Antarctic report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow

nice day for a picnic

Goulden, Halley Research Station - nice spot for a picnic

This is the third in our series of reports from David Goulden working for The British Antarctic Survey…in Antarctica.

The supply ship Igarka should have been here a couple of weeks ago to coincide with the increasing amounts of labour being flown in but, as it has not arrived, we are having a quieter week and we all seem to be running out of work. The chefs are doing a fantastic job with our daily meals with dwindling supplies.

We hear that the Igarka has now left Cape Town and that there was some concern over the lashing of the cargo with a separate stevedore team having to be employed to check the loads for insurance purposes. The cargo is predominantly GRP cladding panels which, while not heavy, are very large and potentially fragile if stressed in the wrong direction.
It will take approx five days for the Igarka to reach the sea ice and then a further six days, on a good run, to reach us. However a good run is unlikely as she has no access to ice shelf data and, I believe, has little experience of this part of the ocean. The captain has told BAS that he is willing to try and push on as much as possible before the E. Shackleton icebreaker catches them up. It has been known for ships to get within 10 miles of the base and to then get stuck in the ice for weeks.

It is likely that she will arrive on Christmas Eve; in which case we will have Christmas early and then work solidly for the next few weeks on relief.

We headed out to the cabooses earlier in the week. These are 10ft by 10ft relief huts with stoves and bedding and are used as accommodation when the ship anchors off the sea ice. Our task was to raise each hut, clear the snow, open the doors and clear the ice that had accumulated inside. To get there we used one of the snow cats and followed one of the drum lines for the 20km journey. We then returned on the drum line to base and headed out in the opposite direction following another line to get to Creek 4.

Creek 4 is the preferred spot for relief as it is only 12km away from base and so the “haul” is much shorter. The sea ice here looks a little fragile and has broken away but you can still see the anchor points used last year. There is a natural ramp down from the shelf ice that will allow the snow cats and challengers onto the ice although to me it does not look like it will last for long!

The maximum load of any of the cargo is set at something less than 10t as the sea ice will not take a lot more. This has a knock on effect to the construction works as it limits the size that the modules and materials can weigh.

One of our other tasks is to survey the whole base area this week. I have set a station on the top of Halley Hill (a mound about 3.5m higher than the surrounding area – perhaps I should name it as part of the Goulden range?) and can survey most of the base from there.

It is a long and laborious process and entails coordinating all the structures on the site in the first instance and then carrying out a “clock” survey at 6 or 12 degree arcs from my point to the perimeter and back. Garith, my chainman for this task, (but actually the base carpenter) heads off on a skidoo with the pogo and prism and then works back in on the line of sight. I have set him stopping every 25m for a reading. The boundary of the site is over a km away and surveying one arc takes nearly an hour!

Everyone seems very excited about the survey as it will map the base for the first time in five years and will show how the buildings have moved relative to each other and how the snow has accumulated.

The Brunt Ice Shelf moves at approximately a meter a day in the horizontal plane and 3m vertically due to sea swell. Not all sections of the shelf move at the same rate and so the buildings can change position relative to one another. The shelf is 100m thick with 10m of that floating above the water.

On the main site the module B2 has been moved into a winter location not far from the Piggot Building and we have been asked to survey this area as a base line for how the building works aerodynamically over the winter and how it affects the snow levels. The idea is that another clad module will be positioned next to it.

One of the other tasks involved jacking the Bart building. This hut is where the helium gas is stored and the weather balloons are set off from. We first needed to empty the building of the gas bottles and then position the 4 jacks at the jacking points. We were joined by a team of Mech boys (plant operators) who pitched in and took a jack each. The extension pieces were added to the leg tops and we jacked the building up in unison in 300mm increments. The building was eventually bolted and made safe over a meter higher once we were complete. This is good fun as the Mech team are quite a young bunch and have a great esprit de corps.

Outside of work I have been skiing several times overdid it earlier in the week in an attempt to see if it was quicker to run or ski around the perimeter – it is actually quicker for me to run although this is only the case if the snow is firm and packed. Adrian and I took a leisurely ski last night after work before dinner – he was a Major in the Australian army before moving to Cambridge to study a PhD in snow management. We talked about “adventuring” and the “the flow”.

I spend much of my time reading in the library – the best room on the platform and rarely used. It has some fantastic books on the history of exploration of Antarctica.

Saturday night was curry night and is generally the night that everyone has a few drinks (maximum 4 cans!) and relaxes a little. I grab a game of darts before dinner and can hardly hit the board – I think the last time I played darts they had Velcro on the end and the board was made of felt! My lack of dart skills is not something I am worried about!
I have yet to venture onto the Pool table. One of the base rules is that if someone has six balls potted before you pot any then you must drop your trousers and run around the pool table as a forfeit – a poor chap had this humiliation on Saturday night. Fair play to him for doing it!

Even though it is light 24hrs a day the evening light creates a different view of the base and is a great time to get out for a walk. Mists have been rolling in across the base over the last few days making everything look very surreal. I believe this is a heat/humidity mist caused by the rising temperatures here – this week the average was only minus 1 deg.
I was circled by, what looked like, a swallow or swift this evening. It was, in fact, a Wilson Storm Petrel which roost on the container lines each summer to raise young. This brings my tally to five different types of mammals, all birds; WSPs, Skewers, Emperor Penguins, Adele Penguins and Snow Petrels.

This week we must move out of the Laws Platform to an annexe near the Drury Building to allow for more over wintering staff to arrive. The annexe is not as luxurious as the Laws and we will have no showers or WC near by. On the positive side we can open the windows! On the work front we will need to complete mapping the base before the weather turns – we have had nearly a full 10 days of sunshine.

– David Goulden, Halley Research Station, Ant-bloody-tarctica

08/12 Antarctic report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce
06/12 Antarctic report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on Saturday night

2 thoughts on “Antarctic report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow

  1. Pingback: Antarctic Report 4 – quiet week at 75 degrees south « Talking Bollocks

  2. Pingback: Antarctic report 5 –Prime Movers, melt tank and cricket in shorts « Talking Bollocks

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