This week at Davis: 26 May 2017
This week at Davis we had Hägglunds recovery training, enjoyed a prolonged weekend at Bandits Hut and a quiz night on station.
Hägglunds recovery training
With the sea ice around Davis now in good condition to travel upon safely with Hägglunds vehicles, it was time to make sure everyone was able to operate as part of an effective team and recover the Hägg in the event of a 'break-through' in the ice. While the ice is of ample thickness to take the weight of the Hägglunds (it has to be over 600 mm and we have been measuring in excess of 750 mm in most places, it will likely double that thickness too with any luck), there is still the possibility that you can go through the ice. For example, at a snow hidden tide crack or 'lead', a crack that forms between islands or a shallow section etc. There is also the possibility that the ice may break out due to high winds or an uncommonly high tide, which is why we check the tides as well as weather when planning a trip.
A basic Hägglunds recovery will be dependent, of course, on the situation at hand but will usually involve having to turn the Hägglunds 180° so that you can recover it forwards, over the ice you have already covered.
The design of the tracks make forward recovery orders of magnitude easier than a rearwards recovery. This will entail using a chainsaw to cut out sections of the ice and turning the Hägg around. Thankfully, the Hägglunds float well and are considered an amphibious vehicle. At our training at the Australian Antarctic Division in Kingston, before departing for the icy continent, we actually drove one around in a dam for an extended period of time!
Once you have the Hägg turned around, you can use ramps anchored to Tirfor winches (so you can move them along with the Hägg) and then winch it out of the water while also driving it up the ramps and winching the ramps forward at the same time. This sounds fairly simple and it is, but it takes a lot of time to do safely, you have to make sure everything is right before beginning a recovery. The first rule is don't panic!
Here are some shots of the two different teams we took through the recovery training on the day, thankfully, it was only −20°C!
Weekend at Bandits
The weekend of the 14th May saw three intrepid expeditioners head out to Bandits Hut, the furthest hut up the coast from Davis station. Sharky (myself), Kirsten (station leader) and Rhys (chippy) met at the workshop and sorted out our quads. The weather forecast looked good until late Sunday night when some light snow and 50 knot winds were due to hit.
We made great time on the quad bikes heading up the coast via Long Fjord, Pioneer Crossing and Tryne Fjord arriving at Bandits Hut just under two hours after leaving station. The air temp was a very fresh −30°C with around 10-15 knots of wind. Despite the cold the sea ice was clean and generally only had a light dusting of snow and the sun was shining with clear skies making for some relaxing riding.
On arrival at Bandits we got the hut vents opened up, gas bottles on and had the heater up and running to combat the cold. Once that was done I went outside to grab some quick photos as the sun went down and to get the generator started so we could also run a little electric heater to speed up the heating of the hut. Meanwhile Kirsten and Rhys started unpacking their gear and getting some warm drinks going on the stove.
At this time of year we have little actual daylight so sunset occurred somewhere around 4 pm so sunrise/sunset shots are easy to get without getting up early or staying up late.
It turns out that in −30°C generators don’t really want to start or even give a hint of starting so the generator came inside for a while to warm up a bit. After an hour of having it in the hut the engine block was at room temp and with a good pull on the cord it screamed to life. Unfortunately it turns out that electric heaters don’t like being switched on when the element is at −30°C and when I plugged in the lead outside I heard the generator strain and suddenly unload. A little perplexed I walked back to the hut to find our little heater blowing nice cool air. What a waste of the last hour that was!
Kirsten, Rhys and myself planned to get up the next morning and have a look around before the 11 am departure required to leave a safe margin to beat the inclement weather. We stayed up late enjoying chatting and some board games before turning off the heater and tucking ourselves in.
When we awoke the next morning the wind was starting to blow so I went and got the bikes running early to warm up and we packed our gear.
On sunrise we went out to the bikes and departed the hut, the wind was only about 30 knots but as we headed away the snow increased and visibility dropped off. The decision was made to return to the hut and wait out the weather. Well that was the beginning of an extra two nights at Bandits Hut where and inordinate amount of Scrabble was played as it was pretty much the only board game there.
Come the last day of our entrapment the weather at station had eased to 10 knots and no more snow but at Bandits we had dropped from the 70 knots or so to around 40 knots with heavy snow blowing and snow conditions that we couldn’t drive the quads through without getting deeply bogged. The kind members back on station drove two Hägglunds out bringing a flatbed trailer and Tuesday afternoon we had the bikes strapped on and headed home.
That pretty much sums up what we refer to as the 'A' factor down here. You just never know how the Antarctic weather will affect your day to day plans and even when the forecast seems good it can change in a heartbeat.
The past month has gone by so quickly that it’s hard to believe that June is just around the courner. Our station is starting to embrace winter. As the days get shorter, colder and the wind keeps blowing stronger, the morale amongst us has never been so high.
Birthday celebrations have sparked Rubik's cube dress–ups. 'Tool of the week' is finally getting some good nominations and the quiz night last Friday sparked some healthy competitiveness. With all expeditioners confined to station due to a wonderful blizzard occurring outside, the night was set with six rounds of terrible questions and hearty laughs. Whilst I was the 'Master of Ceremonies' of the night (who was constantly mocked and heckled), Kerryn was the woman behind the scenes who controlled the event and the rowdy contenders.
Suffice to say, whilst not being pictured, the blue team won the night. A special shout out goes to all the Lionel Richie fans reading this article. Fifteen people couldn’t recognise 'Stuck on you' which was the first song to be played in our music round. It broke my heart as MC. Shame on you Davis!