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This is the Halley crew at the end of the winter; perhaps a little pale but otherwise none the worse for wear. This winter photograph now hangs on the the dining room wall with similar photographs dating from 1960. Soon some of us will be another part of Halley's history as well when RRS Ernest Shackleton sails towards the ice shelf next month, bringing others to take over our jobs. Four have just completed two winters and there are a few brave souls staying on for a second winter. The latter are soon to meet the ten people who they will live with for the next eighteen months or so.
The summer season has started with the arrival of the first plane this month. It is a little difficult to explain what this is like after living with just fifteen other people for nine months with little contact with the outside world. It has broken the shell of our winter. We know each reasonably well by now; we can even recognise who is walking down the corridor by the sound of their footsteps. Psychological papers of polar dwellers have described "big eye", referring to chronic polar insomnia and "long eye", a state in which thoughts drift from reality into a vague absence, otherwise referred to as the "20 foot stare in the 10 foot room." Living at Halley has had it ups and downs at times but I think we have survived the winter fairly well all things considered, without too much "long eye" or "the Halley stare" as it is known down here. We've endured the freezing cold; the 100+ days of darkness; the blizzards and the stresses of communal living. The station is still standing in good condition and we are getting ready for the summer scientific, building and maintenance projects to begin.
The first faces that arrived were four gentlemen from Adventure Network International (Polar Logistics), en route to Blue One in Dronning Maud Land. They had flown from Canada, via Punta Arenas, Falkland Islands and Rothera Station. Their touchdown was a little earlier than expected but the skiway team managed to lay out a perfect line of empty 45 gallon drums to mark the landing course. The plane was greeted with a large cheer and a round of applause. It was superb to hear a different set of voices and some fresh news as our visitors were delayed for a few days due to poor weather. As they had passed through Rothera Station on the way, a large bag of post was aboard. Some of us received letters dated as far back as December 1999 - time capsules from the last millennium. Less welcome were the bills sent through the post, which just goes to show that the creditors will eventually track you down, even in the most uninhabited place on earth. Others received scratch and win cards and vouchers (all non-redeemable down here of course). These did, however, feature highly for entertainment value. New music blasted from our stereo speakers. This may not seem like such a big deal but it's a treat after listening to the same music for many months having exhausted the entire station's collection as well. The latest version of the the common cold also arrived at Halley. Colds and influenza are associated with changes in season and it is no exception in the Antarctic. Our visitors brought new germs with them, presenting new challenges to our immune systems.
Our supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables ran out in April. The larder is still reasonably well stocked but this has consisted of mainly tinned and dried foodstuffs. Our visitors brought a few morsels of fruit, which were snapped up fairly quickly. Although we all tasted a piece, it has whetted our appetite for some more. During the winter we would sometimes torment ourselves with descriptions of exotic fresh fruits so the taste of a segment of a fresh tomato after nine months can only be described as sensational.
The first British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter aircraft arrived later the month also bearing fresh eggs and meat from our colleagues at Rothera and newspapers and magazines dated September 2000. That's old news for you but we're only just catching up with pictures of the Sydney Olympics. We had been rereading last year's Newsweek and New Scientist from as far back as 1996 so it was a little bizarre to find out what's been happening in the world. It depends on what perspective you look at it; some would say we haven't missed out on anything at all. A plane passed through from Neumeyer Station, whom we have been exchanging meteorological information and general news with all year. Our German colleagues very generously donated to us frozen wild boar, pigeons and a large quantity of fine German beer. Our chef was ecstatic with the choice of exotic meats to cook.
Work-wise, this time of year is busy for everyone and will continue to be so for the remainder of the austral summer. Spring cleaning has been frenetic. It's time to make space for incoming stores and throw out the items we've been hoarding all winter just in case we might need them. Report writing is in progress. This is where we attempt to sum up our year's activities. We have all had to check and service equipment for the coming season. The mechanics have more than their fair share of this in de-winterising skidoos, sno-cats and fuel pumps. The sno-cats have been hibernating on snow mounds all year so they have required a heap of digging to rediscover their tracks and clear out of the engine compartments. Massive windtails have formed behind the garage and depots around base. These are large snow mounds which collect on the westerly aspect of anything stationary due to the predominant easterly wind. A large amount of bulldozing has been required to flatten them out. The chef has been marking up surplus out-of-date food for disposal. In turn, all the waste that has been accumulating in depots over the winter is being prepared to be shipped out. The communications manager has spent countless hours flight following on the radio, keeping track of aeroplane movements. The meteorological team have been working in a series of shifts to cover the multiple weather and ozone observations. This is at more frequent intervals now as it is vital for the pilots of incoming planes to be aware of the current weather conditions.
Looking west towards Halley on fine November day
Weather-wise, November has been variable. These values will give you an idea of the extremes during the month:
The marked rise in temperature is definitely noticeable. Some days it has been so mild that it is possible to venture outside wearing just a t-shirt for short intervals. It is still difficult to forecast the nature of the weather, which remains unpredictable. One day it might snow heavily, covering the platform in a heavy dump of powder. The next day, this snow may have completely melted into puddles. The powdery surface may leave us trudging in deep snow up to our knees but it has been perfect for snowboarders and skiers. Andy Cope has spent a good part of his recreational time making a stylish snowboard out of four old skis. Lately he has been able to perfect his snowboarding technique being towed behind a skidoo. The Brunt ice shelf is flat but Andy has also managed to dig his own half-pipe to obtain a gentle slope.
|Andy Cope, in action, with his snowboard and on his purpose built half-pipe on the Halley turf|
Our population will roughly quadruple in December. The twin otters will fly in some scientific personnel and the field season will begin. RRS Ernest Shackleton is expected near the end of the month with the majority of personnel. Then the busiest time of the year will begin as cargo is unloaded - all the stores, equipment and spares required for the next year. In addition, seven bags of post destined for Halley are due to be delivered. The ship will make two visits to Halley. In between it will return to the Falkland Islands and visit other stations at South Georgia, Bird and Signy Islands with other equipment and supplies. Those of us leaving in February have started to pack as we are preparing to share our bunkrooms with incoming personnel. Next month we turn our clocks back three hours to enable easier co-ordination with flights from Rothera Station. It's an exciting time and many changes are taking place. However, we remain surrounded by the unchanging icy wilderness amidst twenty-four hour daylight.