Friday 13th is 2 Weeks Late

Halley Construction

The season is moving on and there are only four weeks to go before we have to leave on the ship (so we’re not stuck here for the winter). All the efforts through early January to meet the Friday 13th deadline – decision day – were brought to nought by the failings of some of the systems on the mechanical and electrical side. At the time BAS did not have 100% confidence that the life support systems would be wholly efficient to take on the base for the winter, so the decision was delayed for two weeks, and its been an all out effort including late nights to move the project on sufficiently for BAS to make their decision.

The good news is that yesterday, with the arrival of a BAS board member by plane, the decision was made and they will winter in Halley 6. All the major systems are now functional and the large areas are finished. From next week we will be having all our meals in the new base.

Completed areas of the Halley VI base

Some of the lads haven’t really been pulling their (considerable) weight though and for some of us it’s been really frustrating to work on Sundays and until 10 o’clock most nights to be held up by wiring not done by guys who are “tossing it off” all day and finishing early.

As you can imagine, it’s the end of the season, we’re all getting a bit crabby, and there’s been some words said and some raised voices. (Yep, I’ve shouted at a few people!) How some of them ever get anything done at home eludes me.

Anyway despite this work has continued to put the finishing touches to the modules…

Work continuing, inside and outside Halley

The science modules are all but finished and this week BAS move into them to set up and continue the science that has been continuing at Halley 5. The main module is looking more finished and the glass spiral staircase was fitted this week, while the command module (Base commanders office, surgery, comms room, server room and laundry) was completed and handed over last week.

With all the work, I’ve not got out skiing much, so the half marathon race from Halley 5 to 6 in two weeks time is looking like it might be quite slow. However, we did have time for a BBQ last Saturday, just getting it in before it was too cold to stand about outside. (We ran out of meat again!)

Halley BBQ

Windy Bay Penguins

News on the Windy Bay penguins is that the sea ice stayed for long enough for the young ones to fledge into the sea, and we now have the first few Adelie penuins about that are coming in to moult.

Adelie Penguin

With the first sunset due in two weeks and the time seeming to fly by, it won’t be long before we’re packing up. There’s still lots to do, so I’ll keep you posted on progress…

Christmas and New Year on the Ice

With the weeks seeming to flash by here at Halley, even Christmas was over fairly quickly. Not the long drawn out process of back at home with it dragging on for weeks… We finished early on Christmas Eve (1pm), had Christmas day off and were back at work at 7.15am on Boxing Day. It was almost like it had never happened, but then, on Boxing Day the best Christmas present of all arrived: the ship!!!

Food delivery!!!

We ate like kings…

Fresh fruit, vegetables and chocolate…

A variety of soft drinks…

Restocking the cupboard

And best of all, as I was emptying a container of build equipment, I came across a box with my name on it!! Presents from home and more choc and malt whisky. Things are a lot rosier…

Most of the work on site is moving ahead on schedule, its only the electrical side that seems to be holding things up. Most of the problem is the mess they constantly work in; they never clean up after themselves and are often working on top of weeks of debris. Their excuse is that they are too short of time to be cleaning up, and try as I might, they don’t believe me when I tell them they would work quicker and more efficiently on a clean site. Usually, some mug (i.e. me
or Les, the other painter) gets sick of the mess and sweeps up. On New years Eve I spents 2 hours moving 8 bags of rubbish from the undercroft of 1 module (Rant over!!!)…

Cleaning out rubbish
The interior moves on
Work over New Year

This has a knock on effect on everything else, and 2 more sparkys are flying in in 2 weeks time to help catch up. D-day for the project is Friday 13th January when BAS have to be confident they will be able to winter in the Base and the main services will be functional. If not they will have work to do on the Halley 5 building for the winter. The mood though is optimistic.

No more news yet on the Windy Bay penguins, although we are hoping to catch up with them next weekend. The sea hasn’t been very rough, so we are hoping the sea ice has hung on over the festive period. I’ll keep you posted on them. Here are a few other wildlife shots to keep you going…

Snow petrel
Wildlife from the ship
(Click the picture for a bigger image, 1.7Mb, it'll take a mo' to download, be patient)

Anyway, Happy New Year from here!!!

Happy Christmas from Antarctica!!

Over the last couple of weeks the main topic of conversation here at Halley has been food. After only a week here we began to run short of things. Of course, the food we are eating came on the ship last year and was ordered in about June 2010, so it appears they under-ordered. So far we’ve run short of pepper, sugar, meat, tomato sauce, CHOCOLATE, crisps… But at least there’s plenty of porridge. The emergency food was brought out, but with 60 people on base it hasn’t lasted long, and it was with great relief that a plane arrived from Rothera yesterday with more emergency food. The ship is also making good progress and should be here in the New Year. I forsee a Roman style banquet every night!!!!

Windy Bay Update
If you’re worried about how the young penguins at Windy Bay are getting on, I can report that the sea ice is still solid and they are getting a lot bigger. Hopefully the ice will remain into January when they should be big enough to survive. Here are some pics…

The penguin colony under the ice shelf cliffs
Look how clean I am!
Look at me!!
What's that?

By the way…
Happy Christmas to all the Sterling Adventure Bloggers and readers from here. It’s going to be a white Christmas…

Cue Bing…

Happy Chritmas from us!!!

Windy Bay Penguin Colony

Today I was lucky enough to travel the 40kms to Windy Bay where there is an Emperor Penguin colony. There was about 8-10 thousand penguins on the sea ice, and although we couldn’t get down to mingle with them they were still an impressive sight. The chicks are at present almost as big as the parents who both have to go off to feed, and then wander back from the sea, find their chick and feed it. Consequently there is a lot of noise, and smell, with the chicks constantly demanding food from the adults. One adult might look after a number of chicks in a crèche while the others are making their way back the kilometer or so from the edge of the sea ice.

The Emperor Penguin colony on the sea ice, sheltered by the cliffs of the ice shelf
Emperor Penguins treks back from the sea
How do I find my Mum?
A chick demanding food
An adult Emperor Penguin with a crèche of chicks

The colony waits until the sea ice breaks up, and this commits the chicks to the sea for the first time. Hopefully that will be in January when they have developed proper feathers: last year it was very early and most of the chicks drowned. 😯
I’ll keep up to date with their progress… but if the worst happens, I’ll lie and tell you they all safely swam northwards!

A day in the life…

The work at Halley 6 is progressing and we are told that everything is on schedule! Its hard to tell as much of the M & E (mechanical and electrical) happens under the floor or above ceiling height so we just hope none of it leaks when its all tested. As I’m in logistics this year I’ve been flitting from job to job; a typical day has been:

  • Preparing boards for flooring,
  • Helping the electricians pull cables through the undercroft,
  • Painting/filling/sanding/filling/painting,
  • Cleaning and moving site toilets,
  • Unpacking cargo from the latest plane to land.

At least all the varied jobs makes the days fly by and in no time at all it’s Saturday again. Time for a relax and a ski round the Base perimeter. I’ve been using my touring boots that were such a disaster last year to try and hone the fit….. I think (hope) that I’ve got them sorted!!!

Skiing at Halley 6

One more issue to deal with is that we are running short of food. (and more desperate: chocolate!!!) The BAS staff have already raided the emergency store for meat and sugar and as the RRS Shackleton is 2 weeks late after a fire and refit, it is not due until 31st December. At least there’s a lot of porridge!

It nearly gets Dark…

The highlight of this week was on Thursday when we got up early (5am) for a partial eclipse of the sun. It did dim the light a little and is probably the darkest it will get until mid February next year. The picture shows it much darker than it actually was, but that was through 4 sets of sunglass lenses!!

5.30am at the start of the eclipse

Midweek we went back to working our usual hours finishing at 6.15, although we still haven’t quite caught up with the schedule after the early team were stuck on Union Glacier for 2 weeks. Their adventures can be seen on You Tube (Google “Kirk Watson” and the film blog will be the top hit). It has some great footage of the Ilyushan plane taking off and landing.

The living accommodation has been extended and we now have a larger dining area and games room with table tennis, table football and a small gym. All week I’ve been involved with moving all the materials into a cargo line, itemising and measuring exactly where it is incase it gets buried. Then we dig it out. When the M&E (mechanical and electrical) guys need stuff we pick it off the line and ferry it to them.

The perimeter is nearly finished (marked and flagged) so its skiing tomorrow after work…

Layout at Halley VI
Picking cargo
And, here's the "Science Boys" measuring the Hole in the Ozone layer!

The Halley season begins

Well, after quite a few hours travelling, I finally arrived at Halley at 9am last Wednesday. Unfortunately, that was only one day after the team who had left 3 weeks earlier to set up the Base and living accommodation, so its been all hands to the pump, working late, just to get the site ready for action. The other team came in via South America, and got held up with bad weather at Patriot Hills, whereas we had the easier route via Cape Town. We had a couple of days there, seeing a few sights, getting our kit and attending safety briefings for the flight on the Russian cargo plane. It was pretty basic… Flags to hide the internal workings of the plane and a portaloo at the back. It was baking hot on the plane, but ½ an hour prior to landing we all had to get our Antarctic clothes on for landing at the Russian Base (Novo). We all melted a little bit more, but there’s always a silver lining, and being fairly dehydrated meant I didn’t need to visit the smallest room on the plane.

We were hoping for a look around at Novo, but as we landed on the ice, our next flight was waiting; a mere 20 minutes and we were off again on a Basla to Halley. Since then its been non-stop trying to catch up the time lost by the other team, but once again, nobody really minds… being down here is what really matters.

A few days sight seeing Cape Town
Boarding the Iluyshin Cargo plane
Inside the plane; note toilet facilities
Landing at Russian Base Novolazarevskaya
From Novo to Halley on a Basla aircraft
Work starts shifting containers of eqipment to the build site

On the downside, communications is worse than last year: a small iridium dish (128 meg) but I’ll do my best to keep you posted.