31 August, 2005 Halley
As usual, August was a busy, fun packed month. We found ourselves looking eagerly towards the Northern Horizon for a brief hint of the Sun’s return. It was almost by accident then that “Britney” Nicholls spotted our first view of the sun on Wednesday 10th August, bless!
The ‘Sun Up’ ceremony was duly arranged and traditionally it is the duty of the youngest wintering base member to raise the shiny new Union Jack up the flagpole. The job of actually identifying the youngest member proved to be quite a task as everyone claimed to be born after 1985! After consulting Petra’s records, it was finally agreed that Miriam was indeed the youngest member on base. For her accompanying speech, Miriam recited an Inuit legend from the far reaches of North America entitled “Crow Brings Daylight”. After successfully removing the original, distinctly weathered flag – later won by Petra after our Annual “Halley Weathered Flag Raffle” – the new flag was raised with much cheer.
However, imagine our disappointment at having to put the celebrations on hold for a further two weeks due to the arrival of this years worst ‘snow storm’. 60-knot winds blasted their way through the base casting all asunder. The Base fresh water supply requires constant replenishment regardless of the crazy weather conditions Antarctica has to offer. So, it was with great delight that Steve, Ian, Matt, Craig and myself found ourselves engulfed in a raging tornado whilst attempting to refill the Melt Tank. With the visibility down to less than 2m, we took up positions around the manhole sized shaft opening, shovelling the snow everywhere but its intended destination, clobbering each other with our shovels into the bargain! The tank is refilled daily, taking 4 people approximately 20 minutes or so until the red indicator light signals the correct level has been reached. Antarctic ‘blows’ can make this task exceptionally grim and during particularly bad storms it is quite common for other base members to lend a welcome hand.
Site work is a continual process pausing only during periods of extreme weather. Each month, Dan “Big Vern” Jones (resident Carpenter and Steelworker) carries out survey work on the Laws, Piggott, Simpson and CASLAB platforms. The data obtained from this survey enables Dan to determine if any platform legs are out of alignment. This error is caused by the movement of the ice flow beneath the site. Manual jacking (similar to jacking your car up to replace a damaged tyre!) is performed near the top of the respective leg to help realignment. Dan’s other site duties include raising the various handlines which link the Laws platform to the other buildings. These lines eventually become submerged by snow accumulation if not regularly checked. Dan also collects accumulation data by measuring snow levels on 40 or so steel poles scattered at given points around the site. The photograph on the right shows Frances “It’s Sooow Unfair” Williams performing repair work on 2 of the faulty Anenometers located at the top of the Simpson platform’s meteorological mast.
Halley requires the use of a varied selection of vehicles for its yearly operation. There are currently 13 heavy duty vehicles which include 2 Tracked Cranes, 3 Bulldozers and 8 Sno-Cats. 40 Skidoos exist on site, of which 4 are available for winter base use, a further 4 are used for Winter Trips, 12 for Field Trips (during the summer season) and the remaining 20 are stored ready for the Summer season. Aside from constant work on the sites’ compliment of Winter vehicles, Gareth “Maverick” Wale works long hours maintaining and preparing the rest of the vehicles for the forthcoming summer season. As with all outside work, snow accumulation is the constant enemy.
Gareth spends a significant amount of time digging snow from those vehicles not being used during the Winter months. There are also around 30 containers that require moving due to the build up of snow.The first container move is usually performed in July, with typical temperatures of -30 to -40C. Fortunately the bulldozer is able to operate down to -40C, and so with the help of Dan and one or two volunteers, the arduous task of moving the containers is usually completed in 3 or 4 hours. There are also 20 or so large sledges, used to transfer fuel drums around site and for relief work etc. These sledges also require regular moving due to the snow accumulation, again using the bulldozer. Gareth’s other duties include the weekly rebuilding of the Melt Tank snow mound and the fortnightly transfer of the Base waste materials from the Laws platform to designated areas on site, this is referred to as the “Gash Run”. Both tasks again require the use of the bulldozer and the photograph above shows a typical Friday afternoon “Gash Run” performed beautifully by Gareth and Dan.
A major highlight of this bumper month was the eagerly awaited visit to the Emperor Penguin colony at Windy Cove. Once the storm had passed, Ian Coxan, our intrepid mountaineering expert, accompanied by his lovely assistant Jamie (Plumber & Seeker of all things Adventurous), ventured to Windy to identify a safe abseil point to set the sea ice access route. Later, Ian arranged some Jumaring (a climbing technique using 2 hand grips to negotiate up a rope) and general rope work practise at the garage for everyone to sharpen up their dorment skills. Above left, young Matt “Goose” Butters calmly demonstrates his superior rope technique. Jumaring is a difficult skill and also serves as a useful indicator for that unexpected waistline expansion (as I recently discovered). With everyone up to speed on his or her rope skill, the next few days saw several trips via Sno-Cat vehicle to Windy. As can be seen from the photographs, the penguins are always eager to greet new visitors despite struggling through a very difficult winter reaching temperatures of sub –50C. The male Emperors look after the eggs whilst the female leaves the colony in search of fresh (shopping malls) food. Above right, Kevin O’Donnell, our lovely robust Chef, can be seen setting up his Mobile Eatery at Windy Cove to help sustain the hungry Emperors through the winter.
So, the Penguin Trips were enjoyed by one and all. This limited narrative cannot fully convey the sense of wonder enjoyed by those who visited the penguin colonies. These photographs will hopefully give some impression of this unique and truly amazing experience.
During periods of harsh weather, a significant portion of leisure time can be spent indoors. Halley Base members can always be found involved in a variety of energetic, fun-packed, and quite frankly, bizarre pastimes. To describe but a few: Knitting and Dressmaking Workshops are run each Wednesday evening by the girls. Students regularly churn out lovely hats, scarfs and skirts for evening wear. There is also a weekly Salsa Dance Class organised with strict regime by the formidable Dame Vanessa O’Brien, a harsh taskmaster indeed … “Praaactise! Praaactise! Praaactise!” Still, we had the time of our lives. Yoga classes are particularly popular, especially with Gareth who finds the Lotus Position works wonders on his poor old back after a fun day digging tons of snow and manhauling vehicle batteries backwards and forwards! Earlier this month, I hosted a music quiz (with a fancy dress theme) which went down particularly well (even if I do say so myself!). Top prizes included a 24 Bottle Slab of Perrier Water, a 2 Litre Bottle of Cod Liver Oil, Boxes of Quality Streets and the Booby Prize – a bag of hard toffees (the ones that nobody seems to like!). Annoyingly, most of the aforementioned toffees found their way inside my work boots! Other nocturnal activities included Simon & Jeff’s Piggott Mobile Rave Services – for one night only. The latest club sounds emitted from a couple of ‘gas powered’ PAs driven by a vehicle battery and lots of superglue! Lighting courtesy of Steve “Lou Ferrigno” Clive.
Big thanks go to all the participants of the annual “Halley’s Table Climbing Championships” The object of the exercise is to crawl over and under the complete length of a dining room table without making contact with the floor. Many brave (and downright foolhardy) souls attempted what appeared to be a pretty painful ordeal, however it was down to Bryn “Peter Parker” Jones, with his genetically enhanced spider abilities, to show everyone how it’s really done!
Well, that about wraps it up. I hope you’ve all enjoyed this brief glimpse of August life at Halley, please call again 🙂
Lots of love to Mum and Tony (don’t forget to trim that hedge brother dear!)
Tim … Drink more beer, you know it makes sense!
Hugs and Kisses to Sandra, Lucy and Angelina