Norfolk electrician delights in Antarctic adventure

A few curious visitors. Alun Mactavish greets emperor penguins on site in Antarctica. Picture: Alun

A few curious visitors. Alun Mactavish greets emperor penguins on site in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish - Credit: Archant

Snow-coated landscapes, encounters with emperor penguins and round-the-clock daylight aren't usually in an electrician's job description.

Alun Mactavish with the team he has been working with in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish

Alun Mactavish with the team he has been working with in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish - Credit: Archant

But they're par for the course for one Norfolk man who is having the adventure of a lifetime working on a project in Antarctica.

Alun Mactavish, 33, has been working with a team of seven electricians on a four-month project helping to move the British Antarctic Survey's Halley Research Station, a modular structure which sits on huge hydraulic skis.

He said: 'We were responsible for temporary power for the winter sciences, installing power to the temporary accommodation at each site, disconnecting the modules and re-commissioning. 'Yesterday, for example, we took a snow-cat to the old site, dismantled the mess tent and flooring and pulled out all the lighting and power, so today it is ready for the cranes to take the containers away and the site to be levelled.'

Mr Mactavish lives in Hevingham, north of Norwich, and runs an electrical installation company.

Alun Mactavish in Antarctica, about to release a weather balloon bearing the name of his daughter's

Alun Mactavish in Antarctica, about to release a weather balloon bearing the name of his daughter's school. Picture: Alun Mactavish - Credit: Archant


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The former Wymondham High School student applied to be part of the re-location team after his father-in-law saw an advert in the Eastern Daily Press early last year. He said: 'I love adventurous holidays with my family but have never seen my work as an adventure.

'At the interview in Cambridge I thought there was no way I'd get it. Everyone seemed very academic and spoke so well, but a week after the interview I got the job offer.'

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Mr Mactavish said his wife and three children aged three to 11 had urged him apply. Although he is able to keep in touch with them via satellite phone, he said the separation was becoming difficult, three months into the mission.

Mr Mactavish said: 'They all really pushed me to go for it which, obviously, was the decider in me applying.

A snowman in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish

A snowman in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish - Credit: Archant

'They are all struggling a bit now, especially my wife, but she is still glad I came for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

'My little girl likes it as she is learning about Antarctica at school, so I released a weather balloon with the school's name on it.

'I also took a picture of me on the Dobson machine, which discovered hole in the ozone layer, and sent them pictures.'

The Halley Research Station in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish

The Halley Research Station in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish - Credit: Archant

A home on the ice

The Halley Research Station, the sixth to bear that name, was opened in 2013 at a cost of £26m.

It's dedicated to the study of the Earth's atmosphere, and measurements from one of its predecessors led to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985.

The station is not on solid ground - it sits on a sheet of ice called the Brunt Ice Shelf.

Moving the Halley Research Station in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish

Moving the Halley Research Station in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish - Credit: Archant

The structure had be moved 14 miles to a new site because a massive crack - the Halloween crack - formed, threatening to turn its previous location to an iceberg. It's now summer there, and there are currently about 20 people at the site.

The station will closing over winter for the first time ever because of the move.

Mr Mactavish will start his trip back home at the beginning of March, aboard the Royal Research Ship Ernest Shackleton.

He said: 'We will come back next summer to hopefully re-open the station, as long as the Halloween Crack hasn't taken a turn for the worst.'

The Halley Research Station in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish

The Halley Research Station in Antarctica. Picture: Alun Mactavish - Credit: Archant

Life in Antarctica

Daily life can be a challenge at the Halley Research Station, which sits on a sheet of ice called the Brunt Ice Shelf.

Mr Mactavish said the temperature ranged from about minus five to minus 20 degrees Celsius. He said: 'The wind can get up to 40 knots, which makes it really cold.'

He said the crew at the station had a varied diet including lasagne, bread and steaks, but a lack of fresh milk meant no breakfast cereal and condensed milk in his coffee.

Mr Mactavish said: 'It's 24-hour daylight but I believe we will see our first sunset in a couple of weeks, although it will still be light. I'm used to it now but found it strange for the first few weeks.'

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