17 December, 2013 Halley
1800 drums of fuel, 650kgs of potatoes, 3 cubic meters of toilet paper and a drum kit. This is just a small selection of items that have arrived this year during relief. Is it called relief because it is a relief we have fresh food again?
December is a busy month at Halley, as well as Christmas and New Year, the month is dominated by relief operations. Once a year, the R.S.S Ernest Shackleton brings in supplies of fuel, food and staff to keep the station operational. This year relief took place at N9, a site located 49km away and whilst this may not seem far to most, when you have a top speed of 12mph and pulling 3 sledges the journey can take up to five and a half hours! Prior to the start of relief a small party headed out to scout out potential sites for the ship to dock, there are a number of different factors to take into account when searching for the right location: Is the sea ice thick enough to take the weight of vehicles? Is there good access to get down to the sea ice? Once the site has been selected the Field assistants survey the area and mark out a safe route from the ship back to the safety of the flag line for the vehicles to follow.
During relief everybody is assigned a task whether it is as a driver pulling the sledges to and from the ship, a ship side handler unloading and loading the cargo from the ship, communications logging all the people/vehicle movements, a tally man scanning all the cargo so it can be tracked or just as a spare pair of hands to move cargo around. It is all hands on deck working long and tiring hours to complete an important task. The ship unloads the cargo onto sledges where it is then brought back to base where the cargo is unloaded and replaced with outgoing cargo (things like waste, recycling and old equipment). The BAS team are committed to abiding to the Antarctic treaty and this involves a lot of waste being here shipped out annually to the Falklands Islands. Relief continued for 7 days and finally a total of 80 sledges had been unloaded from the Shackleton to Halley. The ship also brought in the majority of the new wintering team, as well as the summer staff who will spend the next couple of months finishing projects around base including aerial/tower raises, building rewires and science work.
Due to the close proximity of relief, the ship was due on Christmas Eve; Christmas was celebrated early here in Halley with the main festivities taking place on the 21st December. We enjoyed an excellent three course meal with all the trimmings (but limited roasties!) and even had a log fire (or at least a recording of a log fire on the TV). Christmas is also a great time to be reminded about the Antarctic community spirit as each base sends Season Greetings in the form of an electronic post card. New Years Eve was a slightly muted affair as it occurred during the middle of the relief but a few brave souls ventured out to the sign post for a quick celebration at midnight before heading back to bed ready for the early start that comes with relief.
Winter Communications Manager