Amiga Technical Resource

Working in Antarctica

On the 30th of August 2010 I began a new role of telecommunications technician for Scott Base, Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ and Downer Engineering. It began with a tightly packed four weeks of a variety of training before flying south to the ice on the 30th of September. The contract length of the position is around 13 months, hence it is known as 'wintering over'.

Below is a blog 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 2012-2013, 2014-2015 and 2016 seasons are also available.

Select month to view:
October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011

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October 2011
  • 25/10/11: They say that all good things come to an end; or good riddance to bad rubbish. Take your pick as this will be the final entry here.

    With great excitement I saw the C17 land on the ice runway on Monday afternoon and before I knew it we were winging it back to Christchurch. It all seemed so sudden, but here I am in the 'normal world' once again. It was a surreal experience to step off the aircraft 5 hours later at 10PM that night. Outside was dark, yet we'd just celebrated the final sunset a few days earlier at Scott Base as they enter another four months of 24 hour daylight. Hence the unfamiliar feeling of darkness once again. The air felt hot, wet and heavy.

    It felt both unusual and great to be home. Seeing large numbers of people and cars was uncomfortable and I quickly wished I was back in the safe confines of Scott Base. My re-integration into society may take some time.

    So far everyone has been asking what it was like and would I go back. Hard to describe in few words, though I particularly enjoyed the company and support of my winter family, the winter project work was interesting and varied plus the environment cannot be described in words. Actually, that's a lie. It's usually cold and miserable, but on a sunny day with no wind, it's actually pretty special as the results of my mediocre photography skills may suggest.

    And would I go back? We'll all have to wait and see, although I'm not saying no at this stage.

    To all my many followers, friends, colleagues, managers and family; thanks for your support and contact throughout the season. The many kind Emails from everyone certainly helped to make the many dark days of winter feel a lot less lonely.

    Anthony Hoffman

    Seals_23-10-11.jpg (40799 bytes)
    Some seals by the Scott Base pressure ridges during a final walk around on Sunday afternoon.

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    10 minutes drive from Scott Base was a waiting C17 that had just been unloaded.

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    Boarding time. There were only 2 of us from Scott Base on the flight, plus about 8 Americans.

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    There was also no return cargo, so the return flight was just about empty.

  • 23/10/11: Hard to believe, but it's nearly at an end. Tomorrow afternoon, with a bit of luck, I'll be on the C17 flying back to my home in Christchurch. For some reason my name is on the "northbound flight list" but it's somehow missing from the passenger manifest. I'll have to look into that with some urgency.

    It's been a fairly relaxed week for me as Hayden, my replacement for 2011/2012, takes the reins. We finished the last of the handover details yesterday and he's getting quite confident with most things now. Last Tuesday we installed the radio equipment at the Black Island remote HF receive site, that all went well. Some bad weather and high helicopter demands resulted in flight cancellations for the last half of the week so Hayden might have to do the remaining summer radio site installs by himself. I feel a bit bad leaving him to it, but realistically if I keep sticking around due to these delays and other jobs that keep cropping up; then I'll never get home.

    We celebrated the 2011 final sunset party in the Scott Base bar last night, so it's 24 hour sunlight once again. The celebration was fairly tame in comparison to the same party we had at this time last year, although the bar was serving cocktails made from snow which kept things interesting.

    I'm happy to be leaving tomorrow, but sad at the same time to be leaving Scott Base which has been my home for the last 13 months. Some of our winter crew hope to have a catch-up in Christchurch next weekend, so I'm looking forward to that as well.

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    Yet another pressure ridges photo with Mt Erebus (background centre) and Castle Rock (background left). This view is from the helicopter prior to landing at Scott Base.

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    Some people engaging in a bit of seal watching on the sea ice by Scott Base.

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    Flying into Scallop Hill at our remote HF radio receiver site at Black Island to install the radio equipment for the summer season.

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    The new regulation and DC distribution board mounted at Black Island. It's particularly rewarding to see this and many other winter projects being installed and working. Fingers crossed, everything has worked right first time so far. My former manager, Christine, from Tait Custom Integration with her 'right first time' initiative would have been proud. New designs at remote sites have the potential for many issues; hence I spent a lot of time testing everything as thoroughly as possible.

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    The departing passenger list on the whiteboard in the Scott Base main hallway. After seeing hundreds of other people come and go over the last year, it's finally my turn.

  • 16/10/11: It's been a very emotional week as nearly all of the winter staff who have been my close friends and family for the last 12 months flew home to NZ on Friday the 14th. So all that remain from our winter bunch is Molly the electrician, the two Antarctic Heritage Trust crew and myself.

    Handover with the summer staff is all but complete although I have another week to spend with Hayden, my replacement, on installing radio sites and final handover details. Still a bit to go, but he's learning quickly.

    Depending on the weather and how other things go, I'd like to return to NZ with Molly on the 24th of October. Will see how that works out. With the sad departure of our winter crew, I've suddenly reached the point where I really want to go home as well.

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    At long last our officially framed winter photo was mounted on the wall of Scott Base yesterday. The full resolution version can be downloaded here as a 1.4MB PDF file.

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    With continued nice weather yesterday evening, it was time for the first pressure ridges walk I'd had in months. I thoroughly enjoyed the winding trail through the shapely masses of ice just a few minutes walk from Scott Base.

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    The wind farm viewed from the pressure ridges with the lowering sun in the background. Another week or so and the sun will remain above the horizon until late April 2012.

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    In support of the All Blacks and the Rugby World Cup we took this photo on the 9th of October which ended up featuring on the national TVNZ news. This is a mixture of the new summer crew and our old winter crew from last year. I'm in the centre of the photo directly above the "BA" of the Scott Base sign.

  • 9/10/11: The first week of the new summer season has been fairly hectic as expected. I'm actually enjoying it as opposed to hiding in the corner due to all the new and unfamiliar people about. It had been planned to fly the new crew down in two lots; but because of the storm last Monday, we received all 29 of the new crew on Tuesday. There are a few known faces from last season in the new bunch, so great to see them again. Everyone is very friendly and enthusiastic which makes the handover process between our winter crew and the new people a lot easier.

    My handover to the new guy, Hayden, is in full swing. While he's a bit green in some areas, he's at least picking things up very quickly. We've got a project of fitting a new antenna tracking system to our satellite station next week, more handover and training followed by a bit of systems commissioning on my side. Then finally I might someday return to the real world at the end of October or early November. Less than a month to go, I can't believe how the time has flown.

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    The daylight hours continue to grow every day; sunrise today at 5:30AM and set at 10PM. In a couple of weeks it'll be permanent daylight once again but for now we're seeing some brilliant sunrises and sunsets. Thanks to Mike M for these fantastic photos.

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    Just when I thought I'd photographed Scott Base from nearly every conceivable angle, Mike took this evening photo of the Hatherton Lab at the west end of Scott Base.

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    Here's Hayden, who will be doing my job for the next year. About time I had a minion to do my bitch work!

    Summer_flag_cermony_8-10-11.jpg (107376 bytes)
    The official winter to summer handover ceremony held at the Scott Base flagpole on Saturday afternoon was a moving moment for myself and the other winter staff, some of whom will be returning home to NZ next week.

  • 2/10/11: With the summer crew just a day or two away it was time to give the place a decent tidy up. That included yet more snow shovelling. Certainly looking forward to seeing some friendly and enthusiastic new faces.

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    I'm running out of things to say about snow, but the sunshine and calm days are most welcome.

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    The compacted snow blocking this doorway took nearly two hours to clear, some rough going.

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    The north side of Scott Base, looking east.

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    I celebrated my 2nd consecutive birthday on the ice yesterday, 33 years young. Also just over a year since we landed here on the 30th of September last year. Thanks... I think, to Lance for the 'gay' birthday cake.