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Rothera Diary: April 2000


written by Pete Milner


On our own at the start of winter


Rothera

April 2000


Hi,

After all the excitement of the ship leaving it was a somewhat quieter team that walked back from the wharf to the main block. I think we were all wrapped up in our own thoughts. Certainly it was a strange sensation walking around the buildings and not seeing many people. At the height of summer you just cannot turn a corner without having to stop and say hello. It takes a few days, but the additional personal space that winter allows us is very pleasant. So who are the wintering team at Rothera for the 2000 season. Everybody listed below has their own vital role to play. We are very much on our own, so both the problems and the solutions are in our own hands.

Winterers for 2000 :-

Stephen Ainscough, Mechanical Services Technician

Jenny Beaumont, Marine Assistant

Hugh Brown, Field Diving Officer

Chris Burrows, Medical Officer

Nicholas ?Alfie' Conn, Field General Assistant

George Fell, Deputy Base Commander and Meteorologist

Kieron Fraser, Base Commander and Marine Biologist

Paul Geissler, Terrestrial Assistant

Robin Goodhand, Meteorologist

Steve Hinde, Field General Assistant

Matt Jobson, Carpenter

Peter Martin, Electrician

Pete Milner, Deputy Base Commander and Field General Assistant

Howard Owen, Boatman

Mark Palfrey, Mobile Plant Mechanic

Ian Parsons, Communications Manager

Simon Pledger, Carpenter

Dave Reynolds, Field General Assistant

Chris Thompson, Mobile Plant Mechanic

Ian Turner, Generator Mechanic

Keith Walker. Chef Manager


The rest of our first day of the new season was taken as holiday. Some went skiing and others just rested in the peace and quiet. We worked normally during the rest of the week, then the next task was to prepare Rothera for the coming winter. It's scrub out time! We needed to tidy the dining room so that it handled twenty one people better that sixty plus. We put away all the extra chairs, knives and forks etc. Outside, the base was tided and anything that needed to go inside was moved before it would be covered with snow. Basically it was a case of stow it away or tie it down.

People need time to adjust to the new conditions and the new team. The rest of the outdoor Field General Assistants (Field GA's) and I ran some crevasse rescue lessons. We need to be able to rescue ourselves here. If you are unfortunate enough to fall into an icy slot created by glacier movement, you really want to be able to get out quickly. Even more importantly you need to rely on your partner to play his part in your rescue. After teaching the rope-work and pulley systems, my students were stood near the edge of a steep wind-scoop formed by driven snow. I looked at one of them and said "Right off you go, jump over the edge and we will practice the rescue scenario". Would you believe it he jumped! Being a Field GA is a strange job.

On the work front everybody has started on the winter schedules. The outdoor team started to prepare and service the kit that will be needed in the summer. At the same time we began preparation for winter trips. Everybody on base is allowed a week's holiday before midwinter and one after. They go out with one of the experienced field GA's as a team. Lots of experiences have been had so far, and three teams have travelled as far as Carvajal, the old British Adelaide station that is now run in summer by the Chileans. It has proved to be a good introduction to Antarctic travel for those who are here on their first winter. It is a constant battle to dig out the sledges from the snowfall and snowdrift. Good weather can be a great time to take photographs when the light shows up the fantastic landscape close to our new home.

On the science front the work goes on as usual with much boating and diving. Personally I think they are mad.

Diving is just about to get under way. Hugh is in the foreground, Jenny behind him, and Keiron standing at the back, making sure everything is OK and supervising the dive from the shore. They are all ready to go into the water - all that needs to be done is to remove the glove from the regulator (it can be seen next to Hugh's right hand). They keep the regulators in gloves until the last minute to keep them out of the elements. It is possible to get free-flows on a regular basis in winter once the water is at -1.8·C, but divers can minimise the frequency by keeping the regulators dry and warm(ish) beforehand. Free- flows occur when the air regulator freezes in the open position and the air supply rapidly decreases. A spare tank is carried just in case.

In the water now. Jenny is in the foreground and Hugh's head is in the background. They are diving into Hangar Cove to make monthly observations and to collect some clams, worms and brittle stars.

The line you can just see is the lifeline so that divers can find their way back to the "open water" and also to give the shore party information about the divers activities. Communication works both ways on the line, using a code of "pulls". For example one pull means "OK", two pulls means either " I have a free-flow" or if given from the shore/ice means "use other dive hole" - probably because of a seal who has decided to occupy the first hole (used when diving through an ice hole rather than from the shore). Three pulls means "take up slack", four pulls is "coming up/come up", five pulls is "give me slack", and six pulls is "emergency".

The lumps of ice to the right of Hugh look pretty small, but are in fact a couple of metres deep!

I am told by the divers that it is not too cold, personally I am not convinced. But then we are all slightly mad down here. If we were normal to start with, then by the end of winter I doubt we will be quite the same. Winter is a unique experience and I feel really positive about it. At the very least we do not have to worry about penguins on the runway any more as the planes have left long ago. Over the next few months I will let you know how we are getting on.

Pete Milner



PS. Paul Geissler's brother has painted a picture of the Two Step Cliffs area of Alexander Island from a photograph taken by Paul. The view is over George VI Sound towards the Batterbee Mountains with the plateau of Palmer Land behind. I visited the area with Paul during the summer on a day out by plane.