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04 Apr - Otter Recovery

Date: Sunday 4th April 2004
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT -3): 63° 01' South 060° 31' West.
Currently at: Deception Island
Next destination: Danco Island
ETA: 0700h, Monday 5th April 2004
Distance to go: 131.3 nmiles
Total distance sailed: 23907 nmiles

Current weather: Overcast, fine and clear
Sea State: Calm seas and sheltered waters
Wind: EbN, Force 3
Barometric pressure: 988.4 mmHg
Air temperature: 1.5°C
Sea temperature: 0.9°C

 We are here Click to see position map.

This Week on ES

Drake's Passage - a bumpy ride, by Jane Nash

Last Sunday saw us heading back south across Drake's Passage and towards Danco Island. The contrast from our previous crossing almost a week earlier could not have been greater. The wind reached Force 12 at one stage and the swell was enormous.

It was as if a little demon had been let loose in every room and every cabin. Anything that was not firmly lashed to something or securely put away was lifted up and hurled across the room. People were doing starfish impressions trying to remain in their beds. How on earth the chefs managed to produce their usual wonderful fare is an utter miracle.

Waking on Tuesday morning was utter bliss. Everything was stationary (relatively) and I felt physically well, and HUNGRY!! We had survived another crossing of Drake's Passage and the abandoned bases clean- up awaited us all.


Life in the Danco Camp

by Shaggy (Stu McMillan)

After our stay at Detaille was aborted due to bad weather it was decided to go back up the Peninsula and try our luck at Danco Island. This was because the bases location is very sheltered and the building itself was rumoured to be habitable meaning the Shackleton could drop us and all the equipment in a day and leave for Rothera straight away. Most of the clean up team could then live in the hut until the main camp was set up.

On arrival we found the hut to be bone dry and in near perfect condition apart from evidence of penguins that had taken refuge in the not to distant past and had a very poor attitude to personal hygiene. After a good scrub down the kitchen and bunk rooms were looking much better within a couple of hours. Meanwhile JT (John Taylor) our expert on anything that relied on combustion fired up the range and wood stove and soon the building had warmed up nicely. The first meal was a little tricky to cook but we finally tucked into spag bol at 10.30 before 8 of us retired to a now sub tropical bunk room with the remaining 4 sleeping in pyramid tents.

 The Danco team eating in the Weatherport The inhabitants of Danco tucking into one of Shaggy's meals - click to see image

During the next few days everyone got stuck into various jobs. Dewi (Edwards) and JT made more improvements to the kitchen including running water and gas cooker while Dave "Mitch" Mitchell worked on electricity. Nigel (Blenkham) started to build a jetty on his beloved Kubota mini-tractor. The rest of the AWG team started to erect the Weatherport campsite behind the main hut. The loft was full of old food tins and other artefacts so Dave Burkitt and Pete Milner started to clear that out and work on what needed keeping. There was a lot of food leftover from an Argentine field party who spent a summer here a few years back including some very nice biscuits that we spent the next 3 weeks eating. Mairi our biologist and Rebecca an observer from the New Zealand Antarctic Programme started in the quest to find moss and lichen. Finally I stayed in the warm and did the cooking, which I have always thought was a very good arrangement.

As the week progressed the camp was completed and we began to move. However we kept using the kitchen in the main hut until after the second weekend, as it was much more cosy and had the luxury of 2 ovens. The camp was a welcome addition though as we had the advantage of hot running water, showers and electric lights. Towards the end of the week the hut was emptied and the demolition began. The man with the chainsaw was Nigel who seemed to have all the coolest toys and the first half of the building was quickly reduced to flat packed bundles. As we were cooking and living in the other half of the building this was given a reprieve until after the weekend.

As time went by we began to explore a lot of the island and investigate the wildlife. The island itself was very small and we found when the tide was low could easily be circumnavigated in a couple of hours. There was also a small hill in the middle that was climbed many times. Although much of the island was covered with rock there was also a fair amount of snow, which the two Daves very successfully skied down a number of times. We also got a couple of snow people at the top courtesy of the girls.

 Snowfolk The Snowfolk on top of Danco Hill - click to see image

The island was also teaming with wildlife, which included Gentoo penguins and several varieties of seal. The highlight was definitely the whales, which we saw on a daily basis patrolling the island. Humpback whales appeared to be the most frequent visitors with a lot of them basking on the surface but Minkes came a close second.

 A humpback whale A spectacular show from the humpback whales - click to see image

As we got into the second week the rest of the building came down with the exception of one tiny corner, which contained the toilet complete with original Playboy pinups from the 50's. As the week drew on there was less and less to do as the job was never as big as Detaille and we still had to wait for the ship to get back from the Falklands Islands. There was still plenty to do on the island though and we all kept ourselves occupied reading all the old magazines and comics (the greatest find being a mint copy of the Beano) and whale watching. The ship arrived after nearly three weeks on the island and the last section of the building came down as everything was ferried onto the boat. We shall all miss our time on Danco especially our stay in the base itself and have some good memories to take home with us.

Stu McMillan (Cook)

 The last inhabitants of the hut at Danco The last inhabitants of Danco Hut - click to see image

The Danco clean-up team (above) - left to right: Dave Burkitt, John Taylor, Dewi Edwards, Dave Mitchell, Pete Willmott, Nigel Blenkharn, Jake Dudek, Al Geach, Stu McMillan, Mairi Nicolson, Pete Milner. Taking the photo: Rebecca Roper-Gee.

The ship reached Danco on Wednesday but after just over a day there we received instructions from BAS Cambridge to sail to Deception Island to salvage an old wreck of a BAS Single Otter aircraft, so we quickly dismantled the camp, loaded the essential items onto the ship and set off north to Deception.

Base B - Deception Island

62° 59' S 060° 34' W

Deception Island, although designated Base B, was in fact the first of the Operation Tabarin bases to be occupied in February 1944, beating Base A (Port Lockroy) by a mere 8 days.

Deception Island is a giant volcanic crater. The central harbour is called Port Foster and to reach this sheltered harbour ships must pass through a tricky narrow passage through red and black volcanic rocks known as Neptune's Bellows. Just inside Neptune's Bellows is a relatively small cove known as Whaler's Bay which is where most of the British activity at Deception has taken place. In 1911, a whaling station was established on the shores of Whaler's Bay, mainly servicing factory ships. This was closed in 1931. For a long time, buildings from the former whaling station were used by Base B as accommodation and office buildings (firstly Bleak House, then after this was destroyed by fire in 1946, Biscoe House). In 1955 the Falkland Islands Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition 1955-57 began and a new hut was built (the FIDASE hut). At the end of the expedition this hut was handed over to FIDS. The aircraft hangar was completed by BAS in 1962 and a plastic accommodation building (Priestley House) was erected in 1966.

The main science disciplines performed at Deception were meteorology and geology. It also served as a centre for aircraft operations in 1955-57 and 1959-69.

In December 1967, the station was evacuated temporarily after Mount Pond erupted. After a brief period of reoccupation, it was abandoned for good in February 1969 when a mudslide flowed through Biscoe House. The FIDs were taken out along with personnel from the Chilean base on Deception Island by the Chilean ship Pilato Pardo.

Buildings and remains left at Deception today include Biscoe House, the former Magistrate's Villa (used by FIDS as a store), the FIDASE building, the hangar, a floating dock used in the whaling station days, and a number of large tanks, some used by the whalers to store fuel and others used to store the whale oil. There is also a whalers' cemetery which has been mostly overrun by volcanic mudflows. Priestley House mysteriously disappeared some time before 1985. The remains of the whaling station, cemetery, buildings and artefacts from British mapping and scientific activities are protected as Historic Site No. 71 under the Antarctic Treaty.


Hot-footing it to Deception

Although we set off to Deception at short notice, it had always been the intention to pay a visit to Deception (when the clean up had been completed at the other bases) on our way north. The original purpose of our visit was to clean up the base and do a condition survey of the aircraft hangar there.So after our AWG expert Al Geach had taken away the hazardous asbestos present, teams of FIDs removed rubbish and sorted through the old base buildings and the FIDASE building. The buildings are in a poor state and what few artefacts we found were placed on display in Biscoe House.

 Our very own artefact, Dave Trash or treasure? Dave Burkitt to the rescue! - click to see image

The waste was placed in large orange sacks and taken down to the beach, from where it was loaded onto the workboat Tula and onto the ship. Much more waste was collected than had been expected as we had time to perform a more thorough clean-up.

 Clockwise from left: Eric, Chris, Andy, Rob, Shaggy and Rich F Some of the FIDASE clean-up team - click to see image

Some people made a visit to the Argentine research station at Decepcion and were warmly welcomed by the Argentine team, who were due to be relieved by the Argentine icebreaker Almirante Irizar within the next few days. Decepcion is a summer-only base, as is the Spanish base nearby.

 Argentine base Decepcion The Argentine Decepcion base - click to see image

After a good couple of days cleaning up Deception, what could be more refreshing than a hot bath? Some of the team dug themselves pits in the sand and the hot volcanic waters did the rest.

 Ben, Saritha and Chris Student, Jane, Shaggy and Rob Making the most of the hot volcanic waters - click on images to see them

The Deception Single Otter Aircraft

The BAS DeHavilland Single Otter aircraft at Deception Island had a relatively short but interesting operational life. The DHC-3 Otter, Construction No. 294 was purchased in 1959 and registered as VP-FAI but painted and flown as VP-FAK. It arrived at Deception Island in pieces on 26 January 1960, and was assembled on site. Although it was serviced and spent its winters at Deception, during the summer seasons it operated out of Adelaide Island. In October 1961 the plane was damaged in a gale at Deception, and it was again damaged in a crevasse accident at Adelaide in December 1964. During the 1966/67 season, this aircraft was used for the first airborne radio echo sounding carried out in the Antarctic. The Otter was grounded due to extensive metal fatigue in its fuselage on 26 March 1967, and written off at the end of the season. The photo below was probably taken in the early 1960s - the Massey-Ferguson tractor was half-buried in a volcanic mudslide during the 1967 eruptions but can still be seen today poking out from the beach at Deception.

 Otter and Massey-Ferguson The Otter and a Massey-Ferguson tractor back in the 1960s - click to see image

Due to a potential illegal salvage attempt by a private individual, despite the aircraft (part of the Historic Site No. 71) being protected under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, we were tasked to collect the fuselage and other aircraft parts for safekeeping. So everyone put their heads together and came up with:

The FIDS Guide to Moving a Single Otter Aircraft...

Step 1. Assess the situation, take lots of photos!!! (repeat this step regularly)
Step 2. Dig out ash round plane
Step 3. Attach strops securely around fuselage
Step 4. Hook strops to Muskeg crane and lift fuselage up carefully

 Airborne again! Step 4 - click to see image

Step 5. Strap ramp transversely across ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) trailer
Step 6. Gently lower front legs of plane onto ramp
Step 7. Drive Kubota tractor up to rear of fuselage, positioning tail end of plane between forks, and secure with strops
Step 8. Drive ATV and tractor slowly in tandem, with lots of FIDs to assist in steering of ATV along uneven beach

 The procession Step 8 - click to see image

Step 9. Meanwhile, drive Muskeg crane to beach landing site
Step 10. When plane arrives at beach landing site, attach fuselage to crane again and lift clear of ATV and tractor
Step 11. Place fuselage gently on beach to await arrival of Tula workboat
Step 12. Use Muskeg crane to lift fuselage, support fuselage on Tula using carefully placed ramp, pallets and mattresses

 Onto Tula Step 12 - click to see image

Step 13. Secure plane in Tula, unhook from Muskeg crane, drive carefully to side of ship
Step 14. Use ship's crane to carefully lift fuselage from Tula up onto deck
Step 15. Secure firmly on deck of Shackleton

 Safely on deck Step 15 - click to see image

This whole procedure was carried out smoothly, safely and successfully with no damage to the fragile aircraft. Having the vehicles on shore to help us, it was a far cry from when the Otter was delivered to Deception on the Danish ship Kista Dan 44 years earlier:

Our first priority was to build a raft on which to tow the Otter's fuselage ashore. For this we had brought a number of Army bridge-building pontoons, on which a platform was now constructed. Once ashore the plane was man-hauled onto the beach and up to the airstrip. The wings came ashore the same way in immensely heavy crates.

Fitting them was a formidable task for there was no mechanical means of lifting them into position, but the operation was another triumph of Fid-power. An empty crate was hauled into position and sixteen stalwarts stood on it. A wing was then passed to them, and amid many a groan and grunt of 'Careful, for God's sake', they managed to raise it above their heads. Now came the strain, for tall men bore the weight on hunched shoulders, while short ones had their arms fully extended above their heads.

A comic situation developed when it was found that two volunteers were too short even to reach the underside of the wing, and a second tier of boxes had to be provided to enable them to play their part. Then, proud of their success, the Fids had to repeat the whole exercise on the other side. Fitting the propeller and the brake hydraulic system also gave the engineers trouble, but two days later the first test flight was made.

Sir Vivian Fuchs, Of Ice and Men

 Assembling the Otter Assembling the Otter on Deception back in 1960 - click to see image

As well as the fuselage of the Otter, the wings, tail sections, skis and other bits of it were found in variable condition inside the hangar. These were also brought outside and carefully transported down to the beach using tractor and man-power, from where they were put onto Tula and taken to the ship.

 Bob with more plane bits ETO (Elect) Bob Roullier with the recovered aircraft parts - click to see image

A small team consisting of John Shears (BAS Environmental Officer), Peter Willmott (AWG Manager), Nigel Blenkharn (AWG tractor driver) and me (FID labour) went into the Antarctic Specially Protected Area around Kroner Lake at the northwest end of Whaler's Bay. To do this, we were required to have a permit since there are interesting and unique plants and geological features in the area, which is protected under the Antarctic Treaty. The reason for our visit was to search through and clean up a rubbish dump which had accumulated over the years that the BAS station had been active. It was known that an aircraft engine was buried here, and there were also domestic items (dog collars, shoes, bottles, etc.) which had been left there and were potential historical artefacts.

We set to work, and with the aid of the tractor Nigel and Pete soon recovered the engine. What we hadn't expected to find, however, was a ski from the Otter. One ski had been found and recovered from the hangar, but it was thought that its fellow ski was lost - so it was a nice surprise to uncover it in good condition from the dump.

As well as finding the aircraft parts, we collected a bag of potential artefacts and five compactor sacks full of rubbish for disposal.

 Nigel, John and Pete Nigel, John and Pete recovering the second ski - click to see image

 The engine lashed down on deck The Otter engine secured on the deck of the Ernest Shackleton - click to see image

So, a very successful recovery of the aircraft and its parts. The plan now is to take the plane to the hangar at Rothera for safekeeping. It will eventually be restored and replaced at Deception Island.


Crewman of the Week

Postponed in order to get this long-awaited diary out as soon as possible!

Forthcoming Events: Who knows?!

Contributors this week: Main text by Docs Jane and Sue, account of life on Danco Island by Shaggy (Stu McMillan), aircraft info from the BAS Archive courtesy of Jo Rae.

Danco photos, photos of Dave Burkitt and Decepcion base by Rebecca Roper-Gee; hot water 1 and Step 12 photos by Rich Burt; hot water 2 photo by Jon Seddon; Step 15, aircraft parts and engine photos by Bob Roullier; FIDASE team, Step 4, Step 8 and Kroner Dump team photo by Sue Dowling. Old tractor/otter photo (photographer unknown) and otter assembly photo (taken by MH Tween) dug out of the BAS Archive by Jo Rae.


Research Stations and Refuges of the British Antarctic Survey and its Predecessors (M.A. Martin/J. Rae) Edition 4, 2001

Of Ice and Men: The Story of the British Antarctic Survey 1943-73 (Sir Vivian Fuchs)

Diary 28 should be available soon

Bye for now, Sue and Jane.