14 Mar - Bases A, W, O & R!
Date: Sunday 14 March 2004
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT -3): 67° 34' South 068° 08' West.
Currently at: Rothera Research Station
Distance sailed from Danco: 334 nmiles
Total distance sailed: 21640 nmiles
Current weather: Overcast, snow flurries
Sea State: Large swell
Wind: SW Force 2
Barometric pressure: 980.2 mmHg
Air temperature: -0.3°C
Sea temperature: 0.3°C
This Week on ES
Down the Antarctic Peninsula
After leaving Stanley we hit bad weather and rough seas through Drake's Passage down to the peninsula. Full marks to the FIDs and AWG boys on board for all contributing to the Golden Gash award given by Julia to this leg's gash teams (gash is getting rid of the rubbish and cleaning the ship, for those unfamiliar with BAS terms). So onwards we headed in a sparklingly clean ship, bound for the first of many bases...
Base A - Port Lockroy
64° 49' S 063° 30' W
Port Lockroy was one of the first two bases built by the forerunner of BAS, Operation Tabarin. Operation Tabarin was a wartime British expedition organised by the Admiralty and the Colonial Office which aimed to strengthen Britain's claims in the Antarctic regions. In 1945 it was renamed the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), which is where the nickname of FIDs (used for BAS employees down south) comes from.
Port Lockroy was operational between February 1944 and January 1962. Initially the research work carried out was survey work, geology, meteorology and botany, but from 1950 onwards the base was mainly used for ionospheric research.
In 1995 Port Lockroy was designated Historic Site No. 61 under the Antarctic Treaty. It was restored in 1996 and since then has been run as a summer only base by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. It is now a museum with a small shop and a Post Office, and is one of the two most visited tourist sites in the Antarctic.
Port Lockroy is built on a small island, Goudier Island, and is in the middle of a gentoo penguin colony. At the time of our visit, the chicks were nearly full grown and fully fledged and the smell of penguin guano was almost overpowering. We were there to close the base for winter and collect the band of staff who had been there for the season - Pete Milner, Rick Atkinson and Dave Wattam. We arrived at Port Lockroy on Tuesday but it was too windy for the work boat Tula so we dropped off Dave Burkitt, the film crew and John Shears in the FRC (Fast Rescue Craft) to spend the night on base. Another old BAS facility, Damoy Point, is just round the corner from Port Lockroy so a small team took the opportunity to go out in the FRC to inspect the state of the hut there.
The following morning there was a glorious sunrise and the weather, although overcast, was relatively calm and enabled us to get ashore easily in Tula. We collected the outgoing cargo and waste and set off to our next stop, Detaille Island.
Base W - Detaille Island
66° 52' S 066° 48' W
Base W, Detaille Island, was run by FIDS between February 1956 and March 1959. Its principal research areas were survey work, geology and meteorology. Ominously for us, it was evacuated in 1959 when the sea ice and weather made it too difficult for relief by ship (the John Biscoe). Forty five years later we hit similar problems and the bad weather made it impossible to put the Abandoned Bases team ashore with all their cargo.
So, time to think again - experience tells you that any plans for work down south must be flexible if nothing else. Plan B was put into action, and we all got back onto the ship and sped off through mountainous seas to Danco Island.
A story from Detaille...
When Detaille was abandoned in 1959, the hut was secured and the FIDs packed all they could onto sledges and proceeded out over the sea ice to the Biscoe. At that time, dog teams were the main method of propulsion. Unfortunately, one dog called Steve escaped when the party reached the ship, and ran away back to Detaille. The bitterly sad Detaille team couldn't catch him and had to leave him behind.
Almost three months later, the FIDs at Horseshoe Island (Base Y), 60 miles away, were surprised to see Steve running towards them. He was looking sleek and fit, and they surmised that he must have lived at Detaille on the abandoned pile of seals (which had been killed as dog food) over the first part of the winter. He had once before been in a sledging team which had travelled the complicated route 60 miles over sea ice and glaciers from Detaille to Horseshoe Island, and must have remembered the route from then.
Base O - Danco Island
64° 44' S 062° 36' W
Danco Island was occupied between February 1956 and February 1959. It was used as a base for survey and geological work but was closed when work in the locality was completed.
Since then, it has been used as a base by expeditions from other Antarctic programmes - for example, several Argentine parties have used it in recent years.
By the time we reached Danco on Friday morning, the bad weather was beginning to ease. After an initial recce, Tula was loaded with cargo and lowered into the water for the first of six runs ashore. Initially cargo operations were very difficult as there was a lot of ice around and the beach sloped very gradually, so that even with Tula's shallow draft we couldn't get as close to the shore as we wanted. A makeshift bridge was constructed using pallets and ramps, and those wearing wellies waded in a short way. However, as the tide rose later that afternoon things got a lot easier and we were able to shift the trickier bits of cargo.
Two pyramid tents were erected for the BAS personnel to stay in - the poles were dug in and everyone helped carry rocks over to weigh down the tent skirts. The gentoo penguins watched but didn't seem too perturbed by their new neighbours.
In the hut itself, John Taylor was busy constructing bunk beds for the AWG team to sleep in, while Shaggy was pulling his hair out (difficult with a shaved head!) trying to rid the floor of penguin guano. The stoves were lit and soon there was a cosy atmosphere and smoke coming out of the chimney. Sad to think that the hut will soon be gone, but signs of deterioration are visible everywhere and the logistics involved in maintaining the site would be almost impossible.
The hut has been well looked after by the teams and expedition parties who have stayed in it in recent years and many of them have kept it stocked with emergency food and supplies. A box of Shredded Wheat which must date from the 1950s still contains its original contents, which look almost fresh enough to eat. Mementos, notes and drawings from various visitors are stuck on the walls and there is still a small and rather dated library of paperback books.
The hut is situated amongst impressive scenery, with sharp peaks and large glaciers all around. At one point there was a loud thundering noise and we looked round to see a huge avalanche on the precipitous slopes opposite the island. Surrounding the base is a gentoo penguin colony, and during the day a leopard seal along with minke and humpback whales were spotted. The weather brightened up as the day progressed and with the calm seas and rising tide we kept working until 23:00, well after dark.
During the penultimate run of the day, the Kubota tractor was taken ashore. This must be one of the most well-travelled tractors ever, as it was used in the Fossil Bluff clean-up last season. For that job it had to be taken apart so that it could fit into a BAS Twin Otter aircraft and be flown out to the site. Transporting it this time was a wee bit easier - it was craned into Tula (making sure it was facing the right way) from the heli deck where it had been stored, then driven ashore down Tula's ramps by its AWG driver Nigel Blenkharn.
By the last trip we were getting so tired that even the Mate's coffee wasn't enough to keep us from yawning so it was a big relief to deposit the last of 10 full water tanks on shore and pootle back to the Ernest Shackleton. After a night spent stoogieing around to make sure that the twelve campers were happy, we set off south for Rothera - a bit of a contrast from old Base O.
Base R - Rothera Research Station
67° 34' S 068° 08' W
After yet another bumpy day and night during which few people slept, we arrived at Starbase Rothera. Rothera is by far the largest of the BAS research stations and for an ex-small-base-winterer like me, there seem to be thousands of people milling around. When we arrived on Sunday morning there was a huge swell and it was touch and go whether we could safely work cargo, but during the day the swell eased slightly and enabled cargo operations to start in earnest. So that's where we're at - twelve people marooned at Base O on a lonely island while the rest of us live it up at Base R...
Crewmen of the Week
This week we focus on the A/Bs - that's the Able Bodied Seamen. Dolly (John McGowan) was our first Crewman of the Week (11 Jan), promptimg my Mum to call him "Dishy Dolly", so here goes with the rest of them.
Nelly (Neil Sullivan) is 25 and lives in Southampton. Nelly has worked on BAS ships for 6 years including the good old Bransfield, the JCR and now the Ernest Shackleton. He's so good they keep asking him back...
Andy Campbell lives in Cleethorpes ("GY - the LA of the East Coast"). He's 37 and has a son called Marcos. Hi Marcos!
Tim Patterson is 34 and from Grimsby. He is known as "Gentle Tim" for his crane handling skills - he could probably pick up an egg safely if it had strops round it. He says hello to Zoe and Oliver back home. Here's a photo of Tim in the FRC at Halley.
Birthdays this week: John Taylor on the 12th March.
Forthcoming Events: Rothera final call and a full ship north.
Contributors this week:
Iain Airth - tractor and kitchen photos.
Chris Handy - photo of Tim
The source for most of the information about the BAS bases is Research Stations and Refuges of the British Antarctic Survey and its Predecessors (M.A. Martin/J. Rae) Edition 4, 2001
The story of Steve is set out in Sir Vivien Fuchs's book Of Ice and Men
Diary 25 should be available soon.
Bye for now, Sue D.