Halley Diary — December 2006

31 December, 2006 Halley

Happy New Year! Hope you all had an excellent Christmas as well. It’s been a bit strange here, not being bombarded by the constant Christmas advertising since September it all tends to creep up on you quite quickly.

The beginning of December saw us all out and about doing more preparation work for the summer season. We had more fuel raising to do, and this time I managed to avoid knocking any teeth out. It was a lovely day to be outside and we were soon down to shirt sleeves, which seems a bit bizarre when you’re surrounded by snow. It was still very warm work under a fleece lined hard hat though.

We also raised a posse to help Jules with a catenary raise, which involved pulling about 40 enormous wooden stakes out of the snow, only to bang them straight back in again, and reattach a cable on top. After that I volunteered to help Liz with her legs…… Well actually the legs of the building. Like everything else here the Laws building has to be raised to keep it above the snow, so Liz and I were up ladders manhandling steel plates and then raising the building on a giant hydraulic jack built in to the leg. Unfortunately the jack needs about 60 pumps to raise the building by 20mm so it’s a fairly long job.

The following day was another chance to visit the penguin colony, which has changed dramatically since the last visit. The penguins are now much more spread out across the sea ice, and where previously we saw adult penguins with some eggs and the odd tiny chick, now there are huge grey balls of fluff wandering about bullying their parents into feeding them. The penguins seem to be a lot less interested in us now as well, so there were no curious groups coming up to say hello. There were other interested parties about though, as we saw a handful of skuas flying about and a couple of petrels. Sadly the skuas seemed more interested in picking off underfed penguin chicks.

We’ve had more planes through as a German Dornier came on it’s way to Neumayer base, where 3 of our summer team were waiting to get here having travelled via South Africa, then Novo and Sanae bases. When they finally got here the fog had closed in a bit so the plane was forced to land out on the Windy drumline, a couple of kilometres away from base. Our rapid response refuelling team was immediately sent out to meet them – in a dozer that averages about 5km per hour. Eventually the plane got bored and decided to taxi towards us instead.

That signalled the beginning of summer, no longer are there just the 16 of us here. We’ve now got a BAS plane stationed here as well, which brought a couple more people over from Rothera. It’s nice to see some new faces though, and hear some different stories to the ones we’ve been telling each other for the last 9 months. The last week or so it’s been touch and go as to whether or not we’d see any other faces at all though. We’ve been following the ship’s progress through a combination of position reports and the blogs of people on board. All was going well until the ship got close to Neumayer base and then appeared to come to a shuddering halt. Although the Ernest Shackleton is an ice strengthened ship it’s not an ice breaker, which is a crucial difference when faced with sea ice several metres thick. The ship spent a nerve wracking 10 days trying to find a way through the ice. Initially it just seemed like a minor irritation to add to an already interesting summer season, but then we started getting concerned about the lack of important things like fresh food and post. And the minor stuff like fuel to run the base. But as a result of the ship being late we did manage to have a relaxed Christmas meal and some celebrations which was a nice change from last year when the festive season seemed to pass us by altogether.

The relief operation is slowly starting to get underway now, the first couple of snocats have arrived with cargo from the ship and the plane has been back and forth a couple of times. Soon we’ll be in full swing with a whole host of new people to get to know, and tell vastly exaggerated stories about how tough the winter was.