I’ve managed to upload some of my pictures of Ascension and the Falklands – I hope this’ll give you more of an idea of what the places are like.
I’m rapidly becoming very smitten with the Falklands – when we arrived the place looked bleak and forbidding under a leaden overcast sky. Saturday morning, however, was dry and bright with a light breeze, and the brightly coloured buildings in Stanley gleamed in the spring sunshine. Tom and I walked along Ross Road, the main road along the seafront, and looked at the various wrecked ships in the harbour: Stanley has long been the final resting place for vessels mortally wounded by gales off Cape Horn. We also found the Museum, which was closed, but looked promising. We then headed back to the hotel for lunch, with the intention of heading out for a walk in the hills that afternoon. Sadly, as we were drinking our coffee, the heavens opened and so we sataround in the hotel reading and downloading our photographs until a bus drew up outside and disgorged 26 BAS employees who had made the 30-hour journey to Stanley via Madrid, Santiago and Punta Arenas. Dinner in the hotel was followed by a mini-pub-crawl around three of Stanley’s hostelries, finishing in the Globe, where large numbers of young Falkland Islanders were having a good time, and we did, too.
Today we went out to Gypsy Cove, which is about four miles from Stanley, and has gorgeous white sandy beaches and a colony of Magellanic penguins, which live in shallow burrows on the headland. Although the sun was shining, the 30mph wind was keeping the penguins tucked up underground, but we enjoyed the view and the bracing weather! After getting a lift back to the hotel for lunch, Mark and I wandered down to the museum, which is a large miscellany of Falklands life, although the most interesting feature for us was the Caple Reclus hut, an old BAS hut used in the 1950s that was taken to Stanley a few years ago when it became surplus to requirements. It’s very eerie inside – stuck in a perpetual 1957, the last year it was used to winter three men. There are four wooden bunks, a tiny kitchen with two Primus stoves and a wind-up gramophone, and it smells of old newspapers (of which there are many) and dry timber.
Todays other event was the arrival of the James Clark Ross, which is picking up the team that arrived on the Chilean flight yesterday. They’ve all moved onto the ship this afternoon, so the hotel will probably be very quiet again this evening!
I’m in Stanley! We arrived last night and we’re staying in the comfortable Upland Goose Hotel, which is very conveniently adjacent to the BAS office…
Anyway, our flight did go from Brize on Thursday night, although it was delayed by two hours. The TriStar in use was a cargo-modified one: it had been fitted out with passenger seats but there were no overhead lockers and the cabin fittings were a bit basic. Nonetheless, the flight was smooth and comfortable, with plenty of legroom, and the RAF cabin crew in their green flying suits kept us fed and watered. We made our refuelling stop at Ascension, which was pleasantly warm in the morning sunshire and had an icecream and got our passports stamped. Then it was all back on the plane for the flight to Mount Pleasant Airfield. First impressions on leaving the plane were that the Falklands looks a lot like northern Scotland – rugged moorlands and few if any trees. It’s also quite cold (about 8 degrees) with a stiff breeze. An aged coach met us at the airport and bounced us over the 30 miles of mostly unmade road to Stanley. The landscape is very bleak, with isolated farms and scrawny sheep wandering over the raw grassland. This is the beginning of spring, but the landscape’s hardly showing signs of it.
Stanley seems to consist mostly of wooden and corrugated-metal houses arranged along the hillside overlooking the harbour. The Upland Goose is one of these, with the red-painted metal roof that seems to be the fashion here. Inside, you could be in a small seaside hotel anywhere in Britain – it’s very reminiscent of family holidays in North Devon. The rooms are comfortable and the food is excellent. There’s serious danger of putting on weight whilst we’re here! After dinner we went for a pint (just one for me, I was knackered!) in the Victory Bar, which is a popular local pub. Mark and I were surprised how many young local people there were in the bar – evidently they don’t have the problems with young people leaving that they have in other island communities. Today we’re planning to see what sights Stanley has to offer and I’ll let you know what we find!
Today I packed my bags up and headed off on the first leg of my journey. My parents took me to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where I was due to take a flight to the Falkland Islands. However, upon arrival at the air terminal at Brize I was told that the flight was postponed for another 24 hours. But I’ve met up with several of the other BAS staff taking the same flight and so we’re all in the Gateway House “Hotel” at Brize (it’s more of a barracks!) and waiting for the plane. I’ve had some of the all-time worst food I’ve ever experienced and looking forward to a day out in Oxford tomorrow in order to kill time. Hopefully the plane will go, but I’ve a feeling that this is the beginning of a whole series of delays in the long journey to the other end of the planet.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of days putting stuff into bags and weighing it. 54 kilos of baggage sounded like quite a lot back in August, but now I’m regretting not having sent more stuff on the ship. In fact, the whole experience so far is very like Michael Flanders monologue By Air – weigh all the individual items including the cases, 50 kilos. Put the things in the cases, 60 kilos.
Anyway, I think I can squeeze the baggage allowance a little…
My plane has also been postponed by 24 hours, so I’m now leaving on Wednesday night.
Right, I’ve just had it confirmed that I am going on the 25th from Brize Norton, on some old TriStar they’ve dragged into service. That’s Tuesday! So much still to do between now and then. I’m at my parents’, sorting through my stuff and selling my car.
Today was my last day at the office in Cambridge – I had to go in for a briefing on metereology, so I can now roughly sanity-check the met. reports that come in from field parties without having to refer them to a proper metereologist. It’s been kind of strange saying farewell to various people that I’ve met during my training: some people I’ll see again in Stanley or at Rothera, but many others I’ll only speak to on the phone or radio.
My flight details are all up-in-the-air (so to speak) again – according to the immensely patient Julia, the RAF flights to the Falklands have been operated by a charter contractor over the last few years (the TriStars are busy helping with some war, somewhere…) who uses a Boeing 747. Brize Norton is also having it’s runway rebuilt, so the planes are operating from RAF Fairford (better known as the base that hosts the USAF’s British detachment of B52s). Apparently, some ground vehicle has collided with the 747 (how? it’s big enough!) and damaged it, so they’ve got a much smaller Airbus aircraft that’s replaceing it until the 747 is fixed. This means that some civilians are being bumped from flights because there isn’t enough room. The MOD are assuring us that the 747 will be fixed before we want it, but it may just be that I don’t fly on the 25th with the MOD, but on the 27th with Lan-Chile or some other route.
The other excitements occurred over the weekend. In addition to my little brother getting married off, I also survived talking to various teenage students at a secondary school near Hull, and enthusing greatly about BAS. Most were amused by watching their classmates try on Antarctic clothing, and some (notably the yr 12s – lower sixth) were very keen to find out more about jobs… The staff were keen, too, so I think I may be invited back when I return from the South.
In other news, I’ve bought a pair of evil-looking red alpine-touring ski boots from the father-and-son team at Backcountry UK in Ilkley. They’re Scarpa Denali TTs, and Andy spent a whole afternoon with me getting them thermally fitted to my feet and adjusting the footbed to give the correct support. I’ll let you know how I get on with them when I start learning to ski, but I’ve been very pleased with the service they offered in getting them fitted.
I’ve just had a call from the operations office at BAS, confirming my flight details. I’m now definitely flying on the MOD flight from Brize Norton via Ascension, but my departure’s been put back to the 25th October.
The last few weeks have gone by in rather a blur. I’ve spent a week in Cambridge taking my Air/Ground Radio Operator’s Certificate of Competence, which entitles me to talk to aeroplanes at small airfields (a lot of “Golf Alpha Bravo, runway is two six left-hand, wind three one zero at two six knots” and very little “negative, Ghostrider, the pattern is full”!). This was followed up by a day’s course on operating a hydraulic platform (“cherry-picker”) and four days in Redhill learning about Inmarsat-B and repairing HF radios. That’s almost all the training over with! I now have a Â£700 expense claim from all the travelling I’ve been doing and a big wodge of notes and certificates.
Today I dropped into the operations office to find out if my flights have been confirmed. They haven’t, but I’m now supposed to be going to Stanley on LAN Chile from Heathrow instead of by RAF flight from Brize Norton. This is a very circuitous route! You fly from London to Madrid, then from Madrid to Santiago, then from Santiago to Stanley the following day on a plane that calls at Punta Monte and Punta Arenas. But the plan may yet change again…