“Shiver Me Timbers” David Smith roof trusses reach Antarctica

“Shiver Me Timbers” David Smith roof trusses reach Antarctica

Working in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey our humble roof trusses manufactured in rural Cambridgeshire have made quite the epic journey.  Luckily our contact Connor Grange (building surveyor for the B.A.S) has provided us with this fantastic report which we are very happy to share with you.

Rothera Camp Trusses The Full Report


Over the next decade Rothera Research Station will undergo a comprehensive modernisation programme to ensure that its facilities continue to enable world-leading research.  A modernisation masterplan to programme works over a 7-10 year period is in development. The first phase of Rothera modernisation work began in November 2018, with the Rothera Wharf rebuild to accommodate the imminent arrival of the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Why we needed the camp and the trusses

Due to the vast amount of work that will be undertaken, we would need to accommodate more staff than the station is capable of. To do this we re-utilised a temporary work camp that was used during the Halley relocation project for the same purpose. This was a series of shipping containers that would run parallel with each other, each unit providing all the necessary life support required to accommodate and safely shelter construction staff. However when previously used, the camp only needed to withstand 4-6 weeks of Antarctic weather and much drier conditions. The camp units would need to safely house 36 people for years not weeks, so the previous set-up wouldn’t cut it (see photo of snow melt ingress and previous camp set up). The best solution was to add more robust roof to keep out the elements.

Logistics and Transport

The biggest challenge we face as an organisation is the logistics of getting materials and equipment to the continent. As we have our own ships, 80% of our cargo leaves the UK via sea freight. However as the trusses were specified to be timber they would not be suitable for open deck storage, as the ship sails through the storms of the north Atlantic, crosses the Equator and crashes past Icebergs in the Southern Oceans sub-zero temperatures. We would need to fit the trusses into 20ft ISO containers to protect the timber from the conditions, which at full size (16m span) was obviously impossible to achieve… this is where David Smiths would come in. After gathering the necessary loading data required, Ross at David Smiths, designed a truss that could be shipped in three separate parts, assembled on site but also fitted into shipping containers.

Once all drawings were finalised, production began and the trusses made their way to Harwich International port ready for loading onto the RRS Ernest Shackleton. As well as construction materials, the ship would also be transporting vital supplies for those deployed at Rothera and other Antarctic stations, including fuel, food, medical equipment and scientific instruments.

The ship would be at sea for the best part of two months before seeing the Falkland Islands to take a few last minute pieces of cargo due to go south. After spending a few days in Stanley FI, she then set sail for South Georgia, which lies just inside of the Antarctic convergence. Here she will offload supplies to King Edward Point research station and Bird Island research station, before returning to the Falklands for re-fuel. Her next destination is Rothera research station to unload the rest of the cargo, whilst she would escort the DS Wisconsin, a cargo ship carrying large plant machinery due for Rothera, through the thick sea ice.

The Build

After the ship is unloaded, which can take anywhere between one week to a month, major works around the station resumed. The container units themselves took around a month to set up into the layout, which included excavation, ground leveling, plumbing and power installation. As well as scientists, personnel from various trade backgrounds including carpentry, so having the skilled manpower wasn’t an issue when it came to assembling the roof. After a few weeks and 2 ½ tonnes of bracing, the trusses were ready to take the steel roofing finish.

We hope to utilise the camp for a minimum of five years whilst the redevelopment of Rothera carries on. From all of the estates team here at BAS, we would like to thank everyone at David Smiths for their assistance and hard work in coming up with the perfect solution for us. It’s great to know that local businesses are here to help with the “not so local” work.

Viking House Roof Trusses

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