We are finally underway and heading for The Ice. What a huge relief that we are actually onboard as at times this summer, it never looked as if we were going to make it!
I have only been fully involved for the last year, but what an interesting and eye-opening time it has been.
My position in this expedition originally began with a questionable email sent direct to Ran while I was working on the Halley 6 build in Antarctica, asking if he needed my assistance in building the living containers while in the UK. The response I received was quite direct:
"Ian, we would love to have you helping towards our ultimate goal of crossing Antarctica in winter. However, I must point out there will be absolutely no way you will be able to come to the ice as we have the team already."
How things can change in such a relatively small time is quite amazing!!
The decision to remove a full time scientist from the trip and replace him with more of a hands-on person with lots of previous Antarctic experience was made, and so I was asked (with my impressive double C in GCSE science I must add) to take the role as Ice Train Technician/Welder/Scientist/Skier/Chef/Cameraman/Teaboy, among our many other chores!
Since early June of this year I began the epic task of trying to stitch together all of the various pieces of sponsored equipment that was turning up, along with sourcing and acquiring other items for free which had not even been thought of. Traverse Manager Brian Newham was with me most of the way and we spent the summer camping out of the back of my camper van in Cannock Chase, just outside the Finning HQ, beavering away and scratching our heads at the endless array of tasks stretching out in front of us.
It was no easy project, and when the decision came that we needed to move to London for the final prep mid-November, I didn't believe we were going to be ready in time. We were working 16-hour days, mostly in the glorious British drizzle, retiring to the pub for dinner and having sleepless nights wondering how to finish certain jobs.
Amazingly, we were ready (almost). All of our equipment moved to London for the next phase of construction. We were to dry fit our containers onto the Lehmann Sledges, test all communications and fit the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to change these shipping containers into a home for 6 smelly guys for what could possibly be up to a year!
This brings me back to where I am now, sat in my cabin, typing away after just having passed 40 degrees South below Cape Town. I have been asked the question on numerous occasions now, "Why are you doing this?" and I generally tell them about my passion to overwinter in Antarctica, see the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) and reach the South Pole. In truth, I fancied another few weeks holiday in Cape Town with my girlfriend seeing the sites and kitesurfing. This year away is just to cover for my holiday which I lacked due to working so hard in a car park all summer! (Just don't mention this to Ran)
I have completed many voyages to Halley and Rothera Research Stations for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), heading out across a huge expanse of water called the Drake Passage, otherwise known as the roughest sea in the world. Due to this I am quite comfortable at the moment as I am fortunate enough to not be affected by seasickness.
Right now, this trip just seems to be like another trip South with BAS, heading for a re-supply of the stations. I don't think the enormity of the Traverse has really sunk in as yet, however with each day the realisation dawns on me of what we are attempting here: The first ever attempt at crossing the Antarctic continent in winter.
We have many hard days yet to come ahead of us. I have been beasting the expedition team with daily circuit training in the hanger trying to get everyone's fitness levels up, listening to Dr Mike Stroud and his endless experiments which have been organised for the trip (remember my C in science, I'm more than qualified to perform these tasks) along with having training for some of our different pieces of kit.
Right now though, it's nice to sit back and chill in the relative comfort of my cabin, enjoying G & T's with the team before dinner (after circuits!) and look forward to the truly mental months we have ahead of us.
I really can't wait!