Antarctica

Week 12 A Week to Forget? - It's All Fun and Games until .....

2nd January - 9th January 2000

This week started with lots of fun. On Monday it was Admiral Albrecht's birthday. It was celebrated with a very good party. In honour of the great occasion three of us sat down and adapted a couple of songs with words more appropriate to AMANDA, deployment, and Albrecht. Most of the creative part was done by Till, who also played the guitar, while Katherine and I just supplied very bad singing.

The night started with an AMANDA meeting which was supposed to be serious. I tend to ignore anything at meetings on principle, so don't remember what was going on until the birthday cake arrived. Of course the German TV crew was present to take all spontaneity out of the event. After the meeting the celebrations moved to the bar, where the trio did their best at singing. From here on it was a normal party that went quite late, finishing with a movie to relax before the end of the day. In next weeks installment the significance of watching a movie at this point will be more apparent. This was about my fourth movie in 12 weeks.

Albrecht left the following day, passing on command of deployment to Gary - another Aussie that wintered for AMANDA in 1997. I'm not sure if Albrecht was a relaxing influence, or that the length of the season was being felt, but the tension started to increase during the rest of the week. Work became all encompassing. We had to get ready for the next deployment, and equipment for the new string had to be installed.

An unusual event in the week was a staged snow ball fight. The German TV crew had a contract to do a section for a children's show. They had the basic plan of showing that at SP the snow is so cold and dry that you can't make a snow ball. This would be demonstrated by us failing to have a snow ball fight. The idea of throwing snow around sounded fun, so decided to go along for the ride. We all went outside and were told where we should put on a show. We immediately broke into a huge snow fight. Even though you can't make snow balls, the old snow is quite solidly packed. So you give it a good kick and instant chunks of snow. Some of them can be a bit solid for friendly play, so care should be exercised to stop the fight turning into a war. After some time of running around and acting wild, we stopped, completely exhausted. The TV crew announces they were ready - we should start!!! I find it hard to believe how incapable they were at doing anything in one shot. How can they call anything they do a documentary when it's all staged! By the time we were finished we could hardly walk from exhaustion, and we had stopped having fun an hour ago. But we did have some fun to start with.

The hole for string 17 was expected to be handed over early Thursday morning, but there were problems with pumps for PICO, and it was put off until around 6am. I got a few hours sleep that day (day relative to my shift), and arrived at around 6am to help the day shift set up. I also wanted to take some photos. The setting up went fairly smooth with some minor problems - like positioning of the control shack, and winches - being over come quite easily. The hole was handed over at around 9am and modules were being installed an hour later.

I hung around for an hour or so taking photos. When I left everything was going smoothly. However there were a few things different this deployment. To supposedly increase reliability on the optical fibre connections, large pieces of rubber hose was being placed over them, and a gel was being put inside the tubes. There were also some experimental digital-analogue modules on the string.

When I went for breakfast the next morning, at 5pm, I heard that the day shift had had no end of problems and they had less than 20 modules mounted. I had expected them to be almost finished! I was at the hole by 6pm and found they had had problems with the protective hose. The harness for the modules hadn't been positioned well for the hose, and they had lots of trouble making adjustments.

For the next hour I did odd jobs around the hole to try and help out. The last module mounted hadn't had the optical connection tested. Yet the hose and gel had been installed. This was a problem and our first job was to remove the hose, and sticky goo inside it, clean the fibre, and finally the module had to replaced. Not a good start. But from then on everything went quite well. We had similar problems with harnesses, but they only took us a few minutes to fix. We had the last 18 modules mounted by 11pm. I stayed at the hole taping for the next 800m of cable drop.

I was very tired by this stage, and collapsed in a chair in the control shack. I noticed that M. and T. were having trouble duct taping, but it was still going okay. I then noticed that the depth sensor had stopped indicating that the cable was going down. I got a cable reading from the hole, and another soon after, which indicated a problem. There was a strong possibility that the string had got jammed in the hole.

To confirm our fears we had to raise the cable. If it turned out that we were right in our guess we would have to un-deploy the string. A call was put out to all amanderites to come to work. The string was being slowly raised, and about 10 meters past the point I had noticed the problem there was a muffled cracking noise. The cables immediately went into free fall. With almost 2km of very heavy cable hanging vertically down a hole there is always a chance the winches will fail. Thus there was an emergency braking system - the spool is dropped onto its bracing. This is something everyone is shown how to do, but like many things in life, you never expect to use. But one moment all was going well, and then 10 people were sprinting for the emergency stop on the winches. And it worked very well. So what to do. Engineering type people were called, and the winch was soon fixed.

Again we start raising the cable. At the about the same position as before there was an even louder cracking noise - and again a rush for the winches. This time the winch was really broken. Plus it seemed clear that not only had the string become jammed in the hole - but it was not going to be unjammed. This was really bad. Finally on the wise advice of Bruce it was decided there wasn't much that could be done other than making sure that the string would work in the position it was. It was at a depth of 1500m, about 500m short of its final intended depth. At least it's working. Some ideas for trying to unjam the string were considered, but considered high risk of damaging the working string. A Cat was used to pull the slack that had gone down the hole when the winch had failed last.

It was a long hard day, with a lot of disappointment at the end of it. Everything possible had been done. But at the end of the day we didn't win. It was really tough for Gary as it was his first time in charge of deployment, and everything he had control of went very well. But at the end of the day this hole will be remembered for everything that went wrong.

A number of the crew are scheduled to leave this week. They are a really fun group despite the work pressure we are under. By Sunday night I was so tired I couldn't work any more. I decided to do something completely work unrelated. But what? I had an offer to go out to the seismic vault. Been there done done that - lots of people going. Maybe write some email. Then I realised I wanted to take the people leaving for a snow mobile ride out to the plane wreck!! The others were quite excited about the idea, and I felt better just thinking about it. In an hour we were flying down the ice way with the snow mobile and a sled. Out at the plane the station looked quite small, and it felt like we had left the baggage of the work week behind.

Despite the great start and finish to the week, it was the toughest week so far. The pressure is going to run into the next week. The next string is going to be very tough with our problems fresh in our mind. Plus the crews will have changed considerably, and this will take time to settle in. And with lots of work still to be done, the station closing date of mid February is starting to feel close. I can hardly wait for my week away from work on R\&R in Mac Town, starting on the 17th!!

To be continued .......

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