Thursday, 21 January 2010

From Halley to Rothera

Apologies to all for the extended absence. I've been everywhere under the sun since I last put in an entry, and I'm writing on a flight north out of Antarctica, back to Punta [and posting it a week later]. I shall make three more entries, say, after this one, as I slowly catch up on all my doings. So let's start by going back to the end of December. At Halley.

I believe when we last left off, I was waiting for relief to begin. Well, it never did begin for me! We waited and waited for the Russian ship, but it seemed to be stuck pretty fast. So the three of us passengers to Rothera - five, including the pilot and air mech - made plans to leave on the 30th of December.

As it was, the ship arrived just as we took off. We actually flew over it on the way out:

...and here's my last look at Halley.

Flying to Rothera in a Twin Otter is a bit more involved than on the Basler, which is how I've always done it before. There's not enough fuel to go straight across, so we had to stop at fuel depots along the way.

An extended aside here. I've gained a much larger appreciation of fuel depots in the last three weeks, as much of my activities has greatly depended on them. Scattered all around Antarctica are hidden fuel depots for each country. The fuel in these locations is worth a LOT of money. Let's say a barrel of jet fuel costs $1000US, in the UK. (I think it's more, actually.) First, we have to load it onto a ship and carry it down to Rothera or Halley. Considering the fuel burned to get that incremental weight down there, let's say it costs an extra $100 to get it to the edge of Antarctica.

And this is where the costs begin to skyrocket.

If you want to work in the interior in Antarctica, you'll obviously need fuel to get there. If a site is 800 miles away in the interior, you'll have to stop at an intermediate point to refuel, in both directions. But first you have to go to that intermediate point to drop off the fuel at that depot. And then go back. And that, of course, costs just as much fuel as you've dropped off. If there are two such intermediate points required, you have to go to the first one three times, and then go to the second one once. And so on.

$1000US of jetfuel can cost easily $8000US to get in the right location. It's a logistical pain.

It's actually not unheard of for one country to raid another's fuel supply for this reason. There's one country in particular who has a bad reputation for such shenanigans - but I shall be a gentleman and not say its name. Theiving pikeys!

One thing I will say - it's not the Americans. One of my pilots, Steve (who you'll get to meet in upcoming entries), did a deep deep field project with the Americans, who work on a completely different scale than the rest of us.

"Where do you need the fuel?" says they.
"Right here." says he, pointing at a location on a map, deep in the interior.
"Okay, a Hercules will airdrop it in the next few days."

Sometimes it's nice to have an obscene amount of money.

Anyway, back to me. So we made three fuel stops between Halley and Rothera. Bluefields, which is just a discreet cache of fuel marked by an empty barrel on a stick:

...and then Sky-Blu (which you will also see much more of, in the next few entries)...

and Fossil Bluff:

Fossil Bluff is a pretty place, with a bit of internal BAS controversy. It has a beautiful, original hut from the 1950's - it's one of the oldest buildings in Antarctica. It even has a nice Aga oven. And BAS wants to tear it down. Apparently, it's not too safe. Many would like to preserve it as a historical building - problem is, there's nobody to visit it! The cruise ships that come down to Antarctica don't come that far. It's not even at the runway, so I didn't get a chance to see it myself.

But eventually, I got to Rothera, in time for New Years. And that will be my next entry.

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