25/1/2015: Things have certainly been
happening this week; it's good to be busy again. The annual
rigging crew visit went well and the guys were fantastic to work
with. In addition, the field centre lower level demolition
has started already with the removal of several internal walls.
The science people who had been using the areas were certainly
less than happy to be kicked out of their work space.
Management tell them that the upcoming building rennovations
are all in the name of a better science facility. Time
will tell for sure.
It's also that time of the year where the annual container ship
visit is imminent, so there are various additional staff on site
for packing away things to be returned to New Zealand, such as
waste, older vehicles to be sold and replaced with new ones and
many of the containers that failed to make it onto the ship last
year when the ice pier turned to mush and collapsed part way
through loading the ship. Things are a little cooler this year
and the sea ice is generally in good condition, I suspect they
won't have nearly as many problems this year.
Four of our six summer-only radio sites were due for removal this
week, which all went nicely. The sites are removed at the end of
each summer because the absence of sunlight for solar charging and
cold temperatures over winter would otherwise damage the batteries.
We also have quite a number of invited visitors on site at present,
including the NZ Secretary of Defence, Chief of Air Force and
various members of the board who run Antarctica NZ. They held
a formal dinner last night with the big wigs, but I opted for
the significantly easier going beer and pizza night along with
the other Scott Base riff-raff. And had a damn good night.
Unusually, I seem to have taken a lot of photos from this week,
so for once I've got too many images to select from instead of
having to look around for someone else's photography to plunder.
First up is a series of photos of the US icebreaker, the
This is the Polar Star cutting the channel and turning circle
outside McMurdo Station. The container ship is due in tomorrow,
then the fuel resupply vessel a week or so later.
Clearing the one to two metre thick sea ice up to the edge of
the ice pier. No, the captain is not drunk and ramming the
pier. At least not this time. Who really knows if that's
happened before or not, but why stop the truth getting in the
way of a great rumour?
The icebreaker moored at the ice pier at Hut Point outside
McMurdo Station. We were invited for a tour of the ship on
Thursday evening which I would have loved to attend, but as
usual I was stuck on fire crew, and bar crew. So ended up
serving drinks to dozens of shouty Americans all night
instead. Great, just what I'd rather be doing instead of
looking at some of the coolest boats in the ocean.
Our helicopter pilot, Heff, was all too keen to show me the
killer whales surfacing for air in the icebreaker channel
on the way to a job at one of our radio sites. I wasn't
fazed either way. Heff seemed more excited to be spotting
then swooping on the whales with the helicopter than I was
to be looking at them.
Here's something a bit different. One of the science groups
in the field came across an ancient stash of field food in the
middle of nowhere; possibly from the 1960s or earlier. And
here was I complaining that we had to eat freeze-dry food that
had expired in 2008. Pure luxury compared to a dinner of
mystery contents waxed paper bricks and rusty tins with no
Now for all the photos I like, but everyone else seems to hate;
radio sites. We removed the temporary repeater from Cape
Roberts that I installed back in October for a six-week science
event that needed radio communications in an isolated area at
Granite Harbour. The guy ropes were much slacker than I'd left
them. It appears the wind had scoured out snow under the green
box, causing it to lower and release tension on the mast stays.
Everything was in perfect condition otherwise.
Like a million monkeys with a million typewriters producing the
works of Shakespeare, if you take enough photos out of the
helicopter window, one of them is eventually going to be not
utter crap, as the rest of my photography generally is. This
is the western side of Mt Erebus with the usually frozen waters
of McMurdo Sound in the foreground.
A shot from yesterday afternoon of our UHF linked VHF radio site
at Mt JJ Thomson overlooking the Taylor Valley in the Dry Valleys
region on the Antarctic mainland. This is the most ice free
region in all of Antarctica.
And the view of our radio site on Mt Newall, also in the Dry
Valleys region. I removed the radio equipment and batteries
from our three Dry Valleys sites yesterday afternoon as science
in the area is finished for the season. On the right is our
pilot, Heff, along with my helpers Jason and Chelsea.
Finally, a parting shot from the pressure ridges, which I
walked last Sunday with Dan Gray, one of my ex work
colleagues from Tait Electronics in Christchurch. He's
working for Downer Engineering these days, as am I, and
was here for six days as part of the annual rigging
18/1/2015: It's been a reasonably eventful
week; chock full of sea ice misadventures, arrival of new staff
and entertaining Americans.
Beginning on Monday, there was a Hagglund trip planned to Turtle
Rock over the sea ice, which of course is in the middle of its
annual melt cycle. Unfortunately the sea ice was a bit too mushy
but fortunately Hagglunds are designed to float. After a short
recovery operation, the new ocean-going vessel was back on dry
land with no damage.
I was particularly excited with the arrival of Mr Graeme Hooper,
our water engineer from my previous season 2012/2013. He's here
until April to tackle various engineering tasks. Also arriving at
the same time was the two rigging staff from Downer Engineering
who are working with me as part of the annual infrastructure
maintenance. Plus we've just seen the arrival of eight winter
project staff for the field centre rebuild project. A
significant event this winter is the interior remodelling of
the field centre building to improve science facilities.
Then last night was the annual McMurdo Waste Barn party. I
This is the building where all of McMurdo waste gets sorted and
packed. They clean up the place and have a music/dance party there
usually once per year. So our Scott Base band, Them Kiwi
Sons o' Bitches played an hour long set of live music for
the party which seemed to be incredibly well received.
And starting next week, the first of the summer field staff head
home, another reminder there's only a month of the summer season
This is a grainy zoomed-in shot of Hagglund H1 bogged in the mushy
sea ice with the helicopter helping with the vehicle recovery
mission. They got it out and back home later that afternoon.
Looking out the front of Scott Base towards the south, the many
melt pools in the sea ice clearly show that the annual sea ice
melt cycle is in full swing. It's just started cooling down
again this week, coolest it's been for a while yesterday with
The arrival of the American
icebreaker cutting a shipping lane through McMurdo Sound is a
clear indication that the fuel re-supply vessel and container
ship are due to arrive next week.
In the sea ice outside McMurdo Station, the turning circle cut by
the icebreaker is clearly visible.
We performed a set of music to the densely packed Waste Barn, which
was dark, hot and crowded. The audience taunted us for an encore,
so we had to think of something quick to pacify the demanding
party-goers. Fortunately we'd previously practised a few other songs
that we decided to drop out of the set, so managed to quell the
11/1/2015: Well the holiday season is now a
distant memory and it's back to the grindstone. The end of season
science started ramping up this week, and I must say it's good to
have a few things happening again. Things had been a bit slow over
the past couple of weeks. It's also only about a week until the
first of the field support staff return home - a sure sign that the
season is rapidly coming to an end.
Unfortunately it's also that time in the season where much of the
summer stuff know they only have a month or so left, so motivation
levels drop off considerably. It makes it hard when working with
people who no longer seem to care about doing a good job, meaning
I'm frequently left with picking up the pieces after various
half-arsed jobs. Nothing out of the ordinary though, it seems to
happen every season.
On the plus side we have the water engineer from my last season,
Graeme Hooper, down on Tuesday for a couple of months. He's a
truly superb worker and is also a lot of fun, so I'm very much
looking forward to seeing someone with motivation.
On Thursday evening the Americans held their annual MAAG (McMurdo
Alternative Art Gallery) at the Fuels Barn. You can't really see
a lot from this photo, the building was fairly dark. But there was
an interesting range of weird and wonderful art pieces. Unlike
previous years, there was no art and crafts for sale. There's a
lot of fantastic artistic talent at McMurdo Station.
A shot of one of the Americans' "Fuel Mules", a small fuel tanker
truck that goes around the individual McMurdo buildings to refuel
the diesel tanks that provide heating. Most of the McMurdo
buildings don't have any form of centralised heating and so they
operate independent diesel heating in most buildings.
The ice pier at McMurdo is now waiting for the re-fuel and cargo
supply ships to arrive at the end of the month. The US icebreaker,
the Polar Star,
is currently breaking a shipping channel through the ice in McMurdo
sound and is expected to arrive at McMurdo station sometime this
Here's a photo from someone else of the Polar Star
which has paused its ice breaking to let some of the crew off for
a brisk stroll around the sea ice.
With daily temperatures ranging from about -3C to +1C the sea ice
is well into its annual melting cycle. There are many melt pools
out the front of Scott Base and many seals about.
Another shot of the melt pools in the sea ice directly out the
front of Scott Base. The black things on the sea ice are
I wasn't on fire crew this week for once, so it was an excellent
day to be out at the ski field today for some relaxing fun. With no
wind, warm temperatures and good company, it was a great place to
be. Other activities for today included the 42.2km marathon.
We even had a couple of friendly American visitors at our ski field
today. People often think that things in America are always
"bigger and better" but they had this tiny Ski-Doo which looked
comical with two people trying to ride it.
4/1/2015: Happy New 2015. It's been kind of nice
having a few days off work over the past week or so, but as I've been on
fire crew, this makes it problematic to try and get off base. This
requires you to find someone to stand in for your position while you're
away. As it's holiday time (for some) and there have been many activities
on including crevasse tours, Ski-Doo trips and ski field days, everyone
understandably wants to be out and about to enjoy the activities and nice
weather. Hence finding someone to stand in to allow you to get away for
any reason is next to impossible. Speaking of nice days, we've just seen
our first positive outside temperatures this season; the snow outside on
the ground is rapidly turning into rivers of mud.
Work wise it's been mostly uneventful. About the only technical things
I've done all week is repair an angle grinder and fault find some data
issues on the power grid control network. Of course that's probably
expected considering this is the closest we get to a "holiday season";
a few casual days off work. Where you invariably end up working
So New Years was a slightly different event this year. As December the
31st was on a Wednesday, the bar stayed open until midnight where most
of us stayed up to welcome in the New Year. The following day was work
as usual; then Friday through to today, Sunday, was a rare three-day
It's also the time of the year where the Americans at McMurdo Station
hold the annual IceStock outdoor music festival, which is enormously
popular. Traditionally this is held on New Year's Eve, but to avoid a
big party in the middle of the working week, they shifted it to Friday
the second. But the event was still well received, as was the annual
chili cook-off held at the same time. Our Scott Base band played a
30-minute set which went down well, though I had to scuttle back home
soon after our early set to allow the others on fire crew substitute
to attend the festival.
Then it's back to work as usual tomorrow....
At the stroke of midnight on the 31st of December, our power engineer,
Bruce, burst into the bar with his bagpipes and led an impromptu
parade outside. It was a lovely night sky with plenty of sunshine,
light winds and temperatures around -3C.
I'd gone to bed by the time the parade formed into a group photo
outside, a few minutes into the new year of 2015.
Earlier in the week, a Chinese icebreaker called into the ice edge to
collect fuel drums to carry up the coast to Cape Adare for an upcoming
NZ science event happening next season. The Chinese used their Russian
built heavy lift helicopter to transfer nearly 5000 litres of diesel fuel
in drums to their ship. Despite sounding like some kind of recipe for
disaster, the entire operation went smoothly. Prior to the helicopter's
arrival, we all received multiple Emails and PA announcements that the
helicopter would create extreme winds, capable of blowing away rocks,
bulldozers and Mt Erebus. So all the roads were closed and we were told
to "remain indoors at all times and if venturing outside, must wear
full PPE and obey the safety officers". In all honesty it was quite
underwhelming. At worst, the maximum rotor wash may have inconvenienced
a couple of loose snowflakes, and the safety officer was wearing jandals
(flip-flops). Can I get my money back now?
See, I'm not making this up. This is Angus the flip-flop jandal wearing
safety officer making sure no-one ventures outside for fear of being
blown away by extreme rotor wash from the Russian built helicopter
crewed by the Chinese.
Despite not having their usual graphics artist at McMurdo Station,
the Americans still put together some fine posters and banners
for the IceStock annual outdoor concert. In case you aren't already
aware, the name IceStock is a play on the popular Woodstock
American music festival. The Freeze Em All caption in this
year's poster is of course a reference to the Metallica album,
Kill Em All.
Our band is Them Kiwi Sons o' Bitches. I'd come up with the
name based on an event at IceStock a couple of years back. During the
concert, the Americans put on a spit roast pig. Not wanting to appear
greedy, I'd placed myself about third in the queue. I was wearing my
black work clothes, which are identical to what the Americans wear.
The two USA guys ahead of me were scowling at some of the Scott Base
women back in the queue, obviously wearing the distinctive Scott Base
black and orange jackets. They were grumbling "Look at them Kiwi
sons o' bitches; they can come over here and eat our food, but we
can't go over there and eat theirs!" I put on this bad American
accent and said back, "Yeah, and them stupid sons o' bitches don't
even know what goddamn side of the road to drive on!" The guy spun
around, pointed at me and shouted back, "Yeah, that's exactly what
I'm talkin' about!"
This is the usual stage they set up for the event, with our Scott Base
band performing. I don't fully understand the reference on the banner.
Of course the bottom line is from the Talking Heads song Once in a
Lifetime and the Master Plan is something McMurdo management have
been discussing for some time regarding a long term major redevelopment
of McMurdo Station. So it's probably poking fun at management, as
And this is me on lead guitar (left) with Alec on bass (right).
Playing at IceStock was something that had been on my to-do list for
some time. Doing music during summer is just hard because everyone
is always so busy. You need to get the entire group together for
practice sessions. But everyone always has something else on after
work. Or they're working evenings. We have no music facilities here
at Scott Base, so we have to use the McMurdo band room, which is nearly
always booked out. Then everyone is on fire crew and can't get out.
Arrgghhh! I still have no idea how we managed to pull it off, but
Another shot of Alec and myself. Alec's mother, Lorraine, will be
absolutely furious he wore his best jeans and gumboots on stage.
I'm in my Carhartt work pants. Despite being fairly warm at zero
degrees, the cold steel guitar strings made my fingertips numb.
This is awkward because you mostly play a guitar by feel, so I had
to look at what my fingers were doing since I couldn't feel them.
Was like playing with bits of wax where your fingers used to be.