26/10/2014: Here's something a bit new; Matt Windsor,
one of my helpers from the various work out and about last week, has put
together a short four-minute video of the repeater work in the Dry Valleys
last week. It's high resolution and 600MB in size, which means it'll take
a few hours for you to download it. But if you can spare the bandwidth, it's
easily worth the wait. To download it, right click
and select "Save target as..." or "Save Link As". If I can figure out how,
or work up enough motivation to, I might make a much smaller low-resolution
copy to cut down the download waiting time.
Anyway, it's been another one of those hurry up and wait weeks. Due to much
bad weather in the forecast, some of which has come through, some which hasn't;
we've not seen any aircraft movements since last Sunday, meaning no freight
deliveries, a bunch of people anxiously waiting to go home, and large groups of
science event staff itching to get down here to begin their work for the
summer. Things are looking semi-promising for the flight today, so if flights
do happen, we'll have 18 people arrive today and another 16 tomorrow. I
suspect things will rapidly change from quiet to chaotic with multiple science
groups all arriving at once, each bringing with them a new set of demands for
what communications bits and pieces they want, or what bit of specialist
equipment they solely rely on and they've only just realised now it's been
broken for the past year and need to go out into the field now and so can I
fix it right now without any parts or information. Clearly I could rant about
this for some time, but will spare you the agony. In fact most of the science
groups are actually quite good.
Last sunset this week as well, meaning the sun is above the horizon 24 hours
per day until late February next year. They had the annual last sunset party
in the Scott Base bar last night, which was decided to be a Mexican dress-up
theme. I'm not at all a fan of dress-up, so came dressed in my normal clothes;
shorts and T-shirt. My story was that I was dressed up as a bottle of Corona
beer, i.e. very plain and ordinary.
As a result of the lack of freight movement, Scott Base ran out of coffee beans
this week, which is a major show stopper. Fortunately the Antarctic Heritage
Trust girls came through with their stash, which kept us going for a few days.
Then someone arrived back from McMurdo Station yesterday with a 5kg sack of
coffee beans. Ask no questions, get no lies.
Flight delay notifications have been a dominating subject on the notice board
this week, much to the annoyance of the TV3 crew trying to get back to NZ, plus
a few others. But those waiting to get back to Christchurch have been filling
in their time in various ways, including vacuuming carpets and helping in the
kitchen. In the case of the TV3 crew, they've been making various short videos
for presentation on the TV3 news this week. They came and filmed my morning 9AM
radio show the other day, also known as the 9 o'clock rant. Clearly I have a
face for radio, not TV. For those interested, apparently you can see this online
In an ever repeating cycle, the weather forecast has been constant doom and
gloom, causing the week of flight delays. Some of the bad weather comes through
as forecast, some of it doesn't. As an example, yesterday they made the call of
winds gusting to 40 knots, cloudy skies and quarter mile visibility in blowing
snow. And this shot is the actual weather yesterday. Needless to say, there are
some fairly unpopular weather forecasters at McMurdo at present.
That also means that my predecessor, Grumps, has been waiting all week to get
back home to NZ after being here for 13 months. Not that he's overly worried,
he's still getting paid. Plus he's been helping me out with various odd jobs
all week, such as working on the lone worker/man-down decoder unit, pictured
above, which sets off an alarm in the communications office if a user's radio
detects the user has fallen over and been inactive for some time.
Another job this week was the EMR (electromagnetic radiation) survey of various
transmitting antennas and RADAR units in Hagglunds. Someone had raised safety
concerns that sitting inside the Hagglund with the RADAR going gave you cancer.
So here I am above with a radiation monitor unit, putting that myth to bed.
Thanks to Becky for the photo, she's got a flash new camera and was trying out
all the different functions, including the dramatic contrast captured by
monochrome photography. I probably look a bit pissed off in this shot because
it was a bit nippy with 15 knots of -20C wind in your face.
Another dramatic monochrome photo from Becky. Some of the storms this week
brought a fair dump of snow; here is one of the vehicle mechanics clearing
off one of the trucks.
At times, it's been nice enough after work for a bit of recreation. Here's
Molly on his fat tyre snow bike.
An increasingly popular recreational activity is kite skiing on the sea ice.
Not sure if I'd have the patience, some of these guys spend more time
untangling big balls of kite strings and fixing torn and broken bits than
they have the kite in the air.
19/10/2014: Fire training eventually finished at the
start of the week, so as much as we all like them, we were glad to see the
three fire trainers leave for home. Since then there's been much catching
up on a lot of work that had been hampered by the many fire drills and fire
training scenarios from the previous week.
Something a little different with this season is the early arrival of the
pilot from Southern Lakes Helicopters and their B3 Squirrel helicopter,
This means I was able to begin the repeater put-in work early this summer, which
was completed in record time over three days this week. Usually there are
frequent delays due to bad weather, which we had, but the few bad weather
days we did have arrived at just the right time to allow me to keep on top of
things. Another job thrown into the mix was establishing a new repeater at
Cape Roberts for the NIWA dive event
next month. They're operating in an area which is hidden from the rest of
our usual VHF radio network, so this new temporary site provides them with
essential radio communications for their month long expedition in the field.
So in summary, it's been a busy and productive week. Things will only get
busier from now on as more science events begin arriving. Demands will
certainly be on the rise.
Lots of photos from much out and about work this week, so be patient while
waiting for these to transfer from the web server.
Monday was too cloudy to fly to Hoopers Shoulder on Mt Erebus, but it was
nice enough to get the equipment installed at our Black Island remote HF
receiver site for the summer. This is the equipment shelter with the delta
antenna in the background. Everything is solar powered. Faint HF signals
are received from over 1000km away at this electrically quiet site and
the received audio is sent to Scott Base 30km away over UHF FM links.
Part of the repeater put-in work every summer is inspecting everything for
any damage that may have happened over the winter. It's fairly common to
find solar modules ripped off in severe storms, damaged antennas and more.
Fortunately Black Island was mostly in good shape this time, aside from
this corroded N-type connector. The centre pin should be a shiny gold
colour, not black. It's probably had moisture in it over summer where the
temperature can often get above zero degrees, causing the accumulated snow
to melt and get everything wet. Fortunately only a minute or two to fit
a brand new connector. With each site visit you always take a collection
of tools and various small parts for jobs such as this.
Late on Tuesday afternoon the cloud cleared enough for us to land at
Hoopers Shoulder at 2185m on the western side of Mt Erebus. The equipment
shelter is still there and nothing appears to be missing from the tower,
so that's always a good start. I was dreading visiting the site as most
often it's miserably cold and windy at the best of times. We had about
-26C at Scott Base and a freezing 15 knot wind, so usually you'd expect
it to be even colder and windier up on the mountain. However, I was
pleasantly surprised; there was no wind at all and it was much warmer
than Scott Base, -21C. A genuinely stunning day.
This is what's inside the shelter over winter; a solar regulator and
empty rack frame full of wiring. They've my gloves on the floor,
needed to take them off to use the camera. Although the small hut is
well sealed, there are a few tiny gaps in the cable entry holes just
above the floor. When the wind howls, the snow gets pushed in through
the smallest of gaps.
Our pilot, Heff, was understandably annoyed about the prospect of carrying
over 300kg of batteries and radio equipment from the helicopter to the site
over many icy rocks. He said "I'll be back in a minute..." and found a much
closer spot to land among the rocks.
Usually the only good thing about being up Mt Erebus is the magnificent view.
Little wonder why this radio site has the best coverage of the McMurdo Sound
region. This view is looking north-west over the edge of the sea ice. The
blue wiggly stuff on the right hand side is open ocean, full of killer whales
and other menaces from the deep.
People are always asking me for photos of landscapes, cutesy animals and other
shite, which I hate. I like pictures of radios, antennas and other work. So
this photo is a way to keep everyone happy. Mt Discovery is just below the
8-element UHF yagi while Scott Base is barely a single green pixel somewhere at
the end of the Hut Point Peninsula, jutting out from the lower left corner.
Alright, one last landscape photo. Thursday was a huge day work-wise. Got the
three Dry Valleys sites installed including a lot of maintenance work along the
way. This is the eastward view up the Taylor Valley from the radio site at
Mt JJ Thomson.
At Mt Cerberus we had enough ground time to complete a number of long
outstanding jobs, including fitting a third 64W solar module. This site
is due to have some heavy use this summer, plus in recent years has received
barely enough sun at times to keep the batteries charged.
After two hours on the ground, our maintenance work was complete and the
low cloud that had hung about all morning lifted, blessing us with a sunny
afternoon. Still a bit nippy on site at -30C.
The helicopter fuel gauge was nearing E for enough, as opposed to F for
uhhh.... not very much at all, so we called in to see the Americans at
the Marble Point refuelling depot for 10 minutes. The blue flags indicate
a fuel line. The wind sock indicates ground wind speed and direction to
the many pilots landing daily for a fuel top up and a hot coffee.
A new job was the installation of a newly built linked repeater for the
NIWA dive event at Cape Roberts. I'd done the signal path calculations
but still needed to measure the signal level in a couple of places, plus
work out the terrain that the repeater was going to be on so we could
prepare suitable ground anchors. This is the view from the helicopter
flying alongside the Couloir Cliffs at Cape Roberts.
Most of the 2014 winter crew departed Scott Base last week, though my
predecessor, Grumps, stuck around for a while longer to give me a hand
with some of the recent work. Plus as he'd been assembling the drop-in
repeater for the last month or two, he wanted to see the actual
installation of the new equipment. This is Grumps carrying the portable
repeater box at the new site at Cape Roberts. The box contains a Tait
T735 VHF duplex repeater linked to a Tait T754 UHF mobile radio for
linking to the rest of the radio network back to Scott Base.
After a couple of hours of set up and assembly, the temporary Cape Roberts
repeater was complete and all working as expected. It's on top of a glacier,
about 300m above the sea ice. The top surface is hard packed snow. To make
anchors for the antenna mast stays, we dig a hole in the snow about a metre
deep, fill a small canvas bag with snow, tie a rope around it then bury it
in the hole. It's surprisingly sturdy.
After an hours flight back home, I gave the pilot a hand to put the
helicopter to bed. There was a storm forecasted for the following day,
which came through stronger than expected. The helicopter needs to be tied
to the ground at the McMurdo landing site, it's plugged in to keep things
warm and the red covers keep snow from blowing inside the engine and rotor
In addition we have a reporter and camera operator from TV3 down at present;
they've been doing live broadcasts from Scott Base most days. Here they are
outside on the deck presenting something for the 6PM news yesterday evening.
12/10/2014: Possibly not a good sign when memory
loss of the past week and the lack of any new photos is happening already.
But after a week of less than ideal weather, the flight from Christchurch
finally arrived, bringing in around 17 new staff and contractors for various
early season work. Good to see a few familiar faces in the bunch of
Among the arrivals were the three NZFS trainers, so one of the many
focuses/distractions for the week has been ongoing fire training and fire
drills. Although this training is important, it's pretty hard getting
any significant work done when the fire alarm keeps going off, so you have
to drop whatever you're doing, go to the fire assembly area, then
invariably end up as part of the fire crew attending the training scenario,
followed by an hour of tidy-up and debrief.
Aside from that, much of the working week has been helping my predecessor,
Grumps, finish various cabling jobs from winter. He's very methodical and
does an excellent job of the cabling and associated documentation, so as
a result, things really are in excellent shape.
Weather wise it's been a mixed bag with everything from condition 1 weather
(very strong winds and next to no visibility) on Thursday night, through to a
magical bluebird day yesterday with warm temperatures (-15C) and little wind.
I was planning a stroll out last night, but as always, I seem to get stuck on
fire crew whenever the weather is nice.
On the plus side, we had our first band room session on Friday night. A
couple of our Scott Base crew can pump out some fairly decent vocals, so it
looks quite probable we can get something semi-worthy together for IceStock
at the end of December. As expected, our first practice session sounded
pretty crap, but we've already got a bit of material to build on. It's
surprisingly hard to do music/band stuff over summer, because nearly everyone
is busy with something else after work, the McMurdo band room is always booked
out at the only time you can get everyone together, or everyone is stuck on
fire crew. However, despite these odds, I'll see what we can do. Fingers
One of the base tasks jobs from yesterday was digging out the PB300 Pisten
Bully (far right). This photo was before the condition 1 storm on Thursday.
I forgot to get another photo afterwards, but it was just a big snow groomer
shaped pile of white.
The typical view out the dining room window; blue sky up top with hazy fog
over the sea ice blocking the view over the ice shelf towards White Island.
The refurbished administration area has just been completed. It's now looking
like a modern open-plan office. With retro orange desk partitions. I'm sure
they'll soon come back into fashion along with Grandma's 1960s orange formica
dining room table.
Grumps has just completed the data and telephone cabling for this new office
area. An outstanding tidy job as you can clearly see, a far cry from the
previous birds nest which had evolved badly. The hardest part is keeping it
in this condition. I've seen it too many times where you complete a job to
perfection, then a year later you return to find someone has made a mess of
adding other cables, or have just pulled it apart for no obvious reason.
Becky is back again and this time she has an even flasher camera along with
much more passion for photography than I'll ever have. Here's a brilliant
panorama shot taken from the top of Observation Hill just after the condition
1 storm on Thursday. McMurdo Station on the left, Scott Base only just visible
in the upper right. Crater Hill and the wind farm seen just right of centre.
Click on the image to see it in higher resolution.
5/10/2014: It's not taken long to settle back in to
Scott Base, almost as though I've not been away for the last 11 months.
It's actually quite good to be back. The place appears to be in great
shape, the winter crew have done a great job.
Celebrated my 5th consecutive birthday here on Wednesday, complete with
bacon wrapped sausage rolls for morning tea and a chocolate and bacon cake
in the shape of a pig for after dinner desert. The chefs really are too
Other than that it's been a relaxed start to the season. The handover
with my predecessor, Grumps, was even swifter than expected. There haven't
been too many changes over winter, aside from the upgrade/renovation
of the administration area; so aside from that, everything is how I left
it last October.
The start of the new season also means time for the Antarctica Field Training
refresher. This is nearly a full day of playing with tents, outdoor cookers,
making snow shelters and acting out a few emergency scenarios. It was pretty
low key, but quite a bit of fun thanks to the pleasant weather on the day.
Righto, less typing, more photos....
Boarding the C17 at Christchurch on Tuesday. Pick a seat and jump in.
There were about 123 of us on the flight, mostly Americans bound for
Five hours later, the aircraft landed and everyone got out. We were
instructed that it was a "hot landing" where they kept the jet engines
running while unloading/reloading the aircraft. They said not to stop
to take photos near the aircraft, else things could get sucked into the
engines. Certainly was one of those moments where I wished there were
a bunch of those annoying handbag-yapper dogs about.
We were met at the Pegasus airfield by some of the Scott Base winter
staff. Into the Toyota Land Cruisers for the 40-minute ride to
Scott Base. A nice day for it actually, turns out we had a short
lived gap in the weather. Only -15C and no wind. Since then it's
been mostly cloudy and quite a bit of heavy snow, so there's been no
incoming flights; they've all been on weather delay since our arrival.
Approaching the green buildings of Scott Base from the road along the
ice shelf. No idea what the while buildings in the foreground are for,
they belong to the Americans.
A couple of days after arriving, it was time for the Antarctic Field
Skills refresher. We had another fortunate break in the weather for most
of the day. Even caught this rare glimpse of Mt Erebus which has otherwise
been shrouded in heavy cloud all week.
So we headed out in a couple of Hagglunds for the field skills refresher.
First up is a spot of lunch.
One of the scenarios we had was being caught in an unexpected wind storm.
We had 15 minutes to build a make-shift emergency shelter using only a
shovel. Here's Alec, me old china, who opted to build a kind of snow tomb.
Another scenario was something about remembering how to set up one of these
tents in five minutes. Was probably four years ago since I last did,
hence I was struggling to remember the details. Thought I was making a right
arse of it until I looked around to see how badly everyone else was doing.
Yesterday was the annual winter to summer handover ceremony at the flagpole.
The small winter flag is lowered and replaced by a big new summer one, hoisted
by the youngest person on base. Followed afterwards by drinks and nibbles
in the bar.