28.11. Field Skeds

One of the things I most miss about working at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), back in the 1980’s was the evening field schedule. This started at 19.30 and so was timed to be during the main evening meal of the day for most of the dozen or so field parties that BAS sent out for 2-3 months in the summer season.

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Photo: Kristiina Virkkunen/FINNARP

Each field party was a “sledge” and had a name assigned form the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo…Yankee, Zulu). The radio operator at Rothera would randomly select the order of calling the field groups on the HF radio, and all the others listened to the conversation. A typical evening’s field sked would last an hour or so. A good radio op (I remember an Irish guy called Maurice) could find endless things to ask the field parties beyond the essentials of where are you, what are your plans, what did you do today?

It was often very entertaining hearing about what bizarre weather was reportedly overcome; what gourmet cuisine was being scoffed; what mysterious malfunctions had occurred to the skidoos (the driver being never at fault as an irate mechanic was called to talk the field group through some sketchy repairs to one of his pride and joys); or what strange requests were to be added to the “shopping list” to be delivered whenever an aircraft was in the vicinity or a supply depot laid for the group.

Nowadays, it’s all satellite phones of course. Very easy, no more bad comms, dropouts or struggles re-tuning to secondary frequencies – but very dull. Hard to get any feeling of what’s happening at base from the one-sided chat from the field guy on the phone. Naturally there is no clue about how the other parties are getting on, or even any gossip from the station. It’s a small part of a trend towards dry efficiency that just is not overcome by team-building exercises and group psychology days. But then again I am getting too old for this game.

-John

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