WHEN veteran explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes attempts to make the first ever winter crossing of Antarctica where temperatures can plunge to minus 90 degrees centigrade, the success of his six-man expedition will hinge on the expertise of steelworkers at the Derbyshire company of William Twigg Matlock Ltd.
The 14 special steel sledges, known as skoots, that will carry vital supplies of fuel to power the expedition’s two giant caterpillar-tracked bulldozers on the 2000-mile epic journey have been designed and built by Twigg’s steel specialists at their works on Bakewell Road in Matlock.
Sir Ranulph, who is described by the Guinness Book of Records as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’, will attempt to cross Antarctica’s icy wastes from the Russian base at Novolazarevskaya to Captain Scott’s base at McMurdo Sound via the South Pole. It will take the team about six months and has been described as “the coldest journey on earth”.
Much of the journey will be made in complete darkness and the expedition team will have to be completely self-sufficient. No search and rescue facility will be available since aircraft cannot penetrate inland during winter due to the darkness and the risk of fuel freezing.
Twigg’s director Richard Tarbatt said: “We are thrilled to have been asked to play a key role in such a prestigious expedition. It speaks volumes about the reputation of the company and the skills of our designers, platers and welders who will build the skoots.”
Each sledge is over six metres long, three metres wide, weighs two tons and will carry a rubber ‘bladder’ containing 8000 litres of special diesel. In Antarctica, the sledges will be fastened together three-abreast with steel ropes and clips to form a ‘skoot train’.
Twigg’s works manager Alan Boden, who is overseeing fabrication of the sledges using steel supplied by Tata that will withstand the very cold temperatures, says that the work will take around 2000 hours of meticulous attention to detail.
“We are very conscious of the trust that has been placed in us to supply the skoots but we do not envisage any major problems”, he says. “Twigg’s already have considerable experience of producing equipment for use in the very coldest climates including the Antarctic.”
The expedition will bring together scientists from Commonwealth countries with an interest in Antarctic research to undertake a multi-disciplinary programme of marine and polar studies.
Sir Ranulph and his companions plan to leave the Russian base in March 2013 and hope to reach McMurdo Sound in September. Along the way, they will undertake a number of tasks which, said an expedition spokesman, would provide unique data collected for the first time during the winter months. The expedition is also designed to raise much-needed cash for Seeing is Believing, a global initiative to tackle avoidable blindness in developing countries.
In recent years, Twigg’s steel division has won an enviable reputation for its success in fabricating customized structures for use in extreme weather conditions including Antarctica and the Falklands.
Nearer home, the company has supplied steel for projects such as the new Matlock FC Stand, the Christian Conference Centre in Swanwick and numerous classroom extensions for Derbyshire County Council.
Pictured is expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes, centre, with Ice Team members Brian Newham, left, and Ian Prickett.