Diary of a Rothera Boatman

March Diary: On the way home

At Sea RRS Bransfield

March 1998

Dear All

For my last letter I'm writing to you from the computer room on RRS Bransfield. We're on passage from Signy to the Falkland Islands and having crossed north of latitude 60 degrees south we are now officially out of the Antarctic - the area covered by the Antarctic Treaty. Tomorrow evening should see us safely in the Falkland Islands and a return to things like money, roads and green grass! For those of us who have been away in the Antarctic for a while it will be quite a novelty. Stanley is a good reintroduction to the wider world. It's small but very friendly.

RRS Bransfield was at Rothera doing the main relief of the season for five days. This is one of the busiest periods on base. Everything needed for the winter and the start of next season is off- loaded, and once it is all off, the ship is filled back up with cargo returning to the UK and waste to be disposed of outside the Antarctic. By Saturday things were drawing to a close. There were still a few things left to do, but we all felt there was enough time to relax and enjoy Saturday night. The cooks produced a tremendous curry for which we were joined by quite a few of the ship's staff. A good night all round! Next day, for those of us who were leaving the last full day at Rothera, was blessed with good weather. Many took the opportunity to head out for a last ski or a walk around Rothera Point. Nigel, as well as keeping everyone well fed for the last two and a half years, has kept a very detailed record of the wildlife of Rothera. On his last day he had a pleasant surprise in seeing what we think is the most southerly sighting of a Macaroni penguin. Rob (Diving Officer), Alice (Assistant Biologist), Steve (Field Assistant), Dave (Doctor), Simon (Biologist) and I headed out to Lagoon Island in Stella the base dive boat. Later we headed back so Lucy (Meteorologist) and Dave (Generator Mechanic and Winter Base Commander) could join us. Alice and Si are staying for the coming winter but all the rest of us are heading home. Between us we'd spent a lot of time over at the hut on Lagoon Island, working and relaxing, especially last winter. This was the ideal way to say goodbye to Rothera, a sunny afternoon at Lagoon Island in good company.

RRS Bransfield sailed from Rothera at eight o'clock on Monday morning (21 March). It seems only yesterday since she sailed last year and the winter began for the group that I was with. Final farewells were said before those of us that were leaving boarded the ship and the 23 winterers were left on the wharf. The last ship leaving is a very special time, lots of waving and cheering, the ships whistle blowing and the winterers setting off flares covering the wharf with lots of orange and red smoke as the ship moves away from the wharf. Despite all of this it is a sad time and I certainly don't mind admitting to feeling rather upset as Rothera faded off into the distance. The 23 that we left behind are a superb bunch and I'm sure that they have a great winter ahead of them. Some you'll already know from these letters but hopefully you'll get to know the rest soon. Rachel, one of this year's Field Assistants will be carrying on writing letters telling what is happening at Rothera.

From Rothera we headed north between Adelaide Island and the Antarctic Peninsula, an impressive passage called "The Gullet". We carried on north overnight and called briefly at Vernadski base in the Argentine Islands. Vernadski is the Ukraine's Antarctic base, which until a few years ago was a British station called Faraday. Since the hand over of the station BAS and the Ukrainian Antarctic Research Centre have maintained a close relationship. Rothera speaks to Vernadski every day to pass meteorological data so it was particularly nice for Seamus and Lucy to get ashore to see the people that they had been talking to all winter. Carrying on from Vernadski the spectacular views of the Antarctic Peninsula and the Lemaire Channel in particular were spoiled by bad weather. We passed by Deception Island the next morning, Elephant Island during the night and carried on to Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands.

Signy is a summer-only station and RRS Bransfield was there for the last call of the season. We all had the chance for a welcomed walk around the island while the cargo was taken out to the ship. Signy is a beautiful island with fascinating wildlife. I wandered over to an area called Cemetery Flats were there are graves of men from the whaling ships dating back to the early part of this century. The beach itself there was full of huge Elephant seals lying in big huddles and lots of Fur seals playing and sleeping along the water's edge. Penguins waddled amongst the seals going about their business. For Rob (Diving Officer) and Nige (Cook) it was a particularly enjoyable visit as both had previously wintered at Signy, back in the days when it was open all year round. After the day's work was completed the ship remained at anchor overnight and sailed, bound for the Falklands the next morning......and that's where we are now !

So that's it. I can't help but feel sad on leaving the Antarctic. It's a very beautiful and special place. I've had a wonderful time over the last 18 months and hope that I've managed to put some of that across in these letters. As I mentioned Rachel will soon be taking over. I know her letters will be lively and perhaps give a different view of life at Rothera. I'm looking forward to a few days in the Falklands and then travelling on to South America. I'll be back in Britain by July and hopefully, in August, will be starting another contract with BAS working with our two ships - RRS Bransfield and RRS James Clark Ross.

Take care and best wishes, Stuart.

Stuart Wallace Aboard RRS Bransfield, Falkland Islands