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11 Feb - Halley Relief by a Man on a Bicycle

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC - 3 hours: 75°28' South. 036°98' West.
Next destination: Signy station, South Orkney Islands.
ETA: 18 February 2001 - Dependent on the departure from Halley.
Distance to go: 1,287.7 nautical miles (approximately).
Total Distance Sailed: 17,689.9 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).
Current weather: Very cloudy but still enjoying 24 hours of daylight.
Wind: Light airs.
Barometric pressure: 995.2 hp/mb.
Sea state: Flat calm alongside Creek 6 Halley.
Air temperature: -2.9°C.
Sea temperature: -1.6°C.

After the Doom, Gloom, and Despondency, of last week's web page, the least said about Sunday, Monday and Tuesday this week, the better. We will not mention the continued rocking and rolling around in the South Atlantic swells and move right along to our arrival in the Weddell Sea and off the ice shelves of Antarctica.

Much deliberation ensued from the Ship to Halley station and from the station to the Ship as to where the second call relief would take place. The difficulty being that the sea ice which attaches itself to the Brunt Ice Shelf had all but disappeared, in keeping with the changes of the seasons. Without sea ice to moor up against, the ship was looking at having to do the Halley relief 'stood off', whilst the cargo and personnel were landed and collected by the workboat Tula. This arduous operation was not the preferred option and so a reconnaissance of the immediate creeks at the ice edge were undertaken by land and air to establish the best possible options.

N9 is a location some 55 km removed from Halley station. This has been used in previous years as an alternative to the creeks closer to Halley. The obvious disadvantage is that it takes the best part of four hours in a Sno-cat to cover the distance and so a turn-around would take the best part of a day. This being in comparison with the 45 minute turn-arounds that were achieved from Creek 4 during the last call. It rapidly became apparent that N9 is only used as a last resort. However the Captain elected to look at N9, and on a VERY SUNNY Wednesday morning, we arrived at 0800 hours to survey the ice edge and contemplate the working possibilities.

The arrival at N9. Click on image to enlarge The edge of the ice. Click on image to enlarge The height and slope which made it un-workable. Click on image to enlarge

The arrival at N9, the edge of the ice, and the height and slope which made it un-workable.
Click on the images to enlarge.

We only stayed at N9 long enough to establish that the ice edge was going to make it difficult to effect a relief there. The main problem was the estimated 30-degree slope down to the ice edge. It would not take a great deal of imagination to guess what would happen to heavy vehicles moving down a steep, slippery slope to the edge of the ice, if a problem developed. So by 0930 hours we left the area and started coasting down the shelf edge towards the Halley creeks.

What a brilliant day for a cruise. The views were spectacular and more crabeater seals and penguins were in evidence as they basked and sunned themselves on the passing ice floes. After tales of rough seas and reduced visibility, it is refreshing to report that we were enjoying brilliant weather whilst the UK was under a cloud of gloom once more, and floods were forecast.

The arrival at Halley was remarkable. We initially inspected each of the Creek 6, Creek 5, Creek 4, and Creek 3. Creek 5 was non-existent. Creek 6 had an amount of ice and brash in the way of the ice edge. Creek 3 was just plain unworkable, and Creek 4 looked like the best option. Creek 4 had no sea ice left, but looked in a similar condition to that of March last year, where we had been able to tie alongside the truncated ramp and work the cargo directly onto an area that the Halley station personnel had already prepared with a Bulldozer.

We siddled in using bow and stern thrusters and slowly closed with the ice edge. There was no real problem with sea ice being in the way, but the "docking" was immediately aborted when we were alongside and found a 'foot' of ice protruding under the water and holding us away from the surface ice. This meant a very large gap of water between the vessel and the prepared ground where the Base GAs were waiting for us to tie up alongside.

Hence it was over to Creek 6 some ½ mile away to see if we would have any better luck there.

There was still sea ice here, and the brash and floes had started to move out of the Creek. Again we used bow and stern thrusters to crab our way alongside the ice ramp and this time we were successful in getting right along the ice edge. Not without an amazing feat of navigation from the Captain and the Officers of the watch who managed to put the ship into a 'parking space' that was only a few feet bigger than the vessel itself. It was 'touch and go' for a while as to whether we were going to fit, but the pictures below show how we came to be moored alongside Creek 6 as snug as a bug in a rug !!!

Click on the images, but don't enlarge the pictures TOO MUCH, there is not enough space !

On approach. Click on image to enlarge Alongside viewed from the ramp. Click on image to enlarge
Viewed from the sea. Click on image to enlarge The clearance at the aft end viewed from the helideck. Click on image to enlarge

CREEK 6. On approach. Alongside viewed from the ramp, viewed from the sea, and the clearance at the aft end viewed from the helideck. Breathe In !!.

How to Make an Antarctic Gin and Tonic.


1. Take glass.

2. Take ice tongs

3. Lean over back of the Helideck and fill glass with ice.

4. Add gin.

5. Add tonic to taste.

6. Drink.

7. Repeat above process !


P.S. Do not try this at home without the aid of a safety net - pictured above.

One of our Flags is missing !

Once alongside and secure - as secure as two tentative breast lines will allow - we would continue to 'hold' our position alongside by constantly 'thrusting' against the ice edge with bow and stern thrusters and even a slight forward propulsion with the main propeller to keep the breast lines taught. The procedure for drilling holes and putting 'mooring posts' into the ice has been covered in last season's webpages, so I will not repeat the detail. But no sooner had we completed the mooring operations than cracks started appearing in the ice by the side of the ship. Only small cracks to begin with, but worrying enough to ensure a careful watch to monitor their condition, and even a couple of black flags to mark the 'keep clear' area for the Sno-cat drivers working on the sea ice. It was funny how one of these flags, put carefully into the start of a crack, simply disappeared through it during the course of the day - whoops !

The cargo work began immediately, with the small amount of Halley cargo rapidly discharged, with the next order of priority to get those heavy vehicles down from the station and loaded onboard while the sea ice conditions held. These being by far the heaviest and most important of the cargo. This was effected on the first day and the remainder of Wednesday continued with the loading of all the cargo destined for Cambridge including ice cores and rock samples and boxes of scientific data being returned from the field. Next in priority was more of those favoured empty Avtur drums. One hundred empty drums destined for Rothera station on the Antarctic Peninsula and another 320 to be recycled by Stanley Services on the Falkland Islands.

Cargo work continued throughout Thursday and Friday and saw waste skips, landfill and waste cargo swallowed up by the hold and finally personal baggage and out-going personnel were embarked. Not all the personnel arrived at once. Simon, the out-going Winter Base Commander and Lil, the out-going Base Doctor came onboard almost immediately, but the majority of Halley station personnel waited until Saturday and Sunday. The last of them are onboard on Monday which means that we plan to leave on Monday evening - weather and ice conditions permitting.

With the cargo securing completed by Saturday afternoon, the Captain and the Base Commander discussed the situation and allowed crew members to visit Halley station, and another contingent to go out and 'test' the Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) around the ice edge.

Capt Kilroy. Click on image to enlarge Mate Mick Quinn. Click on image to enlarge

Capt Kilroy and Mate Mick Quinn on board.
Click on the images to enlarge.

Under the command of Second Officer 'Capt Kilroy', the FRC took Andy Third Officer along with Mick the Chef and Mark the Senior Steward for a 'jolly' off down the coast and around the creeks. Your on board photographer was Ex-Halley Dr Lil Ng.

Ice Shelf Wildlife - 1. Click on image to enlarge Ice Shelf Wildlife - 2. Click on image to enlarge Ice Shelf Wildlife - 3. Click on image to enlarge

Click on Images to Enlarge the Ice Shelf Wildlife !

It was a perfect day for a jolly by all accounts and wildlife was very much in evidence including this group of lively penguins who gave an excellent diving display by disappearing over the edge only to jump back out of the water seconds later. Lil even managed to snap these characters in mid-flight as they emerged from the icy waters to belly-flop onto the ice again. Check-out the third photograph carefully to see them airborne. Well done Lil.

A Radio Officer's exploits on two wheels.

The Radio Officers Bike. Click on image to enlarge Click on the spokes to see the rust !
This is my bike. It's not a particularly GOOD bike, but it is MY bike. I bought it in Vietnam while working on a cruise ship, and subsequently travelled all around the world taking my bike with me. From Vietnam, it has cycled up the foothills of Townsville, Australia, around Hong Kong, through the jungles of Myamar, across the island of Rhodes, through the streets of Venice (a task in itself ?!) and across the deserts of Arabia - to name but a few. My friend - who has cycled even further afield than I, hates my little 'vietnamese flyer' and has long since said it should be 'put out of its misery' which has steeled me to my latest endeavour - To Cycle Across The Ice Of Antarctica!

I am not the first person to attempt this, and I am sure I will not be the last, (some chap wants to cycle to the South Pole ?!) but having heard of Dave Gooberman's efforts (currently on RRS James Clark Ross), I was determined to add my name to this select group of individuals who have used man-propelled transport to travel the distance between Halley station and the coast. But I cheated ! I took the cycle up to the station in a German sledge, pulled by a Sno-cat, so that my one-way trip would finish at the coast, at the ship, and culminate in a warm shower afterwards. I intended arriving at the Ernest Shackleton very sweaty.

The Cycle on test at Creek 4. Click on image to enlarge During the attempt from Halley to Creek 6. Click on image to enlarge

The Cycle on test at Creek 4 and during the attempt from Halley to Creek 6.
Click on the images to enlarge.

I had given the bike a thorough 'going over' and previously tested it at Creek 4 this season, just to check the viability of thin wheels on soft snow. In a small test ride up the Creek 4 I ended up as a sweaty-mess and very tired due to the effort required to make those spinning wheels provide traction across the ice. But on Sunday morning 11 February, I departed from the Laws Building at Halley and set off on the 15 km trek across the white wilderness to 'home'.

I was prepared. I had obtained permission from both the Captain and Base Commander in advance and carried a VHF radio to keep in contact throughout the route. I had a rucksack full of essentials like spare shirts, spare socks, tools, spare inner tubes, and CHOCOLATE. No budding cyclist should attempt this without the prerequisite of Chocolate !

The morning was cold and 'sharp' with heavy cloud cover overhead but the wind was light and the weather was otherwise fine. My main problem was contrast. I have head many concerns about 'contrast' from GA's crossing the ice or the Pilots attempting landings here with their aircraft, but I never really appreciated what a lack of contrast meant until today. My main means of succeeding in this journey was to follow in the tracks of the German sledges that had traversed the route and therefore compacted the soft surface snow to provide a more-solid surface for the bike tyres. Once in these tracks, it was simply a matter of staying in them to avoid 'bogging down' in soft stuff and coming to a complete and abrupt halt. But how to stay in those tracks. Due to the contrast, the tracks could be seen for about two feet ahead and then 'total white out'. As I progressed along my way, I had to trust to instinct and judge that these tracks would keep going straight ahead. Many was the time when the Sno-cat before me had veered away from the straight and narrow and I simply careered forward into the slushy snow and grappled to avoid going over the handlebars ! But it worked. By perserverance and hard work, I managed to leave the Base at 10.00 am and fight my way across the Bondu to the ship arriving - as expected - sweaty and exhausted - by 1120 am. I must add that I will definitely NOT be applying for the part-time job of newspaper-boy here at Halley !!! My beard was covered in icicles, my nose was feeling the cold, and inside all those Antarctic insulating layers of clothing, I was sweaty and uncomfortable. This was soon remedied by the aforesaid hot shower on the ship - ahhh bliss.

I can now consider myself a member of Dave Gooberman's Antarctic Cycling fraternity, and the 'vietnamese flyer' has proved itself a worthy machine. So for my cycling friend back home,... BEAT THAT !

Author Steve 'Biking' Buxton.

No cycling for PB Bear this week. PB Bear has more sense. PB took a leisurely Sno-cat ride up to Halley station and back again to prove to us that he had been there before. Up until now, we could only take his word for it, that he was flown into Halley by Twin Otter aircraft before Christmas and had made friends with many of the folk up there. But this time he took the ship's camera and we cannot dispute that this little bear knows his way around. He could teach the crew a thing or two about getting around an Antarctic Base. Click on the images to enlarge.

PB Bear shows the way home FROM Halley. Click on image to enlarge PB Bear shows the way home FROM Halley !
Only 14255 miles away to the north !

PB Bear shows the way home TO Halley. Click on image to enlarge PB Bear shows the way home TO Halley !
Only 14255 millimeters in the reverse direction.

PB Bear shows the best way to go ANYWHERE. Click on image to enlarge PB Bear shows the best way to go ANYWHERE.
Forget the bicycle. Who needs a bike when you have a SKIDOO !!!.

PLEASE NOTE : For any children looking at this at home, PB Bear CAN go outside in his pyjamas down in Antarctica. Remember that he has his own insulating coat and where the BAS Personnel would freeze before they could get as far as the signpost, PB is naturally adapted to the cool cool temperatures of Antarctica. PB Bear has many friends up at the North Pole who also carry their own Arctic clothing around with them all the time (and their pyjamas ???).

Forthcoming events : Depart Halley with all out-going personnel onboard and steam towards Signy. As time and weather allow, attempt the recovery of the POL Buoy in position 61°South 47°West, to the west of the South Orkneys.

Contributors this week : Many thanks to Dr.Lil Ng for the FRC photographs and to Dr.Tom on Base for the PB Bear photographs. And to 'my bike' for giving me a jolly to write about.

And Finally, it only remains for everyone onboard RRS Ernest Shackleton to wish their wives and loved ones a very Happy Valentine's Day on the 14 February. You will be in our thoughts and hearts. Have a nice one.

Diary 18 will be written on 18 February 2001 and should be published on 19 February 2001.

Steve B 11 February 2001

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