Sending equipment months before you go

Gerlache Photo: Frank Grebstad

Gerlache Photo: Frank Grebstad

So you are going to go to the Antarctic.  Not so difficult to plan for really if you are a tourist.  Enough warm clothes ? Check. Enough money for souvenirs ? Check. Batteries for the camera ? Check.  Easy.

What about if you are camping ?  Hhhm.  A tent – good enough for the weather ? Define “good enough” – well, sufficient to withstand 50-60knot (120km/h) winds, snow and rain (because if it doesn’t, you and your gear are in BIG trouble), big enough that you wont go mad if you are trapped inside it for a week due to bad weather and one that does not look like an elephant seal (unless you like a 500kg animal rubbing up against your tent in the middle of the night, thinking its “ in with a chance here”).  Ok – camping…what else ?  Food – well, you wont have a refrigerator, nor a fully stocked kitchen and your clean water supply is limited, so better take camping food and enough to last you three months.  Have you ever tried camping food for three months ?  If not – better pack enough toilet roll for four months.  Next – a good sleeping bag (one rated to -20 or 30 should do it), something to sleep on, and a pillow (possibly THE most important item of equipment). Clothing: better take enough socks for at least one fresh pair every couple of weeks. Thermals, warm shirts, fleeces, waterproof / snow proof outerwear, hats, gloves, goggles, down jacket, fleece pants (for inside the tent)……the equipment pile is starting to get quite large now.

Ok – so you are camping in the Antarctic.  We aren’t there on holiday, so what do we need to do work ?  Well, I am here anesthetizing 150kg adult male fur seals to put satellite transmitters on them, and to fit penguins with GPS and dive recording tags.  I also need to be able to take blood samples from all the animals, and centrifuge the blood to store the different components (plasma, blood cells) separately.  So – sedative drugs and the equipment to administer them (dart gun,  portable gas anesthetic machine, oxygen, sofnalime, ammunition), glue (for the tags), the tags themselves (with the computer cables for each manufacturers type), computer (to program the tags and download them – better take two in case one breaks), laboratory equipment (centrifuge, pipettes, ethanol, tubes, needles, syringes, swabs) and sample bags.  The dart gun needs to be shipped via courier to the Falklands Islands, and held at the local police station before being handed over to the captain of the ship, before finally being given to me when we are “in international waters”.  One of the many, many peculiarities of preparing for Antarctic fieldwork on marine predators.  You never get used to them.

Now I need to have a bigger room to put this equipment pile in.  It’s well over the 200kg mark, and Im only allowed 55kg of luggage on the flights – which I need to book, from Tromsø (latitude 69 north) via the UK and Ascension Islands to the Falkland Islands (54 South).  From there, weight isn’t an issue as it’s a three day journey on the British icebreaker RRS James Clark Ross to the South Orkney Islands (60 South).  So if I want this gear to get there, I had better make sure most of it is on the icebreaker before she leave the UK.  In August.  Even though I don’t go into the field until December.  Talk about forward planning.  Better make a really REALLY good list of what I’ve sent down on the ship, because come December I need to make sure that what I take in my 55kg of air allowance doesn’t duplicate what I already have, and more importantly doesn’t miss something that I really need. 

Ok – equipment packed and sent to the UK for shipping “down south” ? Check.  Travel arrangements ? Check. 

Damn – did I pack enough UK plug adapters ? Better take another one just in case. Now its time to fly south for the winter.