January 31st, 2006

Fossil Bluff has been fogged in for the last few mornings, but it looks like I might finally go today… we’ll see!

Laurence M Gould and Fossil Bluff

January 29th, 2006

Yesterday we had a visit from our American friends on board the research ship Laurence M Gould, who tied up at the wharf and came ashore for an evenings entertainment. This is a regular social visit, which happens a) because they’re passing by us anyway and b) because US research vessels are “dry” and they like to come to a British base for a beer!
We put on a good show for them – the final ever Tepid Stan gig in the Sledge Store and a good time was had by all.

This morning I’m supposedly (weather-permitting) off to Fossil Bluff to stay for a week or so. I may be longer than that! If you want to contact me during that time, you’ll need my BAS email address (the one that begins mrpr@south) and be prepared for your message to be read out over the radio! Actually, one of the things I’m doing is working on an experimental system to send email over the radio as a data transmission, so we’ll see how well that works…

Boat trips

January 29th, 2006

Now that the sea ice has cleared out, the boating season is in full swing: Rothera has five inflatable boats which are mostly used to support diving and marine science, but on Saturday afternoons the boatmen (Andy and Bernard) do pleasure cruises to the Leonie Islands, which are a few km from Rothera.

People in boats
Rosie and Bernard model the Rothera Nautical Collection

I was on one of these last Saturday, and enjoyed myself hugely. You start in the boatshed, and manoeuvre yourself into a big orange survival suit (orange clothing is de rigeur down here, you get used to it!) and then walk down the slipway to the boats. We spent a very pleasant afternoon whizzing around looking at icebergs, penguins, cormorants and other wildlife, and then headed over to Lagoon Island for a cup of tea. Lagoon is named for the shallow lagoon in the centre of the island, which is a popular spot for elephant seals – we saw a large number of juveniles dozing in the summer sun – and has a pleasant little wooden hut which is used for biosciences expeditions and jollies throughout the year.

Elephant seals
Juvenile elephant seals – they grow a long snouty nose in adulthood

Lagoon Island Refuge
Lagoon Island Refuge

Andy and Layla have tea at Lagoon
Andy and Layla have tea at Lagoon

Fortified by a cup of tea made on the Primus stove, we headed back to Rothera, but stopped to take pictures of a leopard seal lounging on a small berg. Leopard seals are the only really dangerous animal down here – a young biologist, Kirsty Brown, was drowned by one a few years back – and they eat penguins and (sometimes) other seals.

Leopard seal
Leopard seal

In this case, the pictures really are worth a thousand words!


January 18th, 2006

Apologies for the ‘radio silence’ since New Year but, as many of you have guessed, I’ve been very busy indeed. We’ve been a little bit short-handed in the comms team since all three of our radio operators have been away working at Fossil Bluff and Sky Blu, two remote fuel depots that get used to refuel aircraft during the summer season. Actually, only two of them have been away at a time – just after Owen returned from Sky Blu, Mark’s gone out to replace him. This is a rather roundabout way of saying that Andy and I have worked extra shifts on the radio and have had relatively little time off, especially at weekends. Anyway, we’ve also been doing some project work as well as the usual flight following and field party scheds – we’ve been building a Really Big Antenna! This is like a giant TV aerial and is mounted on top of a stumpy little tower on top of Rothera Point – and it can be turned around by an electric motor to direct the signal to distant field parties. The proper name is the RLPA – the Rotatable Log-Periodic Antenna, and we’ve been working on it since just before New Year.

RLPA tower
The tower, before the antenna and gearbox were fitted

We started in the aircraft hangar, putting together a giant Meccano kit made from aluminium with very poor instructions. If you think IKEA instructions are incomprehensible, don’t buy one of these! The boom that supports the antenna elements is 40 feet long (sorry for the imperial units – the antenna is made in the USA so all the dimensions are in feet and inches…)
and is held together with about two hunded nuts and bolts, all of which we did up by hand.
Having built all this, Mat the Mechanic helped us load it onto a flatbed trailer, and we dragged it up the hill to finish the assembly. Attached to the boom are 16 elements, which are tapering aluminium tubes that extend from each side. These are very long and quite whippy. At each point where the aluminium tubes join we had to polish the joint with emery cloth and apply an anti-oxidant grease to make a good electrical connection.

Once the antenna was assembled, the fun part began. We had to move it about twenty metres across an uneven snow surface and then hoist it onto the top of the tower and fasten it to the rotator. After a few ideas were considered, we went for a “people power” approach. Fourteen of BAS’s finest staff lifted the antenna off the trailer and carried it across to the waiting crane. Several tense minutes and a good deal of “left-hand-down-a-bit”, jiggling and brute force later, Andy and I bolted it to the rotator mountings and breathed a sigh of relief!

Carrying the RLPA
People power!

Easy does it
Easy does it…

Up and away
Up and away!

Bolting it on
Bolting it on

Since then we’ve been doing the much more tedious job of cable laying- all sorts of power, data and signal cables have to be fed out to the antenna and its ancillary kit, so we’ve been dragging cables across the frost-shattered rock surface of the point and laboriously attaching them to catenary wires with cable ties. Actually, Andy’s done most of the laborious attaching, and I’ve done most of the laborious ladder-repositioning, tool-passing and cable untangling. We’re now about 60% done on the cables – they just need to go across the yard to the Ops Tower – Pat’s been showing us how to use the “cherry-picker” hydraulic platform today, but it was too windy to do any work with it this afternoon, so that’s a project for tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll have the system all wired up by the end of next week.

Thanks to Agnieszka for her excellent photographs and mast-climbing skills! There are more pictures here.

The festive season

January 7th, 2006

As I write, the Christmas decorations have been taken down and the base has resumed normal life again. Mind you, the place was only lightly touched by the festive hysteria that occurs back home – we’re right in the middle of our busy season, so we can’t afford to take lots of time off! In fact we had Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, plus New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Christmas Day itself dawned under leaden grey skies (just like home!) and a light flurry of snow. After a slow and quiet morning, most of the base went off to the ski slopes and then returned for the full festive dinner at 5pm. I had to work, though – field parties still need a daily radio call – but a lot of people came up to the radio room to wish them a happy Christmas.
New Year provided an ideal opportunity to show off the finely-polished musical talents of the base to the various new arrivals. Two bands, a freshly-formed Summer Band and the veteran winterers Tepid Stan, performed to a packed Sledge Store and received a very warm reception from the assembled crowd. The following day dawned bright and clear with just a few people up and about by lunchtime, although many went out skiing or boating in the afternoon. It was very pleasant, and rather more relaxed than back home!