A Close Shave – by Anton Bowring
(Please note this update was written late last night, and relates to events which happened yesterday. Due to comms limitations over night, we could only upload it this morning)
We remained nosed into the ice shelf by our unloading site all night. It was very calm and the ship remained in position without buffeting.
Today started as usual. At 8 am the basket was swinging over the ship’s side and onto the shelf with the first four workers. The plan was to continue unloading drums for storage on the depot line. These will be used to refill the ‘flubbers’ when the team return from laying the advance depot up by the plateau during February.
The first job was to use the elderly Tucker Snow Cat, ‘Snowflake’ to tow a sledge with forty drums up from the unloading site by the ship to the depot lines 3 kilometers inland. This is where all the fuel scoots are being set out in readiness for hitching up to the Caterpillars when the advance depot laying expedition sets out. At the same time Spencer and Richmond towed the last two fuel scoots from the ship’s side to the depot lines. A further forty drums were unloaded and stacked on a sledge by Duncan, Adrian and Geoff, while Eric and artist, Glynn, went to fit the padded fabric tea cosy which adds an outer layer of insulation to the Science caboose. Ian and Jo continued to setting out the living caboose. Richmond, Ran and Mike worked at the depot lines receiving the fuel drums as they arrived.
It was another beautiful day and work carried on until lunchtime. In all we have 120 drums now up at the depot lines and just 180 left on board the ship still to unload. In addition to the fuel, a sledge full of Caterpiller spares was unloaded from the ship this morning.
After lunch, the team were back ashore and everything was going well until Captain Dave sounded the alarm and recalled all the workers with a degree of urgency. The sea ice, which for days has been out beyond the mouth of the bay, suddenly started drifting in towards the ship at the unloading station. This was always a possibility and, as a result, a constant watch has been maintained since we’ve been here to monitor the movement of the sea ice. If the ship got trapped at the head of the bay by compacted sea ice, it would be impossible to turn or get her out. The surprisingly rapid drift of the floes was affected by a slight change in the wind direction. Now blowing from the north, it could be days before the bay might be clear again. There is no telling. For safety and in order to remain manoeuvrable, it is essential to prevent the ship from being pressed against the ice shelf by the encroaching sea ice.
As the alarm was sounded, work stopped and, using skidoos and ‘Snowflake’ to collect everyone, Adrian and Rob cleared all the work sites and rapidly brought everyone to the ship. It was a close shave but we managed to back away from the ship’s berth and push slowly through the ice floes to rest a safe distance away. It was frustrating, especially as the weather remains warm and bright. The indications are that it might snow on Tuesday and it is therefore essential to be prepared. Tomorrow we shall see whether it is possible to return to the head of the bay and continue unloading. With just a day or two of work on the cabooses, it will be possible to leave a team ashore. Once the facilities are up and running, an ideal shelter will be in place for the final phase of the disembarkation from the ship.
Today I was fortunate to get ashore and join Ran, Mike and John Parsloe at the depot lines. Having not seen how progress was going during the past few days, I was amazed at the amount of work that has been completed. The size and scale of the operation are impressive indeed and I enjoyed helping to lay drums out as they arrived from the ship. Thus far, everyone deserves huge congratulations on achieving so much in just a few days. The expedition support team and the ship’s crew have worked miracles. We can only hope that the ice conditions and the weather will not prevent a return to work tomorrow.