January 25, 2011

VP8DMH/P at Fossil Bluff

Hello and happy 2011 from Antarctica!

As well as our main base here at Rothera, we maintain and staff two forward summer-only fuel depots. These are Fossil Bluff, at 71 degrees South, and Sky Blu at 74 degrees South. Each season a mix of old and new Winterers, as well as some summer-only staff spend time in the field making sure they both run smoothly.

Fossil Bluff is an old Wintering station, with a comfortable wooden hut with bunks, and water on tap, taken from run-off from a near-by glacier. It's also on Alexander Island, one of the rarest IOTA groups, so when I heard I was being sent there for a week or two I knew I had to try and put it on air. The Bluff already has an HF station, designed for regular weather skeds with Rothera, but the rig is an Icom IC-78. It does the job for B.A.S. purposes, but lacks a voice keyer (among other amenities), so I packed up my Elecraft K3 and P3 in preparation for the trip.

I flew out to Fossil Bluff on one of our Twin Otters on the 13th of December, and spent most of the rest of the day working around the hut and setting up the HF, although I did make a couple of 20m QSOs in the evening.

Fossil Bluff Hut

Tuesday brought some more QSOs, but not many; the hut batteries weren't in good shape, and the broadband commercial dipole a little too low to the ground for good DX take-off angles. I requested a reel of wire and some other tools from Rothera on the next Otter to come our way, with the intention of building a 20m vertical to be positioned further away from the generator, but other than that there wasn't much to be done besides persevere and make the most of what the propagation had to offer.

Normally when there is flying in the area we have to do met observations every hour, which are then passed back to Rothera over HF. On Wednesday, however, no planes were scheduled to come our way, which meant much reduced met obs and more time for uninterrupted operation on the amateur bands! (OK, and a bit of reading in the sun.)

Reading on the verandah.

Thursday brought a change of companion (there are always at least two people at a field station at any given time), and the wire I'd requested. Dickie, who had been at the Bluff when I arrived, left to return to Rothera and I was joined by Alan, one of the outgoing Wintering field assistants (alpine and polar experts, and all-round Antarctic Heroes, who look after scientists in the field) and I set about the construction of a 20m vertical with his help. The project was nearly scuppered by the failure of the soldering iron, but, as for all things B.A.S., a fall-back was on hand. Our standard-issue field radio boxes include a soldering iron tip. The idea is that if a field party needs to do any soldering, they jam the tip onto a screwdriver (also provided) and heat it in their Primus stove. I'd always been somewhat skeptical of the idea, but decided to have a go. The result certainly wouldn't have won any awards for prettiness, and I'm not sure I'd like to take the 'soldering kit' to my K3, but it did the job...

Unfortunately, the antenna itself proved difficult to set up satisfactorily, and I didn't get much use out of it. Still, at least the construction was an interesting project!

Every evening, we had a regular sked with Rothera at 00:00, so before long I settled into the routine of working 20m through the day, trying to fit operating time in around met skeds and aircraft operations, and then working 40m in the evenings for a few hours after our sked.

Other than playing radio, there is plenty to occupy your time at the Bluff.

Alan making bread.

Plane visits often involve a coffee break on the verandah...

Taking a break from SSB to try to work HA0DU on CW.

The view East from the front door - the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsular over the George VI Sound, with sun halo.

Alan ready for plane fuelling at the skiway fuel depot.

The way home -- when B.A.S. say you'll be flying out tomorrow, they really mean it!

Flying a Twin Otter over Marguerite Bay on the way back to Rothera.

1 comment:

g0rdh said...

What an excellent blog Mike, I really enjoyed reading it and seeing the pictures. The black and white shots added some atmosphere making you think of arctic explorer's of the past.

I have to confess to being a little saddened at the use of twin otters as your means of transport, poor little things.... could you not have imported a couple of polar bears?

All joking aside its good to hear from you and learn a little of both your job and amateur activity.

Our first major contest is on March 6th and 7th, the 48hr International DX Contest.

Keep the blogs and pics running as you have time, I miss your enthusiasm and commitment to the group and look forward to seeing you in person again once you've finished enjoying yourself.