An Unpredictable Week - 3rd February 2013

‘Day 22’ - This is how we announce the start of every morning over a bowl of porridge and hot cup of tea or coffee. The daily count has become our tradition – not because we are counting down the days but simply as a reminder of how short a time we have been here. We have completely immersed ourselves in the task at hand and embraced our new way of life and thoroughly enjoyed discovering the small details and intricacies of this fascinating base. Wonderfully brought to life by the accounts we regularly receive from the men who first crossed this threshold and wintered in the Crystal Sound.

This has been a rather unpredictable week. We have all felt the effects of the long hours we have been working and mornings have been difficult with aches and strains to get going ... work patterns have been completely governed by the weather starting with a 36hour storm with constant winds which at times reached at least 60kts. The front door had to be wedged shut from the inside to prevent the constant rattling.… In the winters here at Base W this was not an unusual experience – hurricane winds were regular and lifelines were fixed from the door of the hut to the meteorological screen even though it was less than twenty yards away. The very same met screen is still here but sadly now collapsed (with substantial concrete footing still attached!) as is the wireless mast nearby – forced to the ground by the prevailing southerlies. On one occasion, the boat they stored and picketed down on the shoreline was blown over by a 100kt wind which stove it in beyond repair – the end of year report suggested a bigger boat would be of good value here in future! In another base report confirmation was made that Detaille Island is situated in a particularly windy spot by sledge parties who at various times were in a flat calm a few miles away and could see the drift at base!

We continued with the work on the footings of the buildings whenever the wind dropped off to allow outside work and sometimes working on whichever side of the building was sheltered from the wind at the time. By Wednesday we had completely finished the ice chipping, shutter building and concreting of all the eroded piers. A rip roaring success all round!

                       Damaged Footing with New Reinforcing                                                                                               Concrete Mixing

Early in the week we also had a short period of communication malfunction when our email software experienced an error which none of us were equipped to deal with. However, we still had our trusty iridium phone so were able to speak to our techie guys at Global Marine Networks in the USA (over a rather crackling and interfered signal) who talked Anna through the problem and we were once again on track and in normal email communication.  It was a frustrating couple of days and amazing to think how much we rely on our simple but effective communications with the outside world.  When it works it is the most efficient system but when it doesn’t it reminds us what it must have been like at the time when the radio operator was the base’s lifeline to the outside world and problems were not always solved with a few simple phonecalls.

Michael's Outdoor WorkshopWork has continued at a good pace with Michael focusing his efforts on the north end of the main hut building which has suffered a great deal with leaking through the exterior boards into the generator shed.  This was a challenging job requiring refelting and reboarding but done over a couple of days hard work and during a short spell of nice weather.

Tudor started the task of repainting the main hut roof (again!) so that we can leave the roof in as sound a condition as possible so a second coat has been started and very nearly finished.  Other tasks completed include painting all the shutters with a protective visir, andsealing the external windows during which time we noted that in total on the base there are a staggering 289 glass panes! Other interesting factoids – we have counted Tudor Paints the Main Hut Roof21 light fittings in our bunkroom but there are only 8 bunks! Even in summer the bunkroom is a very dark place but that many fittings do seem a bit excessive, we currently use candles and a tilly lamp in the evenings. Numerous cables and light fittings are seen throughout the building and we now know that there were two power systems in operation. One a 12V lighting system powered by wind turbine (Anna found the manual for this whilst cataloguing the radio room and there are two disused wind turbines outside the hut) and the other system powered by generators for lighting, radio equipment, and electric heaters.  A good system which meant that they could have wind powered lighting at times without having to run the very loud generators.

Anna Tackles the Mould!There have been plenty of inside jobs for us to do on wet and stormy days and we have continued with cleaning the mould that has flourished in this wet and marine environment. It is not a particularly pleasant task and a shame as the mould seems to be very fond of books which we have been trying to salvage. Anna has taken on the role of Quartermaster in organising all our supplies, equipment and so on and is frequently mocked by the Welsh boys for her phrase ‘there is a system’ – but there is a system which means we always know where things are stored and which of our provisions need using up first! Whoever was responsible for this task when the base was built would have had much more of a challenge on their hands. Imagine everything you need to build and furnish a base, run a science programme, train dog teams and work in the field as well as supplies and food for two years.

Base Construction 1956 - Photograph by Ron Miller

This fantastic photo of the base under construction in 1956 with timbers, building supplies and food boxes everywhere shows what a task this would have been at the onset of winter and at the mercy of the weather.

This week we were astonished to hear we had all made the UK news with stories featuring the re-opening of the Detaille Island Post Office. Wonderful to hear that the story has been so popular but all quite relieved to be enjoying the limelight and our 15 minutes of fame from a safe distance of about 8,000miles!

Michael is astonished to come across a woman in Antarctica!Our team in the UK had another quirky request for us this week which involved photographing some of the well-known magazines that are found on base here. We looked through the stock of magazines and selected a ‘Reader’s Digest’ and ‘Woman’s Own’ magazine as we know both still have a big readership – we took these over to the Beacon where we had fun taking some promotional photographs including the odd silly photo for our own amusement. In the 1950’s of course women were not allowed to work in Antarctica so this was a male only base (the first woman wintering field assistant at a British Base was in fact the Trust’s very own Director – Rachel Morgan – in 1997) but women’s magazines featuring things such as cooking recipes, dress making and so on were frequently part of the reading material that was delivered to base and the women featured in the magazines were the only ones to be seen for their two and a half year term in Antarctica!

We have been making very good progress so far and hope to complete the major works before we are due to leave in about a week’s time (depending on ice conditions and weather at the time!). Anna and Tudor will be returning to the UK but Michael is spending a short time at Port Lockroy completing some carpentry works. We are in frequent contact with the team running Port Lockroy who as well as running the museum and post office, both of which are responsible for funding the Trust’s work we do here and at other sites, also act as our support base. Port Lockroy acts both as a store of equipment and supplies and as a base from which to coordinate our continuing conservation works at other historic bases. All that we do in Antarctica is supported by the hard work put in by this year’s (and all those before them) Port Lockroy team.

 Tudor, Michael and Anna    Tudor, Michael and Anna