Saturday, January 28, 2006

To Rothera and beyond

The time finally came for my flight over to Rothera. Weather is the primary factor in deciding if the plane will fly or not. Even if it looks fairly good at Halley, the pilot still has to consult satellite photos, and get weather observations from field parties to see what it's like between here and our destination. The last thing you want is to run into bad conditions and have nowhere to put down. As well as the major bases, BAS has a number of strategically placed fuel dumps in the Antarctic, enabling pilots to plan a journey. The Twin Otter generally has about five hours fuel endurance depending on load and wind speeds, but they are never run right down to empty. So in the morning Geoff our pilot had decided that conditions were good and we had enough options open on the way, and we were given the call. There were 5 passengers on the flight, and we all rushed about grabbing bags, making packed lunches, and getting ourselves out to the skiway. We then waited for about an hour for Geoff as he was still back at base checking the latest weather! Several people came out to see us off, most of the Met team, and Nathan and Tommo in the traditional Halley Hats of Farewell.

Traditional Halley headgear

As we had five passengers, quite a bit of cargo, and only one spare drum of fuel in the back we were right on the edge of our limit to get to Rothera without having to camp out somewhere overnight. At some point in the journey the pilot has to make a PNR (Point of No Return) decision, that being the last point at which we can turn and head back to base without running out of fuel. Before we took off Geoff told us that in order to save fuel we would be flying as high as possible, and the heating would be turned down to minimum in the back. Sure enough we were soon up to about 13,000 feet, well above the clouds and most of the weather, and stayed between 13 and 14,000 for the next five hours. You soon realise just how lucky you are in commercial airliners as it was pretty bloody cold up there, and after a while we started to feel a bit nauseous due to the thin air. I guess the pilots just get used to it after a while. We stopped for fuel at Fossil Bluff, although we couldn't stop to chat with the guys there as while we were fuelling a second plane pulled in behind us, so we were soon up again for the final hour and a half to Rothera. This second leg was flown a bit lower and there was some beautiful scenery. Even after only a couple of weeks at Halley it was nice to see mountains and hills again.

Refuelling at Fossil Bluff

Look! Geography!

On arrival at Rothera we were given a quick safety brief, then up to the kitchen where dinner had been saved for us. It seems the BAS rumour mill had been working overtime as everyone was expecting me to turn up with horrific facial injuries and were most disappointed when there was nothing to see. Over the next couple of days I helped out the Rothera Comms guys laying some cabling to commission a new HF aerial. While we were there the base was due to celebrate Burns Night, and I got roped into playing fiddle for the Ceilidh afterwards. The bastards asked me after I'd had a couple of beers so I was utterly defenceless. Luckily someone had a book of fiddle tunes, so after a quick afternoon rehearsal with Phil on guitar and Andy, who was going to be Caller, we decided we'd made a reasonable racket and would go ahead with it. The Burns dinner was excellent, everyone made an effort to dress up, the haggis was piped in, and after a few poems and speeches from the Scottish contingent we enjoyed a fantastic meal. After that the dining hall was cleared and we set up for the evening's entertainment. I haven't really played fiddle for a while so there was a certain amount of nerve jangling beforehand, but Andy did a great job talking everyone through the different dances, and from what I could see of the limbs flailing on the dancefloor everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

The little known and highly advanced Beer Bottle Technique

After just four days at Rothera I was off again on the next leg up to Stanley. This was another 5 hour flight, but this time in a Dash 7 aircraft, rather more civilised than the Twin Otter, with heating and drinks facilities and everything! After getting through Stanley Passport Immigration and Customs control (one bloke with a passport stamp), we were ferried to the Upland Goose Hotel, where I'll be staying for the next couple of weeks. I ventured out in the evening to see if Stanley had changed dramatically in the last month and a half, and managed to bump into a guy from my mum's home town of Hawick, who was amazed that I'd even heard of the place. The world certainly seems to be getting much smaller lately.


Anonymous Dave said...

Dave, you poser! I see you found a gig or two - jammy git!
Looks like my memory of that part of the world isn't flawed - it is bloody cold and desolate, as usual.
Anyroad up, looks like a lot of fun (busted faces apart that is)....much like the fun here in many ways, but more of that another day!

8:34 pm  

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