I spent last week down in Surrey, on a training course designed to get me up to speed with the Inmarsat satellite system used by the BAS for comms back to the UK, and the Skanti HF/MF radio used for comms out to aircraft and field-parties within Antarctica.
The course was run by an Irishman called Pat, who bore a passing resemblance to Father Jack, helped by the fact that he said ‘Ah, feck it’ a lot. He had spent his life travelling the globe, originally as a Radio Officer on planes, then as a servicing engineer, and had a wealth of stories to tell about his travels. One of my favourites involved him spending days travelling out to a remote logging camp in Siberia by plane, train, helicopter and on foot, when their satellite system failed, only to find that a vital cable had been unplugged.
Initially, I couldn’t understand a word he said, but once I had tuned into his particular brand of Irish, got on very well with him. One morning, after a big night out in London the previous evening, I turned up with red eyes, a raging thirst and a banging headache. Rather than forcing me to work at the double (as I well deserved) he kept on trotting off to get me coffee and rolls, and we had twice as many breaks that day than was usual. All the way through, he never once mentioned my debilitated state or offered any sympathy. I could have kissed him.
It was brilliant to get to work on the satellite equipment, and I was greatly impressed by the quality of the hardware. One of the systems which was designed for ships (but also in use at Rothera) carried a heavy 1m satellite dish which, through cunning use of motors and gyros, could be kept pointing at a dot in the sky 37,000 km away, even on the heaviest seas. Despite lots of training on how to diagnose and fix faults on the thing, Pat pointed out that the most common problem seen down South can be sorted by trekking out to the dish and using a broom to sweep the snow off! Down there, the only movement that the motorised tracking systems have to cope with is the steady drift of the icesheet – a mere couple of metres per year.
Pat’s real cunning lay in creating real ‘faults’ in the bits of kit that he’d then leave me to diagnose and fix. Often, this took several hours and lots of poring over reams of circuit diagrams, before finding that he’d shorted a couple of components together, or cut a vital wire. All good practice for being South and all alone to fix these things!
So, that’s the first training course done and dusted! Now I have a week off before heading down to the Isle of Wight for some maritime comms training.