11 Apr - Prospect Point
Date: Sunday 11 April 2004
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT -3): 66� 01' South 065� 49' West.
Next destination: Rothera
ETA: Monday 12 April 2004
Distance to go: 225 nmiles
Distance sailed from Prospect Point: 12 nmiles
Total distance sailed: 24359 nmiles
Current weather: Overcast, clear
Sea State: Rough seas, moderate swell
Wind: NExE, Force 4
Barometric pressure: 995.1 mmHg
Air temperature: 1.3�C
Sea temperature: 0.7�C
This Week on ES
Back to Danco and on to Prospect Point
After last week's unexpected diversion to Deception, and work there tidying the base and loading the aircraft, we got back on track this week and returned to Danco Island to collect the waste and equipment that had been left there. When we had finished the site looked bare - just as we wanted it.
Our next stop was at Prospect Point - the original plan (OK, plans down South change so much that by now it wasn't the original plan, or even Plan B, more like Plan S...) was to land a small team of four to do the initial search for artefacts and strip out the inside of the hut while the Shack took the Otter aircraft to Rothera then returned to do the majority of the demolition, but when we arrived at Prospect Point the weather was so good that Plan T (or whatever) was formed, and the ship stayed around while all the work was done.
Base J - Prospect Point
66� 00' S 065� 21' W
There isn't an awful lot to say about Prospect Point. It was established in February 1957 and had a working life of just over two years until it was abandoned in February 1959. Until 1959 it was known as Graham Coast.
Prospect Point was intended as a base for survey work and geology, and was closed when local work was completed.
Astounding fact of the week: Prospect Point is the only place the Shackleton has been this season which is on the Antarctic continent itself (all the other bases are built either on islands or, in the case of Halley, on an ice shelf).
Working at Prospect Point
We arrived at Prospect Point during the most glorious day's weather we had seen on the voyage. The sea was flat calm and already beginning to grease over in places. The base however was a different story as the weather had not been kind to it over the years and the roof had been badly damaged. Inside, the whole building was completely waterlogged. Unlike Danco, living in the hut itself would have been impossible. We had four people staying ashore in pyramids and a mess tent next door so erecting camp was a smaller task this time around. The base appeared to have been left far more untouched over the years but the weather had reduced many of the artefacts to landfill.
Prospect is set in a stunning location with glacial ice calving into the seas every day. Travel around base is quite limited as there is a steep rise behind base and you hit some nasty looking crevasses after ascending only a little way. Below this line you could do some serious bin bagging!
Surrounding the base were several waste and coal dumps that needed to be tidied up and removed so potentially we had a very messy job on our hands. We did however have almost a dozen extra hands from Rothera this time around so work progressed quickly and within a day all the artefacts had been removed and Nigel was sharpening his chainsaw! Another addition to our team was the Muskeg crane operated by Chrissy J from Rothera, which allowed the AWG team to chop the building up into far bigger bits, which could be lifted away. So the building soon disappeared and we were left with an awful lot of waste to get on the ship and the waste dumps which had frozen and had to be tackled after the salt had done its magic. Despite the wet some very good artefacts were still found at Prospect. These included old dog sledges and a compass.
How to remove an Abandoned Base
Well, maybe you lot out there are wondering what we have been doing to these huts. It's quite easy - here goes:
First of all we send in Al Geach. Al is experienced in asbestos removal and is fresh from the work at Grytviken, South Georgia, where lots of asbestos removal was taking place. He is armed with a spraying machine which sprays a special chemical to ensure that all asbestos is fluid-saturated and therefore safe to remove. The asbestos is wrapped up so that no fibres can escape and packaged in specially marked waste bags for disposal back in the UK.
After Al has made the building safe, the next people to go in are Dave Burkitt and his team of artefact removers. Dave has worked for BAS for many years and is a mine of useful information. He has worked at Port Lockroy and knows what makes an artefact and what is uninteresting rubbish. We have been collecting artefacts for three main interests: the museum at Port Lockroy, the Stanley Museum, and the archives back at Cambridge. Most of the items at Prospect Point were found in the loft space which is where the FIDS of 1957 kept their stores.
The next team of people involved are the ones tasked to strip the inside of the hut. The early BAS huts were all built using a similar pattern - and all have wooden frames. The inside walls are all stripped of their covering to leave just the timber frames.
While all the inside work is being done, a small camp is set up - at a minimum this camp is comprised of a pyramid tent to use as an emergency shelter - but preferably a more roomy Weatherport tent is pitched, which enables Shaggy the cook to set up his mobile kitchen and prepare hot meals for those working ashore.
When the hut has been gutted inside and is just a shell, the chainsawing can begin. Nigel Blenkharn, the man with the chainsaw, starts at one end of the roof and cuts out a chunk. After the roof has been started, the walls can follow, then when all the roof and walls have gone the floor is sawn up and removed.
At Prospect Point, unlike Danco, we had the Muskeg crane ashore which meant that the hut could be sliced into larger pieces. When the section of hut was being cut, strops were inserted through holes made in it and it was then supported by the crane. When the piece was eventually severed from the rest of the building, the crane lifted it and swung it round onto a pile on the beach, from where it was picked up with the crane from Tula and put on board the workboat for transfer to the Shack. At Danco, this work had to be done by hand so the sections of building were all cut smaller.
As well as the hut, there was a dump site to sort through and clear away, and a number of coal piles to shovel up. The dump was frustrating because it was frozen in, so could only be worked on for short periods before the frozen surface was reached and nothing much could be gained. However, after a lot of FID labour using pickaxes, shovels and long-handled chisels, by the end of the three and a half days we spent at Prospect Point the dump site was successfully cleared. All the coal was collected and put into sacks for use at Port Lockroy or for recycling - and how we cursed the 1957 FIDS for placing their coal piles on broken rock not level ground!
A diversion for some was the creation of "1957 bread" by the Abandoned Bases cook Shaggy. Although most of the foodstuffs recovered from the loft were rotten and rusty, a few were in relatively good condition. Shaggy remarked that a tin of dried yeast would probably work pretty well today so I jumped on his comment and challenged him to bake some bread with it (there was a bottle of wine hanging on whether the bread would rise...).
So Shaggy found some 47 year old tins of yeast, honey and milk powder and, together with modern flour, olive oil and other bread ingredients, set about making his loaf (he opened a tin of 1957 margarine but it didn't smell too good so he abandoned the idea of using that!). To my surprise - but not his - the yeast performed steadily, if a little tentatively owing to its extreme age, and a perfect and tasty (especially when eaten with 1957 "Bear Brand" honey) loaf emerged.
Goodbye to Prospect Point
After three days, everything which could be removed had been removed, and after a final litter pick we took down the camp and prepared to leave Prospect Point. At Danco, the hut's foundations had been easy to remove but here at Prospect they were very firmly set into the underlying rock. The intention had always been to preserve the foundations as a mark of where the building had been, so Dave Burkitt fixed a plaque onto these foundations.
On our return to the ship after a hard day's work on Friday evening, the setting sun gave us a vivid display, projecting hues of bright orange and pink onto the surrounding peaks and glaciers.
All that was left for us to do on Saturday morning was to collect the lonely Muskeg crane which had been left on the shore overnight, and we then proceeded on our merry way towards Rothera.
At last - the long-awaited return of...
Crewman of the Week
Following the crew change from Captain JB Marshall's salty sea dogs to Captain Antonio Gatti's merry band, (Antonio standing in for Capt GP Chapman), Crewman of the Week has a new bunch of seamen to feature.
This week we are kicking off with the Steward, Mark Jones, and Jim Baker who is one of the A/Bs (Able Seamen).
Mark, also known as Seven Bellies, is usually seen with a tea towel over his shoulder either washing up, polishing, or mustering us FIDs into doing some work. He has worked for BAS for many years and is one of the exalted few who have worked on all four of the most recent BAS ships (John Biscoe, Bransfield, James Clark Ross and Ernest Shackleton).
Jim is currently on a "soup and salad" diet so we expect to see much less of him in the near future! He will be 37 in a couple of weeks time, and says hello to his fiancee Laura back home.
Forthcoming Events: An unexpected return to Rothera, and the last leg of our Antarctic season.
Contributors this week:
Description of work at Prospect Point by Stu McMillan (Shaggy).
Photos: Al Geach and dump pile by Rebecca Roper-Gee. All others by Sue Dowling.
The very useful Research Stations and Refuges of the British Antarctic Survey and its Predecessors (M.A. Martin/J. Rae) Edition 4, 2001
Diary 29 should be available soon
Bye for now, Sue D.