McMurdo in March

Monday, 6 March 1995
The weather got pretty fierce today. It warmed up to +08°F (-13°C), but the winds are a pretty steady 45 knots. It's been snowing for the past day; enough so, that up at B-133, we got to leave early because the wind and snow reduced visibility to 100 feet or less. I was surprised to find that it was 8 degrees out... personally, I thought it felt pretty warm outside.

Tuesday, 7 March 1995
It's not any colder, but it is windier and the visibility is poorer; perhaps we won't have to work this afternoon. I think if the people in Weather worked this far up the hill, we'd see Condition 1 declared for this area more often.

Wednesday, 8 March 1995
It cleared up a bit, so we did have to work the entire day yesterday; I actually got a lot accomplished, including designing labels for the new boot disks. After dinner, I met Mark at the Band Room and we jammed for an hour or so, and then Yvonne dropped by and we jammed a little more. It was the first time I've played bass while someone else played lead. I'd only ever played along to recorded music before.

Thursday, 9 March 1995
It's been a fairly quiet morning. It was a nice contrast to all of the printer and computer moving of yesterday. I will be glad when all of the computers are in their nice, new winter homes.

Friday, 10 March 1995
The walk up the hill to B-133 was pretty brutal this morning. When it's -08°F (-22°C) with 20 knot winds, it's not a good day to forget to wear your thermals; I think I'll correct the deficiency at lunchtime. In the meantime, no new work has been dropped on me as of yet, so I can whittle away at the pile of stuff that I've already got. If I'm lucky, I can keep up with all of the repair orders while I'm moving stuff and with the movement orders while I'm repairing stuff.

Saturday, 11 March 1995
Today isn't any warmer, but at least the clouds have let up and it's a nice, sunny day. After lunch, the entire base is going out "daisy picking." This practice has nothing to do with flowers, as there are no plants here. We will be out collecting litter and tying down items which might blow away in the winter winds. It's an important job; I've seen the side of dorm 207 where the 4'x8' sheet of plywood penetrated the 1st floor lounge a few years ago. Better the lounge than one of us!

Tonight is the Outrageous Hat party at Scott Base; I'll be wearing my Mongolian felt hat. It should be a great time; there are only 10 members of the New Zealand Antarctic Program wintering-over, so it's always a wild time when the Americans come to visit.

Monday, 13 March 1995
The Outrageous Hat party was great. The party started slow, but picked up by 21:00. I got a chance to get to meet several of the Scott Base winter-overs, including Sean, the science tech. It'll be a lot of fun, visiting on Thursday nights.

The Sunday afternoon trip to the iceberg was cancelled due to Condition 2, so I spent the day playing Civilization and responding to e-mail. After dinner, I went over to Weather with Jeff Frontz and we got the Terascan antenna back up after a brief outage induced by a slipped antenna elevation drive belt. Since we were up on the roof anyway, we took a moment to watch a pink sunset behind the Transantarctic mountains.

Tuesday, 14 March 1995
I never realized how stiff 10Base-T cables get after a couple of minutes outdoors at -20°F (-29°C)!

Wednesday, 15 March 1995, the Ides of March
Tonight was the first night I did the greenhouse solo. I've been helping Jeff Frontz since I got here, but now that the winter tasking has stabilized, I found a night I can do on my own every week. The routine maintenance that the other volunteers and myself do includes topping off the water level in the hydroponic systems; checking the pH, temperature and nutrient concentrations; adding any needed acid, base or nutrient solution; and making sure that the support systems (pumps, circuit breakers, heater) are all operational. I'm really looking forward to working in the greenhouse after the final sunset in April; as it is, there were fewer than 14 hours of daylight today. A week from now, on our autumnal equinox, we'll have 12 hours, like the rest of the world; it's just that due to our extreme southern latitude, the rate of change is much higher here than it is at home. At McMurdo (77°50'S, 166°44'E) the transition from 24 hour light to 24 hour dark (and back again, in the Spring) takes approximately 60 days.

Thursday, 16 March 1995
I made it over to Scott Base tonight after dinner. Woody Porter (who works at Crary Lab) brought his UNO deck with him, so we had a good time teaching our hosts how to play. We had more people playing than we played games, but it was good fun all around, even though not everyone had a chance to win.

Friday, 17 March 1995, St. Patrick's Day
There are two St. Patrick's Day parties this weekend, one tonight at Scott Base, and the other tomorrow night, at the Erebus Club at McMurdo.

Sunday, 19 March 1995
What a weekend! The party at Scott Base was a great time. The full moon rising over Willy Field was an amazing sight; the sky was lavender near the ground, blending to soft pink higher up. Mt. Erebus and Mt Terror were bathed in pink light from the setting sun. It was a small crowd of 20-30 people, mostly listening to music, talking and drinking Guinness Stout from tall cans (pressurized with nitrogen, for a thick, creamy head). I had quite a good chat comparing the geography and population distribution of New Zealand and Ohio. There was green beer, of course, as well as green gin & tonics. Bruce, the Blarny Gnome was set up in the corner. Bruce sits on a plank, mounted on top of a weightlifting rack; there is a hole cut in the wood, exposing Bruce's underside to the world. Much like the Blarney Stone in Ireland, you hang backwards (holding onto a chin-up bar) and give him a kiss. Afterwards, you sign the board next to the names of the other Blarney Gnome kissers. Unlike the Blarney Stone, kissing Bruce confers no discernable beneficial effects. When the crowd thinned out a bit, a group of four of us opened up the dart board and played a bit of 301. When we had gotten down to three players shooting for a double one and one shooting for a double two, we decided to throw for double bull. Many rounds later, we decided to throw one dart, closest to bull wins. Scotty (of Scott Base) threw a double bull. After a snack of freshly made, green-tinted meat pastries, we piled into the last shuttle of the night and headed for home.

We got to take part of Saturday afternoon off to attend a safety lecture, mostly on weather conditions and check-out procedure. Joe Spain, our Navy weather forcaster, handed out some excellent pamphlets with the essentials of how to tell Condition 1 from Condition 2 and 3. Primarily, Condition 1 is when the visibility falls below 100' or the wind chill falls below -100°F (-73°C). I crashed out after dinner for a while, so when I got to the Erebus Club for the McMurdo St Patrick's Day party, the free beer was long gone and the crowd wasn't too thick. I stayed for a beer or two, talked with people a bit and then took off. It was pretty dark and smoky, so I didn't want to stay too long.

The weather was good enough to tour the iceberg, a balmy -10°F (-23°C) with light, but steady winds. Most of the people who signed up didn't show, so we had two Häglunds with only three bodies each. The drive past Scott Base, over the transition and across the ice shelf was bumpy but uneventful. The iceberg itself is about 100' tall and a quarter-mile on each side (30m x 400m x 400m). It floated toward the permanent ice a couple of years ago and became "landlocked" by the annual ice. On our walk around it, we passed one seal laying out on the ice and one seal surfacing through a tiny air hole to occasionally take a breath. Neither one was close enough to get a very good picture of without a telephoto lens. After another bumpy but uneventful trip across the ice shelf, we came back to McMurdo in plenty of time for dinner.

Monday, 20 March 1995
We left Daylight Savings Time and changed over to N.Z. Standard Time this weekend. Now, when it's the start of the day here, it's the end of the day on the East Coast of the U.S.

There was a double-feature tonight in the 206 lounge: "The Thing" (1951) and "The Thing" (1982). It was a small, but appreciative crowd. We took delight in both pointing out flaws as well as pointing out objects common to the movies and to our experiences down here. If a field camp of 10 people gets a flame thrower, we all wanted to know why we didn't get one.

Wednesday, 22 March 1995, The Vernal Equinox
On this, the official start of Autumn, we were greeted by -26°F (-32°C) ambient temperatures with steady winds of over 20 knots. The combination was enough to bring the wind chill down to -75°F (-60°C), our record for the season. Other than that, it turned into a nice, sunny day.

Friday, 24 March 1995
When I got in this morning, I got the word that I had a chance to go out and help flag the route to the iceberg. I scooted on over to the BFC and a handful of us piled in to one of the Häglunds (002, the same one I was in on Sunday) and we headed out of town. After a quick detour over to Silver City to drop off some sleeping bags, we got about half way to the iceberg and three of us jumped out and followed behind the vehicle, one as a spotter and two setters. The vehicle drove down the road with one person flinging flagged bamboo poles out every so often and the two setters would follow along and drill holes in the snow with ice drills (a brace with a 1.2m stainless steel bit). The spotter hung back a few flags to make sure we kept the line straight. We only actually walked a mile or so, but all wrapped up in our ECW, it's harder than it sounds.

Once we got near the iceberg, we marked the break between the sea ice and the permanent ice with black flags, and then walked around the iceberg, planting more black flags at exceptionally thin spots in the ice. We returned home just in time for lunch.

Sunday, 26 March 1995
It was a beautiful day for the "equipment rodeo". There was heavy equipment set up at three spots this afternoon: the old wood pile site, the snow dump and the ice shelf just past the Willy field transition. I walked to the wood pile site with Andrew Crowley. Between the two of us, we managed to drive everything there. He moved a milvan and pushed some snow around with the front-end loader. I managed to move a little dirt with the Caterpillar "D9" bulldozer, drive "the blade" (an articulated grader) to the ballpark and back, and take the fire truck on a spin through town. Most of the afternoon was gone at this point, so I made it down to the ice shelf and tooled around on a spryte and a Caterpillar "Challenger" bulldozer. When I got back from my last ride, it was time to go home. I didn't get a chance to drive the nodwell which resembles an overgrown spryte

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