Halfway home! Record distance covered despite broken fan belt

Antarctica2 Lead Mechanic, Nicolas Bachelet had the task of changing the tractor’s broken fan belt.

(Antarctica – 16th December 2014): We are back on our return journey from the South Pole to Novo Runway, after having a new fan belt fitted.

Despite the hold-up, we are also celebrating our best day’s travel to date, covering 308.9km (192 miles) in 28 hours, thanks in part to following the tracks it created on our outward journey. At 80 degrees South, we are now halfway back to the Antarctic coast.

While it may usually be a simple half-hour task when carried out on-farm, the fan belt replacement was made much more difficult in the harsh Antarctic environment by the extremely low temperatures of minus 20C and lower, exacerbated by the wind chill factor. In itself, fitting the fan belt is still a simple job, but the main difficulty faced by lead mechanic Nicolas Bachelet was maintaining the engine’s warmth once the tractor had been stopped to enable the job to be carried out.

We erected over the tractor a special tent – designed specifically for the purpose – to create a warmer environment and help keep out the bitterly cold wind. There was also room inside for one of the team support vehicles, providing heat to warm the space in addition to supplying power to a special heating and insulating jacket to warm the engine block. Without all these measures, the engine would be simply too cold to work on without serious risk of frostbite to the mechanic’s ungloved hands.

With sufficient insulation from the cold, Nicolas was able to fit a new belt, check over the tractor and send the team on its way. Having checked all the related components and finding no other problems, the cause of the breakage was deemed to be simple wear and tear, perhaps unsurprising given the hours it has worked. The engine has rarely being stopped during the expedition. Like virtually every other component used on the South Pole MF 5610 tractor, it is a standard item, but has been working for many more hours and in much harsher conditions than would be encountered by the average farm tractor over such a period.