BootsnAll Travel Network

Return to MacTown

Flight South 2004.jpg

Wednesday, October 13, 2004
…and the tide washes us back on the shores of Antarctica. It has been a hectic week but, once again, the trip was smooth. We left from Portland, ME on the 7th of October and flew to Christchurch, NZ via Chicago>Los Angeles>Auckland. We started seeing our first Antarctican in Chicago. We knew he was going to be working down here because he had one of the bright green tags that are sent to us along with our tickets. Once at our gate at LAX it was almost like being back at McMurdo already. About a quarter of the 747-400 was of people bound for the Ice. It was a family reunion of sorts and the rumor mill was already churning about flight delays from NZ to McMurdo and major screw-ups in the housing department concerning room assignments. There was lots of talk about friends past and present while everyone was trying to put together a picture of who was going to be playing the USAP 2004-2005 game on the ice this season.
As the story goes…the second flight of Mainbody (a C-17) tore a 1 foot deep, 5000 foot long gouge out of the Ice runway. A C-141 was hot on the heels of the C-17 but had to boomerang because of the damage to the runway. The passengers got to spend almost a week in Christchurch while the runway got repaired. This bit of news made us hopeful that we, too, might get a few days in NZ before dipping below the Antarctic Circle. But, our hopes were dashed while we were trying on our Extreme Cold Weather gear at the Clothing Distribution Center in Christchurch and they came out with the next days flight manifest and our names were on it. I had really hoped to get a day of snowboarding in at Mt Hutt but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. The bonus was that were going to be on a C-17; one of the newest cargo planes in the American fleet and decidedly more comfortable than the cramped fuselage of the C-141. It is also faster than the 141 and we arrived at McMurdo in about 5 hours. We were greeted rudely when we arrived with Raytheon Policy rhetoric. The MC1 (airfield coordinator) entered the plane and announced [paraphrased], “Welcome back. We are interested in getting this aircraft unloaded and turned around as soon as possible. Please exit the aircraft rapidly and in an orderly fashion. Do not turn around and take pictures of the aircraft or linger outside the bus. People not obeying this request will have their names taken down [everyone has a nametag on their parka] by people outside watching and it will affect your performance evaluation [bonus]”. Welcome back indeed!
There are a lot of returnees this year in the program. Some departments had 100% return rates and openings were at a premium. In our first 12 hours we saw many familiar faces that we hadn’t seen since we left in February, but many, like Luci and I, in different positions. There has been a lot of catching up and people chatting about their summers if they were in the northern hemisphere or their winters if they had been part of the crew keeping the base open during the long Antarctic night. But, it doesn’t take long to slip back into routine and I’m sure the excitement of re-entry won’t be as sustained as last year.
It is true that things will become routine but, with different jobs, it will certainly be a different experience. This year I am working for the FEMC, another one of those omnipresent acronyms that I believe stands for Facilities, Electrical, Maintenance and Construction. I work in the UT (Utilities Mechanic) shop. Ours is a catchall shop and all Work Orders that don’t fit the job description of any of the other trade shops winds up in ours. My first day on the job (yesterday) I was a little nervous because I don’t have any particular skills or training. I was also a bit concerned about being judged for my move from foodservice to the FEMC (an unlikely and unusual switch). But, as it turns out my eclectic skills are becoming a valued asset. Today, with no other merit other than I worked in the kitchen last year, I was dubbed the “Appliance Expert”. Without hesitation I went to work on a washing machine, which had been stumping the best of the shop for many man-hours. I had it fixed by lunch and earned my title.
Today was the annual arrival of the Italians bound for Terra Nova Bay. A group of about 20 of them arrive at McMurdo and are flown to their base at TNB to open and groom the runway for their supply planes (c-130s leased from the south African Air force). Last year Luci was conscripted to be their interpreter and was once again asked to serve in this capacity this year. Their plane was scheduled to arrive a half hour ago and people with orange duffel bags keep walking by; a tell-tale sign that a plane just arrived.

2 responses to “Return to MacTown”

  1. lee d. says:

    hey guys! touring through your blog again, have another great season there, seeing you at the common ground fair was beautifull!come by hawaii in feb? peace lee,

  2. lee d. says:

    luke , my dear friend here in northhampton ma, is an middle school teacher, he is curious about a l”live feed” to mcmurdo this season ,involving a short Q&A session between you and his students, aside from obvious delay and time differences, is this possible on your end? if so, what equipment needs would you have? i can liason between HI, & MA, in the coming months. oh yeah can you shoot me your mailing info. again to my e-mail? thanks brother! peace -n- such!