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03/08/2022

Reading time: 5min

Stewart Craigie

Energy and Special Interest Projects Lead

 

Stewart Craigie, Sweco’s Energy and Special Interest Projects business unit manager, recently returned from a six-week expedition to Antarctica as part of his work on the  Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP),  which we are proud to be a part of alongside the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), BAM Nuttall, Ramboll, Hugh Broughton Architects, Norr Architecture and Turner & Townsend.

Following on from his previous blogs detailing his journey to the Antarctic and retracing Shackleton’s footsteps, we caught up with Stewart over a warm bowl of soup, to ask him for his top 5 things to do in one of the most remote parts of the planet…

1. Celebrate the new year on an Antarctic island

“What a once-in a lifetime opportunity. To ring-in ‘The Bells’ on an Antarctic island, followed by a leisurely ‘cruise’ around such a large expanse of the Southern Ocean, was a truly special experience. It was a fantastic start to 2023 and an inspiring way to begin a new year of AIMP activity.”

2. Switch off (almost) completely

“It goes without saying that communications can be pretty ropey when you’re so close to the South Pole. That said, before we went, we’d understood that most comms would be possible except video. But this season, there was a unique connectivity challenge – we found that sending and receiving any comms of ‘business use’ was a challenge – except via Whatsapp! However, that brought home the importance of our overall Information Management process which means we’re not reliant on reactive communications when actually in the field at the AIMP sites – everything is planned, accounted for and supplied ahead of time in terms of equipment and contingency materials – there’s no builder’s merchants at the bottom of the earth!

We’d maybe be able to download one or two emails a day…but could see the subject lines of many more. You were aware that people are reaching out to you for certain things – annoyingly you can see just enough to hint at an issue that needs addressing back in the UK, without any detail. And in any case, we couldn’t do anything to respond or help. But after a few days, it forced me to go ‘zen’, switch off the emails, go off-grid to an extent and enjoy being more present in a place I’d always wanted to visit since my younger days.

 

3. Visit Shackleton’s grave

Going to Shackleton’s grave is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 12 years old, since I read Shackleton’s Journey which is a beautifully illustrated book which details Ernest Shackleton’s historic expedition crossing the Antarctic and the story of his courageous crew

When we got to King Edward Point, and within 45 minutes of receiving ‘land-leave’ clearance, I ticked off my ultimate bucket list item – to pay my respects and toast the man for who he was. It’s strange to reflect that my career has taken me full circle back to my childhood. I travelled from Orkney-off-Scotland to the South Orkney Islands in Antarctica within a week (possibly the fastest commute between the two on record?), and followed on to visit Stromness, the whaling station where Shackleton’s voyage ended and where the plan to rescue his men began, I closed another life-goals loop…having gone to school in the original Stromness back home on ‘Scottish’ Orkney.

4. Go whale-watching

“The first morning we moored up in the Antarctic, I looked out from my bunk, at water-level, I was amazed to see a humpback whale breaching. I had to pinch myself make sure I wasn’t still asleep. That was quite a moment, which I’ll never forget.

There were other days where we saw numerous whales rising around us, and we saw lots and lots of other marine wildlife, seals and penguins and of course albatross. There were lots of mountainous island and glaciers which we sailed past and around, all full of polar wildlife. Each island had its own unique environment which I had the privileged opportunity to explore – to an extent, given the protected zones.

At times on the ship you’re breaking through ice and at others it’s like floating on a millpond. I’ve plenty of things in my memory bank now that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime!”

5. Become a sailor

“This was a working trip on a working ship, we all had to muck in with the ‘naval’ duties that come with that. I was very proud to be sailing on RRS Sir David Attenborough, and it was rewarding to contribute in real-terms to its voyage – I was even promoted to the ‘professional mop’ having impressed senior crew with my endeavours using a standard model, and so I consider myself a competent deck swabber these days!”

Why was Stewart in the Antarctic?

Stewart’s expedition involved travelling aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough and accompanying Leigh Storey, the Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP), John Eacott, who manages the Framework Contract for NERC and Elen Jones, BAS’ AIMP Programme Director.

It was a 5-week tour of the region visiting Rothera (where the new Discovery Building is being constructed), Robert Island, Signy, King Edward Point and Bird Island inspecting works already completed and in progress and undertaking research into future projects such as the Rothera Hangar, runway extension and renewables, a potential decarbonised station at Signy and future modernisation at King Edward Point.

“My trip was a great opportunity to help extend the value that Sweco has been supplying to the transformation of BAS’ operations in the region to and to further strengthen relationships with our client and partners.”