Diary of a Rothera Boatman

September Diary: Preparing for the summer season


September 1997

Dear All

The Antarctic winter and our isolation at Rothera is coming to a close. In just under four weeks or so the first of the planes will return. They will be the four Twin Otter aircraft that will have followed a route down to the Antarctic via Greenland, and North and South America. A week or so after they return, the Dash-7 will arrive and the numbers on base will start to swell once again, building up to a maximum when RRS James Clark Ross arrives towards the end of December.

The preparations for summer are now in full swing. The first jobs are mainly out of the way, as people prepare and organise kit that will be required by the different summer projects. Before field work can start, though, the planes have to get here and be able to land. To that end, the three mechanics, Phil, Ian and Dave G. have spent the last few days clearing the runway of snow. To do this, the base bulldozer is used to push down large drifts and snow banks, and the JCB clears large areas using a snow blowing attachment attached at the front. So, with the numbers rising, Rothera will soon be back into full swing for the Antarctic summer. I'll try and talk you through what the twenty one of us who have spent the winter together will be up to.

It's not too long after the arrival of the aircraft that the Field General Assistants head out from Rothera and are scattered to the four corners of Western Antarctica for their summer field projects. Jez and Simon A. are heading off to Rutford Ice Stream. This takes them down to latitude 80 degrees south. They will be involved in a project using explosives to measure the depth and movement of the glaciers. Oz is off to the same general area to start a season which involves much travelling. He'll be starting at Evans Ice Stream and travelling north towards the deep-field depot at Sky-Hi. Steve isn't heading so far south, but will still be in challenging terrain. His project starts at Bingham Glacier and he will eventually end up at Gutenko Mountains. If you have a map of the Antarctic, this is the area that is at the southern end of the Antarctic Peninsula - roughly opposite Alexander Island. Mike's project will be taking him to a variety of places. Essential based at Rothera, he will be spending a lot of the season assisting the terrestrial biologists. This will involve work on the islands local to Rothera as well as further afield on Alexander Island.

Andy will also be kept busy with his terrestrial work. As you may remember, he's our resident terrestrial scientist. This coming summer is to be a busy one as for terrestrial biologists. Through the summer, a large number of them will be passing through Rothera. Their work will be on the local islands and around Rothera Point. It's all part of a continuing collaboration between BAS and Dutch scientists. Many of the visiting scientists will be from the Netherlands and Germany. Simon B., Alice and Rob W. will be continuing the projects in marine biology. There aren't so many marine biologists on base this summer - they'll have a big programme in the year following. I'll be around with my boats, supporting both sets of scientists - once the sea ice leaves!

With the return of the aircraft Jenny, Lucy and Seamus extend their roles. Seamus, along with a couple of summer radio operators, will spend a large amount of his time "flight following". This is our equivalent of air traffic control. Whenever an aircraft is operating to or from Rothera, someone is always listening out on radio, to keep note of its position reports. Jenny and Lucy's meteorological observations have added importance as the aircraft need frequent weather information. They'll be spending one week in every three or four at Fossil Bluff, providing weather information from there. Fossil Bluff is a small summer only field station on Alexander Island, which the aircraft use as a refuelling stop on flights deep into the Antarctic.

The Technical Support staff, Rob T. the carpenter, Steve the electrician and Mark the plumber will all be having assistance through the summer. They'll be kept busy with, amongst many other things, an extension that is to be built onto the main building. Phil, Ian and Dave G., the mechanics, will also be joined by additional help as they keep the generators and the vehicles running. Nigel our cook will have his work cut out feeding all these people on base, but will, without a doubt, succeed as he did last summer. Even in this environment of activity there are not many who aren't expanding their waist lines. Nigel will also have another pair of hands in the kitchen to help out. Like many of us, Nigel will be at the end of his contract at the end of this summer, so the person taking over from him will be down here too. New winterers usually spend a lot of the summer with the person that they are taking over from - learning the job and fitting into base routine. Dave R., our doctor, is another person who will be handing over to someone new. Most BAS staff who overwinter spend two winters down here. There are a number, like myself, whose contract was for one year only. The BAS doctors are all employed on a one winter contract too.

So that's what we'll all be up to. As well as all this work, there will hopefully be plenty of time for enjoyment. The summer weather here is generally fair, which, coupled with the 24 hours of daylight, gives plenty of chance to get out and about. There will, of course, be plenty of other people around - many we will already know. In the weeks that are left of our winter isolation here, we'll all be busy getting the station and ourselves ready for the summer. Boxes are being packed, rooms prepared and plans made. In the final week, we'll spend a few days having a huge clean of the base. All in all, we've had a very good winter, and I'm sure all 21 of us have enjoyed it. We'll enjoy the last weeks of it too - but we're all looking forward to our mail and parcels when the planes arrive !

Next time I write Rothera will be back in summer routine.

Take care and best wishes, Stuart.

Stuart Wallace Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica