Monday, September 21, 2009


We're about 3/4 way through Winfly now. For those unfamiliar with the Antarctic program, an advance group of people come down in late August while it is still winter, to get the station ready to officially reopen. In between the last flight of Winfly and the first flight of Mainbody, the station is technically closed-- no flights in or out. Unfortunately, one of our Winflyers took ill, and a medevac was ordered. A Kiwi Herc (C-130 cargo plane) landed out at Pegasus field yesterday, and spirited the sick folks away. I happened to be out there at the time, and got to see the plane take off and land.

There were also some Aussies out there, working on their UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). I stopped in the hut they were working out of, and got to talk to them for a bit. They had three UAVs in the shop, and were rigging them up with electronic instrumentation. It's really fascinating-- the little planes have a wingspan of about nine feet, and are only about six feet long, weighing thirty pounds. The can fly them in hurricanes, though, and have flown them clear across the Antlantic ocean several times. They are equipped with Iridium phones for guidance, and regular radio remote control for when they are within fifty miles. They have GPS on them, and telemetry to track various functions of the engine, etc. The group lost one on the sea ice a couple of weeks ago. They knew from the telemetry data that it had lost fuel pressure. It's sitting out on the rough sea ice, miles from McMurdo. They are going to leave it out there, because it's just too hazardous to land a helo out there to retrieve it. The guys said that with out any special instrumentation, the bare planes go for about $70,000US. They don't have any landing gear, so they launch them from a special rack on the back of a pickup. The science group is studying sea ice. Instruments on the little planes measure light and radiation reflected from the ice between here and Terra Nova Bay, the location of an Italian base a couple hundred miles north of us. I don't know much about the grantees on this one-- I'm going to be looking into it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hack! Plague!

Well, it was just a matter of time. Some tanned, loud-talking Winflyer must have breathed on me just right, and now I have the dreaded McMurdo Crud. Right after dinner a couple of days ago, I got that distinctive itch in the lungs, with the scratchy throat and woozy head. The germs were burrowing in. I e-mailed my boss to tell him that I might be sleeping in and a little late for work if I woke up feeling like death the following morning.

Morning came, and I was feeling pretty rough, but not close to death, thankfully. Congested head, itchy lungs, sore throat. Not bad enough to miss work, but not the pink of health, either. I've been drinking as much water as I can stand, loading up on vitamins, and sleeping as much as possible. I took a couple hours off of work today, and took the nap of a lifetime. Crazy dreams in my delirium-- kind of fun, actually. Playing hookie and letting my immune system do its job. I feel a lot better now. Hope I get those germy little gunk monsters on the run!

(Photos by Holly Troy-- no plague connection.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

BRRRRRR! Plague!

This week we had the most heinous weather I have ever experienced in my life. Wednesday morning started cold and windy, and it got worse for about 48 hours. The worst wind was 52 MPH, and the worst cold was -51F. If those had happened at the same time, it would have been a wind chill of -104F. As it was, it got down to a WC of -95F. The wind chill stayed below -75F all day long, and was in the -80s for most of the day. Yikes. We were in severe weather condition two all day both days (meaning travel and work outdoors is limited, due to weather). In a typical trip just from my room to the galley, I would wear long john top and bottoms, fleece vest, huge "big red" parka, neck gaiter, big fur hat, warm glove and my hood up. I still froze in seconds, and all my gear would stay freezing cold for hours after taking it off. I put my big red back on after lunch, and it felt like I was taking it out of the freezer. The farthest I ever have to walk between buildings is about a quarter mile, but I froze badly out there. No real frostbite, but some painful frostnip. Any exposed skin will freeze almost instantaneously in those temps-- it's miserable. Today it has been around -25F, and the wind has stopped blowing (thank God!). I've been walking around town considering a t-shirt and flip-flops. Seriously, -25F feels like Florida after that weather.

Since the invasion of the Winfly workers, us winterovers have been dreading getting sick. We passed around any germs we had at the beginning of the winter, so it was literally impossible to catch a cold or flu for the last five months or so. The arriving people all just went through New Zealand, which is in the peak of their swine flu epidemic right now. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we are in a perfect set-up to all get sick now. I imagine our immune systems are compromised, too. Bad food, no sun, no germs to keep us tough. We're sitting ducks. I know a lot of us have been keeping a sharp eye out for anybody coughing or sneezing. So far, nobody is obviously sick-- that's good. However, one of my coworkers went home to find his new roommate home sick with a sore throat. I dread what comes next. The management has been nagging us nonstop to wash our hands a lot, especially when entering the galley. Truth is, not everybody does it, so the managers decided to appoint some "hand washing cops". Departments must send four people at a time to stand between the hand-washing sinks and the galley entrance. They monitor who isn't washing, and nag them into doing it. Personally I don't mind someone watching me wash my hands if they feel like it, but I am infuriated to be "volunteered" to be a cop. Luckily, my manager took pity on us poor leftover winterovers and didn't put us through the humiliation. We've been through enough, he said. Grown adults nagging other grown adults to behave like grown adults against their will-- it rubs a lot of us wrong. I think the managers finally got that-- there haven't been any cops out for the last few meals.
Think I'll throw on some flip-flops and go for a stroll...