So it’s been a while (again) since I made a blog post. There are a few reasons for this. First off the winter is now over. It’s a strange feeling saying that – winter, and all the difficulties that went with it for us, now seems to be all but a memory. The base is now humming with activity, new faces are everywhere around base and once quiet areas of the station are now full. The queue in the dining room is much bigger and extra tables and chairs are now out – the days of us all sitting around one table at meal times are gone. The first planes arrived at the end of October. A big moment in any winterer’s calendar. The arrival of new people, awaited materials and, importantly, fresh food like eggs!!
We now have full, twenty four hour sunlight and that lack of any sort of night sky adds to the huge sense of change. Winter, with its cold temperatures and glorious darkness now seems so long ago as to be almost unreal. Work has increased too. We are working longer hours as we move from keeping the base running (yeah, we had a quiet, uneventful winter!) to the summer season of improvements and new projects. This along with the regular summer jobs like moving the outbuildings up and out of the accumulated snow mean free time is at much more of a premium.
So, what have I been up to? Since I last posted the first planes arrived with new folk as I mentioned – some of them our replacements as next year’s wintering crew, including my replacement Pete. Some are summer only staff who have come along to work on summer science or technical projects and then there are also the odd flight crew who will drop goods and people off and then either bugger off again or stay until the weather lets them escape. The flipside of new people arriving is the departure of old ones. First out the door was James our doctor who had come to the end of his 2 year stay at Halley. He was followed by Gerard the chef and then Kev comms and Paul the gennymech. It’s a bit strange watching those you have wintered with leave and the place feels very different without them.
Summer is the busy season in Antarctica. With twenty four hour light and much more hospitable conditions it’s the time when most of the work gets done in preparation for the harsher winter. It’s also the case that summer is the only time that things and people can get in and out – so if you don’t get things done in the summer then they might have to wait a year!
Some of the early jobs to be done are moving the outbuildings around base. As well as the modules we have a garage, a summer accommodation building called the Drewery, a workshop and lots of smaller buildings and cabooses. These soon get buried like everything else does and so have to be lifted up and moved once a year. With a building weighing eighty tonnes this can be quite a challenge. Everyone on base is involved in some way or another from the people who stand inside making sure things don’t fall over to the garage team who do the planning and provide the horsepower – and seem to have the whole process down to a fine art, it’s fairly impressive to see huge buildings (the Drewery sleeps about thirty and has its own kitchen, living area and laundry as well as showers, toilets and plant rooms) being dragged across the ice.
My involvement with these huge moves is making sure they still have power when they arrive at their new destination. Power cables slung high in the air are unplugged, removed and then re-hung. This is a fairly hefty job given the size of some of these cables and it’s done high in the air on a cherry picker. When the weather’s rough it’s none too pleasant but this year the sun was out for most of the building moves leaving me with a nice Halley tan – brown face with nice white tan marks where the wraparound sun glasses have been.
Temperatures have been falling steadily for the past month or so (I should say rising but we stopped using negative temps due to positive temps being something that happens elsewhere in the world, when we say 15c we mean -15c!) as I type it’s a balmy -4c outside, I think there are places back home that will be seeing temps like that – though remember it’s high summer for us lot. I tried explaining to people back home about how warm it feels at these temps last summer. Well now it’s even more so after spending a winter with lows of -55. When the sun’s out and the wind is low it feels lovely outside even when it’s -15c, real T-shirt weather! Hopefully we get plenty more days like that through the summer. As soon as any sort of wind picks up then it feels icy once again so hopefully we don’t have too many more blows.
The ship is due in on December 23rd and relief is going to be a busy one this year so we’ll all be celebrating Christmas on Saturday the 20th before the 24 hour relief starts. Me, I’ll be working down at the ship unloading cargo on the night shift (though it will obviously be bright sunny daylight all through the night) I’m pretty chuffed with this because it means I’ll get to go live on the ship for a couple of weeks and they have much more fresh food down there, en-suite showers and a nice view out to sea. It’ll kind of be like a little holiday except for the lugging hundreds of tonnes of fuel barrels and freight around for 12hrs every day!
So, once the Shack is here summer will well and truly be here! It’s a strange feeling. With winter over and all the new stuff that’s happening you can’t help but look toward going home. Whilst I’m still enjoying being here a really am starting to miss the real world and the people in it. But, despite the feeling of being near the end it’s still bloody months to go before I’ll be leaving!
I shaved my beard off which was a bit sad. I regretted it as soon as I looked in the mirror! I’d shaved my head too so It seems I went from looking like an old school polar explorer to a new born baby. My head felt really small and my face was freezing. A few people actually walked past me without recognising me! Still, plenty of time to grow another I suppose
I also had the chance to speak to a group of fifth graders from a school in Kansas about my time down here with a little help from Richard the metbabe who talked about climate – there’ll be a post about this shortly. It was really fun though!