Antarctica

Week 18 The Winter of My South Pole - Going, Going, Gone.

13th February - 20th February 2000

Monday - The weather is bad in MCM. The connecting flight north has been cancelled. But the temperature at Pole has dropped - -49degC!! This is getting too close for comfort, and despite MCM hating Polies staying over night, PAX are being sent out anyway. The flight on decked before lunch. So the galley was full of people waiting to leave. What seemed ages later the boarding call was made, and 47 summer Polies (include a huge tribe of amanderites) went home. I'm glad I didn't have to think about landing in conditions that were too bad for take off.

I go inside, passing Ty - the one remaining AMANDA summer person. What's Ty doing up? With a wave of relief flowing over me (imagine if they had cancelled the flight!), I go sit down in the galley. There seems to be a huge amount of activity. The word is that the dropping temperatures has caused mild panic in ANG and they want to try and pull out almost everyone today!

I feel so relieved to see those people off I go have a nap. When I get up I find that not only is ANG and ASA are having their own mini crises, but so is AMANDA. Ty had noticed that the data rate had dropped right off soon after the plane with the amanderites had left. Bloody typical. They can't even hand over a working experiment. Mike had gone over and found an important piece of electronics had died. It was a thing called a CAMAC crate, which is sort of a smart power supply. There is almost 200 cables going to these electronics, in a very awkward position, with cables going over it from above. The power supply had partial failed, probably due to over heating, as it was in a very poorly ventilated spot. Mike is unable to revive it by letting it cool down. So we decide to wait until the next wave of PAX leave before tackling the job of fixing it.

At around 11pm the next PAX flight comes in. There are lots of summer people that have been here since Win Fly leaving on this flight. I'd become good friends with many of them. There was at least as many people seeing them off as leaving. When we came down there were no farewells in CHC, like when the ice breaker leaves Hobart. But there were very moving farewells with the departure of this flight. Some wished they could stay, some would miss the place, and some would miss each other. After this flight there was only 6 cargo people left that were not staying.

Our first priority was to fix AMANDA B. Over the next couple of days we spend ages at Mapo. First we decide what has gone wrong. Then we decided on what our options are to fix the problem. These options are then considered carefully and small tests are made to decide which is the best option. And finally we go to work to fix it. All this time we are getting tones of advice from the outside world. Most of it telling us the bleeding obvious. The rest just being plain annoying. I think there may have been a good idea or two, but hard to find the right filter to pick them out. Despite all the objections I think we make an excellent decision and soon not only does it look like working again, but in my opinion will be an improvement.

While we are having problems, the imminent end of flights is putting science in general into a panic. The biggest worry is for Rodney who is total dependent on having liquid helium. Since the temperature has dropped the planes have contrails behind them while they are on deck. This is worrying ANG no end. So much so that they are doing combat off loads. This means as they taxi past the cargo area they just push stuff out the back. But the liquid helium has to have a fork lift come up to the back of the plane to take it out gently. With a contrail this is known as a blind unload - as the fork lift driver has very limited visibility. ANG are worried that the fork lift may run into the back of the plane. Three times in one day the helium is put onto a flight and then taken off. After being made an offer they can't refuse ANG agrees to try a few tricks to get the helium offloaded. To try and clear behind the plane they will apply reverse thrust. In the end most of the essential science cargo does seem to get in. But not before no end of dramas.

Wednesday - Mike and I are out at Mapo working on AMANDA B. It looks like we've got it licked and will be finished soon after midnight. There is an All Call which announces an incoming flight - it is the last of the season. I had not expected flights to finish today. I would have brought my camera with if I'd known. We go up onto the roof of Mapo to see the our last physical connection to the outside world come and go. I realise it is getting cold, as I freeze a beer can to my bottom lip! The plane lands, unloads cargo as it taxis, and stops just briefly enough to take on a bag of mail. Then it's off again. We wave like crazy, hoping they realise the significance of their leaving us here. After it has taken off it banks sharply and does a low run over the station. Mapo is engulfed in the dissipating contrail from the take off. And that is that. For a moment I almost feel - well isolated - that the winter has started. Maybe I'm just tired.

Over the next few days we are bombarded with emails about all the extra things we have to do because of the problems with AmB. A lot of them sound a waste of time. Things we implicitly do anyway, but writing a report about it will just be time consuming and of no practical use. So we just do the important things.

Saturday is the first station cleaning day of the season. Over the summer there is a janitorial person (a DA rotates through this job for a week) who does most of our house work for us (how lazy is that!). Now that it is winter we - shock horror - will have to do our own cleaning. I decided that the morning is a good time to make a start on the pigsty that is the AMANDA part of Mapo. Before I can start to pick up the junk off the floor, I have to move all the boxes and electronics that have been randomly piled up all over the place. Then I can clear the floor of large pieces of junk so that I can finally vacuum. Three step process just to clean the floor. This takes over three hours. I'll start sorting and storing another day.

In the afternoon we do our allotted cleaning - things like the bar, pool room, TV room, and our living areas. After this we have a BBQ to welcome in the winter. This is quite a sombre affair which takes awhile to get some life to it. Even then it's still fairly quite. Everyone is just a bit tired. But the symbolism of celebrating the start of the winter is the important thing.

By the end of the week there is no question about it. The winter season has started. I start my Sunday mornings winter ritual. Make a breakfast a bit different from the rest of the week, brewing a very drinkable coffee, and something mindless to read. It's the most relaxed I've felt in 4 months.

To be continued .......

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