Hey everyone! sorry for the delay. This is the journal of my dad, Ernest Gray, who spends his winters at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. He deployed for a 3rd season on January 9th, reached 'the ice' Jan. 18th, and sent off his first update almost 2 weeks ago now. So here goes. ~~Emily
Dispatches from the Ice
Year 3, no 1
Well, I finally made it here on January 18th after a wonderful
extended stay in Christchurch New Zealand for 6 whole days. It is such a treat
to visit such a nice place after a New Hampshire winter, even if winter
at home wasn't so tough. Here's the skinny!
No problems traveling from home this year. Uneventful, on time flights
from Manchester, connect through Atlanta to Denver where Raytheon
travel office screwed up and gave me a first class ticket to Denver. In
Denver I had my annual, psych evaluation on that Saturday, killed off
Sunday at the Marriot watching football playoff games, then went back to the
office Monday the 10th for orientation and paperwork. Then dumped at
DIA for the LA leg.
I mananged aisle seats for all my flights which I really enjoy
especially on Auckland's 13 hour flight. We arrived in Auckland at 6:00 AM
Wednesday after again losing the hole day, Tuesday the 11th somewhere over
the Pacific where I spent the whole goddamn day on seat 47C, crossing
the dateline at something like 4 AM. The in-flight movies sucked, but as
usual the Qantas food was good for back of the bus class. (WHY, WHY
couldn't the travel office mess up and give me a first class seat to
AKL?????...a goal to shoot for!)
Auckland was of course warm, summery, breezey. With palm trees, birds
and flowers everywhere. The hop to Christchurch on the south island was
nice. And again my room at the YMCA was as it has been in the past,
right across from the botanical gardens.
We were told at the CDC when we were trying on our ECW clothing that
there has been many flight delays and in fact the ONLY C-141 was broken
and were awaiting new parts from New Jersey to be flown in. There was a
99% chance we would not be going on schedule on the 14th. Besides
antiquated aircraft delaying flights to the ice was mother nature herself.
November was excessively and unseasonably warm, melting the seasonal ice
runway carved out of the frozen sea ice near town weeks earlier than
normal. The permanent ice runway at Pegasus Feild is not brought up to
replace until January, not December. Equipment was suddenly traveling
through up to 3 feet of standing water at the sea-ice transistion to town.
The snow roads became so soft, trucks and vans could not pass over
them, just sink. Only tracked vehicles and fat-tired Deltas could negotiate
Trucks and vans that venture out of town, now have a problem with
contaminated fluids in the transmissions, transfer cases, and differentials
because water would seep in through the breather or vent holes. (All
vehicles have breathers, even those we drive everyday at home.) Because
of the soft snow conditions it became difficult to move all the
equipment to Pregasus from the ice runway. It uses the same equipment at both
sites. The first flight to Pegasus was scheduled for the 12th. The
people for that flight were cruising New Zealand since the 5th, and they
were told there would be a lenghty delay so many of them went off into the
countryside. WE could not, had to hang around town.
We were subjected to cruel and unusual punishment each and every day
during our extended stay in Christchurch. Some of the abuses were:
1.) Height of summer in a sub tropical climate.
2.) Bright sunshine, temps 80 to 90F daily.
3.) Not a drop of rain and few clouds.
4.) Lush vegatation, indescribable flower gardens, and swaying palm
5.) Great food from all corners of the Pacific
6.) Breakfast at Drexel's...every morning.
7.) Forced to travel to the travel office for our per-diem of $150 NZD
(4 days~$600)...every day! In addition to our wages which began on our
first full day in Christchurch.
8.) Meeting the gang at Bailie's Irish Bar in Cathedral Square where
drinks are cheap or free to program people. Yes, they serve Coke...a
different mixture though. Has a real tart bite to it.
9.) All day bus passes for $7.00, which is honored on all buses that
cover a 30 mile radius of Christchurch.
10.) A huge selection of single, georgous, freindly, scantily clad
ladies from all over the South Pacific region. And not neccesarily young
Six days of this cruelity is about all we could take. We had to get
out of town. Each day at the airport, we ask about our flight, where's
the part, etc. On the 15th the Air Force sent down a C-17, appearantly
for a joyride, because the jet was empty and was turning around to go to
Hawaii the next day. Where's the part?? Don't you guys talk to one
An additional C-141 was tasked to the USAP and arrived on the 17th
WITH two parts, the one it needed and a spare. It was an actuator for the
elevator on the tail of the jet. Can't fly without it. We found out
Monday when we got our money our flight was on for 4 AM Tuesday morning.
It was installed Monday night and tested.
We arrived at the CDC next morning bleary eyed, hungry and coffee
deprived. We got dressed in our ECW gear, breifed by New Zealand customs
and the loadmaster for the US Air Force, passed through NZ customs,
boarded a bus to the aircraft, got our bag lunch (WHAT, no coffee!!!), and
boarded the C-141 Starlifter, seated interlocked knee to knee. Then the
pilot announced that we should enjoy this ride as it will be the last
in a C-141 as they are being mothballed after this Ice season, being
replaced full time with C-17 cargo jets. (We have heard that before, like
One by one, the 4 huge jet engines were started, and the noise went
from loud to nearly unbearable in seconds, and that was only the first
engine! Just imagine the racket with all 4 burning!! Otherwise the flight
was uneventful, landing at the permanent ice runway at Pegasus Feild 5
hours and 16 minutes after lifting off from Christchurch.
Kneedeep in STUFF!!!
Huge problems all around town this year starting with my own shop. The
big boss Bobby Werner was wrongly diagnosed with an intestinal disorder
descibed as Krone's Disease, and his status was changed to Not
Physically Qualified (NPQ) and sent home to Denver. After learning about the
misdiagnosis, Raytheon would not send him back so he resigned his
position and will leave the company effective Feb 26th. The person who stepped
up to his job is widely disliked all around town and resulted in 6
mechanics quitting over the course of the summer, leaving gaping holes and
lots of work not done at all. We have a inch thick stack of work orders
Flight delays have been touched on, but they are 20 flights behind for
the season and the season is winding down now. Problems with the aging
C-141, (Vietnam era cargo jet...40 years old), and the warm temps
causing an early ending of the ice runway, and the soft snow have all
The Galley ran out of food this summer for a few days and have gone
extended periods of time without freshies. The Galley actually rationed
food and served leftovers for those days until planes could get in. I
heard errors were made in ordering besides of flight problems. The
general concensus of the quality of the food this summer is dismal.
Mail delivery has been affected by the flight delays. Package mail
summer people sent when they deployed has not made it yet, as packages
become "space available" cargo as far as the Air Force is concerned. Flat
mail gets through though. Six 4 foot by 4 foot by 6 foot high pallets
of just package mail sits in Christchurch.
Bits and Peices...
This stuff gets easier every year. I got put in dorm 209 3rd floor,
the 'penthouse', the best dorm in town usually reserved for people with
more ice time than me. Some people were really put out by it, but I
don't get to pick my own room, I was assigned it. Get over it! My roommate
is cool, an older guy who works at the runways at Willy Feild
supporting C-130 operations. His name is Dave Berry and is also a ham.
I got stuck on night shift at work which is the same hours as day but
at night. 7:30PM to 5:30AM. I got adjusted to the time change at
Christchurch, so I had to readjust to this shift only to change to some other
shift in 2 weeks for ship offload. Then back to day shift after that in
3 weeks as everyone goes home leaving us winterovers behind. I did get
2 days off to help adjust but I figure I'll be messed up for a month!!
The first night was ok but I crashed right away after work until 2PM
when I woke up in time to see the Patriots win over the Pittsburg
Steelers to get into the Superbowl.
Working nights lets us have mid-rats in the galley. Mid-rats is Navy
slang for Midnight Rations to those who don't know. Which is a whole
fresh meal prepared for us who work night shift. Better food than regular
meals so far.
Busy today at the ice peir. The Russian icebreaker Kranski was working
the channel as was the Polar Star of the US Coast Guard. The research
ship, Nathaniel B. Palmer was tied up at the ice peir. The USN fuel
tanker John Buck is at the ice edge and the American Tern is approaching
Antarctic waters for a scheduled Febuary 6th docking. Took a few pix
today of all 3 in our harbor. The tanker is visable 7 miles out to the ice
edge if I climb up the hills for a view.
Saturday night/Sunday morning, just to stay awake for my first night,
I climbed up the hills for a 3 mile hike and a look aropund. I thought
I was walking on the moon!! Nothing but volcanic rocks, everywhere. And
the place is undisturbed by any vehicle traffic, just footprints. I did
find some indigenous lifeform though, my first. I found a meltwater
pool and settled in the bottom was a layer of bright green algae. I fo
course took a pix of it and it actually came out pretty good. Pix to
My first night was tough trying to get used to the new hours. I
managed to stay awake but crashed as soon as I hit the top af the stairs into
my dorm and slept like a rock to 2 PM. The next night wasn't as bad and
it is getting better. I'll be completely adjusted soon, then have to
change for a different shift for ship offload.
That's a wrap of Part 1.
Today is January 26th. Partly cloudy skies, 32 degrees F and light but
cold winds. The sun is 29 days from our first sunset and otherwise
burns 24 hours a day in the sky above. Neat going out at midnight for
mid-rats and needing sunglasses. I think it makes the shift transistion
easier too. Just so y'all know, TV hasn't changed much. The Iraqi news
channel is the same. Although the news of the weather home is talked about
on the major networks. 3 feet of snow and more on the way...cool. I'll
keep you guys in mind as my Antarctic tan deepens on my face, well, not
for long though.
One good thing of nights is I can see the Superbowl on Monday at
noontime local. My local time is 6 hours behind you guys tomorrow.
Over 1000 people in town now. Winterovers coming in, summer weenies
McMurdo Station, Antarctica