Halley Diary — March 2013

31 March, 2013 Halley

It’s now March, the days are starting to draw in and winter is coming to Antarctica. It’s that time of year when anyone not staying for the approaching winter (or should that read “anyone with sense”?) departs for warmer climes. In a frantic finish to the summer season, the Workshops and Stores Buildings were sufficiently completed to allow us to start using them during the winter and the temporary living accommodation (used throughout the Halley VI construction) was taken apart.

The RRS James Clark Ross (JCR) steamed into Creek 3, bringing us fresh supplies to last the winter and to remove the Station’s waste for disposal. The ship would also take away the summer staff, heading home at the end of the frantic summer season and leaving behind the 13 members of the intrepid 2013 Wintering team — that’s us, folks!

The next time we will see fresh faces will be in November.

Having completed loading the ship at “Last Call”, the wintering team were invited to the JCR to enjoy some home comforts, a slap-up meal and the company of the crew before the ship departed and we were to be abandoned to the elements for several months alone and in the darkness. All of a sudden it was too late to ask the question: “Did I really sign up for this?” The ship had gone!

With the summer team gone, we set to work to complete the winterisation of the Station. The newly-refurbished (and now very comfortable) Drewry summer accommodation building needed to be drained down and the services packed away so that it survives the coming cold spell unattended and unpowered. Mark the Genny Mech, Jon the Sparkie and I worked on this and after putting the building to bed I took the time to sit on the Drewry roof, and slowly chew my way through a frozen (well, it was at least very cold!) chocolate bar. This was a great time to look round the now deserted Base and reflect on the all-too-quickly-passed hectic summer and the departure of so many friends. It was a time, too to wonder about what was to come. Deep winter was fast approaching, with the remaining light going quicker every day. How would the members of our party cope with no direct sunlight 24/7 for over 3 months?

We set our mind now to getting to grips with Halley 6 or Ice Station Zebra as I have nicknamed it. This would truly be the first time we would get our hands on the mechanics of running the new Station without any assistance (basically if we broke it now then we would have to fix it by ourselves), a daunting yet exciting prospect! Having all been working on separate projects during the summer, now was the time that we would also really start to form the friendships that would see us through the winter.

We now had to properly plan our winter trips. We’d done field training in a rainy mud-soaked field in Derbyshire 6 months ago , I’d attempted set the Garage on fire with a Tilly lamp during January and now, all of a sudden, we were about to be let loose for further training in the vast expanse of the Brunt Ice Shelf with Ian Hey our Field Assistant. Ian had the job of not only preparing everything we needed while on the trip but also where we are to go and the safest possible approach to this. While he prepared, we were charged with looking out our own personal kit to take on the trip and any small luxuries we would like, be it a special bar of chocolate or a pair of woolly tights my mother lent me. Much as I liked the romance of the idea, there was no need for a rifle in case of Polar Bear attacks (no polar bears in Antarctica!!). The third member of our little expedition was to be Doc James, who I first met in Plymouth a few months and a lifetime ago. Throughout the summer, James had many roles on Station, amongst which he continues to try to convince us he’s still the Doc; he’s now sporting a not very convincing beard, a pair of NHS glasses and developed a posh accent… he’s turning into a traditional Antarctic Gent. It won’t be long before we see him wearing a check shirt and hairy jumper!

We set off full of bravado, departing Base early on the Thursday morning, ready to face the onslaught of Antarctica in true heroic style. We returned 3 hours later as the weather was bad.

After waiting 24 hrs it was time once again to face the brutality of the outside and this time we made it to where we would set up camp. After set up we headed for Stony Berg, a place that no one else had been to (well at least not since Sledge teams Bravo and Alpha had been there the preceding weeks). There we found many interesting rocks, unusual for here given that everything all around is just ice — mountains and mountains of the stuff. After all the warnings that everything buries really quickly at Halley, we also found evidence of Sledge team Alpha’s activities, which just goes to show that when there is nothing to disturb your footprints they can remain for a long time in an unexplored area. We took a break and chewed our way slowly through our frozen sandwiches dipped in our hot water for drinking. Things freeze up here pretty quickly! Here we were on our first winter trip, thousands of miles from anywhere in the most remote place in the world.

After a few days of having a nose around, doing some exploring and climbing, we were called back early to Base to help deal with a problem, reminding us of the need to rely on each other and the isolation in which we were now living. What looked like a major set-back on Station turned out to be a relatively quick-fix after which, all was once again well at the Base and we dug in for the approaching winter.

By J.G.S.Hendry
Mechanical services Technician for Halley 6 2013