Week 15 Back to the Grind - Not Another Deployment!!
23th January - 30th January 2000
This season there were 6 deployments planned - Strings 14 to 19. My R\&R had been planned so that I would be around for the fifth string, when many of the crew would have changed, and would be deploying for the first time. But there would be no way I would be around for string 6. It would happen while I was on R\&R! On my first day into R\&R I got an email from Gary saying there had been some major set backs in the PICO drilling. Maybe even enough for the deployment to be delayed until I got back. \^\%\$\^\%\$!!!!!
Sure enough, when I got back to pole on Monday I was to learn that deployment looked like happening Tuesday. After a week away I had post holiday lethargy. One week had hardly been enough time to recover from the intense summer, and it hadn't been a completely restful R\&R anyway.
Within an hour of arriving back I'd been All Called by the doc, and asked to put meals together and to take them out to PICO. I was happy to do this for the hard working PICO people, so got their meals and borrowed the shuttle van. The weather has started to change with the slowly setting sun. There had been quite a bit of wind over the previous week which resulted in drift snow building up around the place. The flight schedule has become frantic with 6 or more flights a day now the norm. So when I started to drive across the ski-way to find lots of soft snow, I floored it with the thought of how bad it would be to get bogged on the ski-way with two planes on deck and one 30 minutes out! I was starting to wish I were back in MCM.
In the afternoon we had the last tourists/visitors for the season arrive. A group of five British women had skied from a place on the coast called Hercules Inlet. They had of course hauled everything they needed by sled. Mark and I, along with quite a few other people, went out to give them a warm(?) welcome. They were obviously happy to have made their goal, and after getting themselves together sang God Save the Queen at the South Geographic Pole. They were to prove to be very popular visitors over the next few days until they left. Sort of like having the Spice Girls visit.
On Tuesday, after a few false starts, we finally started deploying string 19 at 1am (really Wednesday I suppose). It was decided to see how efficiently we could deploy the string by using the most experienced people available, especially at the hole, and to work right through without changing shifts. So Gary, Torsten, and I worked the hole. We sent down the first module at 1:30am, and the last disappeared at around 9:30am. The string had been completely deployed by 11am (I had gone off for breakfast and fallen asleep after deploying the last module - tired??). It was a record time, and a very pleasing way to finish the deployment season (well there was the cable drag and trenching to do).
There have been four types of aircraft at the pole this summer. I had photos of most of them, but not one of a Twin Otter. When I heard that one was arriving to pick up the British woman, I stayed up to get my photo. I waited in comms until the pilot had radioed they were at the pole, and I went out. There was no one else outside to greet them, so I sort of stood out. A bloke (Peter) came over and said hello. I explained I was just after photos and was not the official welcoming committee. He was an Aussie wearing Ant Div issue ventiles. So I started asking him questions, and it turned out that this plane had been doing air support at the Aussie bases this season. He had heard I was at pole from Andy at Casey. It also transpired that we had met before, I'd toured him and another bloke around Casey in a zodiac.
The Twin Otter ended up staying two nights because of bad weather in Patriot Hills. So I got to talk to Peter some more. He had wintered at Mawson, and knew Andre from UNSW who had also wintered at Mawson. I gave Peter and Mike, one of the support people with the plane, a tour of AMANDA and we talked about the differences between Aussie and British stations (Mike had wintered with BAS). We agreed on how we though things should be done far more than I did with Tony Press. But we still didn't see eye to eye on everything. Does becoming management mean you can never put peoples interests and well being above financial considerations??
I'm enjoying having Mark here. It is the first time a friend I've known before coming to Antarctica has also made it south. For the past five years I've had two very separate groups of people in my life - those who I know because of Antarctica, and everyone else. Hopefully this is a good omen, and the two groups will merge in the future. Mark is here as part of a team of three working on an automated robust telescope. Last night was the first time I hadn't felt a bit toasty in ages, and we (Mark and co.) enjoyed a bottle of wine and some pool.
On Friday the unthinkable happened - Gary and Bert left. Being ex-winterers this place had fitted them like a glove. They were very efficient at getting work done as they knew the SOP, and how to avoid it, and get stuff done anyway. Plus they were great friends. Even when we were completely exhausted I was relaxed around them. The pressure of working away from home and in intense bursts did not weigh on them like it does on most short term summer people. This is their home. I'm sure both would have stayed for the winter given half the chance. I was able to borrow the snow mobile and a sled so they could be ferried out to their plane and not have to take "the bloody van".
I was dreading the cable drag on Friday afternoon without Gary and Bert. The hole was quite close to Mapo, so a fair amount of cable was still on the spools. It went fairly smoothly and was over in four hours, but felt like the most physically demanding thing I've done this season. This probably indicates that I'm still quite tired and am not changing to day shift easily. I moved back to days quite easily in MCM, but then had to do a couple of nights when I got back to pole. I also came down with a mild case of the pole plague that was going around.
With the coming of the station close I'll be able to ease back a bit and have a breather without feeling guilty because people are working frantically around me. Over the next two weeks I'll get the winter routine sorted out again. The most definite sign the season is ending was the last All Hands meeting for the summer, which focused on re-deployment for the summer crew, what needed to be done for the winter, and thanks and congratulations all round. It was also announced that all protests by ASA had failed and Raytheon was to become the new contractor.
To be continued .......