovels and ice instead.

Joe prepares to return a lob by Richard...

At the end of the morning shift on fuel raise I was completely knackered. However, science never sleeps in the Antarctic, and I resumed with my met work in the pm. Hero.

And for the main feature... Penguins!
(Sun 2nd Dec)

I was privaledged and honoured to be asked if I would like to go on a trip to the penguin colony (emporer penguins...the only ones near to Halley).
After mulling the idea over for a couple of nano-seconds, I accepted.

The chance of visiting the penguin colony is always on the cards for winterers, but I was surprised that an opportunity was going to be available so soon. And my God, what an amazing sight to behold it was.

One of the greatest advantages of Halley is that the penguin colony is only approx 18km away on the coast where the sea ice ajoins the ice sheet. The penguin colony is always at the same or nearby location.

After stocking up for the day, we hopped aboard the sled, (of same sleds used in the fuel raise) and took the hours drive to the colony.

As we walked from the stop-off point and arrived at the cliff edge, I was met with an awsome sight. After experiencing nothing but flat whiteness for a week or so, I was suddenly confronted with a sea, cliffs of ice and an amazing floating expanse of sea-ice covered in a mass of black dots. But this mass of black dots was the most amazing thing of the view. Thousands of penguins spread out across the sea-ice and around the bay.

A slope provided easy access to the sea ice from the shelf cliff and hence straight into the colony.

These birds are amazing. And they were not afraid of us at all. More curious than afraid. The only explanation for this I guess is that they have no reason to fear humans. We were able to get quite close to them, but even so, they would just walk up to us timidly to get a closer look themselves.

I was busy taking shots of a small group of penguins from a distance. When I finished I turned around to find I had been surrounded by a group of them, just motionless and silently staring at me! I jumped a little at the unexpected sight, (but supressed a girly scream). It was quite surreal to find a group of penguins had quietly scuttled up behind me to have a look at me when I was struggling to focus on some in the distance. I took a shot of them also.

And look, the chicks are still growing.
Apparently, the chicks were hatched only a few months ago (maybe 3 months). Some are huge and fat, and others are, what women would call, small and cute. Truth is, the small and cute ones are the little runts and are the ones that are most probably going to die!!!
(Okay, I was joking...I'm not a naturist, how would I know).

The chick in the above shot is cool...I've named him Fonzy as he's doing an impression of The Fonze from Happy Days. "Eeeeyyyyyy!"

We spent a good 3 hours or so with the penguins. Once all the initial photography was over with, I just sat down surrounded by the colony taking in the atmosphere of the place. And sitting down, I was joined by more of the wildlife. Beautiful.

In true Dave style, I must take an action shot with me posing. And look, I seem to have been joined by a special friend!

The Antarctic Monkey, not one to miss on the action, has also made an appearance. Has he been enjoying the penguins too?

So, did he enjoy himself?
I think so!


Anonymous said...

David, absolutely wonderful reading,and your pics are amazing.

Mum xx

Anonymous said...

more please you furball.Alot of folks in the White Hart are monitoring you borr.andrew

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the penguins got to meet Antarctic Monkey! Another excellent blog.

Sio xx

Anonymous said...

Good stuff mate. Keep on keeping on....


Norwich Dave said...

"I'm not a naturist, how would I know"

I'm going to assume you mean 'naturalist'...or is there something you're not telling us??

Awesome blog dude. This entry alone will likely see me re-apply next year.

Anonymous said...

Wow - what a busy week!

The pictures with the penguins are fabulous. V. jealous....

Keep up the scribing :-)

e-bone x said...

love reading your blog lil bro, and a white witches hat just wouldn't do would it!
keep it up bumpkos bumpk barley