Season begin blog - September 2011

Preparations for yet another season 2011/12

Although the last blog is dated back to March of this year evoking the impression that not very much has been going on during the summer, nothing is more wrong than that. The northern spring, summer and autumn is an extremely busy period in the preparations for the Antarctic summer season. Planning is crucial for such a remote location as e.g. forgetting a simple screw could mean postponing a specific restoration activity to next year. From the permanent employees, to the Trustees, and all the unnamed helpers everywhere, everybody is buzzing with activities to make the upcoming season a success.

While the previous team was still at Port Lockroy various preparations occurred like ordering, screening through various applicants and thinking about the general plans ahead. April was characterized by the latest Bergy Bits issue updating all members on the activities of the Antarctic Heritage Trust.At the annual debrief of last year’s team, brains were smoking either at the table or during a hike when everybody evaluated the last season in order to improve even tiny bits and pieces for the upcoming season. It was also the time of the official draw of the Union Jack, which flew at Port Lockroy 10/11 going to Adele Bintley of Australia. Who will be the lucky one this season?

As May came, Tudor joined the IAATO meeting in Hobart, Australia. It is always a great way of meeting up with various members and discuss any items from the past season as well as for the future season face to face. Shortly after his return the selection of this year’s team took place.

‘Can you carry a big heavy box over slippery rocks and slushy snow whilst dodging penguins?’ was one of the questions on the person specification for this unique role at Port Lockroy. Well over 100 applicants thought they could and after studying each application just eight people were chosen to attend the two-day selection course at Kingcoed Farm. The lucky eight arrived at Kingcoed with bags of enthusiasm, a few nerves and whole pot of excitement, and were greeted by the selection team - Rachel and Tudor Morgan, Anna Malaos, Ylva Grams, John Pye, Richard Hanson, and Jim Oakley. After brief introductions, and a well-received lunch, the packed schedule began with the first team test of putting up the unknown tent in the adjacent field (ready to collapse into later for some well earned sleep). A series of individual and team practical exercises followed which gave the selection team a chance to see how everyone would deal with challenging situations likely to be faced at Port Lockroy. These focused on various practical abilities, as well as assessing the qualities typically needed such as communication, trust, confidence, team work, patience, safety, and logical thinking to name a few. Some of the highlights included building a raft, shovelling gravel against the clock, and discovering what ‘jelly baby tsunami’ actually involved. As well as this array of exciting activities each candidate had a formal interview and gave a short presentation on an aspect of Antarctic Heritage. The two days flew by and soon it was time for the candidates to go home and for the selection team to pick just four out of the eight to join Ylva at Port Lockroy for the 2011/12 season. The applicants had given it their all, getting completely involved in every task thrown at them, and showed their incredible versatility throughout. Thanks to everyone involved for making this year’s selection course really fun and very memorable.

Having gone through the very difficult selection process this year where strong candidates presented themselves, the selected team is thrilled and honoured to be going to the Peninsula. This year’s team consists of Cat Totty , Claire Brown, John Critchley (previously at Bird Island and Halley), Kath Leavy (2nd part of the season), Michael Powell (previously at numerous locations amongst which Rothera, South Pole, Bird Island), Rachel Morgan (previously at Rothera and Port Lockroy; 1st part of the season) and Ylva Grams (previously at Port Lockroy) creating a great mixture of people with a broad experience and capabilities. Next to the yearly maintenance and operation of Port Lockroy (Claire, Cat, Rachel/John, Ylva/Kath), some major activities are planned for this season for the conservation team. At Port Lockroy, the roof of the workshop that already showed cracks in some of the beams will be reconstructed while the workshop and the old base leader’s office will be included in the exhibit (Michael/John). In December some maintenance activities are planned at Wordie House to keep the hut weather tight (Michael/Rachel). In Jan/Feb the great work of the previous conservation team at Detaille will be continued with special focus on maintaining weather tightness and securing some additional historic traits like the anemometer tower (Michael/Ylva).

Throughout the summer, the activities have continued. Interviews and presentations were given by the UKAHT staff. Trustees, employees and other helpful hands have met in different combinations to discuss the way forward. Alan Carroll has restored even more artefacts (e.g. weather vane for the anemometer tower) which are going south for installation at Port Lockroy this season. The visitors will have an even more lively impression of the historic site.

August arrived, thus it was training-time again. Before the training began, the new team decided to get together in the Brecon Beacons for a weekend of walking, camping and general team bonding in Kath's „backyard“. It was a great opportunity to get to know each other a bit better and to finally start disscussing all the things that had been flying round our heads for months and could not be adressed by email or phone. After setting up camp on the Friday evening we decided to escape the Welsh weather and hoards of midges and headed straight to the pub where Antarctic first timers Claire, Cat and Kath were able to ply John and Ylva with questions about their previous experiences. The next morning we braved the wild wind, rain and fog (a first taste of the strong winds at Port Lockroy) and set off for a hike over Pen-y-Fan. By the evening, the drizzle had abated and we were able to rest our aching muscles around the campfire with a mug of wine before collapsing into our sleeping bags once again.

How do you possibly train to spend four months on a tiny island, surrounded by penguins, welcoming thousands of international visitors to a historic scientific base? In true UKAHT style, the answer was by a four day comprehensive introduction to every aspect of life at Port Lockroy, covering everything from ice to insurance, penguins to postal regulations and punctuated by regular mugs of tea. Tudor, Rachel, Anna and Ylva took us through many sessions explaining the history of the Trust, how it works, the Ops Manual including post office/shop/wildife monitoring, Health and Safety and more. We absorbed as much as we could of their experience. Everything has been very diligently documented by previous teams, which really helped answer our questions and build a picture of what our day-to-day life will be like. We were also privileged to meet Alan Carroll, Base Commander 1955-57, who shared with us his extensive collection of photographs and encyclopaedic knowledge of the time when Base A was fully operational. He also explained the scientific research that his team was doing at the time – including ‘whistlers’, the sound of lightening strikes far away in North America that can still be heard on his original equipment in Bransfield House today. Ian Rushby, the Trust’s Treasurer, also joined us for an evening. Another key person in the base’s history who came to talk to us was Dave Burkitt, who led the 1996 restoration team and oversaw the base in the following years. He shared many inspirational stories of his time at Port Lockroy, and also his recent adventures as a guide in the Arctic and Antarctic. The dedication and passion of all those who have been involved with the base to date reminded us how lucky we are to be playing a small part in its history. We started to put together the ship schedules, and it was great to get to know the names of the vessels that will become our local friends. To help get the season off on exactly the right foot, we also met Anja, an Expedition Leader on the Fram, who gave us her insight on what makes a successful landing from a visitor’s point of view. Christmas came early as we each received the kit we are generously supplied with, including fantastically thick jackets and socks. We are very grateful to TOG24 again for our warm kit. Several of us sceptics became instant Croc converts. We’ll wear the Crocs inside the Nissen Hut, making sure our be-penguined boots stay firmly out of the living area. We each packed some of our kit into our personal boxes, sealed them and waved goodbye – we’ll next see our spare toothbrushes 11,000 miles away on Goudier Island. Add to all this a full day of First Aid training with Mervyn Fleming from the Severn Area Search and Rescue team, and we all felt thoroughly briefed, enthused and ready to set out South.

While everybody was engaged in the training, packing activities continued thanks to Tom. This was essential as the last merchandise was still arriving and the deadline for the shipment south had to be met, as the next ship would only leave in 12 months time. On Wednesday afternoon we said good-bye to our teammates Claire, Cat and Kath who were heading home after the training. John and Ylva were staying to help Tudor, Rachel and Anna buy and pack the food supplies for the coming season. Early Thursday morning we were off to the superstore at Newport. On arrival we split into two teams. Tudor and Anna were getting the food supplies for the conservation teams of Wordie House and Detaille Island while John and Ylva had the Port Lockroy list. The quantities are spectacular at one point we were being followed aisle by aisle by shelf stackers restocking the shelves. Once Tudor and Anna joined us the fully loaded trolleys soon started to mount up - seven just for Port Lockroy! After a much-needed coffee the four of us, trolleys and all, were taken by the ever-helpful Sainsburys staff to our own checkout. Once bagged and reloaded the trolleys were pushed out to the van and the van loaded to the roof. The drive back was taken at a steady pace due to the load especially over the speed bumps in the car park. Back at Kingcoed we were joined by Rachel and the unloading of the food and packing of boxes continued at a pace late into the afternoon. Guesses were made by a few of us as to the weight and volume of the food we had packed. This has since been calculated by Tudor as 785kg or 1.75 cu metres. Everybody was glad to get the last of the food packed and palletized and then to finish for the day. A real team effort!

Friday after the training a lorry arrived to take the palletized boxes to the warehouse in Tredegar (thanks to Gerald and his team). Tudor, Ylva, Anna and John followed shortly after. By the time we arrived all the cargo heading south this coming season was stacked together. Our job was to separate and wrap the timber into separate stacks for Port Lockroy, Wordie House and Detaille. Lable all timber stacks and palletized boxes with destination and ship details. This done, the cargo will be loaded into a container and shipped to the Falklands. Packing until an item reaches Port Lockroy means handling every item at least 16 times if not more (i.e. receipt, repacking, sealing and weighing, palletising, loading to warehouse, offloading at warehouse, fitting into the container, transport to harbour, loading onto ship, offloading of container at the Falkland Islands, removal of pallets from container, moving pallets to Fram, offloading single boxes to Zodiac, sorting boxes ashore, storage, transfer to shop). The next time we see it will be when it is landed at Port Lockroy in November. Can’t wait!

Just by writing all these activities down, which can by far not be complete, it is so clear how much effort it takes to make this whole operation running as smooth as it does. Thanks to everybody that is involved but especially to Tudor, Anna and Rachel being at the front-line of the operations.

Cat, Claire, John, Kath, Ylva