Feb. 1, 2014 17′ WC 0′

The Big Goose Egg.

We hit zero degree this morning for the first time since I have arrived.  I thought all my life that Antarctica was just a massive frozen waste land you would have to be mostly nuts to even want to explore much less plan on living here for any length of time.  But God Bless the engineers and the mechanics and the brave people who have worked smart and hard at creating the equipment, clothing and the housing it takes to make this wilderness accessible.  I have seen the penguins and seals.  I have walked the ice and played in the snow, and I have heard the music of the wind whipping through the warehouses.  And I have felt the cold.  The long sustained cold.  And I have learned to appreciate all of it.

And now I begin to work in it.  Using the stout, sturdy equipment, wearing the heavy, warm clothing, and living in a much more comfortable environment than some of the ski resort hotels I have stayed at over the years.  And especially the food in the Galley; it is so much better than I had expected.  In spite of the long days and heavy lifting I have gained weight during my time here.  (Sadly it s not all muscle, but let’s pretend for now.)

Today was the first day of the Supply vessel off load.  The Maersk Illinois was slowed by foul winds late yesterday which delayed her arrival until 6pm rather than noon.  Our supply team rallied up in the Galley pad at 6pm regardless of the landing’s time change, and began to sort all of the paperwork that details the products to be found in each box, on each pallet, within each mill van.  And that took quite awhile.  There were four of us sorting through the enormous stack of paperwork sifting it down to the individual packets representing each mill van’s contents.  That will save a lot of trouble when the product actually gets here.

There was ample time to walk the 100 yards over to the cliff and look down on the vessel as they tied her to the pier.  I then took a couple of pictures of the parking lot we have commandeered into the storage area for food stuffs that don’t need special handling immediately.  As luck would have it two of the first vans taken off the ship were frozen foods, and fresh vegetables, which meant that Elvis and I got to start our day before 10:30pm and I had my first ever mill van emptied without any damage to the product in 45 minutes!  That’s not a record by any means, but it is a personal best for me, and I’m gonna enjoy it!  Until tomorrow when I intend to smash that record and set a new one.  That makes me Happy!

And then we waited.  And we talked, and we told stories, and we sent some of the crew for additional paperwork, and we sent some of the crew to assist in the storage room at the coffee shop, and we sent some to get more coffee and when each of those groups came back, we talked some more…and we waited.  We are, at this juncture, totally at the mercy of the crane operators aboard ship.  We can only work whatever they send us here at the Galley pad.  Oh they sent a huge amount of stuff to our teams at different locations around base, but we waited…  With a little luck, we will have warmer weather tomorrow for what will unquestionably be a much harder workday.

Below are pictures of Elvis, The Maersk Illinois, and the parking lot I will call my office for the next 10 or so days.

Much more tomorrow.  H-B-J!!!

 

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Jan. 31, 2014. 17′ WC 6′

Yes, I think I can safely say that Summer is over. I haven’t left the office without a coat and hat for the last 4 days, and even when the sun is shining right on you, the wind is swirling about to find you. And it does.
The Vessel arrives today at noon, and for work reasons I will not be involved in docking it. As I have mentioned in one of the earlier blogs I was afraid I may have taken on more than I can chew with a 9 hour night shift and then handling the lines on a broken sleep schedule. That has proven to be the case. I have officially turned in my pager this morning because I will need sleep prior to the 12 hour shifts we will be working in my department over the coming 10 or 12 days. I did my job as a linesman quite well for a landlubber, and it made me sad to write the note to the Michael Davis, our Tower man and Line Supervisor, but I’m sure he’ll understand. Almost all of the other lines people are day shift. Those who are not are also not in supply, so their individual workloads will not be affected by the coming flurry of supply team activity. Still, I wish them luck, and I wish I were there.
Starting at 6pm tomorrow Elvis and I will become the best of friends because I have been assigned to the unloading of shipping mill vans at the Galley Pad. The Galley, as you know is the name of the dining facility here at McMurdo Base, and it has to receive and store all of the food not only for the coming winter staff, but for the following summer season before the next Supply ship arrives. There are fresh vegetables and fruits delivered to us on flights bringing in people and equipment all summer long, but those are small quantities and they disappear very quickly. What I will be handling will be full pallets of pretty much everything you can think of to run a kitchen. Almost all of the product that has been pulled together at our dispensary in California will be packed into large cardboard boxes made of triple thick cardboard called tri-walls. They are approximately 4′ cubes that cover the entirety of a standard shipping pallet.
These are then loaded into the mill vans two high and two across and will likely hold as many as 36 pallets each, but I’ll confirm that tomorrow when I continue the blog. The ship itself is bringing supplies to all of the departments from electrical, plumbing and carpentry to Scientific research equipment and necessary hospital supplies to my favorite, Car, Truck and Tractor parts for my Home Boys in the Vehicle Maintenance Facility.  And are we ready for that!  This late in the season we are running very low on some of the basics:  We’re entirely out of baling wire, and down to the last case of duct tape.   HAR-har-har.

More tomorrow.  Not even a big bowl of ice cream will keep me from going to bed right now.  Well…maybe just a crater cone of ice cream, and I’ll take it to my room.

Tim

Photos tomorrow, I promise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan. 30, 2014 19′ WC 8′

My apologees… I seam to have mis-spelled the word pier on several occaisions in the earleyr blogs.  I try 2  use spell chequer ever day, but sum  words just get passed it.

Of course I’m being silly now.  But I happened to walk past a sign that had that word spelled correctly, and I thought, where is my magic marker when I need it?  I should fix this problem.  When I got home I looked it up in the dictionary and low and behold, BAZZINGA on me.  Oh how I miss the Big Bang Theory!

That leads me to a quick topic I would like to cover about the television stations available here.  There is one from Australia that comes in quite well, and I am beginning to decipher the Aussie accent, although I am certain I wont be trying to imitate it anytime soon.  They have long and scary sounding vowels, and some have an “rrr” sound that only a Scotsman could appreciate.  I’ll stick to imitating the Irish as best I can.  Not that it’s any easier, but because I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.  I find it odd to come home from a hard days work to find that I’m watching Australian children’s programing, but that happens at 6:00am. And a good laugh is in itself a good thing.

Which brings me to “The Late, Late show with Craig Ferguson” which, curiously enough comes on here at about 6:00am also. It must be the NBC affiliate for Armed Forces Network, because I can’t think of any other reason he’d be on at this hour anywhere in the free world. It is prime time in my day, but early, early by any other standard. I love that guy! Such a devilish sense of humor and complete disregard for propriety. I will miss living in McMurdo if for only that reason because I can’t possibly watch his show at home in Denver. It comes on too late for me. Perhaps I can get that TiVo device after all…

There is also the Armed Forces Network, which I LOVE because they make it possible for me to see the Broncos games.  I had the chance to see the Notre Dame Bowl game as a repeat, and then I shifted to the night crew, I can now watch the NFL Sunday games as if I were watching live Monday night football.  That 20 hours ahead thing is working out pretty well. Although the work week will not pause for me during Super Bowl Sunday, I hope to find it on the radio somehow. I will be into the third day of Vessel off-load, the paramount reasons why I have invested myself here in the US Antarctic Program. Those of us who work in Supply will be up to our necks in materials and equipment operations. So when we are off, entertainment will as relaxing as we can get it…feet up in front of the tube.

We do have two movie channels, and many of the best movies that were available during the past year were also available to us. If we handle things properly, as soon as a movie is released on DVD we can get it here on the next available flight. So, while I haven’t seen the second “Hobbit” yet, I have seen all of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, and a dozen other slapstick comedies and horror flicks that my brilliant (and easily grossed-out) Jenny would never let me watch at home. And the video library is most impressive too! Must be more than 3000 DVD’s to choose from, and players available to borrow for your room. We have a corner on the market of low intensity entertainment…although I would still rather be dancing!

We have two other channels for local news and information. They are more formal giving 10 second visual advertisements about local activities and classes, as well as weather updates and information concerning flights on and off the ice. One of these usually has the back ground music chosen by one of the local people doing a shift as DJ playing his favorite music for two hours a day. Then 3 or 4 other DJ’s get a turn playing their favorites. We have a very eclectic bunch down here at McM. I have in fact heard Willie Nelson followed immediately by Ice-T, Justin Beeber, and Sister Sledge. The DJ’s pride themselves on fun over format. And that makes me happy. The second of the TV channels that show advertisements usually has a NATL Public Radio broadcast for several hours and then runs a couple hours of Rush Limbaugh. It is amazing to me how well integrated this community is. And that makes me happy too.

So, now is your chance to go out this weekend and do something fun. Make me jealous. {Not you Jenny.}
But the rest of you go bowling, or to the theatre. Maybe an indoor swimming pool? Ice-skating? But you must all be home in time to watch the Broncos play on Sunday. Then we can all be together in spirit.
Tim

Jan. 29, 20′ WC 7′ Winds constant at 15mph! Brrrr.

This is a remarkable difference in temperature for a 24 hour period. Just yesterday the sun was warm and we had very little wind, but the gusts I felt this evening walking into work were brutal. Thankfully they were short bursts. I am well dressed for the weather, but I didn’t bother to put on the hat I always carry in my coat. And as I have mentioned once before in this blog, the human body looses up to 20% of it’s heat through the uncovered head. My lovely Jenny reminded me that this was only true of people who spend a lot of their energy thinking, so I should have nothing to worry about.

What she must have forgotten is that my big old ears act like sails in this weather, and the near constant billowing this morning has cost me a few degrees of hearing at least. On the plus side, I am in the office again for most of the day. We will not need to act on the fuel tanker again until Thursday. There is a lot more to tell about the receiving of the fuel tanker, so as my ears thaw out I’ll continue with that adventure.

This boat, as you can see in some of yesterday’s blog pictures, dwarfs our entire pier, and needs to be lined in to the coast itself as well as tied snuggly to the pier. In order to do that when the ship is so far removed from the shore, the deck crew have a canon, or mortar that shoots a small non-explosive shell which is also attached to a 1/4″ nylon line, toward the bollard – the really big stick in the ground – it wants to hook onto. I am no sailor, and I am just learning the verbs of the professional McMurdo linesman, but I’m listening closely and figuring this out as we go along.
Here’s one thing I figured out all by myself. When the guy on the boat is ready to fire the mortar, he should tell the guy on the land that it’s coming. My pal Ben and I were up on the side of the hill talking about boats when we heard the bang, and looking quickly at the boat to see what just happened, both of our heads swiveled skyward and inland as the shell came straight over our heads. It took about ten seconds of blinking in disbelieve till Ben said “Well, that’s just not right.” The laughter that followed was contagious to every one on our team on the hill.

After that surprise we had to work quickly. As soon as the thin line was in our hands, we ignored the length that had gone farther inland and grabbed what was at our feet and pulled like crazy. The 1/4″ nylon was now attached (by the crew on board) to the much thicker Stern line which is about 3″ in diameter and has a 4 foot loop on the end. The loop has a leather interior liner to protect the rope from fraying under the stress of the tide shifting the boat around. The leather also absorbs water and sinks, and we don’t want that.

The act of pulling in the 150 feet (or more) of Stern line is downright funny to watch, but intense when it’s your turn. Imagine a crew of six people five feet apart, all struggling in the same direction, and then the one at the far right of the line just drops his part of the rope and scurries back to the far left of the line, picks up more and pulls like a draft horse back to where he was. Now all of the 1/4″ is on the hill, the loop is coming up the shore and the crew quickly switches to the next task: Getting the eye of the needle down over the thread.

It didn’t matter that I am 6’5″. No one at McMurdo could have lifted this soaking wet line 8 feet off the ground to ring the bollard. Hence the ladder. Two people held it in place while a third scrambled up and the three guys on the ground held the eye from slipping back into the bay. When the timing was right, and the eye ready to drop, our lead man Deany -that’s his last name – called out “Get your camera’s!   This is the money shot!” And I did.  I was one of the 3 holding the eye, and Deany and Paul were tough enough, as there was no strong back-pull on the line.  So I pulled out the Olympus and stumbled backward along the steep bank and the loose volcanic gravel…and then fell on keester.  Which as it turns out was a good thing.  I got an amazing angle of the top of the bollard above the heads of my team, just as the eye was falling into place.  Oh how we artist’s struggle for just the right shot.

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This final photo was taken by Ben with my camera.  I had just wound up the 15 miles of 1/4 chord that was shot out of the mortar.  That’s the “missal” dangling in my right hand.  I’m actually  standing on the road above the beach, and that orange bollard to my left is the same nine footer  we had just looped.  Hard hats are mandatory on the crew and I was fortunate to get an Orange one since I’ve been thinking a lot about the Broncos lately.   Thank goodness the boat is blue.

 

Go DENVER!!!

 

 

 

Jan 28, 31′ WC 26′

Good morning every one.
I think we are back on track now. I worked the evening shift on Sunday, and went home to do laundry and other necessary things around the dorm. We have a program called house mouse here. The residents of the hall are responsible for it’s upkeep on a weekly basis. Depending on your work schedule you fit the time it takes into your workday as best you can to do the chores around the building, like vacuuming, sorting and taking out the trash or cleaning up some of the common areas. It is considerably more effort than taking out the trash at your own house, but can be fun when there is a second person helping out.
I have found each of my “mouse-ing” experiences fun, because, as I have told you in an earlier blog, people around here are very friendly and pitch in when they have time. Others just pitch in so they can make new friends, or because they haven’t seen an old friend for weeks. At this time of year, the workload itself can be pretty consuming, I have not seen some of the people I went to Happy Camper with since we got off the Haaglund.  I may say hello to them in the hall, or wave to them on the street, but now that I am working nights, I hardly ever see the day time people except in passing.  I am actually seeing more of the penguins than I am of some of my early season friends…somehow that is just not an even trade off for the extraverted me.

We have now what we hope is the final word concerning the arrival of our resupply vessel.  It will arrive on Friday as close to noon as possible, and the offload will commence as soon, within reason, as she is secured at the peer.  We currently have the fuels vessel docked and pumping our new winter reserves.  That should be completed tomorrow morning at the latest, and I will be back at the peer to let her go.  The process of releasing a ship is relatively easy, so I wont miss too much sleep even though it will undoubtedly take place during my bedtime.  It is Friday that concerns me.  I will need to be at the peer at noon for the supply ship arrival, and the task at hand for receiving a ship of that size is considerably more difficult and time consuming.  I will count my blessings if I am back in the dorm, much less in bed before 1pm, to sleep before my new shift begins at 6pm.

Vessel off load is all consuming for the people in supply, my department.  We are scheduled for 12 hour days, Friday through the weekend, and continuing until the ship is both empty of the goods we will receive, but also reloaded with the trash, and scientific gear that is being returned for study.  We will have placed on this particular return trip a refrigerated box bringing Antarctic ice cores back stateside for continuing  research.   And that makes me happy.

Below you’ll find some of the photos I did not have time to put in yesterday.  I recommend you take the time to go back through the blog to the beginning.  I have, overtime, gone back to earlier blogs and inserted pictures that fit the stories I had written when I didn’t have the camera available.

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In case you forgot where I am.

In case you forgot where I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This guy was no help at all.

This guy was no help at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan. 26, 2014 28′ WC 20′

You may have noticed a gap in the blog. By taking on the challenge of being a line handler, several things have happened, and not all of them are good. It is an excellent opportunity to get outside and be physical and active. It is also a responsibility to live up to. I have found it difficult to maintain my regular sleep schedule because most of the vessel activity takes place during daytime hours. It also takes place out in the bay, far from any computers. Even when we are waiting for the boat to dock, there is no way to fill the time writing. Twice now I have had less than 5 hours of sleep before returning to my regular overnight job.
We have a target arrival time of course, but any delays created by weather or tides affecting the ships ability to enter the port are then transferred to the line handlers crew on the peer. The first call was for 8:00am, and while I was getting ready to go, the second page arrived saying delayed till 9am. We did manage to secure the ice breaker before noon, but I still had to get back home and try to fall asleep. And the excitement was just too much. I think I got about 3 hours real sleep that day. I have lots of pictures from the second landing as well, but it takes so long to load them into the computer here that I have chosen to save most of them till later.

We have received and released the CG ice breaker twice and are ready to receive the fuel tanker this morning. It is very time consuming work, and while hauling the lines themselves is heavy work, it is a small portion of the overall time. The teams of people we have make it much easier. A majority of the people who are on this crew are just like me: From the landlocked states where these big boats are never seen. I don’t really know yet if I am more impressed with the penguins and seals I now see on a daily basis, or with the fact that I am standing on an iceberg floating in arctic waters beside a million gallon firecracker.
NO SMOKING

This is emblazoned across the front of the massive observation deck of the fuel vessel. I don’t smoke, but if I did you wouldn’t have to tell me twice. I’d simply not work the lines. And I’d probably be in bed right now. I’ll tell you more about the tanker tomorrow. I have to put my gloves on and go play on the beach.
Tim

Jan 23, 2014. 28′ WC

Today I will show the pictures I neglected yesterday. I was seriously out of time. Today seems a bit more reasonable but tomorrow we bring in the Coast Guard again. They will be here over the weekend, and with a little luck, some of the personnel at McMurdo will have the chance to board her and get the penny tour. More and more adventure just keeps coming my way. I must have done something right in my life to have these many things fall into place all at once. So! Photos of the Penguin and Seal. Photos of the Coast Guard ice breaker Polar Star. Photos of my Line handler friends and the unexpected guest who showed up to monitor us. At a distance he looked impressive.
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A life size stuffed animal ! Fooled us all.

A life size stuffed animal !
Fooled us all.