Stormy weather

December 2nd, 2005

A sudden change in the weather has hit Rothera and our surrounding remote stations and field parties – we had 24 hours of high winds with blowing, drifting and falling snow, which is giving the base an altogether more wintry look. A lot of the snowdrifts that had been cleared away have now started to reform, but the biggest change is that the sea ice has started to break up and a lot of it has blown away from the base. This is good news for us, as it means that we will soon be able to launch boats and start the marine science season in earnest. It also means that the James Clark Ross, which is making its way towards us with its precious cargo of new equipment, food and beer, not to mention a whole load of summer and winter staff, should have no difficulty in getting into the base when it arrives in about two weeks’ time. You can follow the JCR as it makes its journey from Stanley down to Rothera.

Before the weather changed we managed to get some concreting done. We’re erecting a new mast for communication with remote field parties, and so we took advantage of a few sunny days to get the foundations put in. Now, my only previous experience of laying concrete was putting down a foundation for a greenhouse in my parents’ garden, and it was incredibly hard work and involved moving what seemed like tonnes of stuff in a small wheelbarrow. Here we were laying a lot more, and doing so on top of a rocky peninsula in the Antarctic. The job began with Andy and Pat drilling holes in the rock with a pneumatic drill – these took steel reinforcing bars that would strengthen the concrete. This was very hard work and involved much cursing when the drill became trapped in the rock by dust and shrapnel. Glen the Carpenter built and fittted the wooden shuttering to shape the concrete and then we were ready to mix and pour. Favours were called in, and on a bright sunny morning I turned up on site to find that concreting was already in full swing (I’d had some indoor duties to do immediately after breakfast) – but every labour-saving device was employed to make it a much easier job than at home! Firstly, an industrial concrete-mixer has a hydraulic scoop for the aggregate and cement – so you can load the scoop conveniently at ground level and then tip it all into the mixing drum by just pulling on the lever. Having mixed the stuff, we then employed the Nodwell to deliver it to the pour site. The “Noddy” is like a small lorry on tracks with a small crane mounted on the back. Being painted bright red and moving in the slightly awkward way that tracked vehicles do, it looks like something out of Bob the Builder! However, the Noddy has a hopper attachment for moving concrete – so Pat could park it next to the mixer where we tipped up to 1.5 tonnes of concrete into the hopper, then drive up to the pour site and hoist the hopper up over the shuttering. Pulling on the rope releases the concrete – much easier than using a wheelbarrow!

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