Sunday, 27 November 2016

Finding my feet

Hello everybody, I know it’s been a week since my last post but I’ve been pretty busy!

I’m currently on evening watch – We take it in turns to stay up on station in the evenings and just keep an eye on the building – check everyone is back on base, monitor the alarms, do a bit of cleaning etc. Today has been very quite – a combination of a busy week, a few too many glasses of wine last night for some and a day trip out to see the penguins and do some ice climbing for others. I therefore have a bit of time so I’ll up date you as to what has been going on this week.

So I have now settled in to life at here at Halley. Daily routine is most determined by the kitchen – we eat 5 times per day!! Breakfast at 7am is cereals and toast. At 10.30 we break for ‘smoko’ which is normally some combination of bacon/sausage/eggs/black pudding! Lunch is 1-2pm and there is often a choice of hot food – soup/pasta etc. Afternoon smoko is at 4pm and there are freshly baked cookies/biscuits/cakes of some sort. 
Gooseberry cupcakes courtesy of our chef Olivier

Dinner is at 7pm and is usually 2 or 3 courses. There is always fresh bread and cold cuts/cheese/salads left out if you get hungry in between!!! My job at the moment is not particularly physical and I’m mostly indoors so I’m having to restrict myself to one pudding per day! The food is all made fresh here on site by our (currently 3 chefs) who are outstanding. We still have a good supply of fresh fruit and vegetables at the moment as there have been several flights onto station in the past few weeks. Most of our supplies however will arrive with the RRS Ernest Shackleton when it arrives for resupply around Christmas. Saturday is a normal working day during the summer (when the summer season is only 4 months long you have to make the most of the time). Saturday evenings are a slightly more formal arrangement – people put on a shirt and the chefs go all out – Last Saturday when we arrived there was steak and this weekend there was roast duck with orange sauce, asparagus and potato dauphinoise. Sunday is a day off for most people so there is a cooked brunch at 11am and a roast dinner at 6.30pm.
The Halley VI dining room
The view from the window - looking East

My bedroom is in a building known as the Drury. It is a 2 storey building built on a giant sledge that is used as accommodation for staff during the summer months. It is set up about 200m from the main modules. It receives power from the main modules but is otherwise entirely self contained. Downstairs it contains a small kitchen and living room along with storage space, a boot room, boiler and melt tank for melting snow into water. Upstairs there are 9 bedrooms with 2 bunk beds in each and a communal bathroom with showers. While it’s cosy it’s really comfortable and certainly warm enough. The main disadvantages are the fact that you have to periodically shovel snow into the melt tank for water to drink and shower with (the drivers here bulldoze a huge pile of snow up a ramp to the melt tank door but the last few feet are done by hand! The other disadvantage is the commute to work – now I know most of you would kill for a commute of 200m in the morning and to be honest when the sun is out and the wind is down it is a very pleasant stroll, crunching through the snow! However Tuesday and Wednesday this week we were hit by a bit of a storm. Trying to walk through 30m visability in 40kt winds is a bit of a challenge. The wind at Halley comes predominantly form the east in a constant stream. When it blows it doesn’t gust in the same way as back home. This wind has travelled for several hundred kilometres across the Brunt ice shelf and Dronning Maud Land with almost nothing in its way – no trees, mountains or buildings to break it up, just thousands of square kilometres of barren ice and snow. The wind flows like a constant river - it picks some of that snow up and dumps it on the first thing it comes across which is any structure sticking up out of the ice – mainly Halley VI and its environs. The snow builds up a small mound on the windward side of any object, the sides are scoured clear by the fast flowing air but the leeward side of the object develops a huge cone of snow call a wind trail. Given enough time these can grow to meters high and long. Fortunately here we have a team of Pisten Bully and bull dozer drivers who come along and flatten them for us. To help minimise the impact of this effect everything on base is laid out in long lines from north to south. Buildings and containers that are used for storage are positioned with their smallest face to the wind. The lines are kept several hundred meters apart and several of the buildings (including the station) are jacked up on legs which allows the wind to blow underneath them and help prevent snow accumulation.

When I left the building to walk to the main modules on Wednesday morning there was only a few meters of visibility and a strong wind. The sun is still high in the sky but the cloud diffuses the light and there is absolutely no contrast – everything just looks white! I promptly walked straight into a 4ft high snow trail that had not been there the night before and couldn’t see even when I was lying on it upside down! Fortunately no harm done (other than to my pride) but it was a bit of a surprise.
The view from the surgery on a good day

The view on a not so good day

It has taken me all week to learn how to get dressed here as well. Ignoring the squall on Tuesday/Wednesday the weather has been pretty good this week. Clear sunny skies, very little wind. Looking out of the window it looks very inviting. However it is between -7 and -11 degrees outside which is fine for a few minutes but soon becomes very uncomfortable. Factor in the wind chill and you soon find yourself scrabbling to get back inside if you’re not properly dressed. BAS provides each individual with a large array of cold weather gear. From insulated boiler suits to fleece and thermals, a variety of jackets and footwear. I have been experimenting with different set up’s during the week and have got the process down to about 5 minutes now. Compare this to the team that has been here all winter or the seasoned Antarctic veterans who are out the door in 30 seconds flat! My first instinct was to go all out and have every bit of skin covered – hats/buffs/gloves/jacket done all the way up! But this soon turned impractical – it was taking forever and even after the short walk between buildings I was roasting. My current system for moving around base (in the sunshine) is:
1)    Suncream – factor 30, loads of it, over every bit of exposed skin (including the inside of your nostrils – the UV bounces off of the snow and up your nose). With this comes chapstick as well.
2)    Boots – we have insulated steel toe cap boots which are pretty comfortable but a bit of a pain to get on and off, they are also quite heavy. I prefer the Baffin’s this are huge thick insulated boots with built in gaiters. They feel a bit like tucking you feet into a sleeping bag – they are also easy to get on and off.
3)    Paramo jacket – these slip over you head, have a built in hood and zip up over your mouth if you need it too. They also have a handy chest pocket for keeping stuff in.
4)    Always do the jacket before you put your hat on else you end up pulling your hat off your head!
5)    Next is sunglasses – it is really uncomfortable to go anywhere without any eye protection. Even at midnight the sun is high up in the sky. Goggles if its very windy.  
6)    Next comes gloves – now that the suncream has sunk into your hands. Thicker gloves are fine and easy to get on but you do struggle with dexterity. I have a nice pair of Montane gloves that are fairly thin, they are a bit of a struggle to get on but they keep the worst of the cold off and I can use the controls on my camera with them.
7)    Make sure you have some backup – If it’s just a quick walk between buildings then you’ll be fine but if your going any distance away from the buildings you’ll need some spare stuff in case anything gets broken or lost.
8)    Get you radio – there are loads of hand held VHF radios dotted around the base – for general use and for emergencies. As the doctor I get my own in case anyone needs to get hold of me.
9)    Tag out – we use a board which is marked out with the different areas on base and each person has an individual tag – you move your tag to the area you in/going to so that people know where you are in an emergency!
10) Going to where your heading – on arrival do the same in reverse!

It took a lot of trips in and out of the boot boot room and lots of forgotten kit/putting things on in the wrong order to work this out.
The boot room

Despite spending hours getting dressed/undressed I have actually been doing some work. On Monday I had a handover with my predecessor Grieg – he’s been here for the pas 11 months and is now a dab hand at Antarctic living. He showed me round the surgery, various bits of equipment, computer systems etc. We also went over some of the other duties of the doctor down here – mainly running the post office and dealing with waste. There isn’t a lot of medical work for 1 let alone 2 doctors down here at the moment. The people on base are all pretty healthy to begin with so it is certainly nothing like my previous job in an East London Emergency Department (Big shout out to The Homerton crew!!!). Everybody seems to have had a cold recently and we were dangerously low on strepsils for a short time but that emergency seems to be over. We leave out a box of simple pain killers and plasters so that people with cuts/scratches/headaches don’t need to come and see the doctor for every little thing. We have spent some time going through the plans for how the surgery will function during the move of the base in a few weeks time (basically we are moving everything out of the surgery into a temporary one consisting of 2 shipping containers while the base is shut down and moved – more on this another time).
The surgery - though currently the sorting office

When not tending to the sick and injured of Halley I’ve been involved in quite a lot of other bits and pieces but I’ll save those stories for the next post.

I’m due off site for the next few days (possibly a week or two) while we set up the new camp site but will hopefully be ale to pop back and update the blog. Stay tuned.

We did have one extra visitor this week!!!

This little fellow wandered through the station on Thursday evening. He was pretty lost as it’s a long way from the coast to here. I think the site of 20 hairy station personnel may have put him off because he didn’t stay long. Anyway – it was nice to see my first Antarctic penguin!!!

I do post on instagram (HalleyVIDoc) and Twitter (@HalleyVIDoc) as well if you want to see other pics and stuff that I've been up to.
Also feel free to email me any questions or comments, the internet is pretty good here most of the time.

I'll leave you with some pretty pictures that I took a few days ago when we had a bit of fog!

Take care

 The superDARN radar array and caboose
 The souther end of the station in the fog
A sun halo (formed from ice crystals in the atmosphere) over the picnic bench!

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