South Pole Diaries 1995    


10th February 1995

From Michael Ashley.....

This morning we find that our priority numbers for the flight out have increased (i.e., have become less favourable) by one overnight. Apparently someone has broken their leg, and as a ``medivac'' case they automatically receive top priority. We fear a rash of leg breakings when the news gets around.

At ``bag-drag'' it appears as though the next flight is about 30 hours away, not 3 as we had hoped. It is very hard to get concrete information about flights - there are a lot of rumours floating around about planes having to return to Christchurch with radar problems, the wind being too high to land, the squadron ``re-deploying'' (whatever that means) and so on.

In the morning we visit the Greenwave, a medium-sized container ship originally built by the Germans for plying the Great Lakes, but now used to ship cargo between California and McMurdo. John pushes me through the door which says ``Absolutely no visitors at any time'', and I ask the Chief Engineer to give us a tour of the engine room - he obliges. The engine is a 10,000 hp, 8 cylinder, 3-1 reduction, reversible diesel with fixed pitch propellor.

Later in the afternoon, back in the town, John discovers the Aerobics Room (Building 78), where the latest in high-tech exercise equipment is provided. His first stop was the ``Lifestyle'' exercise bicycle, a machine with so many flashing lights and and so much built-in intelligence that it makes the 300 Mhz LeCroy Digital Sampling Oscilloscope look like the earlier 200 Mhz model (the one without auto-correlation). Measuring John's heart-rate via the grip handles, the machine led him through an individually tailored exercise regime. John was terrified to let go of the handles lest the machine conclude that he was clinically dead, and automatically commence CPR on him. At the end of the regime, the bicycle informed John that his fitness rating was ``36'', and considerately didn't provide any clue as to how this compared with the rest of humanity.

John and I have both now taken advantage of the free McMurdo barber's shop to get our navy-style haircuts. John now looks more like a Hercules pilot and less like a poodle.

Tomorrow our schedule is an 8:30am, 70 minute, trip in the Terra Bus (a giant vehicle with seats for 50 or so people; it has six tyres, each 2m high and 1m wide) out to the Pegasus ice runway. Then an indeterminate wait for a aircraft, and then an 8 hour flight to Christchurch.

Incidentally, we learnt a bit about ice runways from a ``fuelly'' that we spoke to the day before: the runways have to be carefully groomed to ensure that they have a uniform covering of 10cm of snow. If the ice itself is exposed, patches can melt in the sun, causing depressions that are dangerous to the aircraft. Extended periods of grooming lead to accumulations of snow on the edges of the runway, the weight of which eventually cause the runway to bulge upwards in the middle. The advantage of ice runways over deep snow runways is that wheeled aircraft can land, thereby greatly increasing the available payload.

OK, that's all for now. With luck you will receive the final instalment from Christchurch.

Michael Ashley (with contributions from John Storey)