Field Course

September 15th, 2005

I’ve just returned, sweaty and tired, from the Field Course in Derbyshire. And, yes, I have had a bath before writing this! All the winterers and people who’ll be working away from the bases attend this course to learn about living outdoors in the Antarctic. We’ve learned how to erect one of BAS’s large pyramid tents, how to do alpine-style “linked travel” when walking on glaciers, and how to use a Primus stove and Tilley lamp (these are the classic paraffin-and-meths jobs: modern lightweight camping gear doesn’t survive the harsh environment!).

Pyramid tent at sunset
Pyramid tent at sunset

Linked travel
Practising linked travel

We’ve also been out on the cliffs of Curbar Edge learning to abseil, jumar (climb a rope using a sliding cam device) and prussik (climb a rope using two bits of “string”). We also had to wander round look for a lost person in a white-out – we wore blindfold goggles to do this, and caused much amusement to passing tourists, and we managed to navigate using a compass and dead reckoning. Derbyshire doesn’t seem like much of a substitute for the frozen wastes, but the techniques we learned here in the (relative) warmth will be reinforced with more training when we arrive at Rothera.

Jumaring – I’m climbing the rope, not the rock…

People lying on the floor, asleep..
Another hard day at the office!

More photographs from the field course

First aid – or field medicine?

September 11th, 2005

The First Aid course runs after the BAS conference, and is quite possibly the most intensive training I’ve ever done. In three days you learn everything you’re likely to need to know if you have to treat an injured person in the field, or on base if the Doctor is away or incapacitated. This isn’t the kind of do-gooding stuff I’d learned before: this is intramuscular injections, plaster casts, chest and abdominal examinations, nasopharyngeal airways and nitrous oxide! All this plus the usual treatment of surface wounds, burns, basic life support (CPR) and how to deal with spinal injuries and carbon monoxide poisoning. I learned a huge amount (including that breathing Entonox – nitrous oxide and oxygen – makes me feel unpleasantly like being drunk) and passed the end-of-course exams without too much difficulty. I can see my copy of the BAS medical manual being useful well beyond my time in the Antarctic!

Next week, I’m on a field training course in Derbyshire, followed by a week of air/ground radio training in Cambridge. More updates should follow when I’m in Cambridge!

Information overload

September 11th, 2005

Firstly, my apologies for having not written anything for at least a month – I’ve been really busy, mostly away from home, and almost always without my laptop. As I write this, I’m in an internet cafe in Cambridge, having finally had a spare day to sit down and write…

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I went to Edinburgh to take the Marine Long Range Certificate course
  • Whilst there, I took in the delights of the Fringe and went flying in a microlight with my uncle.
  • I went to Maidenhead (woo!) for a Novell Netware administration course, which was unremarkable but useful
  • I went to Aberdeen for a satellites course

After all that, I’ve been in Cambridge for the last week, for the BAS Briefing Conference and First Aid course. The conference is basically a big get-together for all the people going South this season – it’s a chance for everyone to meet one another and you learn a huge amount about how BAS works and how to live in the Antarctic. It’s then followed up by a very intensive First Aid course, run by the BAS Medical Unit, who are based at the A&E department of Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. More on this later…

The first big surprise of Conference was that your pack of essential bumf contained a travel schedule: and I’m going earlier than I’d previously thought. In fact, my departure date is October 20th, flying from RAF Brize Norton to Stanley in the Falklands. I’m then due to stay in Stanley for ten days and then transfer to Rothera on November 1st. However, it’s likely that I’ll end up delayed by weather, so I could be in the Falklands for several weeks!
I think I might actually be doing some work in Stanley – there’s talk of doing some radio operations and flight following in the control tower at Stanley Airport, which will be useful experience.
I’ve now met most of the team that’ll be wintering with me at Rothera – we all seem like a good bunch – and there are two people staying on for a second winter. In all, there’ll be twenty-one of us. I’ve also met two of my three radio operators – we’re being loaned two trainee pilots from the Royal Navy, Mark and Owen, and they’re going to be spending half their time doing radio ops work, and the other half doing ground crew and co-piloting duties with the Air Unit.
We’ve also had to order our booze for the winter: 1000 units each! I’ve ordered 3 cases of each of Lancaster Bomber, London Pride and Bishop’s Finger, 1 case of Boddingtons, plus some whisky, gin, port and wine.
My other discovery is that I’ll probably be returning later than I’d thought. I’ve told most people that I’m leaving at the end of February 2007. In fact, I’m likely to be staying until Last Call, in mid-March, and returning to Stanley on the RRS Ernest Shackleton. This introduces a further dilemma – if I stay out of the UK until after the tax year begins on April 6th, then I’ll be able to claim the lower British Antarctic Territory rate (currently 7%) of income tax, so it looks like I’ll be taking a holiday in South America before I return to the UK…