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Halley Diary — September 2009

September saw the first attempt of building an Igloo to which a great deal of time and effort only rewarded us with a half built igloo, which would be nice to sleep in if it was not for −40°C temperatures. So on that note no one was willing to camp out, miserable lot!

Half an igloo (Photo by Doc Fiennes Gaynor)
Half an igloo (Photo by Doc Fiennes Gaynor)

This month I planned the sparkys/chippies workshop scrub out. Strange those as soon as you get the bucket and rags out, 10 people just magically disappear after spending most of the winter making little projects. They have been trickling back in ever since and I have tried to declare it a Clean Air Sector and issue work permits, to no avail.

Jacking the Laws platform (Photo by Suzie Fiennes Gaynor)
Jacking the Laws platform (Photo by Suzie Fiennes Gaynor)

We also got the orders to start the jacking of the Laws platform. Every year the Laws building needs jacking to bring it level again, so with blue skies and a nip in the air we jacked the building. Trying to catch a weather window to do this proved the most difficult and we had most people on base involved in the process as hands got cold very quickly. We have had some advantages though this year in comparison with previous years. Mainly as the snow is accumulating around the platform we could do some of the jacking standing on the snow surface.

Ags and the big Orange book (photo by Sue Fiennes Gaynor)
Ags and the big Orange book (photo by Sue Fiennes Gaynor)

We saw the birthday of our winter base commander Ags. In true style she declared the night to be on a Tropical theme complete with flowery shirts, surf shorts, Sunglasses and Cocktails. After a dinner of Ags’ choosing we settled down for a few drinks. It was then that weeks of scheming, plotting, preparation and a few last minute panics came together as John was able to bring out the big Orange book and say: “Aggy Bear this is NOT your life”. What followed much to Ags’ surprise was an hour long story of half truths and damned right lies about the pre BAS life of our WBC, followed by stories, photos, cards, video messages and phone messages from the many people who know, admire and have had the pleasure to spend time in Antarctica with her. We managed to get messages from both the JCR and Shackleton ships, Rothera, New Zealand and from many other places around the world. She was delighted. As various members of the base presented items, videos and told stories sent in Ags giggled, laughed, blushed and grinned through every one.

Niv and his birthday cake (Photo by Susanna Fiennes Gaynor)
Niv and his birthday cake (Photo by Susanna Fiennes Gaynor)

September has been a busy month for Niv our field assistant as he has had the pleasure to be taking people of base for the post mid-winter training trips. This is one of the great reasons for spending time south as we get the opportunity to do things many of us have never had access to. After spending months ‘locked’ into our local area it’s nice to go off base and see something different, even if it is more ice. Weather has played havoc with most so far and a few of the trips have remained based at the ‘Laws Caboose’ but spirits have remained high and any chance to get out was taken. Niv was due to be out off base for his birthday but weather played us a good favour and we managed to celebrate his day on base. The Doctor in true form made an amazing cake.

Drum raise coming back from Windy Bay (Photo by Suzie Fiennes Gaynor)
Drum raise coming back from Windy Bay (Photo by Suzie Fiennes Gaynor)

Taking advantage of the extended hours of day light and ever increasing temperatures we headed out onto the ice to raise the drum line to Windy Bay. Again it’s an ongoing battle with the accumulation of snow and ice. Anything that is left sitting around for too long just get buried and lost to the ice. Eager to get out and make the most of it a hardy team armed with a SnoCat and a sledge load of empty drums raced down to Windy Bay. Having planned in advance we took kit with us to have a quick visit to the Emperor Penguin colony. It was a stunning day and we all walked down a nice ramp onto the sea ice. It was great to see all the penguins with their chicks on their feet. Some were beginning to get a little big to stay on but were insistent on continuing to try.

So after our short visit we lumbered back up to the caboose and had some lunch and hot drinks to warm up and started our drum raise back to Station. Windy Bay is about 16km away and we have drums spaced roughly 300m apart. Each of these were buried to varying levels and some had all but disappeared. It was an amusing trip of radio calls and frantic waving at the driver when an unspotted drum was driven by. Some 5 hours later a bunch of weary but satisfied drum raisers arrived back at station to a brilliant curry made by John.

Emperor penguins at Windy Bay (Photo by Rob Johnson)
Emperor penguins at Windy Bay (Photo by Rob Johnson)

Just when we thought the Aurora season was over a tap on the door just after midnight confirmed our last chance to see this phenomenon. The moon was up and quite spectacular and the aurora moved and mesmerised us as it swept across the sky. It was strange to see it with the glow of the sun on the horizon.

Aurora (Photo by Rob Johnson)
Aurora (Photo by Rob Johnson)

This winter we have had our fair share of blows (when the wind is high and snow is blowing around). As mentioned earlier, this limits our ability to go off base and do anything but it doesn’t quash our spirit. In preparation for the summer and the excitement of having had some nice days, the picnic tables returned to their summer location. The next blow came in and our lovely tables were soon disappearing under the snow. Some brave souls still ventured out for a little windy weather.

Picnic in the snow (Photo by Susanna Fiennes Gaynor)
Picnic in the snow (Photo by Susanna Fiennes Gaynor)
Filming emperor penguins (Photo by Rob Johnson)
Filming emperor penguins (Photo by Rob Johnson)

As usual I have been spending most of my time filming and editing all the great sights that we are blessed with. It’s difficult here to capture the feeling and mood of the sights we see as the pictures or video just don’t express it as it is. It really doesn’t give justice to the remarkable place we call home.

Written by
R. Johnson (with a little help from John and Ags)