Travels With Oso con Migo

Winter In The Ross Island Dependency

OAE At The Bleak Island Monastic Brotherhood Of Seers

February 27, 1996, last letter January 29, 1996

Friday, February 9, 1996

Greetings from the Bleak Island Golf and Garden Club.

To any new readers a word of explanation: Bleak Island really means Black Island, twenty some miles south of Ross Island and across McMurdo Sound, the site of our Remote-Unmanned-Satellite Earth Station is my home for the next four to who knows how many weeks. There have been considerable changes to the power and heating systems here during the past summer and there has not been sufficient time to prove out these so-called upgrades before station closing so it is necessary to keep a couple of technicians on site in case a bug develops that cannot be handled by the automagic monitor and control programmes. I have often mused about living here for an extended period. My longest rotation over the past few years has been three weeks; this time we expect to be here at least three fortnights. Already we can find no butter in the house. My fault...oh well. 

I was beginning to get settled into my winter room, it has a nice view of the bay, first time I have had a room with a southern view. That also means it is broadside to the prevailing cold south wind. It remains to be seen how long the view lasts before I block it up with a sheet of plywood nailed to the wall. My local address for this winter, if you happen to have a map of this place, is dorm 209, room 320.

The tanker and the cargo vessel have departed in their turns; ship offload is complete for another year. (Rumor has it there is no, none, zilch, coffee --artificial dairy product-- creamer on station.) During the offload period two or three shifts were trucking and forking milvans and containers onto every available flat spot in Mactown; after that the ship was "back-loaded" with a complement of containers containing refuse, garbage (in refer vans) retro cargo, and several passengers not the least of which includes the venerable Bishopdale Bear who elected, after his whirlwind tour of South Pole, a more comfortable berth on (what we convinced him was) a luxury cruise ship. Now that the vessel has departed it will be another couple of weeks before all the vans and containers she left on the ice pier are emptied, sorted, inventoried, stored, and made ready to receive the garbage and retro that will ship out on *next* year's vessel. 

For you trivia buffs.. The tanker off-loaded 6,236,000 gallons of AN-8 fuel, bringing the stations total to 8,271,000 gallons. There was no MO-GAS off loaded this year, we still have 337,586 gallons on station. AN-8 is similar to JP-8, with more antifreeze.

The back-load evolution of cargo vessel Greenwave consisted of:
516 Containers involving 548 TEU's
+36 Breakbulk items
10,092,116 lbs of retrograde and waste.

Byrd once wrote about the little shack in which he wintered, _ALONE_ the title is, and how the stove pipe would block up and carbon monoxide would poison him. Well at least the stove pipe here does not fill with ice, it just blows away. This year a new frame and guy  support may prevent that happening but prior experience indicates that usually what happens is that the more you tie something down the more damage there is to repair when it *does* blow away. I've not been isolated for so long before, ever. There is one other guy here, a plumber named Rick who will be looking after the generators and heating plant of this new (so-called) upgrade. He actually has more work to do than I. But there is enough to keep both of us busy for more time than there is daylight just cleaning up from the summer's construction. Once he is relatively happy with the performance of this new system then I have several experiments to run to see if it can recover from various error conditions that may be caused by equipment failures.

All the sharp knives have been removed back to town except the bread knife and that is not all so sharp, it tends to crumb the bread rather than slice it. 

I took Rick out to the east field to show him one of the several petrified seals dating from prehysterical times, back when living in Antarctica was serious stuff. On the way down slope to the field he remarked that he thought he heard a barking sound; when we arrived at the site of the seal I noted it had moved since last year. Maybe it is not dead after all. For the record, this seal is lying on a line between the helo pad and the high spot of the ridge to the east; when you get out onto the flat below Mount Melania watch for two cairns, one on either side of the line. The seal is lying on the surface midway between the cairns, head to the south, fur side down. When I was here last, last winter, the seal was lying flush with the ground, more or less along the line, in a slight depression. No question that it has moved since then.

Mitch wrote from town, where he is hooch sitting my fridge filled with butter and beer, and suggested we might sortie the food cache in the ice cave, he said there was a case of (yech!) margarine...

Saturday, February 10, 1996

Our Navy orange Forh (Fix Or Repair Hourly) pickup truck is kept tethered by an extension cord to the side of the BLIMP. The driver's door cannot be closed from the inside, the passenger's door cannot be opened from the inside. You can imagine what condition the seat is in from all those lug-soled boots walking across it. One vent window has been replaced by a triangle of galvanised sheet steel and the tailgate is a two by eight board (Gate, Tail, Qty 1). But she starts. And runs. So we'll keep her. 

Our foray to the Ice Cave Market and Watering Hole was a success. Tomorrow we will have raisin toast slathered with BUTTER for breky. The fresh water lake is nearly two miles by looping bumpy road south, down the back side towards the traverse route, away from McMurdo. Probly only half a mile if you were to walk in a straight line but that would be a long walk down with the shovels and an even longer walk up with the loot we expected to find.

We spent nearly two hours digging out the cave, chipping away ice, stopping to walk back to the truck for more and bigger tools. At first we found a case of frozen peas and carrots, and then a case of freezer burnt whole shrimp. Yum! said Rick, I want this shrimp. That's gonna be kinda hard to spread on raisin toast, I said. Under the peas and carrots was a box of spinach, and under that he found the case labled USDA Not For Sale Butter. 

The butter box did indeed contain yucky yellow margarine as had been suggested by Mitch, who did the last inventory. Rick handed up several pounds, two at a time, and asked how many I wanted. Get a few more, I said, maybe they will turn into butter yet. The next pound was butter! So we kept going and took them all. At least eight pounds.

But the ice cave is a disaster. The ice has melted or ablated around it such that the boxes on the top layer of some stacks are above grade. We rearranged the wood panels and recovered as much as we could but I suspect that this winter will see the cave fill with new snow.

There has been a lot of construction folks here at the Bleak Island Bailey's & Bushmill's Bar & Grill the past summer; someone had the lounge all twisted around so it looked like a theater, all seats staring at the telly's baleful eye staring back.) 

At the rate things are going here I will be likely wintering on Black Island, the ice road around the backside of the island, seventy miles back to Mac-Town is fraught with ice holes big enough to swallow a SnoCat(c) or give deliriums to a Delta(c). I have taken vows with the Bleak Island Monastic Order, Brotherhood of Seers. The grand poobah of Insoluble Solutions has charged us Seers with the responsibility of guarding the remote unmanned earth station against the depredations of the Easter Seal, expected to arrive anytime now on their annual migratory perigrination. We are hard at work building barricades and erecting earthworks, not to mention cooking and cleaning up after. So far the weather has been pretty and mild; and a good thing that cos at the same time we are busy picking up the trash and tools left by a summer of construction and fixing up all the things the so called professional and licensed electricians and plumbers were unable, with all their expertise and engineering, to get working. Too bad in a way cos I have this neat room in 209 on the third deck with a great view across the bay to the mountains. Well my consolation is that here on Bleak Island I am *in* the mountains. 

At least there is lots of coffee... We have a case of Folgers. It has been in the freezer for a couple years. At my hooch I have five kilos of Garden City Blue Mountain. Garden City is a small roaster in Christchurch that produces a very good selection. There are several smaller bags of assorted beans and three, no, four pots here. We have an old six cup perk, my favourite for breky; then there is a two cup drip with some sort of reusable metal filter, and a cappaccino machine, and a 40 cup perk that produces "coffee" for the construction gang.

Washington's Birthday Tuesday February 20, 1996

Monday holidays are celebrated on Tuesday here cos Tuesday here is Monday in CONUS. GroundSeal Day is past, the prediction is that we will enjoy three more weeks of Penguindian Summer--Valentine's Day is past, now we are at Washington's Birthday--First President and first to have his holiday/birthday moved to a Monday. Here it means Winter is lurking in the wind; we had our first sort-of snow yesterday. Sort-of snow is where its snowing enough that you cannot count the flakes and it stays on the ground long enough to get a foot print into it but there is never a measureable accumulation and its all gone as soon as you step in it. (There are some other things we step in that I would have go away like that, eh?) 

Well we were off to a grand start this afternoon, after the wind and snow stopped, to traipse off to the fresh water lake for a little water recovery mission. Water for the BLIMP must be hauled in by traverse in the winter; for now we will pump from the lake. At this time the ice is four inches thick and can be chopped through in a few minutes. Once the hole is in we prime and crank a 30 gpm Homelite suck up the lake into any of several drums, buckets, barrels, and haul then all home.

We'd figured out a way of carrying the broken 500 gallon portable drum with the JinnyMae forks so we might be able to at least half fill it and so headed off down the hill, fork and truck, a little parade to the watering hole.

Then, right where the road narrows upon passing out of the back yard, there is a flag marking the spot where one might want to put on the brake, as if to slow for the curve ahead or perhaps let a turtle safely cross--so I did. Thereupon came a great whuush and hhhiisss and the the forks lost all their air and the parking brake became set and she would move no more.

We could hear air escaping from somewhere underneath and feel a draught from the underside of the mechanism of the left brake pedal.

So we took the truck and drove around a bit on the neighbors lawn to get past this inconsiderate obstruction and continue with what remained of the water recovery detail. The forks still sit there in the middle of the road.

Please send road service.

February 21, 1996, Wednesday, the day after.

Well! Of all things! Road Service called. John at the Heavy Shop suggested there might be ice (not uncommon at these latitudes) in the airline. I told him the planes *land* on the ice but that the airline doesn't *carry* any ice, and besides, they're not flying out here any more; this helo pad has airline service only in the Summer. He said, no, no, the *air*line*! The ice gets in there and makes the valve stick. Take a hair dryer out there and warm it up.

John... JinnyMae is forking the water tank halfway down the hill.

--Do you got a long extension cord?

If we had a working fork we could fork a generator down there. But... Eleven big orange extension cords, and two black ones, later we had the industrial strength hair dryer (guaranteed to toast your tresses) propped up on the steering cylinder and voila! Air! Brakes! 

Over the past couple weeks we have been running tests on the new "upgrade" power plant at the communications satellite earth station. Two 16kw diesel gensets replaced the three 1200 watt Ormat CCVT gensets that I have written about previously. The Ormats were fairly simple to run and maintain, the diesels are incredibly complex. But there has been a lot of expansion in earth station capabilities so more power was required. Adding to the wind generators and photovoltaics would involve greater lead time and more engineering; installing diesel gensets is pretty much a matter of grabbing off the shelf components and slapping them together. So what we have here is a short sighted quick fix that will use less fuel than the Ormats but require more upkeep and a greater involvement of greater expertise.

The testing involves running the system through charge/discharge cycles, setting and checking heating and cooling temperatures, assuring that the monitor and control links do in fact monitor and control the circuits intended. So far there is enough work here patching up the bugs to keep us busy all winter.

February 25, 1996 Sunday, Oso con Migo meets the Easter Seal.

The migratory Easter Seal is on the move again. Every year they show up at a different time, from a different direction, not to be depended upon like the swallows of Capistrano, and demand ransom in the form of fish, cookies, dollars, shark's teeth...

In the meantime life with the Bleak Island Monastic Brotherhood, Order of Seers, of Insoluble Solutions, goes on apace. I have taken vows of poverty (no wine) and chastity (no nothing) and Penguindian Summer draws to a close. The sun sets now and the evenings grow dark.

I always have choice! I could choose to complain and whine. Actually I have already done my fill of complaining and whining, that's why there's no wine. *Actually* there is a little wine left but I am saving that for next week when I plan to break my vows (of poverty at least) so I'll be able to wallow in self-pity. ;->

I have been busy the past few days making kiwi fruit and ginger jam (the kiwi fruit was fermenting and the ginger root had frozen and was all squishy), running test after test of the new gensets, cooking and cleaning up after, and spending lots of time looking for things that the summer folks have moved to different shelves or drawers.

February 27, 1996, Tuesday(?) Showers in the forecast.

Another attempt to get water. Driven by a pressing need to get clean and wash dishes the monks of the Bleak Island Monastic Brotherhood Of Seers took its asses and horses to the lake today to fetch water. The ice is ten to twelve inches thick now but underneath there is still some water.

We brought back 200 gallons, more than enough for a reasonable shower except that the water was soooo cold that even after being heated to a comfortable degree it still froze as it left the shower head. Soon the stall was awash to the gun'ls in crusty slush and the drain all the way to the evaporation pond was froze up tight.

Have a hot shower and think of us. 

Bulletin!!! Stop the Presses!!

***Forwarded Message Follows***

No air drop this year.
It's official.

Richard T. Boehne
ASA Resident Manager
***End of Forwarded Message***

Inchoately yours, Friar Tech

 A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE,  k1oIq

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