Friday, March 21, 2014

Last boat of the season

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of March, the LMG pulled in to make the last visit of the summer season.


In addition to the usual supply of freshies and sciencey stuff, it also brought us a slew of new toys.  Including, THANK GOD, our drain snake!

Just try and get clogged now, poop-pipes!

Due to a logistical screw-up, this unit accidentally got sent over to New Zealand before coming over here; apparently it got mixed into the cargo supply for McMurdo or South Pole and made it all the way to Auckland before someone caught the mistake.  So while it's here two months late, it's finally here!

We also got in an underwater hydraulic rock drill unit in, which is going to be used over the winter by the SCUBA divers as part of the ongoing boat ramp construction project.


Building the new boat ramp, as well as the accompanying floating dock, has been the most significant construction project on station of the last couple years.  It's part of a long-term plan to augment our fleet of Zodiacs with larger rigid-hull inflatable boats, which will greatly increase our range and capabilities of what kind of science we can do locally.  While the Zodiacs are great for what they are, due to their small size they're limited to near-shore usage in our local archipelago, generally no more than a couple miles from station.  The larger rigid-hull boats would allow us to safely operate further out into the open ocean, as well as farther up and down the coast from the station.

The logistics of getting those larger boats in and out of the water, however, would require some changes to how we move things around.  To facilitate this, we're in the process of building a new boat ramp in place of the old rock landing, as well as having installed a floating dock last season.


Half of the boat ramp was built last season, it's going to be twice as wide as what's seen here.


But before that happens, much of the rock in the area needs to be broken down and leveled out to prepare the area for installation of the supporting I-beams and concrete slabs.  In the real world, some heavy equipment or perhaps some blasting would make short work of it.  Down here, we have two young guys, one old guy, and some power tools.


The first step in the process was to drill some three-foot-deep holes using a pneumatic rock drill.  As I was the only guy down there without a beard and could therefor wear a respirator, this job fell to me.



After the holes were drilled, we got to break out our newest toy, a hydraulic rock splitter.  The idea was to put this down into the holes I'd drilled and then through the power of magic, fracture the rocks enough that we could remove them by hand.  We'd experimented with expanding grout earlier in the season, but due to the cold temperatures it never worked and was abandoned in favor of the rock splitter.



Due to the extreme forces at play here, a good coating of lube on the splitter helps everything along.  The middle tine is retracted into the unit and the outer tines are inserted into the holes.  The middle tine is then forced downwards via a hydraulic ram, forcing the outer tines out and fracturing the rock.


 

It's a REALLY bizarre and unsettling feeling to feel the rocks shifting and cracking underneath your feet.  After it's cracked and split enough, we can get in there with pry bars and occasionally jackhammers to get the chunks out.



Smaller bits could be hand-carried out, but the larger chunks we'd use cargo straps and the skytrack to lift up and out of the way.


This was not a quick project by any means; John was brought in specifically for this project and did absolutely nothing but break and move rocks for the better part of three months, with Steve and I contributing huge amounts of whatever time we could spare.  It's hard, physical work that leaves to sore and feeling broken at the end of every day, but after a while you . . . you don't quite get used to it, but you acclimate a bit.

After a few months of solid work, the rocks for the second part of the ramp have been cleared away, and the next crew will be installing the supports and concrete slabs this coming winter.  But the boat ramp is only part of the project to get larger boats onto station; we still need a vehicle to get them in and out of the water, and tow them around while on land.  And this brings us to our newest, and shiniest toy:


Our new Bobcat Toolcat, a work vehicle that's going to come in useful for all kinds of situations, not just moving the boats around.  While (sadly) it has the hitch and PTO instead of a bed, we did get the snowblower attachment, as well as a dump bucket and cargo forks.  This thing is going to make moving stuff around station VASTLY easier, as it's far smaller and more nimble than the skytracks and can actually drive inside the shipping containers to unload them.

Of course, because this comes off an assembly line it has some standard features that aren't quite needed down here.


We're still waiting on all the bits to come in for it; the engine block heater and tire chains didn't make it on the last ship, so they'll hopefully be on this coming one.  The chains are going to be very much needed; currently, these small hard tires have problems even making it up the hill to Terra-Lab at the top of station (Apparently you can also get larger 31" flotation wheels for it, which would be awesome and our mechanic has requested them, but I doubt we'll get them.  It should do well enough with just the chains).

This past ship was the cruise that most of the science personnel were leaving on; with the season winding down, our station population was reduced from 42 down to 28 people when they left a couple weeks ago.

 
The ship leaving gave us chance to engage in two long Antarctic traditions.  The first is the throwing of snowballs at the departing ship:


And second is the leaping of the crazy people into the water.


This isn't exactly my idea of fun.


Now that the ship is gone and most of the science has shut down, we're in the process of preparing for turnover.  Attending to many of the little tasks that have gotten put off over the busy season, cleaning and organizing the tools for the incoming winter crew.


As for me?  I'm still doing what I always do.  Figuring out how to fix things that I didn't previously know how to fix.



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