I started back at the British Antarctic Survey a month ago in my new role as Station Leader for Bird Island. Life has been pretty hectic since then as the other new SLs and I have found our days full of training courses, document reading and planning for the upcoming season. A whole range of topics have been covered from people-managing skills to the computing systems to managing major incidents. The latter has tested our responses to some pretty daunting scenarios; buildings on fire, planes falling out the sky and major oil slicks. While slightly terrifying they’ve also been extremely valuable in increasing understanding and confidence in what we can do to mitigate problems, how to deal with them and how to manage the station and personnel through the good times and hard times.
Three years ago I arrived at the pre-deployment training week at Girton College with little idea of what to expect and spent my time trying to absorb as much information as possible, trying to work out how much was relevant for my job and my destination. This year I turned up as the go-to guy for questions on Bird Island, feeling much more confident in my role due to experience down south and the training in Cambridge. I tagged along to most of the lectures and discussion groups as there’s so much I still don’t know, especially about life on the bases further south, and I was also able to pick out a few of the most relevant points and reiterate them to my team.
Oil spill response and fire safety were followed by the first aid training. I’m up to date with this so popped back into the office for a few more bits of paperwork before heading back to watch the riotous scenarios the teams are expected to deal with, complete with very enthusiastic acting by the victims. As in my first year the great thing about having everyone together is that you get to meet people from so many different backgrounds, with a large range of jobs, all excited about heading to Antarctica.
The official pre-deployment staff photo 2015
At the end of the week everyone departed and I accompanied the folk who will be heading south for the whole year as they went up to Derbyshire for winter teams training week. I last did this in the year termed ‘rainageddon’, such was the apocalyptic level of mud generated. It now takes place in an outdoor centre that is a pretty good representation of a station in that it requires everyone to pitch in cooking, eating and cleaning together.
Pitching a tent. In the rain.
True to form we did get a bit of drizzle but were able to get a bit of shelter to talk about navigation, campcraft, search techniques and basic ropework.
Replicating blizzard visibility with the bucket-on-head technique. The aim was to find the second bucket.
Making a pulley from simple climbing kit.
Testing the effectiveness of the above pulley.
There’s only so much that can be taught indoors though so we managed to get people out to navigate around the campsite and the moors above Curbar Edge before testing their skills on the high ropes course. As has happened a few times recently I played the casualty in a rescue exercise, this one involved me being lowered down and then hauled back up a steep slope on a stretcher.
Putting together a stretcher and anchor system.
The view from the stretcher as we headed off down the slope.
With the sun out we headed up to the moors above Curbar Edge for more navigation practice.
Learning rope ascending techniques with a couple of jumars on the high ropes course.
Taking advantage of the high ropes course.
Just hanging about.
All roped up for ascending and descending.
Bare feet or wellies... a test of optimal climbing footwear.
Following the excitement of all these group bonding exercises it’s kind of down to earth with a bump as everyone goes their separate ways and I head back to the office for more courses. I can’t wait to head off south again in a little over a month, but still feel I’ve a lot of preparation work to cram in before then.
Relaxing on one of the climbing walls.
The hugely enjoyable end-of-course barbecue.