Brief news snippets

It has been very busy aboard for the last few days, so I haven’t had much time to write.  I’ll try to put together something solid in the next day or so, as I hope things will be quieter.  Watch this space.

We sighted the ice-shelf’s most northern protuberance (a place called Trolltunga) after managing to get unstuck, restuck and destuck several times.  We celebrated Christmas at midnight on the 24th, stuck once again in thick pack ice containing remnants of last-year’s bay ice. Based on the foul ice conditions at the German base (their construction ship is still stuck, and all work is frozen, har har) we had decided to make for the ice-shelf, bulldozing a ramp if necessary.  In the small hours of the morning, we managed to get under way once again when the high tide spread the ice.  Finally, we reached a polynia (open stretch of water in the pack-ice due to slightly warmer up currents) that had been visible on satellite photographs, and steamed up to the shelf.  The scale is almost indescribable.  I sat on the monkey bridge and worked out that one ‘berg, which had broken off from the shelf last year, holds about 20 billion litres of water.  That’s enough for all processes, washing, cooking, cleaning and drinking for our whole ship (similar to a small village) for 3000 years… and that’s just one ‘berg.  The ice shelf stretches from horizon to horizon, too high to see over from the highest mast aboard, unbroken and forbidding.  As Christmas Day passed in lazy celebration under heavy skies, we steamed along the shelf to the RSA Bukta (off-loading point), where we found the remains of last-year’s ramp.  One significant crack was visible from the ship, but there was uncertainty regarding whether the ramp was salvageable.  To do so would save days of work.  The weather, however, prevented the helicopters from operating, and anyway, it was Christmas.

On the morning of the 26th I climbed aboard the Kamov with an inspection team.  The weather was perfect – clear, bright, and warm at 270 Kelvin  (*grin*).  We flew off the ship and along the shelf for a short distance.  Sitting aft in the chopper by the open door, my mind tried hard to reset.  All references dwindled to nothing.  My 20 million cubic meter iceberg became a speck in the sea; a blip next to the vastness of the ice shelf.  White fastness covered the world on one side; the blueblack sea with huge swathes of pack-ice on the other.  Even from only a mile or two away, the ship that has been our home and castle for three weeks looked ridiculous, miniscule, tiny.  There is no comparison I can make for the uniformity of the ice-shelf… try to imagine an ant on a piece of paper the size of several rugby fields.  Got it in mind?  Right… you now know what it is like to stand on a big iceberg.  Now try to imagine that same featureless surface stretching from Cape Town to George, without a single piece of rock, no visible crack, no iota of life.  Just snow, snow, snow, snow. snow.  See?  Almost indescribable.

We landed back at the old ramp, where the ship waited a hundred meters away.  The helicopter sunk in up to its belly, but as soon as she had shut down I jumped out, sinking up to my knees.  Antarctica at last.  Of course, although the shelf is regarded as part of the continent, I was standing at least 80km from the nearest land.  The shelf here is 40-60m high above the sea, indicating a thickness of 350-600m, but is floating nonetheless.  The edge of the land, at a point know as the hinge zone, is a long way south.

We trooped over and inspected the ramp.  It was beyond salvage – the large crack near the sea end aside, it was riddled with smaller cracks that disappear into blueness within the ice.  Furthermore, the shelf nearby was unsuitable for building a new ramp at the same location.  So much for a quick solution.  We returned to the ship after flying an inspection west and east to identify possible new locations.  The helicopter was then refuelled and loaded with extra passengers for the inspection flight to SANAE IV.  We sat like sardines with baggage piled on top of use for the duration of the 45 minute flight.  The first half-hour was over the shelf – 30 minutes at 200 kph with absolutely no features.  Finally, we reached and passed the hinge zone, and the ice began to rise.  Nunataks appeared, crevasses were visible, and then Vesleskarvet appeared.  My first impression was that it is big.  The photographs have not done the mountain justice.

I spent 6 hours at SANAE IV, meeting the old team, inspecting the facility, and teaching the new safety briefing to the old team leader so that he could present it to us in turn.  We walked around the base, inside and out, and I got a feel for my new home.  It’s neat at the moment, despite being filled with the German construction team who should have been staying aboard their stuck construction ship.  The surrounds are spectacular, even if the base itself is built more for function than aesthetic.  The helicopter returned with a load of cargo for the driver team, who were then collected to drive the Challengers and dozers back to the shelf.  All too soon, we were lifting off again to return to the Agulhas.  On my request, the helicopter flew a circuit with the rear door open so that I could shoot off some aerial pictures.  We arrived aboard the Agulhas in perfect time to step off the chopper direct to the dinner table. On the 27th our smaller helicopters were grounded after an unexpected electrical problem blew the avionics.  There was no danger, but it required using the Kamov to mark locations for a new ramp that had been spotted from the ship.  The drivers arrived late at â??nightâ?? after a 10 hour journey, so we only began ramp construction after an inspection yesterday morning.  The ramp dozing is dangerous work, using a 30 ton bulldozer to push snow and ice into the sea.  Itâ??s also slow.  Iâ??ll be aboard until the cargo operations are completed â?? at least 4 days from now.  Today (29th) we had planned to start flying the scientists off, but the wind and low cloud at SANAE IV has grounded the aircraft.  Hurry up and wait, as usual.

2 Responses to “Brief news snippets”

  1. moose Says:

    Hallo Mr Ross, doctor at the world’s bottom.

    Cool site my friend – I will be watching it closely for the next year – pity you didnt get a chance to collect those shirts – glad you got the ski’s – if you need to burn them to keep warm, let your hair down and enjoy.

    Well my fellow cloud brother – I am off to Antigua tomorrow to climb on a boat.

    Will be in touch amigo


  2. Ross Hofmeyr Says:

    Moose, you are flipping rad. The ski’s have tried to get themselves burnt, but now I’ve adjusted the bindings and they’re working muuuuch better. I managed a whole 2km from the base to the landing strip and back in 60km winds just now. Soon I will be swishing the snowy slopes in style 😉

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