Monday, December 26, 2005

The big day - arrival

At last we arrived at the Antarctic coast. Unfortunately, due to a lack of sea ice at the favoured locations we moored up at N9, about 65km from Halley, which meant unloading the ship would take much longer as it's a 6 hour trip in a snocat. Halley sits on the Brunt Ice Shelf, which is not part of the Antarctic mainland, but is still about 100 metres thick, so fairly stable. Where the ice shelf meets the sea it usually ends in a very high cliff, which is no good for getting off a ship. As a result we need to find a creek with some sea ice in order to be able to create a ramp up to the ice shelf. As the sea ice is much thinner we need to be sure it is stable enough to moor the ship to. In order to check this, the ship simply rams itself into the sea ice, breaking off any weak ice and hopefully leaving only the good stuff. This was incredible to watch as we careered toward the coastline, beached ourselves on the ice, then broke through, reversed, and went again. We did this for about an hour, while bewildered penguins and seals scattered about, not quite sure what to do about this big red pointy thing bearing down on them. Once we'd cleared ourselves a space drilling teams went out onto the ice to make holes and put in mooring stakes which the ship tied up to.

Run away!

Drilling mooring holes

In the evening we had Christmas carols with mince pies and mulled wine on the fo'c'sle (pointy end). This proved highly entertaining, it took us a good two minutes to realise we were singing Once in Royal Davids City to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing..... After a few more glasses of mulled wine no-one was really that bothered though, and we got through about a dozen carols and generally felt very festive. *hic*

Christmas Carols on the Shackleton

The following day I was up early as I was due to fly up to base. At last I'd get to see the fabled and much talked about Halley V. Having loaded up a sledge with some cargo we clambered on board to be towed by a snocat along the sea ice and up the ramp to the departure point. We got a last view of the ship moored up by the sea ice as we bid a farewell to the Shackleton. Up on the ice shelf we waited, and finally saw the plane, a speck in the distance as it came in to land. Once the plane had stopped we loaded the fresh food from our sledge onto the plane. Our plane was a De Havilland Twin Otter, which is a fairly small twin prop craft, about the size of a large transit van inside. Once the food was on we squeezed our way up to the seats toward the front. There were five passengers on the flight, with one acting as co-pilot, so we weren't too squashed in the back. We could see straight through to the cockpit which looked like something out of a WWII film. Takeoff is quite an experience as the engines have to be revved hard in order to break free the skis which by now have frozen to the snow, then it was a bumpy and exhilarating ride to get airborne. We did a brief loop to get a last view of the ship and then headed off. We had a fantastic view of the coastline, also passing over the Rumples, a heavily crevassed formation in the ice not far from Halley. After just 15 minutes we were on finals for Halley. First impressions from the air were of a lot very small spaced out dots on the snow. We were met by another snocat, and after unloading the plane were ferried to our new home. Despite having seen all the pictures and read the descriptions nothing had quite prepared me for arrival at Halley. Everything was much larger than I had imagined, all the buildings much further apart. On arrival at the Laws building we were given a very brief tour and basic safety briefing, then instructed to relax for a while. In true BAS style it wasn't long before we were being fed...... I found my room, and met Mike, the current Comms Manager who I'm taking over from. Everyone was very friendly, especially considering we were interrupting their 8 months of relative peace.

Twin Otter aircraft

In all the excitement I wasn't very tired so stayed up late to lend a hand with some cargo, and also managed to get a brief lesson and my first go on a skidoo. I finally crashed out wondering what tomorrow would bring, after what seemed a very long day indeed!

Home for the next 15 months


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