Tuesday, February 28, 2006
posted 2/28/2006 10:51:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

How to get a room full of weather delayed ice people all excited:

Unless this flight boomerangs, this will be my last post from the ice this season. Will put up an update from chch!

Still in McMurdo! The flight yesterday was put on 24 hour weather delay because of some funky weather that drifted over the roads and runway. Would have written a post sooner, but incidentally the IT people were working on the bandwidth upgrade project and all our off-continent comms stuff was down for most of the day. Think I watched more TV/movies yesterday than I had all season previous to that. Hopefully, we'll be taking off from Pegasus in about 5 hours from now and getting to CHCH in about 11...

Sunday, February 26, 2006
posted 2/26/2006 02:24:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

My last day in Mactown, and likely the last posting from the ice

Mixed emotions about leaving, the possibility of coming back someday, getting ready to go traveling with friends, and leaving other friends behind. The station feels really quiet to me today, although there's a lot happening on an individual level for most of us here. It's a Sunday with a bit of a storm going on outside. Everyone within thousands of miles except for the 85 of us who will be leaving on the C-17 tomorrow is wintering over, and many of the winterovers are busy getting settled into their new rooms. Those of us who are leaving are getting our last packing done, trickling through the MCC (Movement Control Center) doing bag drag, and saying generally quiet goodbyes to our winterover friends who we won't be seeing until August at the very earliest, or never again at the latest.

Practically speaking, the redeployment process begins with your last day of work. Depending on what your job is down here, you will have to return some tools, make some notes for your replacement, or take care of special tasks possibly. Generally speaking, the last day of work will be a couple days before your flight back to New Zealand, but in some cases (as in cargo, where the last people out sometimes load their own plane) you can actually end up working to get your own flight home back to where it's going. Next, you'll usually have at least one day off to pack up your stuff and get ready to go. First, you'll have to "bag drag," which is a process where you gather all your stuff that you'll be taking back, put it on your body or into baggage, and haul everything up to MCC to get it weighed and checked in. We're required to wear ECW (extreme cold weather - basically the red parka, some warm pants, and our issue (bunny or FDX) boots) gear on the flight home, so you've got to have that on for bag drag, and you're allowed a carryon (and additional laptop bag if you've got a lappy,) and checked baggage totaling no more than 75 pounds (more for winterovers.) At bag drag, you will be weighed in along with all your gear, which is necessary for calculating fuel loads and such for the airplane. Checked bags will be left at MCC, where the cargo folks will put them on pallets and net them down, then transport the pallet(s) of baggage out to the airstrip and load it into the plane before it leaves. It's important to remember to keep a change of regular clothes and anything else that you'll need in your carryon bag because if the flight is delayed for whatever reason, you won't get your checked bags back unless the delay will be a couple days! Around the same time that bag drag is going on, the housing department will send a person around who inspects your room to verify that it's clean and ready for a new occupant. On the same day as bag drag, you head over to the finance office (in building 155, where the galley is) and pick up your travel fund, which is $200 USD in either cash or traveler's checks. Once all this stuff is done, you take care of any little errands and spend your last evening in McMurdo! The next morning, you keep an eye on "the scroll," which is a closed circuit TV channel with important information, including when "transport time" (the time to show up at MCC for the shuttle to the airfield) for your flight is. You get to MCC before your transport time wearing ECW gear and carrying your carryon bag, wait around for a while, then head out of the building through a crowd of people saying goodbye, climb into a vehicle (Ivan the terrabus, a PAX delta, an airporter, or a van most likely,) ride out to the airfield (Pegasus for C17s,) load into the plane, and you're off! In Christchurch you'll go through NZ customs as usual, get a ride from the airport to the CDC (clothing distribution center - epicenter of the USAP in chch) where you'll return all your issue clothing (except for my 5 pairs of totally worn out gloves that I threw out instead of carrying them back;) ,) maybe pick up any items you left for safekeeping, catch a shuttle to your room for the night, drop off your stuff, then head out for a made-to-order meal and some fresh smells and faces!

So, at this point I've packed up all my stuff that's leaving, and put a few other things into skua (take a penny/leave a penny, but for general stuff) and left a few items in the fuels barn in case I end up back down here at some point, with instructions to put them in skua at a certain date if they're still around. I've made some phone calls home to talk with family, written some emails, picked up my travel fund, written this post, and cleaned up my room. My bag drag time is in 45 minutes or so, then I'll be hanging out with friends, heading off to dinner, then to a (raging, most likely) going away party at Hotel California. It's storming a little bit outside, I suppose there's a chance that the flight will be delayed tomorrow, so we might all be spending anything between a few more hours to a few more days in McMurdo, we'll see what happens!

Friday, February 24, 2006
posted 2/24/2006 07:33:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Winding down

The last few days have been really busy as usual, but lots of fun and we've completed an amazing amount of work!

The hose reeling crews yesterday ended up getting just about all of the Willy hose rolled up last night, and the morning crew had the rest done well before lunch today so essentially the project took a day and a half - super fast! At one point Doc even had the evening reeling hose onto two different trailers simultaneously, which I don't think we had ever done before. Instead of working on the hose rolling, I spent yesterday morning running Scharen out to Pegasus to fuel up some things out there, then the evening was dedicated to breaking down the fuel pits. We made a bunch of progress with shutting down the fuel pits in the evening, then finished it up today. Both Bodie and Patrick had their birthdays yesterday, so we had a fun party at Bodie's place to finish the evening! Think tonight I'll go visit with my friend Cindy at the coffee house to chat about Mongolia, where she spent several years teaching for the Peace Corps. Might wander over to "Hut 10" (something approximating a normal house that we have here for special DV [distinguished visitors] or to check out for parties and get-togethers) after that for another going-away party too. We'll see!

Had a really random small-world sort of experience the other day that I forgot to mention on here. A few days ago one of my DA (diningroom assistant) friends mentioned to me that there was a new winterover DA who had heard about my AT talk and wanted to track me down to say hey. Turns out it was Streetrod (real name Rachael I think,) who is a 2004 AT backpacker that I did a 'shakedown' with when I was working at Neels Gap! At Neels Gap we would, for free, go through a new hikers backpack with them to talk about gear stuff, backpacking techniques, logistical stuff, and whatever randomly came up. So, it's a fun, informative, and relatively unique service where we (the staff) often end up getting to know customers a little bit, and it turns out one of those backpackers I worked with ended up finding a job down here and remembered who I was! Really weird to randomly bump into someone you know from a totally different time and place without having a clue that it was going to happen. Nice surprise!

Finally, my redeployment date has moved semi-officially to the 27th, so I need to get rolling and pack up all my stuff! (not too much, we've got a 75 pound checked baggage weight limit to adhere to. Fortunately, your carryon doesn't count towards that weight ;)

The crew has been in really good spirits lately too, which is especially nice when we're all working very hard and things are already going smoothly. Lots of good humor, friendly jokes, silly pranks, etc. going around. For instance, a funny conversation blip:

Setting the stage:Scott is congratulating the crew for our fantastic job pigging the Willy line. Seth is in the meeting with everyone else, but was one of two or three fuelies who was working on normal town duties instead of pigging.
Seth:I'd like you all to know that I'll gladly take credit for the success with the hose rollup, thank you Scott.
Scott:No, thank you Seth, we couldn't have done it without you.
Scott:Couldn't have done it without you being far, far away [grin].
Applause, laughter

Wednesday, February 22, 2006
posted 2/22/2006 07:27:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

So I've been a bit too busy and distracted lately to post any updates, will try and get you guys caught up on the big stuff with this post!

The last week has mostly blended together into one long stretch of working and going away parties. Nothing too remarkable happened at work; basically the usual town crew tasks, a little post-boat cleanup stuff, and a bit of preparation for the end of the season. Our two winterover fuelies, Jennifer and Eric, have arrived (actually about two weeks ago, but think I forgot to mention that here,) which has added some fun new conversation and fresh humor to the crew. Matt and Wendy have left for New Zealand, which is kind of a bummer, but it definitely did help me realize just how close the end of the season is getting! There was a fair amount of speculation and anticipation going around last week regarding when the weather at pole would turn cold and keep the LC-130s from flying - and starting the pole winter season. The last pole flight finally left Willy field for Pole early yesterday (Tuesday) morning and returned later in the day, so we've shifted into high gear closing down the airfield end of fuels. The pole closing has pretty much set the date of the last flight out of McMurdo to February 28th, although it's sounding increasingly like that date's going to be moved uop to the 27th. So, if all goes as it's sounding like it will, I might be spending Monday evening at the Dux De Lux in Christchurch!

This week has been pretty busy so far. I've been a little under the weather with general exhaustion and a lingering throat bug that hasn't been bad, but not too fun either. Didn't end up staying up to watch the first sunset Sunday night, probably a good thing! The sun has actually been setting behind some of the bigger mountains for several days anyhow, which looks much the same.

Spent the better part of Monday getting two Challenger trailers (think semi trailers, but with rubber tracks instead of wheels) loaded up with four reels and bases on each. Basically the same process as what Matt and I went through to get the reels loaded up for laying out the Willy hose, except this time we loaded empty reels and installed electric drive motors on some of the bases for rolling up the hose. We had a forklift and operator on loan to do the lifting, then Brian, Chris, and I gathered up a whole bunch of chains and binders to secure the bases to the trailers. Fun stuff! In the evening I started gathering up parts for a new tool that Bodie waned me to build for the Willy hose rollup.

Yesterday (Tuesday) mostly went towards the hose roller project - it's basically a big roller mounted on a pedestal that's attached to a wooden pallet. The idea is that this device will allow us to drag a mostly empty hose across something with a slightly higher elevation than the surrounding snowfield to consolidate any remaining fuel all into one end where it's easier to drain out. I built the roller out of a plastic hose spool that's about 18" wide, made a flange from some scrap plate steel, and an axle from extra steel pipe we had lying around. Reinforced the spool with strategically located screws and plywood, and David helped by building the base with an old pallet and some scrap lumber. It's pretty neat what you can build with an industrial camp's waste stuff at your fingertips! Tuesday evening was my friend Hilary's birthday, and a bunch of people's last day at work (including hers,) so of course we all ended up at Gallagher's socializing as has been usual for the last week or two. What was unusual was that this time my friend Mike found a gingerbread house kit, so a few of us ended up building a gingerbread house in the bar - quite a funny experience! Unfortunately nobody involved had a camera, so you guys will just have to take my word for it :/.

Today we pigged the Willy hose, started rolling it up, then some of us got started with breaking down the Willy fuel pits. There are only two LC130s left on the continent and they will be leaving for the season tomorrow morning, so we won't be fueling any more planes out at Willy until well into the next Summer season here! The pigging operation - where we shoot a foam bullet through the hose with a gigantic air compressor - went super smoothly and apparently left us with a very dry line (good thing.) My job was to drive the chaser vehicle (the Pisten Bully) and try to keep up with the pig so that we would know where it was and be able to keep track of how the operation was going. Fun stuff! In case you haven't been following along for the last few months, Pisten Bullys are one of my favorite vehicles down here - they're nifty tracked vehicles that are intended to be used for things like grooming ski trails, but end up getting used as versatile utility vehicles when it's necessary to drive over completely ungroomed or mushy surfaces. Managed to keep up with the pig all the way to the 48th connection on the hose (out of roughly 60,) which is a lot farther than we usually manage to keep up ;) You can tell where the pig (the foam rubber bullet) is because it gets momentarially stuck in each connection before the compressor builds up enough pressure to squeeze it through. When the pig pops through a connection, the hose in that area recoils, or on occasion even jumps several feet into the air! Today it didn't go airborne, but it was pretty impressive to see some of the connections violently wiggling around on the ground for a second as the ~150psi air forced a bunch of fuel and foam rubber to move around really quickly! The drive was fun, a neat blend of making up a strategy on the fly and spending as much time focused on the hose as possible while still driving in a sane manner over sometimes rough snow. We were done with the pigging by lunchtime, and from what we can tell at this point, we did an exceptionally good job overall and there is very very little fuel left in the hose. Sometimes things don't go so well and the pig disentegrates or doesn't always make a good seal so some fuel gets left in the hose, which is a pain during the rolling process. After lunch I helped get things setup for the hose rolling, then went out to the fuel pits to start taking them apart for the winter. By the time we quit, the hose reeling crew had gotten two full reels of hose done and had only draned a gallon or two of fuel out of the ~1 mile of hose involved - other times that would be more on the order of a couple hundred gallons!

Tomorrow I'm not sure exactly what I'll end up doing - I'm not on one of the hose rolling crews, so it could be anything between working in the lab or working on breaking down the pits, we'll see!

Polar Star in the turning basinPolar Star in the turning basinMy friends Kish, Cheri, and Sky at their last band practiceJah Chant's last practice
A nice example of Fata Morgana distorting a small island on the horizon. Willy hose is in the foregroundNeat fata morganaHope (fuels GA and fellow MMI resident) photographing one of our first sunsetsHope taking a picture of one of our first sunsets
The last LC-130 of the season flying northThe last LC-130 leaving for the winterThe pig we launched through the willy hose - after traveling through about 5 miles of hoseThe pig we used for the Willy hose

Sunday, February 19, 2006
posted 2/19/2006 03:16:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Q:Subject: No Blog Postings
Body: My God Skittles, did the talk about the AT go really really badly? Are you OK? -Morph

A:Hey Morph! Nope, the AT talk actually went really well, just been busy and too worn out to put together any new blog posts. Ended up talking about the trail for over two hours, had lots of questions and good crowd interaction, very good time! Several people down here have plans to hike the AT within the next year or two, so they had some very insightful questions and observations that made things stay interesting.

There's been a string of going away parties down here for the last week or so, which has left me pretty wiped out. Station is getting pretty quiet, think we're going to be under the 500 people mark after tomorrow's flight leaves. Winterovers are getting moved into their new rooms (they get a whole room to themselves over the winter, but have to share during summer,) and those of us who are leaving are working on travel plans. I have today off, so it'll be good for getting some recovery time in.

About to go visit with some friends who are leaving tomorrow, might get around to taking care of laundry and getting my things packed up in preperation for leaving in a week or less. The first sunset of the year will happen tonight (technically early tomorrow morning,) so I'm very tempted to stay up for that, which will inevitably lead to a groggy Ian at work tomoorrow, but that's nothing new (for me or most of the station) over the last couple weeks ;).

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
posted 2/15/2006 08:05:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Yesterday we did fuel the icebreaker Polar Star, which ended up going really quick and smoothly. After some negotiations (which started after we started pumping,) it was decided that the boat would only be taking on 200,000 gallons of fuel, so the transfer ran quite a lot faster than we had anticipated it would. Had super nice weather too! At one point I was stationed up in the pass to keep an eye on the pump we were using (a three cylinder Deutz - small version of what we use at the runways,) and monitor the fuel level in the bulk tank. Rather than just sitting on the pipeline staring at the pump I ended up just laying on top of the tank in the warm sun staring at the horizon and watching the happenings in town.

Once the transfer was done, we got things shut down and cleaned up, then got to go on a tour of the icebreaker! Unfortunately, my camera ended up staying in the barn all day so I don't have any pictures of the boat. The Polar Star has a little store/gift shop, so I did manage to pick up some souvenir type items and a few candy bars that we don't generally have on station. As we were leaving for the day, Bodie told me I could take tomorrow (now today) off work as a comp day, so I naturally ended up staying out a bit late visiting with friends, some of whom will be leaving today (then tomorrow.)

The plan for today is to put together an alcohol stove to show to some people, make some phone calls, and work on getting the AT presentation that I'll finally be giving tomorrow! More later? We'll see!

Monday, February 13, 2006
posted 2/13/2006 11:36:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Monday night update

Busy day for me - not exactly breakneck pace, but I was busy working on one thing or another from walking in the door until an hour and a half afer we're supposed to get done. Big change from sitting around at Willy waiting for airplanes to stop by and take fuel! Started out the morning with a transfer to fuel the powerplant with Seth, which involved a little standing scree/rock glissade where I accidentally smashed my radio (we all carry handheld VHF walkie talkies on the job - handy and tough little buggers!) Fortunately, it turned out that we had a couple broken ones back in the barn, including one that had gotten dropped in salt water - the electronics were fried but the plastic shell was good! Put together a working radio from the good parts, then fixed some other little tools and things around the barn while waiting for the powerplant transfer to get done.

We're anticipating the Polar Star will arrive late tonight and take on fuel tomorrow - 500,000 gallons of fuel to one boat! Doc and I spent a fair amount of the day getting setup for that operation, did several little things that would be hard to explain quickly. Then this afternoon we had some weather blow in which resulted in a couple LC130s being diverted to Pegasus, where for whatever reason the visibility was much better than at Willy. Usually the LC130s stay at Willy, it's a little bit of a hassel to deal with them out at Pegasus. Not that big of a deal, but we had did have to quickly shuffle a couple people from Willy out to Pegasus and replace the missing Willy people with town crew, so although I was on town crew I spent the last few hours of the day out at Willy. The Twin Otters have now all left, so we'll only be dealing with LC130s and C17s from now on! For the first time in a few weeks, I managed to have a regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner - and all at the same place!

The lighting is getting all pretty again!

Saturday, February 11, 2006
posted 2/11/2006 02:07:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

The tanker is offloaded and cleanup has begun! Things went incredibly smoothly once we finally had the ship tied up at the ice pier. Through much of the process, I was working with Matt fueling planes at Willy, taking care of fuel deliveries with Delta Scharen, or subbing in for regular tanker crew so that they could eat meals. Moved something on the order of 7 million gallons of fuel over the course of two (24 hour) days! Did manage to check out the deck of the ship as part of the job, but unfortunately I was out of town or busy with cleanup work when they ran the full tours so I didn't get to see the inside at all. Oh well... Polar Star should be coming in at the beginning of next week, that should be neat to see!

Krasin escorting Gianella back out to open waterDeltas have, among other nifty things, escape hatches on the roof!
Krasin escorting the Gianella out of the turning basin.Driving Scharen

Friday, February 10, 2006
posted 2/10/2006 02:21:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

The other day I had a good question about how the LC130s can use skis down here, but still manage to land on regular airports with concrete runways. The skis are actually somewhat retractable so the planes can use either the skis or the wheels, sometimes they actually use a little bit of both!

Skis upRear skis upFront ski up
Skis downRear skis downFront ski down

Tanker offload begins!

What a relief! After all the waiting, speculation, rescheduling, waiting, anticipation, and more waiting - the tanker is here, it's being offloaded, and it's going smoothly! Tanker offload is the single biggest project we have every season in fuels, so it's a pretty complex operation. We have at least 10 people working on offload 24 hours a day until the tanker has delivered our order. For offload, we have at least these positions being occupied at all times, and occasionally (like today when Matt and I got back from Willy,) have extra people on, who generally take care of chores or act as runners:

*Two people in the office coordinating things and keeping logs of the process.

*One person, the sponson, stays on the tanker and helps coordinates between our office (aka 'control') and the ship.

*One person is stationed near five valves at the end of our town pipeline network (the 'hardline') where the hoses to the tanker connect. This person rotates out with the linewalker.

*One person is the linewalker, they basically just walk the same path that the fuel is flowing to inspect the pipeline and all the valves along it. This person rotates out with the person at the pier valves.

*Two people run the four booster pumps, which are big 6 cylinder diesel powered pumps on trailers that help keep the fuel moving up to our bulk tanks, which are at significantly higher elevation than the tanker. The tanker has it's own pumps, but they're not quite powerful enough to move that far uphill at the speeds that we need to move it at.

*Two people are stationed at the pass where they monitor the levels in our bulk tanks and open/close valves as needed.

*Two people (at least) are 'runners,' who basically take care of all the little odds and ends that inevitably pop up. Basically they switch out with other people for bathroom/warmup/meal breaks, deliver tools or food, offer moral support, or take care of whatever random tasks pop up.

The Lawrence M Gianella, provider of sustinence for our little programKrasin pulled up beside Gianella for the evening
Tonya, the night sponson, and a couple Gianella crew guysThe booster pumps

Finally, an abbreviated version of what I was up to today:
Matt and I started out with checking out Scharen (we check fluids and visually inspect the vehicles once a day) and filling it up with a load of fuel, drove out to Willy where we split up for a bit. Matt and David (who's on AM pits) took care of Willy pits while John (also AM pits) and I drove Scharen out to Pegasus to fuel up the generator out there. Got back and switched out with David, then Matt and I fueled up a few planes before lunch (dinner for normal people.) Fueled up the generator and a few other things at Willy, then rolled back to Mactown in Delta Scharen. When we got back to McMurdo, tanker offload was chugging smoothly along. They had already pumped well over a million gallons of jet fuel and had (I believe, not positive though) finished up with pumping our mogas (regular unleaded gasoline) order. While we were out at Willy, the Krasin had pulled in beside the Gianella. Matt, Lisa, Jennifer (one of our two winterovers who just arrived a few days ago,) and I ran around to help making people comfortable in their various posts around town - delivered hot water, tea, snacks, sleeping bags, etc. Spent a fair amount of time checking up on potential issues that our offload helper GAs had found, but thankfully didn't run across anything to be concerned about. Subbed in with people so that they could get a break to eat midrats (lunch, but for nightshift people,) ate dinner, then got to the computer kiosk.

Thursday, February 09, 2006
posted 2/09/2006 12:10:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

C16 Movement through 2/9/6

So, here's a modified satellite image showing the general area around Ross Island, which is where McMurdo is, and iceberg C-16's movement over the last several days. It'll be interesting to see what the iceberg does over the next year or two because unless it blows out to sea (north,) it'll most likely have a big impact on the sea ice conditions around here. In this image, the shipping channel is shown as a dotted black line extending from McMurdo (near the south tip of Ross Island) to open water (black.) That shipping channel is the lifeline of McMurdo (and South Pole since it's supported from here,) so if the iceberg stays around and has a negative impact on the shipping channel, it could cause some major problems for getting ships in and out of McMurdo.

And, the big news of the morning, TANKER OFFLOAD HAS BEGUN!!! Sounds like they've been pumping AN8 for an hour or two, and the JP5 offload just got rolling. I just woke up, so am going to get some food then head up to the barn to see what's shakin'.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006
posted 2/07/2006 10:25:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

What could go wrong?

There have been some more delays with the cargo vessel offload that are going to push the tanker schedule back another day or two. Some weather related stuff (wind,) some mechanical stuff (crane broke,) and maybe a little user malfunction thrown in for good measure. At any rate, it's looking like we might get tanker offload started Wednesday evening if we're lucky, which puts us getting done with it Saturday night under optimal conditions. With the way things down here have been going recently, my gut feeling is that things won't go quite that smoothly and we'll be working all weekend...

And, if we're working all weekend (or into next week,) the odds that I'll end up PM pits for week #6 (double checked, this is #5) aren't too bad!

But wait! There's more! Completely out of the blue, this big iceberg named C16 started moving on Jan 28 and over the last week has swung around and moved through a relatively tight gap between some islands to nearly block off the open end of the shipping channel! Don't have any pictures handy to post, but have seen some and it's pretty unbelievable. This berg just sat still for quite a while before executed a very precise, unlikely, and potentially incredibly inconvenient little dance over to it's current position over just a few days. Will C16 block off the channel? If it does, will it do it after the ships are out of here? Interesting stuff! Think I'm going to wait a bit on posting the potentially dire consequences for dramatic effect, and to see what happens over the next couple days.

On a lighter note, we hit the bottom of our AN8 supply in town today, a little bit earlier than expected, but only by a couple thousand gallons. So, all our usable AN8 is now in the tanks out at Willy and Pegasus. We've been shuttling fuel back from Pegasus to Willy in the tanker sleds, and should have just enough AN8 to scrape by until tanker offload is done if cargo vessel offload goes well and if we can get the tanker offloaded smoothly and if the flights to pole take relatively light loads over the next several days. It's a major pain (and a kind of sketchy process) to send fuel out to Willy when we're offloading the tanker because of how the town fuel system is setup, but that's an option that I'm sure will be considered. Otherwise the choice is between sending out some JP5 to Willy or running the risk of the airfield going dry. Neither of the three options are pretty!

So, that's all I've got for tonight!

Funky weather today out at Willy (wind chill -14f in town,) just barely good enough to keep the airfield open. At one point as I stood waiting for a plane to begin fueling, snow drifts started forming leading off from my boots! Fortunately, Matt and I stayed occupied and had a pretty good time - much better to go into "grin and bear it" mode than just complain about the weather! A bunch of new guys with the national guard came in over the weekend, so today was the first workday for several of them. What an introduction to working in Antarctica! Of course I did my best to play down the nasty weather as being just a little worse than average to mess with them, but I'm sure they figured out what was up quickly enough.

After getting in from work a bit early, I hung out in the MMI (my dorm) lounge munching on snacks and chatting for a bit. Once that crowd all went to bed so I walked over to the galley for midrats (lunch for the nightshift people, dinner for me) complete with some great humor centering around how twisted our minds have all become after working on the ice. Laughed so hard my stomach hurt, but eventually we had to disperse so people could go back to work, and I could get on the computer for a little bit of typing.

Monday, February 06, 2006
posted 2/06/2006 12:24:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Weekend Update

All things considered, the station has been really quiet over the last few days. It's been overcast with occasional snow and wind, nothing major but it definitely puts a damper on things. Windchills (which have a lot more bearing on comfort than raw temperatures) are generally between 0 and -10f lately. Not too bad, but I'm not running around town in my sandals anymore. The attitude around town is an uncomfortable blend of anticipation, quiet nostalgia, frustration, relief, uncertainty, exhaustion, and nervous energy as things both get really busy and start winding down simultaneously. Along with vessel offload, there have been a few flights full of people heading back to warmer climes. Hundreds more people will be leaving over the next few weeks, including a few friends who have really helped shape my experience down here.

The cargo vessel has been offloaded and is now being filled back up with all the garbage (aka "retro") from here and South Pole to go back home to the states. Reloading the cargo vessel is supposed to take a bit longer than unloading it did since the shipping containers ("cans" for short) have to be arranged on the ship rather than just being quickly plucked out. Some areas around station are cordoned off for staging and distributing cargo, more people are on nightshift, and there's a bit more traffic around town than usual, but other than that not a whole lot is different in town from my perspective. The fuel tanker made it in to the turning basin on Saturday where it's waiting for it's turn at the ice pier. The current plan is that the cargo ship should get done sometime around Tuesday or Wednesday, it'll pull out from the pier to be replaced by the tanker, which we will then offload over the course of the following three days or so. South Pole has enough fuel for the winter, so although we might still run out of AN8 before the tanker is offloaded, it won't be as of a deal since the remaining flights will be transporting people and cargo and can just as easily run on the JP5 that we have plenty of.

So, that's the big picture of what's happening. On a more personal note, I worked Saturday at the fuel pits as usual, but unusually was able to get out of the pits a little early since there weren't any planes needing fuel after 6pm or so. Missed the shuttle back to McMurdo by a minute or two, but got lucky and got a ride back with some DA (dining room assistant) friends of mine who were running the Willy Galley. Spent the first part of the evening hanging around at the coffee house (my home away from home when I can make it,) then a typical only-in-McMurdo style spontaneous party erupted around 9 or 10pm and went on to sometime Sunday morning. Woke up this morning (noon for everyone else, still in swing shift mode) downed a half gallon of water (it's unbelievably dry here for being on the coast, although I guess the sea is frozen over...,) then walked over to the galley to grab brunch. Unfortunately I found that due to those pesky boats we would be having a mediocre lunch of pulled pork sandwiches and various fried things (funny aside - the galley guys actually wrote "various fried things" on the menu board a week or two ago, thought that was funny) instead of the tasty brunch that I've somehow managed to miss for the last few weeks. Oh well. Hung out at the coffee house, did laundry, borrowed a laptop and talked trail stuff with my friend Delaney, spent some time on the computer, watched the tail end of a movie, and generally had a mellow, lazy day.

Haven't confirmed this with Bodie, but it sounds like I'll be on PM pits for this week since we'll be doing tanker offload, which I'm not too excited about but will deal with. Have been on PM pits for something like 6 weeks (normally we have a single (AM or PM) 2 or 3 week rotation at pits per season) and am frankly sick of the schedule that goes with it and doing practically the same thing for days straight. As we say all too often - It's a harsh continent.

I thought it was funny at least

Saturday, February 04, 2006
posted 2/04/2006 08:08:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

"Attention all fuelies, attention all fuelies. There is a fuel tanker in the turning basin."


Friday, February 03, 2006
posted 2/03/2006 01:14:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Today was a little more calm than yesterday, but it wasn't entirely without incident! Walked in to breakfast this morning to find that the cargo ship had nudged (slight understatement) the ice pier a little bit - moved the entire thing (that's a BIG chunk of ice) about 10 feet and broke the bridge to it in the process. As you might guess, cargo vessel offload took a while to get started while they got the bridge repaired.

Fortunately, I was mostly isolated from all the chaos around town while working the pits out at Willy with Matt again. We ended up fueling 8 planes; 4 LC130s and 4 Twin Otters. Two of the Otters were leaving for the season, which means an 8(?) leg trip for them from McMurdo to South Pole to Rothera to Chile, then bouncing through a few places I can't remember to get to Houston (or was it Austin...) then home base in Calgary. Sounds like an interesting, although long, trip to me! It finally sunk in today that the season is drawing to a close and I'll likely never see a lot of my friends from here again when the two Otters left. Wally and Brian, the crew of one of the planes, walked across the pits (I was taking care of an LC130 at the time) to shake hands and say their goodbyes before they took off. It's a bittersweet feeling, but I'm ready to go and get on with whatever will come next.

A tilted picture of an LC-130 landing in front of Black Island with a garden variety Fata Morgana on the horizon.Matt fueling the same LC-130 a few minutes later. At the same time, cargo is loading it with a pallet train (several pallets stuck together to hold big items.)
an LC130 landing with fata morgana occuring in the backgroundMatt fueling an LC130
The American Tern getting started with offload
Cargo vessel offload getting started

Thursday, February 02, 2006
posted 2/02/2006 12:47:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Crazy day!

First thing this morning I found out that the Kaptain K (the tour ship/icebreaker that was going to save the day) had decided to back out on the deal they had with the USAP to help us getting ships in, so that was an out-of-nowhere sort of surprise!

The implications of the Kaptian K quitting were of course potentially pretty serious and far reaching, so much of the idle time out at Willy was spent speculating on what those implications would be. The plan as Matt and I left McMurdo was that the Krasin would attempt to bring in the Tern (cargo vessel) to test the waters, if they made it in the Tern would sit in the turning basin while the Krasin brought the tanker in to get it's offload started, and we'd take things from there.

The pits were pretty laid back fortunately - just fueled three skiers in relatively rapid succession, ate dinner (my lunch,) then headed back into town. Matt and I arrived back in town and saw that the cargo vessel had arrived, so that was a slightly surprising good sign! We walked into the barn as a meeting was breaking up where the crew had found out that the cargo vessel was actually going to be unloading first! That was a bit of a surprise, and meant that we'd have to go drain and roll up the hoses that we had staged on the ice pier for offloading the tanker. So, everyone was rushing around the barn gathering up tools, parts, clothes, etc. and generally getting things moving in an organized frenzy. Matt and I walked into the office to figure out what was going on and where we fit into the picture right about the same time Scott (the fuels director) got a phone call saying that the tanker Capitan had decided they would just give it a shot and try to get in, so we would probably be offloading the tanker first.

Several phone and radio calls, and a few minutes later everyone was back in the office in a second meeting to figure out what would be the best course of action now that we needed to be ready to either clean up the pier or start offload on short notice. We worked out a different plan, then dispersed to move forward with it.

Within a few minutes, another phonecall came in - we would be unloading the cargo vessel first and had to have the ice pier clean by 8am! So, that became the official plan and we got rolling. Chris and I jumped on Delta Scharen to go find tanks we could drain her fuel load into so that we could suck out the pier hoses, which included some very tight precision driving to get the delta up to a big tank that had some space in it (used for heating several of the dorms, but we usually fill it with the considerably smaller Fule Mule.) Got that done, then rolled down to the ice pier and began sucking hoses down and packing them away in a corner of the pier so they wouldn't interfere with cargo offload. In the meantime, other people were getting things staged to pig the mogas line, and a big crowd of navchaps showed up out of nowhere. Navchaps are a Navy port logistics group that gets brought down every season to help out with vessel offload - they've been really bored lately since they came down nearly two weeks ago and the vessel still hasn't come in. I'm still not clear on how they knew to show up, but they did and were very helpful with 'flaking' (folding in a tight zigzag pattern) the hoses up, which is usually a bit of a workout.

Eventually it was time for midrats, so we all got things to a good stopping point and went to the galley to eat. Matt and I are done for the day now, but everyone else is out there pigging the line at this point and will be getting the last bits of pier cleanup done over the next few hours. Assuming things go as planned, the cargo vessel offload will begin at 8am tomorrow morning, chaos will ensue, and 5 days later we should have the fuel vessel pulling in to finally get our fuel shipment delivered.

If things go as currently planned, we're going to run out of AN8 before the tanker gets unloaded, so I'd imagine that will cause some chaos. Sounds like we do have enough AN8 on station to satisfy the needs of south pole, so that's a very very good thing! Given how quickly plans have been changing lately, I'd say there's a decent chance that we could even end up offloading the tanker tomorrow. Will just have to see how things play out and keep this thing updated!

A few nightshift fuelies and a bunch of Navchaps finishing up with cleaning our hoses off the ice pier. The water/ice in the foreground is what the cargo vessel and fuel tanker will have to move through! Big orange tanker truck is Scharen, which is being used to suck up the fuel that the two teams of people are walking out of a section of hose.
Rolling up the offload hoses