Diary of a Rothera Boatman

April Diary: The summer ends and we prepare to winter

APRIL 1997


As I predicted last time that I wrote I'm rather late with this letter. March was a very busy month at Rothera. It all came to a climax on Monday 24 March when RRS Bransfield sailed taking the remaining summer people. It's just us now until the aircraft return in October.

Before the big departure we had the hectic period of the final base relief. RRS Bransfield was here for about a week discharging cargo and taking away out-going cargo and waste. Finally the day of departure came. It was quite an emotional time. There was mainly the excitement of going into winter but for many perhaps just a little bit of apprehension too and of course the sadness at saying goodbye to the many friends who left on RRS Bransfield. As the ship left we activated many flares so that the wharf was filled with dense orange smoke and rockets shooting up skywards. Bottles of champagne were produced and we toasted the start of winter as RRS Bransfield tooted away on her whistle. We watched the vessel disappear and then all went back to the main building to have lunch - everyone with big grins on their faces.

Antarctic stations remain staffed through the winter months for two main reasons. First, to keep data gathering and scientific work running, since progress in many subjects benefits from year-round observations. Secondly, so that the station is fully operational and ready for the next summer season before it actually starts. To do this 21 of us remain here at Rothera. I'll introduce everyone and explain what we all do.

Dave is the Generator Mechanic and our Winter Base Commander. He ensures that the station generators are operating correctly and the station always has power available. He's now in his second winter at Rothera and was appointed to the position of Winter Base Commander during the summer by the permanent base management team. (We have a Permanent Base Commander - Paul Rose - but he obviously can't be here all the time so he returns to UK during the Antarctic winter.)

Our Doctor is another Dave. As well as looking after all our health needs he has a research project of his own. We're not seeing too much of him this week as it's his turn to be on night-watch. A task we all have to do for a week sooner or later.

Five of the Field Assistants - Steve, Oz, Jez, Si and Mike - remain for the winter. They spend the winter preparing everything that will be needed for field research projects next summer. They also have the unenviable task of taking care of all of us as we head out to experience Antarctic winter travel. Each Rothera member has the chance to take two winter trips into the field.

Lucy and Jenny form the Meteorological Team. They make weather observations at regular times each day. Their data are all recorded and sent back to the UK. In this way a continuous record of weather conditions is built up. Like Séamus, Lucy spent the last Antarctic winter at Halley station.

Séamus is the Communications Manager. He ensures that our links with the outside world are maintained. E-mail messages are passed to and from the BAS Headquarters in Cambridge each day. Links are also maintained with the other BAS stations and any one else who wants to talk to us! Our nearest neighbours are the Argentines at San Martin 60 km away. Every Sunday the two bases have a chat with each other over the radio.

The technical support team look after and maintain all the services in the station - Steve is the Electrician, Mark the Plumber and Rob the Carpenter. Rothera is a fairly large place with quite a number of buildings to look after. With the numbers on station down to the lowest they get, it's the time for maintenance, checks and the installation of new systems.

Phil and Ian are the Vehicle Mechanics. There's a whole variety of vehicles at Rothera including ski-doos, tractors, cranes, snow blowers and even a fire-engine over in the hangar. These will be serviced during the winter ready for next season. Before the aircraft return Phil and Ian will spend a lot of time in the snow blowers clearing the runway of snow.

In the labs the scientists will be continuing with their work. Si and Alice will be keeping the Marine Biology projects running through the Winter and Andy will be looking after the Terrestrial Biology projects. Diving carries on and the science enters a new exciting phase as this is the first winter of diving at Rothera.

Rob is the Dive Officer and supervises all the diving. At the moment he's busy introducing to diving those who haven't been underwater before. I slot in here as the Boatman. While we still have ice-free seas I continue to run the boats as much as possible. When or if the sea freezes over I'll probably become more involved with supporting the diving operations, which will continue through holes chain-sawed in the ice.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is Nige our Cook. He's doing a fine job of ensuring we all eat enough to keep the cold out. He's also a very keen ornithologist and spends a lot of time carefully observing and recording bird life around Rothera. It's a tradition that the cook has a day off each week so we all take it in turns to cook on Sunday and inflict our cuisine on each other.

So that's the lot of us. As I write this we've been in winter mode for just over a week and so far it's going very well. We have been busy tidying up after the hectic period of relief and then got the station completely cleaned through and set out as our home for the next seven months. The atmosphere on base is fantastic and I think we're all going to have a great time. The only problem at the moment is the weather - blowy, damp and reasonably mild. What we want is a bit of a chill and a good heavy snowfall to improve the skiing conditions.

Best wishes


Stuart Wallace, Rothera research station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica