By Stuart McMillan AKA Shaggy (Chef)

After last months Midwinter's festivities July has seemed very peaceful in comparison. The month began with some very stormy weather that seemed to go on forever. Winds reached 50 knots blowing snow towards the coast. This made any outside work impossible apart from the melt tank which was still religiously filled each day with the relevant team soldiering on in very bad conditions. However the second half of the month brought a dramatic change in the weather and clear skies have dominated since. The sun is definitely on its way back as well with beautiful deep red skies for 2 to 3 hours some mornings. This gives the impression that you are not on Antarctica at all but Mars!!

The Laws platform in the midday light

We've had no less than 3 birthdays this month starting with Mickey our carpenter , steel erector and real ale fan. Next was Jons (AIS engineer) which was celebrated with a "fetish evening". A variety of lewd , frightening and downright surreal costumes made an appearance with the usual gimp masks , sheep and leather!! Possibly the darkness inducing borderline sanity assisted people with even more vivid imaginations than usual!! The following day saw Andyís (generator mechanic) birthday which was a much more subdued affair compared to the preceding evenings colourful festivities but a fine time was had by all!!

Cathy at the fetish evening Andy at the fetish evening Annette and Sharpy at the fetish evening

Creek 5 by moonlight

There have been a couple of visits down to the coast this month to stay in a caboose and investigate the sea ice at Creek 5. Mark and Annette have just returned from a weekend away in some of the coldest weather for 2 years. Cathy, Jon and myself spent a very chilly Sunday there getting away from base for the first time in over a month. Just getting out on these excursions is a major mission as you have to collect enough things together to support yourselves if the weather turns nasty. After getting our own stuff ready, which constisted of as many hats and pairs of gloves that you can find as well as all the relevant thermals and books etc, food has to be sorted out and packed. After packing all of this + P bags (sleeping bags, karrimat, sheepskin etc) and camera equipment. It looked like you are going for a month and not one or two nights!

By this point though the fun has only barely begun. You now have to start your transport which consists of the old faithful Alpine 2 skidoos. Unfortuantely like most other vehicles at Halley they were not designed to be started at -35°C and need a lot of love and attention to get them running smoothly and set you on your way. Unfortunately most of this love and attention comes from back breaking physical labour. First you have to warm the carburettor with a heatgun powered by a portable generator (very heavy) carried to your doos. You then endlessly have to turn the engine over with the pull cord, priming occasionally, until it fires. This can take a very long time indeed.

Jon and Shaggy in the caboose at Creek 5
Jon and Shaggy at Creek 5

Finally after letting your doos warm up and packing all your equipment into box sledges (including the dreaded generator) you're off to the caboose. Once there you have a few hours wait while the stove warms the place up enough to take any layers off. You also have to think about tying a tarpaulin round the doos in case of bad weather. Once all is done though a walk down the ramp to the sea ice is in order. The view of the cliffs from the sea ice as what little light there is begins to fade is worth all the hard work and early start. Later on we returned under the moonlight which was even more spectacular and helped you gain some sort of perspective of what a unique sight we were seeing at this time of year. The year's new sea ice was carpeted with frost flowers, which are formed during low winds from the layer of brine left on the surface on newly frozen sea ice, that sparkled in the moonlight and I donít think I've ever experienced such silence.

The next day, after a hearty breakfast and a final trip down to the sea ice, it was time to pack everything away and get ready for the return journey. This basically involves the same carry-on as the day before but in reverse. Once back at base you are completely exhausted from your days "relaxation" away from base but it's more than worth all the exercise to see the sea ice at this time of year.

Back at base there's been a lot to do this month although some of it had to wait for the weather to clear. Mickey was getting quite frustrated at the beginning of the month as he wanted to get out and re-align the platform's legs and the weather just wouldnít let up. All Steve and Duncan's time has been taken up patching tarpaulins and servicing sledges. The met babes™ have been up all hours taking moon observations. This is a process where you measure the ozone in the atmosphere from the sunlight reflected off the moon and can be quite a tricky process. Everyone helped to clear snow out of the various levels of the melt tank shaft that ended up there when the shute was being unblocked. This was a very hard job as the snow had to be winched in plastic drums up to the surface.

The garage
A bulldozer

An addition to our evenings this month has been Lyndseys weekly talks on wilderness medicine. She's studying this topic for an exam when she returns home and thought the best way to absorb all the information was to teach it to us! Thus far we've learnt about cold and heat related illness although I donít think the latter will be a problem down here any time soon. Although also not an immediate hazard in these parts I think we're all looking forward to how to deal with venomous beasties and bear attacks.

Finally the 27th of this month saw a rare event at Halley as the temperature dropped below -50°c for the first time in 2 years. Everyone had been watching in anticipation as it teetered around the -48/9°C mark for much of the previous 2 days. This temperature seems to do strange things to almost anything liquid. Mark and Annette who were staying in a caboose at the coast reported that the paraffin used to fuel everything there had become the consistency of wallpaper paste. A lot of us had decided to do a repeat of the Midwinter streak if the big -50°C materialized and at 1800 at that day we had to put our money where our mouth was as the temperature dropped to -50.8 degrees centigrade. Luckily due to the complete lack of wind at these temperatures no one returned from their circuit mentally or physically scarred. Or at least no more than already. Only 2 more weeks until sun up and the end of darkness!

The Laws Platform

Love to everyone especially those who are abroad in unfamiliar surroundings - Shaggy