Halley Diary — February 2004

28 February, 2004 Halley

Visitors! By Craig Nicholls

Well hello to you all…! It has been a totally packed February you couldn’t squeeze anymore in if you tried… Visitors?… we’ve had more than you can shake a stick at – planes coming and going, ships helicopters and a gale or two thrown in for good measure… where shall I start?!

We had a visit from the Argentinean supply ship Almirante Irizar. As their helicopter swooped in, snow blew up around the airstrip, then as the snow cleared… out jumped around fifteen of the nicest guys you could want to meet complete with camera crew! As we whisked them up to the base in the snow cats there was much back-slapping and hugging – it was brilliant! We made them cups of tea, swopped stories, beer and presents. They gave us a great painting of their ship for the living room, we gave them more tea, postcards and T-shirts all round.

Our neighbours at Neumayer base (some 800 km away), popped in for an evening, as they were flying through to Rothera on their way home to Germany. The flight crew and returning scientists were all given a warm welcome. They’re well known because they pass through here every year. We were given pictures of the wintering personnel at Neumayer so that when winter draws in and we have regular contact with the base via the radio, we can see who we’re talking to.

Visits also came from the ‘big wigs’ from Cambridge, John Dudeney – deputy director, Fiona Brazil – head of personnel and Caroline Lewis – head of logistics, all were quite lovely and certainly up for a snowball fight or two, and one was a great Salsa dancer!

As the summer season drew to an end, signaled by the return and then departure of our ship RRS Ernest Shackleton, our numbers at the base dropped from nearly 70 to just 18 wintering personnel. We waved good-bye to the summer workers, including our great summer base commander Steve Brown, and the outgoing winterers; some of whom had been here for two years, We were sorry to see them go….and yet the base for us has been transformed into our new home, it now feels relaxed and wonderfully peaceful… apart from Rooney and his guitar!

This week as we’ve adjusted to our new space, the pre-winter trips have started: Stuart Collie, Nigel Colgan and the irrepressible Jeff Cohen were shepherded by our own Antarctic hero Edwin Dodd, (the field general assistant), to the Hinge Zone. It’s a particularly gnarly yet beautiful piece of the antarctic where the ice shelf connects to the continent. They have had a great time 40 kilometres away from the base abseiling into crevasses, ice climbing, living in tents, skidooing and drinking tea, and as I write this I can hear the rest of the base talking to them on the radio; we have two ‘Skeds’ everyday to see how they are and to give them updates on the weather… for the last few days they have been holed up in their tents in near gale force winds and driving snow. They’re passing the time by playing I spy ’till the wind drops and the visibility improves, they should be on their way back tomorrow. This will allow Vanessa O’Brien, Kev the chef and (Tommo) Allan Thomas a taste of what it was like for the old explorers… although Kev will be taking his play station and a sledge of the finest foods known to humanity!

I feel that I must mention the other new base members, Frank our doctor (or doctor do-it-all as he is known), is either driving the bulldozer, launching the Met balloon or refueling the plane every time we look around, what a guy! And a Weymouth boy much like myself. The new Clean Air Sector lab or CAS lab is manned and ‘womaned’ by our crazy frenchman Stephane and lovely La La (Rhian). Stephane spends a great deal off his time flying past the dining room window, attached to both kite and skis, much to our amusement. La La, who spends much of her time falling over in the soft snow, being lovely and mourning the loss of her hair (see Shackleton diaries), feels the cold as her lab is nearly 2 km away from the base and she commutes everyday on skis.

Our new winterers list is completed by Simon Coggins who breaks the mould as our computer ‘geek’ – a great guy who, when not being dragged behind a skidoo, can whip up a wonderful mexican meal AND suitably dressed! Gareth is our constantly working mechanic, (I’m sure he sleeps over at the garage!) and Graham Gillie is carpenter, snowboard teacher, and teller of tall Scotish tales that go long into those winter evenings. Graeme Barton, Mark Maltby and Russ Lock, the winter base commander, need no introduction as they are already stars from last year’s diary.

As you can tell, the present wintering team all get on great, its like having all your best friends living together in the same house. Everyone is really friendly and we all look out for each other, well done Cambridge for picking a great bunch of people. For those who don’t know me, I am working with the current Meterological team at the Simpson platform. Its just the best job ever; we get to do all the cool experiments like flying kites up into the atmosphere and launching the weather balloons everyday. We undertake an array of other scientific tasks for BAS and work with people all over the world. Our Boss Jon Shanklin was working here in 1982 with the team that discovered the hole in the Ozone Layer. We continue to make ozone measurements every day so as you can see, our work here is both ground breaking and important. It’s also great having bosses that are 10,000 miles away… that is until something breaks!

Well that’s enough from me rabbiting on, everyone here sends love to all of you back there. To all the people who love me back home, I love you too and to all the people who are relieved that I am out of the country, “I’ll be Back”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Craigy Baby – Met Babe