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Danny's blog: From the frozen Antarctic

Faber Maunsell's Danny Wood has arrived in the Antarctic amongst near-permanent daylight to build the British Antarctic Survey's new Halley VI station.

December, at Halley station

The UK team arrived in Cape Town on 1st December 2007. Accommodation was RRS Ernest Shackleton, a Norwegian built ice-strengthened vessel destined for Antarctica. After 5 days in Cape Town 'teambuilding' and carrying out final preparations the journey was underway.

The voyage to Halley V began smoothly, and an early sighting of whales raised spirits. The cruise was soon to end however as we entered the roaring forties, breakfast became a lonely affair. The Shackleton has the nickname "The Washing Machine", on account of her tendency to roll as much as pitch, and the sight of the sea swilling in the portholes.

Accommodation is comfortable, the food is excellent and the company interesting.

Work preparation continued on the journey with site layouts and steelwork erection plans to pore over, as well as organising kit bags and first aid training. The first iceberg was spotted on 12 December which elicited much excitement and happy snapping, and was the first real sight of snow for one of our South African colleagues.

As the days became longer the ice became thicker, and soon we were into thick pack ice and the Antarctic Circle. The rocking and rolling of the ship was now replaced by the crash, bang, wallop as she ploughed through the ice. Now was the time to enter the sweepstake to guess what time & date we would arrive.

On the 15th December we were stuck for the first time. Everyone was on deck, watching and hoping as the Captain made three failed attempts to break through this particularly stubborn pack. Then, on the fourth attempt she broke through to the next lead and continued southwards.

We finally arrived at the Brunt Ice Shelf at 18:00 hours the on 20th December – only two hours after my sweepstake entry. It was a hollow victory however, as nobody had paid the 60 Rand entry fee. The welcome party included two Emperor penguins and a fly-past from the twin-otter aircraft.

We had arrived.

Preparing the ship for unloading was a slow and frustrating time, particularly with 35 eager construction workers keen to make a start to the short summer season. On 21st December however we made our first landfall onto the Brunt Ice Shelf, and were taken by snowcat to the base, Halley V, 12km away. First task of the day; ski-doo driving school.

Halley V usually accommodates around 60 during the summer, and so the first task was to erect the extra accommodation required for the construction team. This included a logistics tent and setting up the site layout. The weather on arrival was fantastic, hovering around minus 2 with clear blue skies, more like a French ski resort than the harshest continent on earth. More on that subject later…

As New Year approached we were settled in, the site was prepared and construction materials were arriving from the cargo ship, which had also sailed from Cape Town 4 days after ours. On New Years Eve we lifted the first 7 tonne space frame onto the temporary supports ready to receive hydraulic legs, floor cassettes, superstructure...

...to be continued.

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