26/6/2016: The mid-winter solstice has been and gone this week,
meaning it's technically getting warmer and brighter. Very slowly. McMurdo Station
held their annual mid-winter celebration dinner last night. Those of us on Scott Base
fire crew, which included myself as usual, ventured over for the drinks and nibbles
hour, then we returned to Scott Base so that the remainder of the staff could attend
the main dinner event followed by a dance party.
The project work at Scott Base is keeping things interesting, I've finally got a lot of
work in the pipeline which should easily last me the rest of the season. And today is
beer brewing day. We ordered an all grain beer kit from NZ in March, which finally
arrived here in the June cargo flight and brewed today. After five days of fermentation
it'll be ready to bottle then drinkable in a month or so.
The McMurdo Station galley was decorated with a prehistoric theme for last night's
mid-winter dinner. This included dinosaur skeleton models made from recycled
cardboard. To the left is Rex Cotten who is one of my friends working at the NASA
ground station; myself and Grubb the carpenter on the right.
Andy fitted a new high pressure pump to the water making plant this week. The reverse
osmosis water plant is at least 20 years old; while they keep talking about replacing it
with a newer, more efficient plant, it's one of those jobs that's always getting moved
forward a year due to various reasons. They've been "definitely going to replace it
this year" for at least as long as I can remember. Meanwhile, various components get
replaced, remanufactured or upgraded to extend the life of our fresh water production
The original high pressure gear pump from the water making plant, replaced with the
new pump pictured above. The water engineer last year looked at this old pump after
it developed a problem and said "there is absolutely no way it will ever work again";
after which Graeme Hooper needed some pure water for making some beer over a year ago,
so he spent an hour or two rebuilding it and it's been working fine ever since.
This was the first time Grubb the carpenter had brewed an all-grain beer, so naturally
he was very excited to be brewing this bold imperial stout. I'm on the left, preparing
the yeast starter.
Pouring the boiled malt/hops into a pot for rapid cooling.
Rapid cooling the boiled liquid by pumping snow water through a copper coil. Once it
reaches around 20 degrees C, it's into the fermenter and the yeast is added.
19/6/2016: Certainly this week's highlight was the mid-winter
celebrations we held last night. This annual event marks the centre point in winter,
the statistically coldest part of the season and around 16 weeks until we return home
to New Zealand. The celebrations include a fancy dinner with all 11 Scott Base staff
and around 35 invited guests from McMurdo Station. I suspect it's great times for
everyone except the chef, who spends the entire week on preparations and spent all
day yesterday cooking. See the Scott Base mid-winter greetings/menu sent out to other
wintering Antarctic Stations here.
It's one of those somewhat cringe worthy traditions that most other wintering stations
send out invitations to each other, though it's physically impossible to go
visiting at this time of year. Some of the stations are over 6000km apart and there's
practically no long distance travel done due to the extremes in weather, temperature
and of course constant darkness.
Grubb and Robbo made a number of different ice sculptures as centre pieces for the
dining room. Grubb's sculpture (left) was a profile of Mt Erebus and Mt Terror that
featured drink can cooler holes. I set up a glowing red LED inside to illuminate
the top crater of the active volcano. Perhaps Robbo's sculpture was supposed to be
a penguin, but the final piece had a striking resemblance to the gorilla from the
video game, Donkey Kong.
The Scott Base dining room set up with nice tablecloths and silverware. Made a nice
change from the usual plates and forks that are food-encrusted because some people are
incapable of cleaning them properly.
Jason sculpted this large punch bowl from ice. Unfortunately the warmer liquid poured
inside caused the ice to crack, making it more functional as a lawn sprinkler than a
Keith (left) the Scott Base chef, helped out by Shane, the head chef from McMurdo Station.
I wondered if Keith had a rat under his hat controlling his cooking movements by pulling
on his hair, as in the movie, Ratatouille.
The hydroponics garden is now finally in action with many lettuces growing. They decided
we're not allowed to grow anything remotely interesting, such as tomatoes, because the plants
flower and somehow this violates the Antarctic treaty, despite other Antarctic stations growing
things such as tomatoes and cucumbers. They take away all of the seeds in summer and send new
seeds down at the beginning of winter, except that again this year, the April cargo flight
never eventuated, so we didn't receive the seeds until last week. The regular-ish winter flights
almost make the hydroponics redundant as we get fresh food deliveries on the irregular cargo
12/6/2016: The single cargo flight on Wednesday, the first one
in three months, has everyone excited except the cargo handlers who have been working
long hours. Aside from some well received fresh fruit and vegetables, we also
received many parts and equipment to progress various stagnant jobs. I've got enough to
keep myself busy for a few months at least.
On the down side, the Americans had a lot of vehicle trouble in the -40C temperatures
with taking northbound cargo to the airfield. The extra time spent on the ground
meant the waiting C17 aircraft burnt more fuel than expected, so it wasn't able to
carry as much load on the return journey to Christchurch, meaning that none of the
Scott Base northbound mail or cargo made it out of here. Again.
A huge thank-you to friends and family who sent all the lovely care packages, including
some of my favourite craft beers!
The scene at Pegasus Airfield on Wednesday afternoon: the US Air Force C17 being
unloaded. McMurdo Station also have a change in 27 staff members, though no
change to the Scott Base staff.
Some of the unpacked cargo at Scott Base awaiting collection. A combination of
personal deliveries and parts/equipment for work.
Also in the cargo was a secret delivery of some costumes for filming promotional
material for an upcoming movie.
Some of the parts I received this week meant I could complete many waiting jobs,
such as this 50W RF power amplifier for the duplex telephone link to the Italian's
Mario Zucchelli Station approximately 400km away.
5/6/2016: The start of the month means it's a two-day weekend
for us. A welcome relief at this time of the year when everyone is getting wary from
the constant darkness and 6-day work weeks. Of course it's a three-day weekend back
home in New Zealand, with Monday being the Queen's Birthday observation. We celebrated
the event last night with a live music party in the Scott Base vehicle workshop. A
similar event we held in 2013 was particularly successful, so we held the same event
again. It was all plain sailing until the weather forecast was for unfavourable weather,
meaning that the Americans from McMurdo Station would not have been able to make it,
meaning there'd be no live music and we'd have about 10 people at the party, not 60
or more. Fortunately the weather turned out to be not too bad, so the live music
party all went as planned last night. While it was a lot of fun to host the event,
it was also a lot of work. It took most of Saturday to set up and I've just finished
most of Sunday cleaning up. So that was my weekend been and gone.
This was my band's live music set for the Scott Base Queen Party last night.
The line-up included five other bands from McMurdo. There's been a very active
music scene this winter, vastly different to last year where there were seemingly
very few musicans about. From left to right there's Julie, Zac, myself, Mark and
One of my good friends, Zac the McMurdo carpenter, setting up the sound mixer for
the party music. He's been the drummer in my band since 2013 and has an actual
qualification in music. Due to his skillset, his music skills usually end up
being part of many other station bands.
A drinks cooler for the party using a plastic tub and a loader scoop of snow.
One of the things you wouldn't realise is an issue is that there's no hairdresser shop
when you need a trim. So inevitably everyone ends up looking quite feral at this
time of year. Some people try their hand at haircutting, which usually results in
varying degrees of fashion disasters. Pictured above is Gracie and Mark from
McMurdo in the Scott Base carpenter's workshop, which is often the makeshift
hairdressing salon. Mark is the McMurdo weather observer and also the bass player
in my band. His haircut ended up being some kind of nasty mullet, which resulted
in him looking like some kind of red-neck trucker. I ended up with my name shaved
into the side of my head.
Bill Henriksen, the McMurdo Station winter manager, gave us a short presentation on
the work that goes on for the ice pier construction. This is what the annual resupply
ships dock to for station resupply every January. Sometimes the ice piers can last
as long as ten years, but in recent times they've only lasted a year or two, meaning
that once it breaks up and becomes unusable in summer, a new one needs to be constructed
over winter by freezing 100mm at a time of sea water pumped into a snow berm until
there's a giant ice block around 5 metres thick.