BZZ: Return to Brize Norton

Updated Tuesday 1st May 2007

Mark Brandon flies home from the Antarctic.

That's what it says on my luggage ticket this time around. I was travelling home from Mount Pleasant Airfield in the Falkland Islands to the military airbase at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. It wasn't a comfortable flight – the seats only reclined the width of three of my fingers – but I didn't really care – it was going north. We only had a couple of hours in Ascension (not like last time) and, before I knew it, I was stepping off a plane at just after midnight. Brize doesn't have those fancy tunnel things you get at commercial airports to leave the plane, so I walked down a flight of steps and onto the tarmac. I looked up to a beautiful clear sky and saw northern stars for the first time in months.


Well almost. I still had to negotiate customs, immigration and a final roundabout route involving Oxford, Heathrow and an amazing taxi ride through Regents Park (trees! green!!) before I finally walked through my front door at 0630.

Our voyage from Rothera to Stanley had been relatively quick – but certainly not boring. Just before we left the base we got a cloud free satellite image that showed the local sea ice conditions. Now Rothera base is on Adelaide Island – but this island is separated from the Antarctic continent by gap only a few hundred metres wide. With mountains thousands of metres high on either side the gap is called The Gullet. In all my visits to Rothera I had never been through the Gullet because it has always been blocked by ice. This time was to be different. With a satellite picture show ice-free conditions the captain made the choice to take us on the inland route.

To tell the truth my photos of the day were not great. The light was poor and of course there was not much of it! Having said that it was magnificent. When you are standing out on the bow of the ship the only thing you can hear is the wind – not the engines or anything like that. You just take it in. When we reached the narrowest part of the channel it seemed a bit stupid to be surprised by the fact that an iceberg virtually blocked the channel. The problem was that the satellite can only see things bigger than a certain size (this is determined by the resolution), and this particular iceberg – although too small for the satellite – was large enough to almost stop us in the tracks.

radar picture Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Mark Brandon
image of ship's radar.

The image on the left is a photograph of the ship’s radar at the time. The Bright yellow on either side of the image is land, and the blue patch from the bottom left hand corner to the upper right hand corner is water. The yellow blob almost in the middle of the picture with the green line coming from it is our ship – the green line shows our direction of travel. You can see right across the middle of the blue, and in front of us is a yellow bar – this is the radar reflection of the iceberg that almost stopped us. We were heading right for it!

In yet another outrageous piece of seamanship the Captain managed to squeeze the ship through the tiny gap on the left of the berg. Amazing.

Being out at sea again on the way back the Falklands we soon left the last iceberg behind. Mark Brandon Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Mark Brandon Mark Brandon

So now I am home at last, sitting in the sun and enjoying the long daylight hours. At home when you go from winter to spring you almost miss the extra minutes of daylight that arrive every day until suddenly it is light for all of your waking hours.

To jump from early winter to late spring in one go is an unsual and wonderful thing.

I have to say I now really love the colour green!


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