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Rothera Diary: January 2000

written by Peter Milner

New Years Day and into the New Century


January 2000

Dear All

January 2000 in Rothera started quietly as most people were recovering from the night before. Gerard Baker has written about his New Year in the December Rothera diary, and I thought I would start my diary entries by describing some personal impressions of the same evening. I have agreed to take over the Rothera Diary now that Gerard has left for home. My job is that of Field Assistant, perhaps better described as an outdoor safety officer. We are experienced cold weather mountaineers who are paired up with the scientists when they go out into the field. We are charged with their safety and well-being. Our main tasks are logistics, camp craft, navigation, mountain safety and pretty well anything else that is required to run a successful operation. Planning and equipment maintenance keeps us busy back at base. Attached is an image of some field work. I am following Ian Marriott, as we set off to depot supplies for winter expeditions .

The eve of the new millennium at Rothera was just unbelievable, or to put it in BAS speak "Tops." The festivities started with a barbecue. The carpenters usually run these because they have to control the wood supplies. George the Skua was first in the queue, waiting for his share before it had even started. It was probably a special day for him too. To add to the atmosphere we spotted a Minke whale in the bay to our south. A really special moment for those of us new to the Antarctic. Now it was time for the Rothera band to start playing in the sledge repair workshop. A lot of people had put in some very hard work rehearsing. The concert was excellent, loads of people took their turn for different songs and the atmosphere was superb. At nine o'clock, which would have been New Year in England, some people were under water, diving off the south end of Rothera Point and others were skiing. Nigel Larkin was on his snow board dressed in tuxedo and bow tie.

Just before our millennium we all walked down to the ship. We had the supply ship RRS James Clark Ross at Rothera doing its second call prior to undertaking some marine science cruises. By now the clouds had cleared and we had some fantastic light. Stokes Peaks to the north were lit up as shiny white mountains. Reptile Ridge to the west was in sunshine and to the south the sun was at its lowest point giving some wonderful orange colours.

There is a tradition onboard ship that the oldest sailor rings out the old year with eight bells and the youngest rings in the new year with eight bells. This is the only time more than eight bells are rung. The youngest sailor does have to polish the bell as well. So there we are under an unbelievable sky, with the best weather all season, and the ships captain counting down on the tannoy. The ringing of the bell was followed by long blasts on the ship's whistle. Hand shakes all round and good wishes exchanged, the first mate came up to the bows playing the bagpipes. Some traditional singing preceded gulps of champagne direct from the bottle and sips of various whiskies which seemed to appear from hidden pockets. Tom O'Connor one of the army lads who is attached to us as an aircraft mechanic, stood up on the rail and sung "God Save the Queen." Another brilliant moment, as he was dressed in full mess kit, bow tie, red waistcoat, tail coat, piped trousers, shiny black shoes and medals.

The water was dead calm and so we could see the occasional penguin surface. This was just such a special time. We all drifted back up to the station and the band continued with a second set. I think I went to bed at about two in the morning, but I may have been one of the early ones.

Our plan was to have New Years Day as a holiday except for essential jobs. In practice, if there is work to do people just turn a hand and get it done. New Years Day was also a great weather day, sunny and still. I helped with a little clearing up in the morning then walked out to the north end of Rothera Point. Just to be on my own for a while. The only sound was ice calving off bergs and dropping into the water. I could sit just five feet from a penguin, who looked as if he was trying to get some sleep and rather resented having to open an eye to check if I was still there. Other people, braver than I, went swimming. Everyone will have some special personal memories from the millennium. One of the managers opened the Post Office so we could buy first day covers for the folks back home. I also went down to the ship for their stamp. One day a poor customs official will be confused as he looks at entries by the "James Cark Ross Voyage Nine 1999/2000 ."

The rest of the month has been busy for everyone. All the field operations are in full swing, with the air unit busy flying people and equipment further south. The lads from Top Housing and Morrisons have been hard at work constructing a new accommodation building. In addition to working long hours, the Morrisons lads found time to cook us a special meal one Saturday night. Since Gerard Baker left, Keith Walker has been cooking for up to 90 people on his own. He has done an excellent job. We how have Mark Doughty over from Halley to give him a break. The Morrisons menu was really special.

Smoked Haddock Mousse with French Toast

Breast of Chicken with Vegetables Wrapped in Bacon

Delmonico Potatoes

Carrot and Swede Patties

Broccoli and Cauliflower


Flambard Banana


We certainly do not eat that well camping in the field. A new communications tower is also being constructed. People have been out in all weathers to ensure this project is completed. Everywhere you look on the base, there is somebody hard at work.

Life here provides a good opportunity for outdoor guys like myself to get involved with the science projects. While the station is busy with construction the scientists have been putting in long hours down in the Bonner biological Laboratory. An important event in the science programme this month was the visit of the American Research Vessel Lawrence M Gould. I found myself down at the wharf helping to secure the ropes mooring the ship. Brian Newham and I were then involved as Antarctic tour guides showing our visitors around Rothera. It was great to be able to show our new friends around what I now regard as my new home. I will be here for three summers and two winters, a fact that surprised some of the American scientists who only had a four or five-week cruise. There was an arrangement that some of our scientists and station staff could go out on a local science cruise to Ginger island. Those people from the ship who stayed ashore were entertained by being shown around Rothera Point and Ian McDonald the boatman kindly took them out around the local islands by inflatable boat. Everybody enjoyed their day tremendously.

Life is so varied here and it is a joy to be able to have each day's work different to the next. Soon our field parties will be returning and Rothera will be at its busiest. Next month will see people beginning to fly north at the end of the summer season.

Peter Milner, Rothera Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica