Halley Diary — January 2013

31 January, 2013

January… the busiest month of the year. As our regular supply ship, the Ernest Shackleton had now dropped off the last of the long-term arrivals there were a number of blank faces wandering around base wondering where they fitted in. Many had been waiting a long time to start this adventure and the expectations are high, but it’s like stepping into a whirlwind, with so much to take in. This is not your average base, it’s new and untested in so many areas. There are ways for this and that which seem mystifying on the surface. Systems that were being fixed threw forth alarms on a daily basis. For many of the new folk, it’s just a case of watching others and following, opening lots of drawers and asking lots and lots of questions. Unfortunately a new base levels the playing field somewhat, and the old hands of course look funnier as they wonder where something that existed in Halley V is located, or even if it came across to the new base at all, and of course ‘we never had all these alarms at the old base’.

So relief (our yearly delivery of supplies and equipment) had gone well, and now everyone is expected to be nose to the grindstone, building, learning their job or teaching their replacement. This handover of jobs can take weeks or in the doctor’s case be rushed through in a few hours. It’s akin to changing the population of a small village every year… there will always be questions unanswered. The base has to be kept running, so the electrician Will be leaving his meal unfinished to fix a problem, the plumber Will get woken up in the night because of a glitch, and weekends do have a different definition. Rotas are drawn up to prioritise duties, but we don’t have another specialist to call sometimes.

As soon as folk were starting to find their feet and settle into some kind of routine, a charter ship, the Mary Artica, came to collect the demolition cargo from our old base (Halley V). She is a large Danish ship who had already resupplied a Norwegian and Belgian base, and had freshly emptied holds. The crew said she could take any cargo we could throw at her, and she proceeded to swallow the whole of our old base and 30 odd shipping containers to prove it. For those of us who had spent many nights at Halley V it was a sad sight. The 50km trip from the Halley V demolition site to the ship was slow and white. Heavy sledge loads meant that the 4hr journey would be travelled less often, but made the going tough for the tractors on snow that is at its softest throughout January’s ‘warm’ days.

Our Summer accommodation building (Drewry) has progressed speedily with its refit and now freshly painted looks set to have many years ahead of it. The familiar sounds of the notorious snorers have been dampened by new soundproofing and a new fire suppression system has been installed. Improved insulation to save the power bills and brightly coloured doors are amongst the selling features. The construction of workshops and storage facilities for the plumber, electrician, generator mechanic and the Field Assistant are well under way. These are built from adapted shipping containers on skis and can be pulled by bulldozers.

Raising of the red and blue modules is a process that is a major part of the new base. There are 36 hydraulic legs which are raised individually. Snow is packed under each and then when that is finished the whole 8 modules are lifted in a wave, back and forth, until the new base is approximately one and a half metres higher. This process is to counteract the simple fact that down here in Antarctica it snows, but never melts away, so the buildings if left would seem to sink into the snow by over a metre each year. To watch a series of connected buildings weighing hundreds of tons rise up is quite spectacular indeed. Accumulated snow is also cleared at this time so after this process the base looks like it is born again, as shown in the pictures.

Gaz Howe