A long commute to work
In the first of her series of blog posts about working at Damoy Hut, field guide Jo Bradshaw tells us about her long commute to the “most bonkers job ever”.
Imagine the scene: I am on a Hurtigruten cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula with my mother. En route, an email pops into my inbox highlighting a job opening for a Field Guide on the Antarctic Peninsula starting in three weeks.
I was immediately intrigued and was potentially available. However, I had promised myself a calmer start to the following year: the first couple of months at home, in the UK, sleeping in my own bed, not an airport in sight. All the best-laid plans etc!
Jo was on a cruise when she saw the job opening (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
Following a call with UKAHT, to get a better idea about the job, while we were making our way south across the Drake Passage, I learnt I would be visiting Damoy Hut in just a few days as part of our cruise. It was all too good to be true but sometimes the stars align and things are simply meant to be.
Roll on January and after only 10 days back in the UK following our cruise (which was amazing) and a whirlwind of reading, training, gathering kit, seeing family and getting my act together, I stood at my front door at 2.30am waiting for a taxi to arrive with 50kg of kit and butterflies in my tummy, ready to head south again for my most bonkers job yet.
Here is the What, the Why and the How of a job on the Antarctic Peninsula working for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
My job title was Field Guide which usually means you are out and about guiding those you work with around parts of Antarctica, keeping them safe so that they can do their respective jobs. As we were to be based in one location and not moving very far from ‘home’ (base camp tent) and ‘work’ (Damoy Hut) I retitled the job as Field Camp Manager which was more apt for our particular project.
I would be working with Sven Habermann and Martin Herrmann, two heritage carpenters, and our project was to strip and repaint Damoy Hut, known as the world’s southernmost waiting room. It was the only air transit facility on the peninsula which allowed safe passage of British Antarctic Survey (BAS) personnel and equipment down to Rothera Station when the BAS ships could not get farther south due to sea ice.
The hut was built in 1975 out of a material called Structaply as a base for personnel to stay while they were waiting for a Twin Otter aircraft to land on the glacier above the hut for their onward travel. It has stood the test of time in extremely harsh weather and a damp environment but was in need of a good paint job and a few elements of the hut restoring in order for it to last another few decades and beyond.
We would essentially be taking on the most extreme DIY project that any of us had ever undertaken. Sven and Martin are both experienced in their trades. However, this was a project on steroids so we all had to be up for the challenge.
When the hut was built in 1975, it was painted a traditional orange which is highly visible to aircraft. Since then, it has seen a few different colour variations from pink to green but most recently, in the 2009/2010 Antarctic summer season, it was repainted bright blue.
Damoy was in need of some attention (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
Rather than stripping the paint, previous coats had been put on top of what was already there and the paint was now peeling off. As such, a thorough job ensued which included stripping off the original layers of paint, ideally, back to the ply base, painting on an oil-based primer then at least four coats of a specialist water-based paint made by a Finnish brand called Tikkurila, designed to be used in extreme environments and was specifically colour matched to the original orange from 1975.
A few other conservation tasks were to be completed around and inside the hut to ensure its longevity. However, our primary task was to complete the paint job and some paint job it turned out to be!
More of the how will follow in my next blog post so this is more about how we travelled to this most bonkers of locations.
As mentioned, I left my house in Salisbury at 2.30am on Monday 2 January.
“You off on holiday love?” asked my taxi driver.
“Actually no, I’m off to Antarctica to repaint a hut.” A sentence I never thought would pass my lips. But, here I was, three weeks’ notice and heading south again on an adventure which was same-same but also so very different to my other expeditions.
50kg of kit all packed (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
At Heathrow, I boarded a plane to Paris and then onto Buenos Aires with a short overnight stop before my final early morning flight down to Ushuaia, commonly known as Fin del Mundo – the end of the world.
To say that I was a space cadet when I walked through arrivals in a very windy Ushuaia was an understatement! And attempting a conversation in Spanglish with my very interested taxi driver about what I was up to next was taxing my brain to the max. Arriving at Hostel Antarctica, all I wanted to do was to have a shower and go to bed. Lugging my heavy bags into my room, the shower had to wait. I hit the pillow and that was it for the next four hours.
At the end of the world (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
Having been to Ushuaia twice in December, before and after the cruise, I knew my way around town but with a few jobs to do before my voyage further south, I needed to get to know the town much better.
I had a list from the team at Port Lockroy, where I was heading next, for cheesy puffs and olive oil. Plus, we needed a heater for our mess tent and a few other goodies. It was great to go out for a walk, the wind in my face on the way to the supermarket and blowing me back to the hostel on my return. Little did I realise, just how much the wind would feature in my time in Antarctica.
Getting some help with her kit in Ushuaia (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
A few days later, well rested, well fed and repacked, I headed to the port to board MS Hamburg for the final six days of my commute to work. As part of an agreement with the Independent Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), personnel on their way to work on the peninsula are offered free passage by cruise ships to their destinations. Once I had found help moving my 50kg of kit – plus a car battery onto the ship – I was shown to my cabin where I promptly fell asleep again! Having been rather sick on the first day across the Drake Passage a month before, I had taken the prescribed sea sickness tablets which swiftly knocked me out.
I am very pleased to report that our voyage across the Drake was a much calmer one this time around. Two days later, we landed at Nico Island for the first foray ashore. I was warmly welcomed by the expedition team and went ashore with them ahead of the passengers which meant I had plenty of time to wander around. As with the weather in Ushuaia, the wind has a big impact on where ships can offer landings.
Hanging out with the expedition team (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
I spent my time on board – between sleeping, eating, the gym and going ashore – getting acquainted with the myriad operations documents which I needed to study. Unlike my usual expedition work, where we are on the move every day, this job was a fairly static one so getting my head around the daily workings of life on the project took some time. It sounds counterintuitive as surely a static expedition is more logical than a journey but we had more equipment, more could go wrong and help was farther away.
Come Wednesday 11 January, I’m getting ready for my final trip ashore and to say a fond farewell to the team on board the Hamburg as we prepare for a landing at Port Lockroy, UKAHT’s flagship site and the home to the world’s southernmost post office and museum. It had been an extraordinary journey so far but more extraordinary things were in store for me.
First, I was to meet up with Port Lockroy’s seasonal team – Lucy, Mairi, Clare and Natalie – followed by my Damoy colleagues, Sven and Martin who were coming ashore that afternoon having spent the last seven days heading south on another cruise ship.
More of that to come…
Welcome to Port Lockroy! (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
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