31 March, 2004 Halley
March was punctuated by three week-long pre-winter field trips, with Sledge Bravo, Sledge Charlie and Sledge Delta boldly going where Sledge Alpha had gone before, i.e. the World renowned Hinge Zone (see Craig’s previous Feb diary). Each party is called after a ‘sledge’, as in the olden days of Great British polar exploration, when Nansen sledges were pulled by dog teams fed on penguins (now politically and environmentally incorrect).
Nowadays, and since the removal of dog teams from BAS research stations in 1994, the same Nansen-designed sledges are still used but pulled by linked skidoos. The fourteen personnel remaining on station kept in touch with the away party thanks to the daily morning and evening HF radio schedules. We also transmitted them the updated weather forecast and important station gossip.
Sledge Delta decided they liked it so much that they stayed an extra week! Allegedly, the continuous 30 knot Autumn blizzard that blew while they were away was not a strong contributor to their decision; neither did it affect their morale and determination to have a good time, though admittedly the going got tough: they ran out of teabags rather soon. In a similar show of keen polar exploration enthusiasm, Sledge Bravo had their fair share of ‘adventures’. A succession of unforeseen skidoo driving mishaps by skilled motorbike rider Tommo (and presumably poor snow contrast?) yielded in him and Kev, having to share the coziness of their emergency pup tent (probably designed by someone who’s never been in a tent with two full sized men before!), instead of sharing the relative comfort of the roomier, standard-issue, pyramid tent because it was torn and needed major repairs.
Besides, the joy of discovering unforeseen interest in pyramid tent windproof material double-stitching, our base General Assistant, Ed, also recently took on the new exciting hobby of structural repairs and relashing of Nansen sledge ash runners. We’re sure this newly acquired skill will benefit Ed greatly once he’ll look for a new job back in the UK. It’ll look good on his CV.
On the 17th, we duly celebrated St Patrick’s Day, with our Irish descent (?) chef, Kev, cooking us a fantastic dinner and Guinness flowing to the tune of gallic music. March also saw the launch of Vanessa’s Thursday evening step aerobics classes, which she diligently runs for the benefit of the station members’ fitness and fine physique tuning. Unfortunately this is greatly jeopardized by Kev’s hearty cooking. The fact that the classes are run in the dinning room makes it difficult for attendees to concentrate, in full view of the chilled food counter, but Vanessa’s relentless aerobics reduces cholesterol, so she claims.
With night skies getting darker, the thirteen new station winterers were granted their first (green) Aurora Australis on few occasions. We all volunteered to be woken up in the middle of the night to witness this truly amazing spectacle!
We have also been busy building a large igloo during the weekends, making the most of the rapidly fading evening daylight. Under the strict but efficient supervision of our station carpenter extraordinaire, Graham, the would-be polar building contractors managed to put together the blocks of this snow/ice jigsaw. We tested new techniques to join gravity defying snow blocks held in impossible angles, and threatening to collapse at any time onto the team members desperately cementing the blocks inside the Igloo! Graham, Simon and Frank notably, would have made a good living, had they worked for the Egyptian, Roman or Inca rulers. The Igloo now extends our vast choice of station social venues, offering an alternative to the Halley Hard Ice cafe and Tommo’s illustrious Wednesday Workshop on Laws, Club Nido in the Garage, and Rob’s ‘subterranean’ grotto (see June 2003 diary). A few people even spent a night in the Igloo, keeping warm with Tilley lamps.
On the work front, our plumber Nigel, aka Jack-Sparrow-Colgan, has been seriously busy winterizing the Drewry summer accommodation block, to a point when we wondered if he had taken permanent residency in the Drewry and abandoned his Laws quarters! However, after much work preparing the building for the winter, Nigel finally completed the job, and to our much-awaited pleasure, allowed the grand opening of the Drewry Thermal Baths Establishment. Every year, station members all enjoy their one and only bath of the year, in the melt tank used for the Drewry water supply. Once filled with snow, and with the thermostat cranked up, we all ‘plunged’ in and enjoyed a hot tub. At one stage, I think we managed to squeeze twelve bodies in. This is quite a feat given the size of the tank, and it felt more like a tin of sardines than err.. well, a snow melting tank full to the brim with merry winterers. We all followed the great Scandinavian sauna/hot tub tradition and ran out of the tank (in swimming trunks) to roll in the snow at -20 degree C and 20 knots winds!
That’s it from all of us. All the best to friends and family back home.