In September 2012 I began a second 13-month contract as the Scott Base communications engineer for
Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ and Downer Engineering.
Six months of sunlight, six months of darkness, temperatures of +3 to -50degC, interesting people
and varied work are just some of the many features of spending a year in this icy environment.
Below is a diary of progress and interesting events along the way, oldest at the bottom and
most current at the top. Note that these are my own personal views and experiences which may
not reflect the views of Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ or Downer Engineering.
Diaries from the 2010-2011,
2016 seasons are also available.
Select month to view:
25/2/2013: Two cruise ship visit/tours this
week put a bit of a strain on our dwindling resources. The German
ship MS Bremen
visited last Tuesday and I was one of the tour guides showing 50 or
more people through Scott Base. That afternoon when the tour was
finished, the captain invited a few of us on board for lunch. The
Zodiac ride from the shore to the ship was a lot of fun, some
moderately rough seas made for an exciting and wet ride. We had
lunch in the four-star restaurant complete with delicious German
beer on the captain, followed by a brief tour of the ship.
Friday saw the visit of the Spirit of Enderby
with a slightly smaller tour group.
Meanwhile, the container ship Ocean Giant
has nearly been loaded with cargo returning to NZ and America.
Three of us had the opportunity yesterday to tour the 12-month old
cargo ship including lunch with the captain and a detailed tour
with the chief engineer. Loved it!!
Seven people left for NZ yesterday as well, a combination of
remaining summer staff and visitors. Down to 16 on station now,
one left to return home when the container ship loading is
complete and it'll be time for the 15 of us to bunker down for
It was also the first sunset of the year five days ago.
Started with the sun below the horizon for 20 minutes per day.
Today the sun sets at 11:39PM and rises at 4:39AM. Another
couple of months of daylight left in the sky yet.
Here's the MS Bremen
anchored just off the coast of McMurdo Station. I especially
loved the Zodiac ride out to the ship!
We had lunch in the casual dining room/bar which was slightly
lower key than the main dining room. Apparently a cruise on this
costs around $40,000. I can see why. There were approximately 70
passengers and 70 crew which ranged from a small army of Philippine
workers to biologists who gave the odd lecture to the guests.
The Bremen also featured a swimming pool, though for some reason
none of the guests were keen for a dip. No idea why, it was only
-15C that day.
This is the Ocean Giant
being loaded at the McMurdo ice pier. Second ship tour for the
week, can't get enough.
Captain Scott's hut at Hut Point as viewed from the bridge of the
166m long Ocean Giant.
The view into the hold of the ship. The cranes are capable of
lifting 400 tonnes each.
Looking down on top of the ship's main engine, around 15,000
horsepower. Did I mention that I love ships?
These centrifuges spin at 17,000 RPM and are used for cleaning the
main engine oil and also the fuel.
One of the two auxiliary generators on the Ocean Giant with an
output of around 600kW.
17/2/2013: We're now down to 23 people on
station following the departure of most of the summer staff last
Monday. A few have remained to help with the cargo ship offload,
which will be the focus of work for several days to come as many
containers of food and supplies are unloaded and waste is loaded
onto the ship for return to New Zealand.
The newfound peace and quiet is quite welcome!
Heather and I played a short set of music in the Scott Base bar
the day before she left with the rest of the summer crew. Dammit,
I now need to find another vocalist. Her performance of the NWA
song Straight Outta Compton was well received. No-one
really expected Heather to be the type to belt out a punchy bit of
gangsta rap. We also performed Outkast's Hey Ya and Don
McLean's American Pie. Yep, last Sunday was certainly the
day the music died, in more reasons than one.
On Monday we held the summer to winter handover ceremony with
the flag changing to the winter one.
Now that the larger C17 aircraft are flying again, we've finally
got a bit of freight movement. I received the new printed circuit
boards I'd designed last month. Gold plated, nice. Yes Murray,
they did work right first time. Another box ticked in Christine's
In the last few days the sea ice has mostly broken out around McMurdo
Station. The orange and white container ship, visible right of
centre, docked a couple of days ago and is in the process of being
I made the most of the good weather this morning to finish off a few
last jobs at our Crater Hill radio site. At long last the new power
cable is in and working well. No more prayers required to keep the
dodgy old power cable intact.
Also in the past week, we've had hundreds of seals return to the
pressure ridges in the sea ice at the front of Scott Base.
Fresh off the container ship is the new Hagglund. It's been knick
named Kermit for obvious reasons. The mechanic and I are
already making bets how on long it takes before someone does
something stupid and breaks it. Someone has already driven one of
the brand new Toyota Landcruisers through the hitching rail and
into one of the old Hagglunds last week.
10/2/2013: This past week has seen virtually the
end of the summer work, including the last of the radio site battery and
equipment removals prior to winter. While many of the summer staff have
been working extremely hard to tidy up the last few ends of summer work,
there are a few others who reluctantly plough through their last one or
two days here. Fortunately the hard working and dedicated people are a
majority. I'll especially miss some of these colleagues whom I've grown
to know well over the past five months.
Next up on the events calendar is the container ship off-load. The cargo
resupply ship visits once per year to deliver large amounts of food,
tools, vehicles, building materials, beer and more. Waste is transported
back to NZ and America. While a majority of the cargo is for the larger
McMurdo Station, approximately 5-10% of the cargo is for Scott Base. The
fuel resupply ship is also due in about now to deliver a year's supply of
AN-8 (low temperature diesel) and mogas (low temperature petrol).
Daily temperatures continue to drop; -10C is the new daily average as we
head towards winter.
To answer a few questions from my Australian relatives (don't worry, I'm
The NZ Defence Force supply around eight people for the summer to
help run Scott Base. Their roles include plant operators (heavy
machinery drivers), communications operators and cargo handlers.
The ice runway on the permanent sea ice at Pegasus Airfield
is just beginning to freeze again with the cooling temperatures.
If it's too soft, then wheeled aircraft cannot land. It needs to be
at least 28m wide for a C17 to land or around 38m wide for a Boeing 757
with the total length just over 3km. They've reduced the width back to
90ft/28m to hopefully get the workhorse C17 flying again next week,
else the smaller Hercules will have to run dozens of trips from
Christchurch to complete the remainder of summer work and the
beginning of winter. Apparently part of the runway testing involves
pulling a very heavy sled down the runway. If it sinks into the ice,
then it's too soft for the aircraft.
If the larger aircraft (C17, Boeing 757) cannot land then in previous
years they've had to put some people onto one of the boats to go
back home. Someone calculated that if the C17 flights don't go ahead
then they will need around 40 Hercules flights or about two flights per
day until the end of the summer season in early March.
The barbeque on the yellow sled (see 5th photo from the bottom of this
page) was just left on the transport sled that gets towed behind the
Hagglund. It was otherwise filled with tents and sleeping kits.
For leadership over winter, two of the winter staff apply/volunteer
for the position. I was the engineering supervisor in 2011. This
year, a couple of others were keen on the base manager and engineering
roles, so I was more than happy to leave them to it.
The Russian icebreaker ship has cut a path through the sea ice for
the fuel and cargo supply ships. The breaker continually drives
up and down the channel in a zigzag pattern to prevent it from
A view over Hut Point; McMurdo Station is hidden over the ridge line
while the icebreaker ship is visible right of centre.
And the icebreaker moving in beside the Americans' floating ice
pier in Winter Quarters Bay beside McMurdo Station.
During the week, I completed the radio equipment removals from the
Dry Valleys on the Antarctic mainland. The helicopter pilot insisted
on showing me this ridge shown in the foreground which he thought
would look right at home in a Peter Jackson movie. He was right;
although it's hard to see, the wind has carved these rocks into
jagged honeycomb shapes.
On the way out to the Dry Valleys job, there were plenty of hungry
Orcas/Killer Whales hanging around the ice edge. The black dots in
the water are the surfacing whales.
It must be tourist season or something. We also saw a boat visiting
the ice edge. A few people are out walking on the ice, not sure
what they're aiming to achieve.
After three days of weather delays, we finally made it to Hoopers
Shoulder on Mt Erebus yesterday to remove the radio equipment there.
Some interesting colours in the increasing cloud atop the treacherous
See if you can spot the Southern Lakes Helicopter from Te Anau
hidden among the snow and rocks high on the slopes of Mt Erebus
at 2185m above sea level.
Mr Ray Carter with a frozen face while helping me on Mt Erebus. It was
a chilly -24C and having a couple of extra hands was very much
appreciated. Murray and Han: see if you can spot the T700. More
proof that Tait radios are cool!
One last look at Scott Base from the air for the summer.
3/2/2013: Only eight days until the bulk of the
summer staff are due to return home. Some of them can't wait to get
back to NZ while others want to stay as long as possible. Some are
working hard to the end while others have already 'checked out'.
This week we met the five new additions to our winter crew; a total of
fifteen of us. The new folks are from the Antarctic Heritage Trust who
will be spending the winter conserving artefacts from the historic huts.
We all departed for a night of team building and camping which included
a delicious barbeque and a couple of hours on the ski field.
Remote radio site pull-ins are now underway. Batteries and radio
equipment is returned to Scott Base for the winter as there will be no
sunlight to keep batteries charged.
The winter field skills training session was more of an evening of team
bonding over a fairly relaxing evening with an overnight stay away from
Our power engineer Dave cooked up some delicious steaks on the barbeque
during the winter field skills evening.
The outside temperatures are slowly falling again, it's now around -2 to
-10C and the sea ice at the front of the base has probably seen just about
the last of the seasonal melting. We're unlikely to see temperatures above
zero degrees Celsius for the rest of the season.
Here's the Pegasus Airfield
seen from the air. The runway on the permanent ice shelf has a soft
spot in the middle which is preventing movement of the larger
aircraft, which will slow down the return of many Scott Base and
McMurdo staff to Christchurch. Those eager to leave are hoping for
cold temperatures to freeze the runway. Those keen to stay a while
longer are praying for a heat wave.
I retrieved the batteries and radio equipment from our Black Island
HF receiver site yesterday, a lovely day for it. Mt Erebus is visible
on the left side, the edge of White Island on the right.
Another achievement of the week was the installation of the new
Crater Hill power cable, which turned out to be more involved than
expected. Thanks to Brendon R from the NZ Army for his expertise
in driving the large drum of cable up the steep slopes of Crater
Hill with the D4 bulldozer.