Pre-deployment training / by Jerry

The last two weeks have been filled with the pre-deployment conference - a very busy time in which we're told and taught everything we need to know.

This started last Sunday afternoon when Girton College opened it's doors to 100 or so scientists, technical staff, field assistants, chefs and doctors heading to Bird Island, South Georgia, Signy, Rothera and Halley as well as those going further into the field like the Subglacial Lake Ellsworth team.

The official photo of those going south in 2012/13

We started off with a lot of meetings with our teams and talks about our specific locations as well as being informed on more general company type stuff. Mixed in with this were presentations about bits of research going on in different disciplines across the continent. There was a lot of first aid training, as you'd imagine, with many varied practice scenarios thrown at us in quick succession. Amongst the rest of it we got to practice (not play) with fire extinguishers and were taught all about teamwork from the classroom.

Probably my favourite part was the Sea Survival Training in Lowestoft. This involved an early start and a load more Powerpoint, but after lunch we got in the pool for real training. We ran through a few drills and ended up with an 'abandon ship' scenario; mostly pitch black with occasional flashing lights and the noise of the wind machines whipping the pool up to about 5ft swell as the sprinklers rained down cold showers. We had to run up stairs, put life-jackets on, drop the 3m into the water, swim over to the raft and get everyone in and safe. We possibly carried on a bit too long as we started desperately bailing out with our shoes, but you could feel the adrenaline flowing through the group. We all survived and were pretty efficient, and from what I understand the Southern Oceans aren't that different from a heated pool in Suffolk.

Following a week of glorious sunshine we were enthusiastic about our trip up to Derbyshire for the Field Course. As you probably know, this turned out to be in the middle of the worst September storms for 30 years. Our campsite was a mudbath when we arrived and we spent the first evening learning basic campcraft stuck inside a tent.


Our dining room. Note the mud and puddles.

The next day we got out to Curbar Edge to learn how to rescue ourselves and others from crevasses. So we abseiled down and jumared back up the cliff in between sheltering from the elements. Even though Bird Island doesn't have any crevasses I hope some of this will be useful in the future. It's a while since I've abseiled and I haven't used the jumars before, so it felt worth it.

Sheltered behind a rock on Curbar Edge.

 Hannah, concentrating more on the camera than the large drop below.

Chris, jumarring back up the cliff.

Sandwiches and tea in a cramped cave.

Back at the site we ran through a couple of search and rescue drills before cooking and heading to the pub, where we filled a large room with wet coats, boots, socks and other layers.

Eagle Rock and a Highland Cattle we passed on our walk back.

 Practicing search and rescue in a simulated blizzard.

Drying off in the pub. See the pile of wet clothes behind us.

We were back on the ridge the next day, running through navigation and more search drills in the rain, fog and boggy ground that sounds quite representative of Bird Island. 


 Another lovely day in the Peak District.

More white-out search and rescue.

We headed back to Cambridge that afternoon, a day early but I think another night in the rain and mud might have broken our spirits. I know it'll be colder and wetter down south but I'll also be better equipped and with a base to go back to.

It's been hectic but good fun. It was great to meet so many others who are heading south and finding about what they're going to be doing. I look forward to hearing their stories and seeing photos once we're out there.
Team Bird Island: Hannah (seals), Jerry (penguins), Chris (buildings), Tamsin (base commander) & Steph (albatrosses).