Halley Update: Work hard, Play hard

Last week has been quite busy here at Halley. All of us new Winterers have started our handovers – we only have about 10 weeks to pick up everything from people we’re replacing, after which time we need to be in position to independently run the station for 9 months without any external assistance. At the same time we’re all trying, and managing so far, to find some time to play as well. This post is a summary of what has been going on here on station over the last week or so.

Saturday Training

In the Summer, as the season is so short and there is a lot of work to be done, the working week is generally 5½ days long: Monday to Friday 0830 to 1800, and then Saturdays from 0830 till lunch time at 1300. Those Saturday mornings are, however, dedicated to all sorts of training for the Wintering Team – again all with the intention of preparing us as best as possible to running the station, dealing with any emergencies or anything Antarctica might throw at us during the winter.

Last Saturday we had the First Aid training, during which we ran through basic CPR and Rescue Breathing techniques, as well as looked at some of the other kit like the content of the emergency medical bag, various stretchers and how to use them, and so on.

The second half of the morning we went through the Breathing Apparatus equipment, which is a fancy name for all the fire kit we have. We practiced donning and using the equipment, which is not that dissimilar to diving gear with full face mask. We also went through the motions of a simple room search and rescue of Fred the Dead (our dummy casualty) and procedures for gas management, running the fire board (which contains all information about who went in, how much time they have, etc) and finally, after the drill, how to replace the air cylinders with new ones.

Working week

During the week, I had an opportunity to shadow the Comms Managers and learn the Radio Comms with the aircraft. First I was just listening to the way the Comms Managers and the Pilots talk over the HF radio, using correct radio protocol and then I got to practice providing the weather observations. I’m still very early in the process, and I still have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying it and can’t wait to do more. The whole Flight Following, as we call it, consists mainly of long periods of waiting with very short periods of activity, but it’s still a good fun talking to the Pilots.

Other than Flight Following, I’ve started my own work. I feel like I’m really well prepared for the Winter – I know exactly what I’m getting myself into work-wise, and my handover should hopefully be fairly easy. I need to find out what has changed since I left here last Summer, find out what the issues were so that I can stay on top of things, and just crack on with my job. I have a few interesting projects coming up – a good mix of software development, some design work and some implementation and testing work, as well as the usual daily maintenance. It’s all shaping up to be an interesting time.

Finally, as some of you may be aware, this summer is a beginning of the Halley Relocation project, where the Halley Station will be moved to a new site some 20 to 30km away from where we currently are. As Halley is located on an Ice Shelf, which by definition is not as stable as, say, rock, it is inevitable that some cracks or crevasses would form nearby. As it happens, one of them is not that far from the station and in order to avoid it making the relocation much more challenging in a few years time, BAS decided to move the station to a new site before it all becomes a problem. You can read more information from the official source at BAS. Halley move does have implications for my work as well, as this season is when all the preparation work is being done. Some of that prep work is just general infrastructure related, but each of us will also have their own tasks in their own areas to cover. Like I said, it is going to be an interesting time and I’ll make sure to update you guys on how things go.

Some off-time activities

We also spent some time in the evenings and over the weekend playing. I went out a few times to do some kite skiing and I’m happy to report that it finally all clicked and fell in together. I’m getting much more confident and comfortable skiing while controlling the kite for propulsion – it’s great fun and I hope to get some pictures soon.

We’ve been blessed with the weather so far, with only one or two days of high-ish winds and bad visibility. Now that I’m so happy kite skiing, my ideal weather would be 15 knots and sunshine, but we also had a few days with no or very little wind, and on those we do skijoring. Skijoring, in the Antarctic parlance, is an act of being dragged behind the skidoo, while using skis, a snowboard, a buggy, or anything else that you can use to slide on the snow. It’s almost as good fun as kiting!

Next week

This weekend we have our Wintering Team Field training, which means we will go off as a full team over to the Creeks (a site located at the edge of the Ice Shelf) to practice camp craft (pitching and folding tents, cooking, using the sleeping system), crevasse rescue, roped travel (both on foot as well as on the skidoo) and maybe do some ice climbing as well if the time and weather permit.

Project Antarctica366

Finally, it’s been a week since I’ve started my new photo a day project, Antarctica366, and it is going well. I do find it difficult sometimes to think of what to take a picture of, I have a few ideas in my head but they require either a particular time, light, or simply an event to happen. I hope I can persevere – it’s a bit more challenging than I thought, but I’m not giving up. I have already noticed, running a photo a day type project forces me to think in advance and plan ahead, in contrast to the more opportunistic type of photography which I’m used to.

You can see the results of the project so far on my photography website. And please do let me know what you think!

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