Family and Friends
How often do you see your family and friends and how do you communicate with them from the Antarctic? How do you keep up the morale of all the researchers?
We don't get to see our family and friends for the entire 18 or 30 months that we spend in the Antarctic. It can take up to a month travelling on planes and ships to reach the research stations in the Antarctic and so it's not possible to spend holidays back in the UK.
We mainly use e-mail to keep-in-touch with our friends and relatives in the UK (and around the World). We also use e-mail to communicate with our headquarters in Cambridge in the UK. We have a fax machine, and can fax messages to Cambridge; they then post them to our relatives who don't have e-mail. There is a satellite phone that we can use, but it costs a pound per minute and so most people only phone home a couple of times a year.
There is a range of things to keep us busy when we're not working. We have two small huts near the coast that we can spend weekends in. There's a colony of over 2000 penguins near to one of them and it's amazing to climb down the cliffs and watch and photograph these penguins. At this time of year their eggs are hatching and we can watch the cute fluffy chicks being looked after by their parents.
At the station there's a dark room where we can develop photographs that we've taken; many people spend plenty of time in there. Some people go skiing around the perimeter of the station. There's also a gym where we can keep fit. The Doctor has been teaching us First Aid so we can look after each other if we become ill or injure ourselves. The Chef has been teaching us how to cook. There are plenty of books, CDs and videos to keep us busy. We also have parties to celebrate our birthdays, which are great fun!
When you come to Bird Island you do not see your family and friends until you return home to the UK 2½ years later. Contact with home is actually quite easy as we have a telephone, a fax and twice-daily e-mails. During the winter we may get one or two ships bringing us some post and fresh food, but most of our contact with home is via e-mails. In the summer we have about 5 or 6 ships in 6 months and so we can get post fairly often. It is always very exciting to receive some post, photographs, a video etc.
At Bird Island the weather is never really too bad to be able to go outside, so we can always go for a walk and see some wildlife if we want to. I think this helps the morale of base immensely. In the winter we all get to know each other well and the base is relaxed in the same way that your family home is - we all become like a little family group in a way and keep each other company. We have a room each in winter which is nice because everyone has a private place that they can go to.
Do you miss your family while you're working in the Antarctic, and does it get difficult always working with the same people for such long periods of time?
Obviously we all miss our family and friends; I think that is only natural. However with all opportunities in life, you get the best out of it if you put in 100%. Once here we adapt pretty quickly to our new lifestyle. Few of us had any illusions about what we were going to face. It is probably more difficult for the younger staff to settle in but in reality we have few problems. Often relationships do not last the distance but with the longer tours that is to be expected. You need a mature and level headed outlook and the ability to adapt to new situations and new friends. People who have wintered together in the Antarctic will have shared a unique experience and I'm sure made new and closer friends. A winter tour here is difficult; it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. It can be tough physical work and sometimes you can feel very much on your own. The rewards however are amazing; it is a spectacular place and one hell of an adventure.
Yes, everyone misses their friends and families, especially around special occasions such as birthdays. Luckily we have e-mail, a satellite telephone, and in the summer we receive letters and presents. We have not received any post since March but our first plane arrives in eight weeks time and already everyone is getting excited.