Tuesday 26 February 2008

Milestone Acheived

Yesterday saw a great milestone acheived on site, the only one of the new Halley VI base modules to be clad this season received its final cladding panel after the delays last week due to the bad weather.

The panel was lifted as ever by the trusty Mantis crane, ably manned by Austin.

The panel really brings into perspective the amazing and somewhat alien shape of the new modules, completing the skin to the steel skeleton of the structure.

It has been a great acheivement by all on site to get this far given the problems of the weather last week and means that the remaining works of the season can be completed with some comfort that the module is clad. The remaining works involve all the hundreds of bolts and shock mounts inside the module to secure all the panels together and ensure it is weather tight for the winter season.

In celebration of the acheivement, a summer construction team photo call was held this morning in front of the new module. The works are winding down now with the concentration shifting to getting everything ready and 'wintered' to survive the fierce winter temperatures and weather. Hope everything is in one piece when the summer returns next season!

The last nose cone panel finally in place

The view down the line of modules from B2 that is clad, through B1, C, E1, E2, H1, H2 that are wintered under temporary tents

Austin and the Mantis Crane deploy the last panel (yes it was a bit scary at that height!)

The modules in a line

The Construction Team, Season 07/08 Halley VI

Sunday 24 February 2008

.... We're Back

The weather finally abated, after 3 days of continuous high winds and drifting snow, on Friday. The site was back to work and the whole base sprang into action to dig out the enormous snow drifts.

We got the first real impression of how our home from home, Annex No2 had faired. Not very well really. There was a huge snow tail behind the annexes, up to the full height of the roof and about 20m long.

First thing and the bulldozers were in clearing the access not only to the annexes but also the main door of the other accommodation building the Drewry. During the clearing process, the front of No2 annex was hit by the ‘dozer and falling walls of snow. This buckled in one of the walls, much to the dismay of it’s inhabitants, not only Phil and I, but also Pete, the Morrisons Senior Project manager!

As it happens this was quite useful, sharing the room with the PM, as by lunch time the wall was fixed, the heating on and the room getting back to normal - labour directed to this ‘priority task’.

The task of freeing the annexes begins..

Nearly there, this is just before our wall got stoved in!

As we ventured out on site to review the impact of the weather, the site was a completely different landscape from when we had left it. Massive snow tails extended between the new tented modules, up to 3m deep in places. The site workshop cabins were buried similar to the annexes, the main stay of the construction kit – the Mantis crane – was buried in a snow tail quite unusually created by its unique shape, the jib of the crane protruding out identifying where it was buried.

The new clad module had performed very well, the design of the modules - its shape and structure - being specifically to speed up the air around it so no snow deposits beneath. There was minimal snow accumulation around it, and this was even in its wrong orientation (long ways not sideways to the wind), so a promising guide as to the future base’s performance.

The team of caterpillar bulldozers and guys with shovels set to work on the site and again, by a little after lunch, the crane was freed, the generators back running, the workshops cleared and the access to work areas opened. A great performance by everyone, it’s good to see how things spring into action, everyone here is so used to this sort of thing, it is second nature.

The other benefit of the blow and seeing the number and size of the snow tails formed around the site, is for the team who will be left here through the winter. As Halley is basically flat (although not when pulling a heavy sledge!), it offers no great possibilities for skiers and snow boarders. Having half a dozen or so large ‘hills’ formed around the site means they may get some better recreation this winter, they were all keen to hear how the ‘hills’ looked.

The Mantis crane, waving for help!

The new module performs well..

After getting back to work, the weather has still been limiting, the winds have been pushing around 15-20knots through yesterday, which limits what can be done on site with lifting equipment etc.

What was happening through the day, was a strange low level continual drifting of snow across the ice surface, when looking across the base it was like white water, very strange, but creating some magical effects, albeit very difficult to capture on camera. Toward the evening, ‘Sun Dogs’ were evident around the lowering sun. I have no idea where the name comes from, but the very fine ice particles in the air create a large Halo around the sun, at times several may be seen at once, but yesterday was one large halo, still impressive.

We had a group summer team photograph at 6.00pm last night, one of the John Deer prime movers brought a large sledge in front of the laws building and we all gathered for the obligatory team photo. The result was pretty good, taken by Richard on base, one to keep for posterity!

The photos here are a selection from the last couple of days, more can be seen on Phils blogsite with Phils usual amusing commentary and take on events.

The effects of the low drifting snow and the Laws building..

The white flowing sea..

The snow is more like moonscape

The Sun Dogs and filmcrew

It takes all sorts to survive the Antarctic, free booze also helps..

Our 2008 Summer Team photo, can you spot us?

A special view of the site just for Sam C!

Thursday 21 February 2008

And There's More..

Well the weather has gone on and on. We are still enduring the relentless winds and snow drifts. The winds have varied, anything between 25 and 43 knots, gusting up to 50 at times.

Life has almost stopped during the blow, no work on site, limited things that can be done anywhere. So people have had to adapt and find things to do.

Phil and I with the rest of the Morrisons management team have been keeping going in the Piggott building, working away, running through whatever we can to help the job (hard honest work you know!). In order to keep this up, we regularly need to head back to the Laws platform for dinner and teas. The trip a mini expedition every time through the wicked sideways winds and hardly any visibility. Dressing in full antarctic gear and radio calling the Comms base every time you leave and re-appear at you destination is a necessity.

The Morrisons site team have been kept busy with pool, DVD's, videos, quizzes, etc. etc. (well we may have joined in some of them). Everyone just want to get back out on site working, the closest forecast is that there may be some small opportunity tomorrow, but unlikely, but either Saturday or Sunday. So basically a full week lost to weather with the last 2 weeks of the job - Not good for finishing works.

We are still nomads, not able to get to our rooms, having to rob towels and clean gear from wherever we can. The annex accommodation is still under snow and cannot be sorted until the winds die down enough.

We'll have to wait and see what tomorrow brings...

Phil hard at work in our Piggott building office

The rest of the crew get on with things

The annex accommodation before and now, the No2 sort of indicates where our room may lie!

Crane and Lifting guy Austin on the way back to the Drewry building

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Let it Blow....

Well today the weather that has been forecast has hit. The barametric pressure has plummeted and the winds have picked up. It's the biggest 'Blow' of the season so far.
As Phils Blog will tell you, it is like the aliens are attacking and we are having to fight them off.

The winds are at 42 knots, with gusting to around 50. The snow is whipped up off the ice shelf and blasted horizontally at everything. Big snow tails form behind anything on the ground (Hence why all the buildings, new and old are on legs above the ground) creating huge mounds that block off access - which means we may not get back to our rooms tonight. We are in the annex to the Drewry building (basically site cabins in a row). The snow has built up to such an extent, we may not get back in, so it may be a night on the floor of the lounge in the Laws building!

The conditions are intersting for first timers down here, but also incedibly dangerous. It is easy to loose all bearing in the white out, pushed around by the wind, there is nothing to give you any indication of where you are and you could easily be lost. Indeed a couple of people around the site, some the most experienced seasoned Antarctic inhabitants have had problems, setting off, even in Sno-Cats and finding themselves driving back to where they came from.

We are commuting between the Laws building and the Piggott, but only because we go in teams and that there is a guide rope installed all the way between. Visibility is down to about 10-20metres. We have to radio into the Halley 'Comms before we set off and when we get there in order that any wanderers are picked up.

It is forecast to continue like this through tomorrow, but then to start decreasing from Thursday, who knows what carnage we will find then. Could be in for a couple of strange nights, hope the usual snoring competitions don't get worse!

Well I guess we have now seen a reasonable spectrum of conditions that this most curious of places can offer. Not sure what it will be like getting back to just rain, and some rain, oh, and maybe a little more rain..

Outside our room early this morning, a full days blow later and the front of the rooms are blocked off.

Me fighting my way toward the Laws building, this is earlier today when winds were only 33 knots

The line of poor skidoos left to the weather outside the Piggott

Karl Tuplin of BAS extends the guide ropes to the Piggot, tough job in the conditions (only a small clip, but gives you the idea!)

Monday 18 February 2008

Nightmare 'Round Halley Street

OK, we did it, sort of. Yesterday was the group ‘Walk to the Pole’.

Those who could muster the energy after the folk night (with unlimited alcohol, as opposed to the normal 2 tins a night, 4 tins on a Saturday rule), the start was next to a caboose north from the main Laws building along the base container line.

Some eager kite skiers were already out and as Phil and I, together with the rest of the Morrison construction team (who had adopted last minute to do a team pull of a happy sledge) got together at the start line around 10.15am. We loaded up our sledges with 8 sections of angle steel each (cut of bracing from the undercroft steel assemblies). These weighed 16kg a piece (confirmed by the mess room scales – used mainly by Phil to monitor pudding intake), so together with our kit, supplies of chocolate and the sledge we reckoned we had between 140 and 150kg total load each to pull!

When tasked with testing the weight, a couple of other Morrisons guys reckoned we were completely mad. After the first couple of hundred metres, I must admit I was tempted to agree with them.

So we set off on our treck, the right way around. Just to keep up with trend of the job, the Morrisons happy sledge went in the other direction, their ploy apparently to take extra supplies for handing out on the way round. As always the easy way out was to have 8 guys pulling a sledge with 4 people sitting on it, we reckoned their average pull weight was only around 60kg each – nothing compared to our stupidity.

The Two Amigos - Before the nightmare

The Morrisons team ready their Happy Sledge, including Lenny as '118 man!'
As we were trecking round, trying to keep the creeping harnesses from riding up too high where you end up pulling the weight from your shoulders, Phil and I realised how ironical it was, that Hugh Broughton Architects, and Merit Merrrell Technology, were once again having to carry the excess steel from Faber Maunsell! (those involved with the job will understand!).
I must make a point here, as we went on our first lap, taking a route past the new build site, toward the CASLAB and down the far perimeter of the base, I realised how everyone had been lying to me. I had endless people telling me that Halley was as flat as a pancake and a snow desert. Certainly a snow desert, but flat as a pancake?? No way, the damned incline we had to endure up toward the CASLAB was backbreaking. Liars the lot!
Phil and I finished our first lap and admittedly, after detailed consultation over sugar rich cakes and stuff at the caboose, we opted to dump 2 sections of steel each, reducing to 6 the number for our second lap. Cheap way out maybe, but we couldn’t face the thought of another nightmare lap. The next one felt just as bad though.
Half way around the second lap, Phil became interested with one of the common lines of advice when coming to the Antarctic – don’t eat yellow snow. So he had a go at making some yellow snow, not sure what his conclusion was, but I opted for water and another bar of dairy milk!
We called it a day with the sledges after 2 laps. Minus 13 degrees, half the lap into a 8 knot wind and hills that we thought were not there conspired against us. We were cold, very cold. So we packed up the sledges and shipped off the steel, getting frozen hands at the handlebars of an Alpine skidoo. I headed off for a hot shower, Phil decided to go back out and walked another 2 laps without sledge – very impressive.
Later on, I was daft enough to also go back out, but to ski a lap, which knowing what I did of the course, and what little I knew about skiing, was another challenge in itself. I managed to get around with only a few falls, and felt better inside at having made another effort.
In the end, the total number of laps was 212, well short of the target 320, but still raising some good funds for the charity. One point to note is the monumental effort of a certain Andy Rankin – one of the Halley Scientists. He ran around the base, the laps ticking off as the day went by. He finished doing 18 laps!!! That is a total of 90km, or 2 marathons. TWO marathons in a windy Antarctic -13 degrees! Mad.
Talking of mad, I now realise just how mad our Dave Mitchell must have been to do what he did back in ’97. One day, 2 laps with less weight and we were beat. 90 days plus, hard terrain and more weight? – really mad!
But we have done it, all after the folk night which was very good. A good effort on behalf of quite a few people made the night a success, music, jokes, comedy routines all helped create a good environment, given that we were in the skidoo tent which was unheated and it was minus 16 outside. A good point to the evening, was the ability of Pompei (Ian) to get all involved in a chorus of ‘Sweet Chariot’. Getting all involved meant getting a Welshman (Lenny) to sing the words with Ian and Mannie (a South African!) to go along with the moves! Not very often that happens.
So that was the weekend, tiring as it was, we are all back up on site today, it was another beautiful morning, but has now deteriorated into quite a blow, it was forecast, but as yet it isn’t as bad as we thought, but as ever here, it could change just as quickly either way.
One amigo (Phil) - during the nightmare
The other amigo (me) - during the nightmare
(P Wells Photo's Inc.)
Phil Testing out the 'Yellow Snow' theory
And Finished at last - well finished!

Saturday 16 February 2008

In Training

Phil and I have been in training – for our mammoth ‘manhauling’ walk to the South Pole. It is a daunting task, many have gone before us (Amundson, Scott, Shackleton (well, nearly there), Palin??), but we intend to make it much quicker than they ever did. We are not even taking the Clarkson type route to the North Pole (using a Toyota Pickup). We intend to walk, with enough weight of supplies and kit to last us our entire trip just pulled behind us on a sledge, no assistance, and do it all in day!

OK the assistance bit may be misleading, there will be probably be around 30 or so others doing there bit, and all our distance adds up, hopefully to make enough to reach ‘The Pole’.

On Wednesday night, before tea, we filled our sledges with snow, donned our harnesses and set off. It wasn’t too bad, although we didn’t know what weight we were pulling of course, so it may be a false sense of security. We did about 1000 metres, but then it was time for tea, so a quick trip to dump the snow (eagerly accepted by the lone guy shoveling snow for the melt tank at the time) and then in for tea. Just like a proper expedition.

The site work is progressing, the upper nose cone is now fitted to one end of the module being clad, I will add some pics later when all the machinery is out of the way.

Last night was a spectacular sunset, late into the evening, a low mist descended across the entire base. The resultant light effects as the sun went down were amazing. The Halley VI modules were backlit in the mist, the Simpson and Piggot buildings were half submerged, the light bouncing off their windows and reflecting in the mist.

I set off on a skidoo (another excuse to play I know), to try and get some shots around the site and base. It was fun weaving in and out of the other half of the base who had all come out with their cameras as well! Never miss and opportunity for a good shot that might get published in the Halley mags or may even win one of the competitions. There must be hundreds of thousands of digital images snapped up around the base, particularly with the site construction as well. So here are a few more attached.

The next update will probably after our Pole Expedition on Sunday, so watch out. We have a ‘Folk Evening’ tonight, where anyone can get up and do a turn, it is an unlimited alcohol evening as well, so we expect some non-starters for the charity walk/ski/kite on Sunday!

Phil and I in training pulling our snow filled sledges, every bit the explorers

Off on a Skidoo, again, for some photos (this one courtesy of Simon Gill - Morrison Construction)
with full cheesy grin!

The first module with cladding moving on..

The strange effect of the setting sun, mist and futuristic new base

The even stranger effect - the Simpson building like a landing space ship!


I'm afraid I made a big mistake in my previous blog entry, for which I humbly apologise.

I referred to Dave Mitchell as being half of an "English" pairing, forgetting of course that Dave is actually from Wales! As most will know this is a bit of an insult, so Dave, please accept my apologies.

The revised blog is highlighted in red below.

I'll try and not make any more such mistakes in Future!

Thanks - Andy

Thursday 14 February 2008

It's Early, Stupidity, and the Roof

The promised Valentines day sunset was early! When we got to tea last night, there was a notice on the board saying first sunset at 10.03 local time.

Around 21.50 everyone started gathering and sizing up the best photographic opportunities, was it on the Laws platform, or down by the Halley signpost, or out near the build site?

Personally, whilst initially wanting to get some great shots, I couldn’t care too much at the end. Minus 21 degrees Celcius, stood outside in not the best choice of wear for the evening, and with a camera battery taking its last gasps of life, I opted for jumping back in the door and popping back outside just when the sunset was about to happen.

There was some debate as to whether the sun did actually set. All of the base scientists were certain it was going to happen. Time ticked on by, but at around 22.20 local time, the consensus was that we had seen the first sunset of the 2008 Antarctic year!

About 10 minutes later dawn broke and the sun rose again!!

It seems a bit strange this 24 hour daylight, but things should change rapidly now, unfortunately the falling temperatures probably the most!

After that, there was another milestone on site today, the roof was raised into position on the first module of Halley VI being clad. The planning went well, the rigging team got to work, the rigging team were frozen, up on cherry pickers in -20degC temperatures isn’t good, and we all retired for a nice warming cup of tea.

Now for the stupid bit - my travelling colleague Mr Phil Wells of Hugh Broughton Architects, has rather landed himself in it. On Sunday, there is a sponsored ‘Ski’ around the perimeter of the Halley Base. The aim is to jointly achieve 320 laps around the base, to total some 1600 kilometres. The significance of this distance, is that it is that far to the South Pole from here, so it would be the first “Halley ski” to the pole. The aim is to raise money for the Lifeboat RNLI charity.

Phil has proposed to not ski, but walk the route, pulling a loaded sledge to reflect the actual weight you would need to pull if you actually did a walk to the pole, based upon the provisions and kit you would need.

Some good advice has been sought from our past colleague Mr Dave Mitchell, formally of Morrison Construction (who in 1997 was the Welsh half of a pairing to be the first British men to walk to the North Pole unsupported (i.e. with no assistance, just them and 2 sledges with all their gear) sorry Dave for raising this, but it was some achievement – we are not worthy!) and the result is needing to walk an average of 22km a day, with a sledge which weighing around 150kg!

So not being one to let someone suffer alone, I have pledged my support also and will undertake the same onerous task. To achieve the distance, the target will be 4 laps of the base, not sure if we will manage this, but it is worth a try. Hope the weather is kind with no wind and sunny skies, if not it could be tough. Whatever the temperatures will be around the minus 20 mark!

So anyone wishing to remotely sponsor me would be much appreciated, there are details at:

Just get online and pledge some support.

I’ve got to go and get some serious training ion now with only a couple of days to go, I’ll keep you informed of how we get on. There are some more details on Phils blogsite – address in the links section above.

Kirk - The Halley Base Cameraman and Field GA recording the first sunset

The Laws Platform glowing in the setting sun

The Halley Aerial array and Satellite dome

And now for the roof....

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Getting on With Things

We have now been here at Halley for a few days and are adapting to life in the Antarctic.

Here at the Halley V base, life adapts to the environment, for instance you need to plan ahead to go anywhere, even to the loo. To go outside involves getting into the thermal boiler suits or coats, muckluk boots, hat, goggles, gloves etc. Everything takes several times longer than usual, so advance planning is really needed.

The weather on Sunday I referred to got pretty bad (well, to Phil and I, but by Antarctic standards it was nothing, apparently). The winds increased and the blow of snow across the whole base really wiped things out. The photos below show the morning sunny weather, and then the evening as we were walking back from the Piggot building – things can change pretty quickly. The temperature with windchill got down to -27 degrees that night! By the morning, it had blown through and we have had unbroken clear blue skies since. Strange.

The temperatures are beginning to drop significantly, it was -16.4 degrees this morning, warming to a positively balmy -9.5 degrees around lunchtime with the effect of the sun! The first sunset of the summer is anticipated on 14th February, then its gets really cold!

So other than getting stuck into the site works, we haven’t been up to much. I’ll post a bit more over the next few days on the lifestyle here and some pics around the base, so until then, bye for now.

Sunny in the morning....

Not so sunny in the evening!

One of the space age looking modules takes shape

The module and the nearly setting sun

Its a long way home.... (in km by the way)

Sunday 10 February 2008

We're Here !!


We finally arrived at Creek 4 (one of the main landing possibilities against the sea ice for Halley access) on Friday morning, settling alongside the ice at about 6.30am.

The initial views so close to the ice shelf are absolutely stunning. The distant and intermittent sun revealing different outcrops of ice in shadow and brilliant highlights.

An advance welcome party of 4 skidoos came to assist the Shackleton in tying up. The ships crew sprang into action (after breakfast, naturally) to get the ship secure. This entails dragging out the 4 mooring lines approximately 200m across the ice, drilling deep holes for stakes to be buried in to secure the ropes and covering them back in.

After this was done, we were allowed for the first time onto the ice (escorted of course), a quick whiz round on a ‘happy sledge’ towed behind a skidoo (driven by Base Commander Vicky) for some photo opportunities and then back on board for some lunch before departing for the base.

The trip to the base was by the same happy sledge to the ice shelf and then by Sno-Cat to the base. An ingenious bit of kit resembling an old land rover raised up on high axles with triangular tracks attached, but mighty capable in the conditions.

As we crested the brow of the ice our first distant views of Halley were revealed, after working on the project for so long and listening to so many views of the base and Antarctica, it felt strange to actually be getting here.

On arrival, first we were shown our accommodation, sharing hut number 2 of the annexes to the Drewry building (sharing with 2 other guys from Morrison Construction). Then it was off to the main ‘Laws’ platform for base induction and a tour.

As soon as we had finished a tour of the main platform, finding out where we eat and where the bar is, we had another trip on another ‘Happy Sledge’ towed by Karl Tuplin, the BAS Halley VI Project Manager, giving us a tour of the entire base and the new site.

Then the first really good bit – Skidoo training by the base vehicles manager Martin Bell (who we realised is like a kid in a sweet shop, I guess he loves his job dealing with all the boys toys!). Some quick instruction and a basic driving test and we are qualified, and suitably warned of the dangers of rounding objects, hitting snow tails and crashing, all whilst several amateur camera’s are, no doubt, directly trained on your demise!

And that was it, we were at Halley, we had seen the base, a quick insight into the operations and we joined in with the rest of the team. We had a decent tea, and eventually retired to our new beds, ready for a days work at Halley VI the next morning.

At the sea ice with the Shackleton moored alongside in the background

The Shakletons First Officer, Alan Newham - inspecting the parking job.

The edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf - Stunning

Home for a few weeks - Red Drewry building (left), grey annexes (middle), Orange-ish Laws Platform (right)

A Bit of Work

The reason why Phil and I are here, is to look over the construction to date of the new Halley VI station, assist with anything needed and get a plan together for getting things moving for next season (Dec 08 to Mar 09).

The job has moved on well, progress generally looking better than expected. Our offices are based in the ‘Piggot’ building, which depending on conditions is a good 10-15 minutes walk to the sire and a few minutes to the main Halley V base ‘Laws’ Building, another few minutes beyond to our accommodation adjacent the ‘Drewry’ building (we are in the new annex buildings, hut number 2).

Last night there was a glimpse of the sun beginning to get near the horizon, it will be dropping below in a few more day’s time, it has been 24 hours daylight here since December. The setting sun signaling the onset of the winter season.

Today we managed to get one of the temporary wintering tents onto module H1 during a nice sunny morning. After lunch the wind picked up and the snow increased, creating a near whit out situation. It is very strange to not be able to distinguish snow/ice from sky, and to not be able to see a large wind tail of snow immediately in front of you. It is our first taste of the alien things that are Antarctica.

I’ll post some more details in a couple of days.

Me getting some 'Skidoo' training! (Photo courtesy of P Wells Photos Inc.)

The first signs of a nearly setting sun, the Skidoo fleet and the Piggot building behind

The reason why we're here - Halley VI construction (Marketing shots for Merit!)

The walk back to the office, -20 degress with windchill (guess where the sky starts?)