Aurora, Samba and Sledges

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Summer 07
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It's been another fun, if sleep deprived, week at Halley. We began by recovering from my Birthday over the chilled-out bank holiday weekend (we do, sometimes, get days off here). We even held a little carnival of samba out on the snow, joined by a couple of million people back in London somewhere. It's good to get the drums outside, as they've a much better sound when freed from the plywood box they usually practice in. The cold also tunes them up about a tone, and the need to keep warm adds a touch of urgency to the rythyms... We did very well, considering, until the pea froze in my whistle.

Banging on the bottom of the world
Banging on the bottom of the world

Sunrise behind the Simpson
Sunrise behind the Simpson

The sun climbs ever higher in the sky, rises earlier and sets later. This takes away the time-lapse dawns and dusks that hang on the horizon like the dirty light over cities back home. With the other hand it gives us much more science to do. We've installed a swanky optical instrument near the shelf edge at Precious Bay (no one has the slightest idea why it is precious, or to who). This saw the first trip off station of the season as Neil and Tom braved the elements to do electronics with mittens on. In a week or so we'll head back out there to see if the thing's still there and, if it is, what sort of data it's coughed up.

Tom and Neil return from Precious Bay
Tom and Neil return from Precious Bay

I've been enjoying the chance to stretch out, doing a bit of flying with the kites and heading out to our remoter masts to sort out a couple of engineering problems (which is to say: digging up burried turnbuckles and moving them up the stays to keep them accessible).

I'm also returning, sort of, to the days of Scott. Back then, the Antarctic was uncomfortable, hard work, heroic, deadly, and, well, not entirely my cup of centrally heated civilised tea. Still, we can pretend to be as gnarly as them, using exactly the same kit. We have a pair of battered old manhauling sledges and I'm working to bring them back to life, and will eventually pull something on them somewhere. Over the weekend I've replaced a snapped long piece and redone all the knots and lashings that hold it in place. It's both a bit complicated and very simple at the same time, takes ages, and makes you stiff and sore at the end of the day.

The sledge is made of two runners which curl up at front and back, a set of bridges that bounce from the left runner to the right, thin "longies" stand on these bridges, with the outmost braced against the curled bits of the runners. All these are fitted together using the sort of thin string you wrap parcels with, and some cunning knots that rack up the tension and stop things slipping. The critical joins are those at the ends, and these get tied twice, then protected with a final lashing of thicker cord. Every lash gets painted with dope, and protected by straps of canvas where boxes might rub.

The photos below show parts of this as a work-in-progress, giving a look at a slightly naked sledge:

Sledge with the new longie
Sledge with the new longie

A rear inner lashing, all doped up
A rear inner lashing, all doped up

Lashing to keep the longie on its bridge
Lashing to keep the longie on its bridge

Finally, just when we'd got worried that there would be no more fire in the sky for the rest of the year, last night the Sun quivered and the Earth's magnetic field shivered in response, throwing beams of light dancing over half the sky for hours. Sometimes thin arches rippled like the keys on a mechanical piano, then one arch would detatch and peel itself sideways like foil from a yoghurt, then these misty lines would knit into a boiling knot, writhing like a cauldron of snakes or streaming like hair in a gale. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep until the skies calmed themselves.



people watching aurora
people watching aurora

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