54 17'S 036 30'W. South Georgia, Southern Ocean.

Follow Matt Kenney during his deployment in South Georgia, working as a Boating Officer and Coxswain for the British Antarctic Survey.

Read Matt's posts with news, reviews and extracts from his Journals, and see photo and video posts to show you some of the work the Antarctic Survey are doing in the Southern Ocean, and also provide an insight into life on a British Antarctic research station.

Matt will also provide accounts of his work at sea and ashore on Humber Destroyer RHIBs and 11m twin jet drive Pilot vessels along side the team at the King Edward Point research facility.

Matt arrived in South Georgia on the 28th October 2010.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Midwinter celebrations

Midwinter greetings folks!

It is tradition for all Antarctic bases from all nations to celebrate the winter solstice, or the passing of midwinters day.  For bases like Halley at 76 degrees south, midwinters day will bring a welcome boost in morale, as for quite some time they will have been living in perpetual darkness.  Passing the half way mark means that the days will start getting longer, and for the bases farther south the return of the sun.  KEP at 54 south does not experience perpetual darkness.  The days in winter are similar to those of the british winter in that we always have at least 8 hours of daylight a day.  It is the case however that South Georgia, being situated East of the Drake Passage in the middle of the Southern Ocean, and devoid of the climatic tempering provided to the UK by the Gulf Stream, winters are on average considerably tougher than those of Britain.

Either way, it is a sterling excuse for a celebration.  The lobby in Everson house (our accomodation block) is festooned with midwinter greetings from all the other Antarctic bases, and we all have a week of party games and celebrations.  BAS arrange (without our knowledge) to have packages sent from our families back home (thanks mum for my lovely box!) and we also have the BBC Midwinter broadcast.  The broadcast is a collection of greetings from our friends and family and is aired of the BBC world service and on the HF frequency band so we can tune in here.  It was great to hear all the messages from back home.

We also have a midwinter feast, and present each other with the midwinter gifts we have been busily constructing over the last few months.  The standard this year was incredibly high and all the gifts made showed a great deal of skill (existing or learned!) and a huge amount of effort.  I would like to thank Sam the doc for my wonderful coffee table book.  Sam is a talented photographer and has a very creative eye for graphic design.  She has created a year book showcasing some of her wonderful photographs and documenting everything we have done since our arrival last year.  Its not finished of course as some of this year's history is yet to occur.  I drew Ruth, and I have made her a jewellery box out of white oak with purple heart and mwenge inlays and hardwood panelling.  I lined the inside with old "fathom" charts of the Cumberland Bay area.

The other activities we had planned for the week have been postponed due to science duties getting in the way.  Alistair and Matt have gone to sea on the Pharos to undertake some plankton trawls and other surveys, and therefore Midwinter Olympics (including human curling, sledge bowling etc), crazy golf, base pub crawl, wine and cheese tasting evening etc etc have been postponed until further notice.

I do feel the comforts of a modern antarctic base, belie the original reason for midwinters day celebrations.  It is not our reality being sat huddled in a pyramid tent with the huskies keeping warm outside, sipping whisky and opening the celebratory can of bully beef.  But the traditions are important to uphold, and well, its a whole lot of fun!
Our greeting to the other Antarctic Stations - Photo S Crimmin

A midwinter cigar

A selection of MWPs showing my jewellery box

All handmade presents we made for each other.  Note the Ukelele!

Me and the boys set the table for dinner - didnt do a bad job I thought.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Glacier Mapping

Monday morning saw nearly the entire contingent of base staff out on the boats.  The first task, and arguably the most important (sic) was to deliver Katie, Ali and Matt the mechanic to Sorling for their holidays.

Its a fairly involved process, which includes loading all their gear (and there is alot of it with winter gear and Katie's supply of liquid refreshments!) in to dry bags, then on to the boats.  Then it is simple case of deliver people and stuff to the destination by performing a beach landing at the other end.

All of our potential holiday destinations involve landing on to the beach.  The beach landings are done with the ribs, and it actually very straight forward, in a little tricky at times. The boat is driven bow first to the beach by the helmsman while the crewman trims the engines up.  Trimming the outboards in this way reduces the vessels draft, and allows the boat to get further in to the beach without grounding the skegs or damaging the propellers.  The negative effect is that the helmsman has markedly less control over the boat, particularly in applying astern power.  This is because the prop is now at an awkward attitude and it's efficiency is greatly reduced.  The helm (steering) also becomes heavier in this trim.  It is for this reason that a slow and controlled approach is taken so as to minimise the need to use astern to slow the boat.

Cross winds present the most difficult approach.  If the wind is blowing along the coast then keeping 90 degrees to the shore becomes a tricky task.  If the boat should end up side on to the beach there is a serious risk of the vessel grounding and becoming prone to capsize in significant swell.  The swell is the other serious factor.  The to get personnel safely ashore (or in to sufficiently shallow water) and to keep the drives in the deeper water at the same time negates a stern-too approach.  This leaves your transom vulnerable to being "pooped" (a genuine nautical term!) by the incoming swell.  This can flood a boat or drive it too far ashore.  The alternative would be to come in stern too riding to a kedge anchor laid offshore and trim the engines right out of the water.  This isnt done because it has big downsides (like having no power available should the anchor fail at an inopportune moment, and frankly, its a bit of a faf) in reality, if the conditions on a particular shore are so severe as to raise concerns over a bow-to approach then the landing can wait!

I digress.  Once the campers were ashore, Ashley (at the helm of the accompanying jet launch) took the opportunity to "map" the face of the Nordenskjold Glacier.  The glacier face is only a mile or so to the south of Sorling (see my sorling camping trip blog for pics etc) So we proceeded South in to the ice.  The rib is of no use in this exercise.  The method used to give an indication of glacial retreat is to range the jet launch 1/4nm off the face by radar range, then navigate a course at this range taking GPS fixes at certain points en route.  Plotting the positions, and the range will give an indication on the current location of the face.  The accuracy is limited with this method because of GPS inaccuracy (which according to the Royal Navy who have spent alot of time charting SG can be often upto 500m!) and one or two other inaccuracies.  However, Ashley does an admirable job in making the readings as accurate as possible, and it does give reasonable results.  The Neumayer glacier, mapped in this way a few months back, is known from other surveys, known to receeding at up to 360m per year, and Ashleys survey did confirm this ball park figure.

As you may have gathered, the radarless rib is redundant during this kind of work, so time to practice some spirited manoeuvring......
Nordenskjold Glacier from the jet boat - Photo Sam Crimmin

Somebody let the plug out?

Winter update

Hello everyone.  Just a quick update on the progression of the winter months.  The temperatures have been consistently below zero, save a few hours of the last few days.  The snow came back a week ago and left a good amount on us.  The temperature has ensured it has stayed too, although on lower ground around the base, the fluctuating temperatures of the last few days have melted the snow in places during the day, then re-frozen the melt water at night.  This leads to some slippery conditions as I found out first hand on my midnight rounds the other night (bruised hip but pride intact as nobody saw!)
Things are getting slightly more difficult than in the summer.  For example Ashley and bought one of the jet launches out of the water the other day to carry out some work.  We had to clear the slipway of snow and ice to get her re-launched.  Also the hose used for flushing the rib engines has to come inside to stop it freezing, and the water to it has to be kept running in to a drain to keep the pipes from freezing.  Other than that, it is the usual problems, like looking for mooring lines accidentally left un marked under a few feet of snow, and remembering  that once you do find them and dig them out, to put gloves on before handing them!  The ice makes them in to 16mm thick cheese wire!!  I fixed a problematic diesel heater on the jet launch during the haul out which is a god send in avoiding scraping the wheelhouse windows to clear the ice too.
Time is occupied with Mid Winter Present making still (a blog on what I have made will appear when it is no longer a surprise to the recipient!) and working on a personal project or two.  Again there might be some more on these as they progress.
Anyway, pictures speak a thousand words, so here are some photos from the other day.  Things are still fairly mild and benign, so this is not so bad.
The JCB sporting her winter snow chains.

Icicles from the roof

The sea in the cove is largely iced over.  Not thick enough for skating though!

Matt Kenney 2010.