Sunday, December 18, 2005
posted 12/18/2005 09:33:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

The beat goes on

First off, I'll admit that I've been a bit bummed out lately. There haven't been as many flights coming in from Christchurch, and those that are coming in are carrying more critical stuff than fresh food, which leads to not as nice food (not saying it's always bad, but there are definitely meals when nothing looks too appetizing.) I'm burned out on powdered eggs to the point that I can hardly force myself to eat french toast, which had been a bit of a breakfast standby. Not good - breakfast is my favorite and usually biggest meal of the day. Often feeling really bored when I'm not working (even sometimes at work on slower days,) don't like being inside but fuelies spend so much time working outside that hiking or whatever isn't very appealing either. There's nothing alive around here other than people, skuas (see picture,) and this giant ball of fat down near the ice pier that people call a Weddell Seal. Not even any smells other than diesel engines (diesel fuel too, except that I don't notice that smell anymore) and the occasional whiff of the wastewater plant. There's just nothing here except for rock, ice, intense sun, and whatever it is that transforms this place from a barren wasteland to an industrial frontier town. The irony is that when I was back in Colorado, I went on mountaineering trips to see places that were nearly as barren for entertainment, but here it's a treat to have some paper flowers made of pipe cleaners and tissue paper. Also, our tiny hydroponic greenhouse, which I unfortunately didn't get a chance to get any pictures of, has been closed to public access due to 'safety' concerns. This corporate push for 'safety' (using quotes because it's more about the perception of safety than any real improvements) has really gotten on my nerves along with everyone else's. I missed the LDB launch, but thankfully can post a picture that someone else took and posted on the community drive...

A Skua waiting for some food to steal:The LDB launch I missed (the red and white rectangles are helium trailers - same size as your usual semi truck trailer - being pulled by stretch D8s:
A SkuaLDB (CREAM project) launch

All that said, life is pretty good really - just need to blow off a little steam and make sure I don't make it sound like life in McMurdo is perfect.

While this place is stark, it's definitely beautiful. The ice and atmosphere here make the views incredibly dynamic - looking off in the same direction seldom looks the same. We have a front row seat to a unique, huge, active volcano. In the other direction is a large frozen sound that will soon be breaking up and (hopefully) turning into open water complete with whales, penguins, and an oil tanker. On the far side of the sound is the Royal Society Range - 13,000 feet tall with several glaciers running down it all the way into the sea. Around town there are incredible science projects going on, and all the interesting folks it takes to make them work. In case you haven't noticed here, I'm a bit of a gearhead, so all the unique machines and tools that we get to work with are a real treat too.

Contrary to what the first paragraph might have you believe, the last few days down here have been pretty nice really. Saturday after working (see the post on strapping,) I visited with some friends for a bit, then watched the "Annual McMurdo Women's Soiree," which is a neat performance that a bunch of the women on station get together every year - as the name implies. It was a neat show, especially cool since several of the performers are people I work with everyday. There were skits, movies, dancing, live music, and art all rolled into one big show. Sunday (today) has been a bit more laid back, but still nice. Got to sleep in and go to brunch as usual on Sundays, did all my laundry, then spent much of the rest of the day playing ping pong with a bunch of friends. We had intended to go out and take advantage of the frisbee golf course, but the wind was a bit stiff and cold so that plan dissolved pretty quickly. Ezra, one of the galley crew, found out that the recreation department has a few more goals that haven't been put in yet. We're planning on playing the current course then figuring out locations to install the new goals, but I guess that'll have to wait for another day.

The Soiree:
Belly Dancing at the Soiree

This next week should be interesting in a bunch of different ways. For the first time since I've been working here, I've got a little bit of a different job than the usual "fuels town crew." I'll be waking up around 5am (instead of the usual 6:15am, but I do get to leave work at 4:30 - an hour earlier than usual) to go get the heliport fueling system ready for the day's business. Basically that entails measuring how much fuel is in the heliport tanks, setting the valves to fuel choppers from the appropriate tank, taking fuel samples, logging fuel quantities used, checking the fuel filters, and making sure all the equipment is in good shape. Heliport duty goes hand in hand with the duty pager, so if anything fuel related goes awry after our operating hours, I'm the guy that gets paged to deal with it. Fortunately (since I'm not a morning person,) this will only last for a week.

Also, we'll be pigging the Ice Runway fuel line on Tuesday, then rolling it up as soon after that as possible. Pigging line is an interesting, exciting, and rather dangerous procedure for flushing fuel from flexible fuel hose. We have about a mile of flexible hose running from town out to where the ice runway was, which is full of about 8,000 gallons of jet fuel (basically the same thing as kerosene or diesel fuel.) Before we can roll that hose up for storage until next season, we have to get just about every drop of that fuel out, but it's more complex than just hooking up a big shop vac to one end and sucking it all out. In simple terms, what we do is put a dense foam rubber bullet (the pig) in one end of the hose, then hook up a massive air compressor to the hose behind that. The other end of the hose is piped into one of our bulk fuel tanks. We turn on the compressor and push a bunch of air in - at over 150psi - which shoots the pig through the hose and squeezes all that fuel back into the bulk tank. So, instead of having a mile of hose full of fuel, we just have a mile of hose full of rather high pressure air, much easier to get rid of. With all that air, we're estimating that it's still going to take about 20 minutes to drain the hose through a 2" vent at either end of the line. That's a LOT of air - and a bit noisy too! Pigging is a fairly standard procedure in the normal petrochemical world, but down here it's a totally different animal since we're using flexible hose instead of steel pipe, and instead of pushing the pig with a different kind of fuel, we're just using compressed air. Plus, this is Antarctica, things don't work as planned here. During the pigging process, the hose can literally thrash around in the air as the pig rockets through it, which isn't something you want to be close to. There's also the possibility that something could break, releasing an explosion of pressurized air, fuel, and whatever else happens to be in the area. Of course, since all that bad stuff could happen, we take a lot of precautions. When the line is pressurized, nobody gets anywhere near it. The person running the compressor is the closest to the scene, but they're far enough away that we need to use binoculars to watch the pressure gauges.

Reeling up the hose is a fairly straightforward process, we basically break the long hose apart into shorter sections (still on the order of 1,800 feet each,) put caps on the end of those, then reel them up onto those giant orange reels that I was unrolling when we put down the Willy hose a couple weeks ago.

So, I guess that's all I can think of to post for now. Will definitely post pictures and such when I can get them!

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