Sunday, December 30, 2007

Meet the Mothership!

We're onto the second ship!

The Amderma approaches

Registered in Vladivostok, The Amdera is a former Soviet tank transporter now making her living as an ice-strengthened cargo vessel of considerable capacity - She's got five hold, will house 500 containers and has a drive-on ramp which is so large the Captain dare not lower it onto the ice in case is crashes through!

Drilling moorings into the ice

Mooring her up took the best part of a morning as six anchors needed drilling into solid ice, beneath the 2m of snow!

Tying up

Once dug in, the lines had to be dragged by SnowCat as they were far too heavy to pull!

Once settled in, cargo came off thick and fast. Containers and big, easy boxes, plus the Shackleton's expert crew handling and directing operations have made things so a lot more smoothly.

Truckin' Toddy in K16

Pulling up the ramp

Oh, Christmas finally happened last night when I found some pressies I'd hidden away in the bottom of my bag. Cheers Lucy!

Christmas Pressies!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A few more relief photos

The ice didn't hit us! It came close, but turned away at the last minute and was completely out of sight when I got up this morning. We spent the morning tying up the Anderma and are now relaxing while her crew start unlashing cargo. Thing will start to move when the next shift comes on at 07:30 and should be going well by the time we're back at 19:30.

In the mean time, here's some more photos:


Break, Break. 10-4! Any foxy ladies want to meet for a brown bottle?...
...No amount of 70's CB talk will make that happen down here!

It's all gone...


For some reason the summer crew don't believe me when I say this is nice weather.

Hiding from the wind when re-fueling

Snow and Ice - Cat

View from the belay

Bit of fun

DIRT Mag is one of the best magazines on the planet. Sure, there's a few miss-spellings and apostrophe fascists will quake in horror, but the writing is inspiring and the photography mind-blowing. If you ride mountain bikes, subscribe now. If you don't, buy a copy anyway and look at the photos.

Anyway, here's a little piece of Cardiff I sent in to a competition a while back.

Can't wait to get my hands on the fresh copies sitting somewhere in the post back on base. And on a bike again...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Easy part complete!

Relief is done. At least the easy part of it.

Over the past six days (I had to check my calender to find out the number!), we have emptied the ship of incoming cargo, pumped out fresh fuel, man handled the blasted drums and backloaded with waste for recycling.

Christmas didn't affect our schedule, but Jules cooked some fantastic fresh fish as all the turkeys had gone up to base. Where they ate well.

Progress has generally been good, but all driving teams have had late finishes when trying to get that "one last" sledge emptied prior to clocking off. The Cats are surviving well, thanks to Scott and Bryan's constant care.

Snowcat getting serviced

But, as ever, for each low there's a high. And my high was about 25metres of solid icecliff that Toddy and I got out to play on after Christmas Day's work was done. Take one bombproof belay, add an easy ramp to start, heat up with a slightly over-vertical crux and garnish with penguins and a view. Christmas was good.

Christmas Treat!

There were fun and games tonight. Just as work was over and I finished relaxing in the sauna, Toddy banged on my door: The ship was threatened by closing ice and needed to move, and the skidoos needed running back to the shelf. Pulling work kit back on, we ran down the gang plank, gunned the engines and made the caboose in record time. On returning on one Skidoo, the crane was ready to winch it aboard as Captain Marshall, woken from his bed, paced the bridge ordering fenders raising and the ship ready for sea.

Floes closing in like a jigsaw

As it happened, the main floe has passed us by. But as I sign off and head for dinner there were another few, so the view from my porthole could be very different in the morning.

Merry Christmas and Merrier New Year to everyone back home, and all random readers!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Time dilation and penguins in the workplace

My clock says 8am, but I've just finished work. Somewhere, 12 hours went missing. Probably during Friday, in which I managed about 2 asleep!

In the last few days I've been helping Chris pack up his Aurora Radar, carefully stripping, labeling and padding the electronics which are off to new homes across the globe.

We've been having fun guess-timating the value of the kit (a requirement for shipping), as most of it's custom made. Prices start with an engineer's salary, then we add the hardware. And were very, very careful not to drop it!

Things really started to fly on Friday. Just after breakfast we were informed the Shackleton would arrive at 16:00, so to get back to bed! After packing frantically, I grabbed a few hours sleep, then jumped on the Sledge heading to the coast.

Once on the ship, Christmas came early. Long showers, fresh fruit and veg and delicious food more than made up for working straight through the night. And best of all, the main gift under the fireplace, was a quiet cabin and 10 hours glorious, sacred, snore-free sleep. Never before has nightshift made me such a happy man!

This is now I'll be spending Christmas. Driving cargo from shipside, over frozen sea-ice to the top of the cliffs behind. Sounds a little dangerous, you might think. But, the ice is 3m thick, plus I'm wearing a life jacket and am always followed by outrider on skidoo, armed with a throw-line to fish me out.

After the crap weather and bad mood, I'm so glad the WOW factor is back.

But, like most jobs, not everything goes exactly to plan...

Here's a new melt tank coming off the ship...

This is as far as I my SnowCat could move it...

But the Big-Boys-Toys finished the job!

There's a good bunch of us on the shift. Tom is the only other winterer from last season, the others are: 2x new winter mechanics; 2x RAF mast fitters; 2xSummer staff.

Although the day lasts 12 hours, there are dedicated tea breaks, known even by non-smokers as "Smoko". As a former German tram driver, Tom is taking a while to adapt to this most British "schedule"!

So, after we've dragged three sledges up the bank, we link them up at a depot on top of the shelf where a Challenger tractor can speed them away on a groomed road, getting back to base on only 30 minutes. The ice has been kind this year and the journey is loads easier the 5 hour round trips that last year required.

As I've said before, Antarctica is like anywhere else in the world...

...Even my neighbours stick their noses in!

So it's going well. I'm off to try and work out how to get a real-ale from the bar, then another 10 hours sleep is on the cards.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

5 hours to go!

She's broken through, Cap'n!

At about coffee time, the Shack smashed through the last piece of solid ice. She's now steaming easily through open water and will tie up at 16:00 (local). I'll be going straight onto night shift, starting work at 20:00.

Time for some sleep.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Packing and Penguins

The Shack's less than a day away. She's having to ram some of the thicker sections of ice, but progressing well. We're very, very nearly ready. The last few boxes are leaving the Simpsons this afternoon, but I wont be putting the packing tape down just yet as my whole room needs boxing up too

But, you know what they say about all work and no play...

Yesterday morning me managed a quick trip to see how the chicks are doing.

Bright and glorious!

It was well warm. So warm we recorded a new high of the season, a mighty +0.4C!

Look at that open water!

Don't worry, we're not bringing the ships in here, they'll be docking at a penguin-free creek further east.

Ceaselss, erm, Sunshine!

Almost fully grown

Adult feathers coming through

The chicks were starting to loose their fluffy, infant coats, gaining new waterproof adult feathers underneath. It's vitally important they get their tux's on before all the ice breaks up, as their fluffy coats aren't waterproof.

Super bright - even with a filter on the lens!

Penguins and ice cave

Ice Cave Again

The ice cave looked appealing, but we didn't dare go near as the intense sunshine was melting cornices, causing them to collapse. This snow's hard as ice.

Moody skies

As we turned to leave the sky clouded over, looking very atmospheric. Not a bad way to spend a morning.

If you're killing time in the office, click here to see penguins from egg onwards.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thanks for the post

Not sure I've thanked everyone for the post and bit and pieces they've sent down. So, Helena, Lucie, the Cardiff Crew, BlogLand Lurkers and all at home, cheers.

Thanks to Sarah for the paper-plane calender. Here's some of the best ones:

Simpson Shutdown

We're done. The boxes are packed. Remaining instruments have moved. Dave's new office is ready. The Simpson's got an almost eerie emptiness to it, but it's ready to house paints, glues and other essential supplies that mustn't be allowed to freeze.

Empty Office

Waiting stockroom

Me and Dean in storage

We've managed to hang onto the back room and have fitted it out as an acceptable office for Dave next year. It's cramped with four of us in there, but I expect to be out on site next week shutting down remote containers and getting them ready for shipping.

The new office

Last night was fun. Chad, our Canadian Air Mech has bought a new 16sqM kite and was keen to try it out, so Chris and I went out after dinner to give it a whirl. 16sqM is a LOT of area, more than 50% more than what I'm used to, but the light wind made it easy to control and soon Chad was dragging himself about and getting a good feel for it. Hopefully there'll be enough wind for him to get skis on later today...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nice weather for ships

Last week's gales seem to have smashed up the sea ice, making life loads easier for our ships. Every noon the captains send their positions. Here's where they were today.

The Ships: Red=Sea Ice. Blue = Antarctica

plowed through easily and looks to have arrived at Neumayer. The Shackleton was briefly held up by heavy seas, but entered the ice in calmer conditions yesterday and is making good speed. Halley is further west than Neumayer, roughly where the E of Amderma is on the map.

The tractor boys are down at the edge of the iceshelf, smoothing the ramp ready to unload cargo. Back on base, we've emptied rooms, tidied offices and are back to the familiar Antarctic routine of waiting...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I smiled again today.

The combination of terrible weather and sleepless night has been getting me down recently. But I've just come back onto the Simpson to find Nick Kershaw booming on the stereo and the girls playing hopskotch in the newly emptied office. It was impossible not to grin.

It's the people that make the place.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

ZorDead - Live at the Garage

We thought it would never happen. It was said it couldn't be done.

Last Saturday we played probably our last gig as Z or Dead in Halley's equivalent to a stadium, The Garage.

Loading the tourbus with essential supplies

Transporting all the gear took two sledges and a gang of roadies...

Mark sound checks

The garage is a great venue with much better acoustics and loads more space than the Laws. Having set up and checked levels, we sat round hoping the familiar (crap) Halley weather wouldn't put off the crowds.

Build it, and they will come

But they did come! As people drifted in the gig opened with a fresh mix from DJ Tom, complete with glowstick and dancers getting everyone in the mood.

DJ Tom warms up the crowd

Jim raving into his 22nd birthday

Come Zed time, we opened with some Bryan Adams and soon had some spectacular dancing from Dave. I was laughing so hard it was all I could do to keep playing!

The Zed

Over the last few month we've worked hard on increasing our setlist, adding some U2, Oasis and Who. With tounges firmly in cheeks, we also played The Wind Of Change - our new Power Ballard!

Mirrorball spectacular

At the end of the second set, Mark came back on with his homemade slide guitar for a fantastic poultry-themed set including Little Red Rooster and Free Bird. He's been playing pubs for years and is damn good.

Mark wow's the crowd with his solo set

Some of the crowd, being wowed

We finished at midnight with what else but Slade's Merry Christmas and headed back, happy that although we may never play together again (as Alex leaves on the first ship), all the winter's practice and persistence was a success.

(Thanks to Joe for the colour photos)