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At the start of February the RRS Ernest Shackleton was alongside some thick sea ice in the Drescher area, just over an hours flight from Halley. Having to fly cargo from the ship meant that only the essentials could be brought to the base. The cargo was quickly prioritised and the food was on the first flights. Science equipment and other essentials to keep the base running for another 12 months were then brought up.
When the aircraft arrived at the Halley skiway, their cargo was unloaded onto a German sledge and then towed to either the Laws platform if it was food, or to the smaller Simpson and Piggott platforms if it was science equipment. I was unpacking food as it arrived and putting it away in one of the stores. With nine flights on the first day it seemed like there was a constant stream of food arriving - it's surprising how much food sixteen people will eat in nine months.
When the ship had originally been packed in Grimsby in September, it was expected that the ship would be alongside the ice shelf near to the base and that all of the cargo would be brought up to the base. With only part of the cargo being flown in, the ships crew and the summer staff who remained on the ship had to hunt through the cargo to find the boxes that were needed. Thanks guys for doing an excellent job - it would have been really good to have had you here as well! Altogether there was almost 30 tons of cargo flown in and just over half of this was food.
The later flights brought some of the summer staff to the base. Many of these people work for the BAS Technical Services department and maintain the base. Much of the equipment that they needed was on the ship as it was too heavy and bulky to be flown in. In the short time that they were here they still managed to raise the melt tank, jack the CASLAB up, offset one of the legs on the Laws platform and get loads of base work done.
Whilst these flights were going on, people were keeping an eye on the ice so that if it cleared the ship could sail closer to Halley. The heavier cargo could then be off-loaded onto the ice shelf and towed to the base. The captain of the Ernest Shackleton, Captain Marshall, went on a flight over the ice one day to assess the situation for himself. Unfortunately whilst he was in the air, the weather became unsuitable for a return to the ship and so he had to land at Halley and we were lucky enough to have him as our guest for two days.
Those of us new to the base also experienced our first blow - for two days the wind was blowing at almost 40 knots (46 miles per hour). Above 15 knots loose snow on the surface is picked up and blown along, making the wind seem much worse than it is. There are posts every 20 metres between the buildings with a rope tied between them so that you have something to follow when the visibility is poor. When the winds were at their strongest I could only see a couple of posts ahead and I couldn't see the building that I was walking to. Much of the outside work had to stop during the blow and many of the holes that had been dug to offset the leg on the Laws platform were filled in with snow.
The ship had to leave Drescher on the 18th February to continue with its itinerary. Over the previous week people had returned to the ship by Twin Otter. By the last evening only the winterers, aircrew and four other people remained on the base. On the Monday morning we all travelled out to the skiway to wave them off. The plane that took them to the ship returned later in the day to refuel and then it too headed off to Rothera for the rest of the summer leaving just the seventeen of us who will be here until November. However two Dornier aircraft from the German Antarctic programme have since stopped off for two nights on their way to Rothera.
Since then the weather has been excellent. We've all been outside raising fuel drums out of the snow that they've become buried in over the last year. The first winter field trip has been out exploring the coast and learning how to camp in the Antarctic and how to travel over crevassed terrain. The second field trip has also now departed. As the Laws platform is not big enough to accommodate everyone here in the summer, we have Drewry building which is used for accommodation over the summer. During the winter it is shut down and used for storage. Shutting it down involves draining the plumbing system and removing anything that can be damaged by the cold. One evening before the melt tank, which is used to melt snow into water, was drained and cleaned we went for a bath in it. The water was at +25°C and it was fantastic looking out over the ice whilst drinking champagne to celebrate the start of our winter.
The sun went below the horizon for the first time during the middle of February. The sky in the evening is now full of really spectacular reds. The temperature is beginning to drop now. During the day the temperature is around -13°C although because of the really dry atmosphere it doesn't feel as cold as you would imagine. People have been making the most of the good weather with plenty of ski-during (being towed behind a skidoo on skis or a snowboard), nordic skiing, man-hauling (towing a small sledge whilst walking or skiing), running and kite flying. People have also been busy inside with circuit sessions in the gym, working in the dark room and we've even had a night of Roman entertainment.
Helloooo to everyone back in the UK!