An exciting visit to the KAT-7 site: Day 2.1 Carnarvon to Losberg

We were up fairly early on Saturday morning, and walked up to the camping site shortly before 08h00 to meet up with the others. It had rained very heavily during the night, with a blustering wind howling through the trees. The campers had all been woken up by the sudden storm during the night. And what are the chances of coming to the Karoo in winter and getting pelted by bucketing rain?! Luckily, no tents had been blown away, no branches had fallen on anyone, and the ground wasn’t awash with mud. And those tents DID look cosy! It was drizzling while we walked over to the site, heavily laden down with two bulging rucksacks (full of food and water), but fortunately the rain cleared up, and we had wonderful weather all day!

We were joined for the day by Peter, who had come in his own car, by Kobie and Carel and their daughter, and by Darrel and his wife, and their little Jack Russell, Meraai, who snuggled herself into a fluffy blanket.

A snuggly puppy

A snuggly puppy

After everyone had climbed aboard, Chris drove us to the KwikSpar, so that we could buy some ingredients for lunch, as well as to stock up with some refreshments for tomorrow, as we would be leaving before the Spar opened. It was fortunate that we stopped here, because one of the guys noticed a trail of bubbles emerging from one of the tyres that happened to be partly submerged in a shallow puddle. Closer inspection revealed that the tyre was indeed losing air. Chris prised off the hubcap and, with the vigorous help of Willem, managed to loosen the very tight nuts on the wheel.

Chris and Willem exercising all their muscles

Chris and Willem exercising all their muscles

A crowd of curious children had emerged from nowhere, watching mesmerised as the men struggled to jack up the bus in order to remove the tyre. Simon, Philip, Japie, Andrew and Alec started an impromptu game of volleyball while we were waiting.

A game of volleyball

A game of volleyball

As Chris wasn’t able to jack up the bus to remove the tyre, we headed off to find a garage… It emerged that Carnarvon does not have a ‘tyre place’. The garage was closed (it was Saturday morning in a small Karoo dorpie, after all). I thought that these two signs next to each other were rather amusing: I wonder whether the mechanics sprinkle fairy dust over the engines to fix them?

An unusual collaboration: Car repairs and fairies?

An unusual collaboration: Car repairs and fairies?

Asking around finally led us to a garage that was open and able to assist us with removing and patching up the tyre. Our suspicions aroused by the fact that the tyre looked as though it had been deliberately slashed by a knife, we closely inspected the other tyres – and much to our dismay found that two more had been slashed. Not badly, mind you, but they had definitely been punctured by a sharp object, and they were definitely losing air. It must have happened while Chris had parked his bus in front of the hotel overnight.

While the repairs commenced, Simon and Richard booted up the laptop and adjusted the settings on the camera, which they wanted to mount at the KAT-7 site. They wanted to set it to take a photograph every 5 minutes or so, in order to have a record of work being done on the site.

Jasper watches as Simon adjusts the camera

Jasper watches as Simon adjusts the camera

Meanwhile, Willem organised three bakkies and a VW minibus to take all of us out to the site. Chris would be staying in Carnarvon with the bus. Richard and I got into a bakkie driven by Gerrit, who proved to be a real Karoo character, full of funny anecdotes and (im-possible?) stories about the area and the people who live here. Niesa sat in the front, wrapped in her warm anorak and a cosy blanket, Willem sat next to us, and Adriaan, James and Luyanda climbed into the back.

Here is an image capture from Google Maps, using the satellite image; I have added markers for the important points, and if you want to see the whole picture, go to my Google Map.

Screen capture from Google Maps

Screen capture from Google Maps

We drove westwards out of Carnarvon in the direction of Williston, until we saw a turn-off to ‘Brandvlei’ and ‘Vertrap Kolk’. It was a gravel road that led more or less northwards, into the wild Karoo landscape.

Gravel road heading into the Karoo

Gravel road heading into the Karoo

Only a couple of kilometres along this road, we passed Klerefontein, which is the support base for the KAT-7 and MeerKAT project. We’d be coming back here in the evening to have supper. A little further on, we passed an abandoned homestead with two corbelled houses, of which there are a couple in this area (I thought that style of building was only common in England and Ireland, so I was quite surprised to see them here too.)

After about 70 km (? not sure), at a sign for ‘Liebenberg Plase’, we turned left onto another gravel road, and then drove for another 10 mins or so until we came to a turn-off to a cluster of newly constructed buildings at the foot of a group of flat-topped mountains. This is Losberg, the on-site complex from which the antennas (which are about 6 km further away on the other side of the mountains) will be controlled and monitored.

Here is another screen capture from Google Maps, zoomed in on the area:

Losberg and surroundings

Losberg and surroundings

The guard house near the entrance to the complex is still under construction.

Guard house under construction

Guard house under construction

In the background is the huge shed, where the dishes and the pedestals are being built. In the foreground is the new accommodation building.

Construction shed and accommodation building

Construction shed and accommodation building

And if you turn 180 degrees around, you can see the new shed, where three of the brand new RFI shielded containers will be mounted.

Container shed

Container shed

Inside the MeerKAT dish construction shed is the 12 metre diameter solid mold, on which the dishes are being made, from fibreglass, I believe. This is what it looks like.

Antenna dish

Antenna dish

Willem harnessed himself to the indoor dish crane in order to get a bird’s eye view. This crane will be used to hoist up the dishes when they are ready, and to place them on a specially designed and custom-built trailer (4 m wide, 15 m long), which will transport them (carefully) to the antenna site, 6 km away.

Willem tests the indoor dish crane

Willem tests the indoor dish crane

Bits and pieces of the supporting structure were spread out on a huge piece of plastic in the other half of the shed; they looked like they had recently been sprayed white. I don’t know exactly where these belong, but I figure they must be part of the support structure for the dish.

Spray-painted bits and pieces

Spray-painted bits and pieces

After our tour of the construction shed and a visit to the new and beautiful accommodation building, we found ourselves a spot to sit, and to have our picnic lunch.

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