Rothera Diary: March 2001

written by Pete Milner

The Second Winter

The Rothera Winter 2001 Team. Click on image to enlarge

The Rothera Winter 2001 Team
Click on image to enlarge

Early March has been a time of departures, time to say goodbye to friends as they head north at the end of their tours. The Air Unit departed over two days and the sight of our red painted aircraft flying away is always poignant. Is it just me or do aircraft with wheels look really silly? Skis are the thing here.

On the last evening of summer the winter team are invited aboard RRS Ernest Shackleton for a meal. It was a great night with plenty to eat and drink. Fresh vegetables and salads were especially popular as we shall soon run out of those supplies. While we were enjoying ourselves the departing team are busy inventing practical jokes to play on those wintering over. So who are we, the winter 2001 team?

In Alphabetical order:
Felicity Aston:   Meteorology
Dave Bowden:   Marine Biologist and Deputy Base Commander (BC)
Andy Chapman:   Field GA
Tom Corbett:   Vehicle Mechanic
Paul Cryer:   Mechanical Services
Jenny Dean:   Medical Officer
Dave Ellis:   Field GA
Will Gilchrist:   Boatman
Chris Hall:   Electrician
Phil Horne:   Diving Officer
Jon Leach:   Generator Mechanic
Steve LeBreton:   Vehicle Mechanic
Ian Martin:   Meteorology
Pete Milner:   Field GA and Deputy BC
Dave Molyneaux:   Communications Manager
Mairi Nicholson:   Terrestrial Assistant
Raynor Piper:   Marine Assistant
Mike Powell:   Carpenter and Winter BC
Asty Taylor:   Field GA
Dave Routledge:   Field GA
Keith Walker:   Chef

On the day of departure of RRS Ernest Shackleton, these are the people on the wharf, everybody else was on the ship. The departing staff sleep on the ship in their cabins on the night prior to departure. On board were friends I had made during the last eighteen months, people who I had grown close to in the cold of winter 2000. There was so much I wanted to say to them, to wish them luck for their next adventures, to thank them for their support when I was feeling down, or just for being there when I was struggling with a job that needed two people. The weather was poor and a safety brief was being held on board. The winter crew waited patiently on the shore. It happened actually quite slowly - they just lifted the gang plank - amazing. This has to be a first in the history of Antarctic exploration, the only time when a departing summer crew could not shake the hands of the winter staff and wish them luck. Somehow we lost the human touch, I doubt any other nation would have allowed it to happen. It is a measure of the strength of the 2001 team that we just ignored it and got on with the job.

Departing staff at the ships rail. Click to enlarge Our friends came up on deck and we shouted across the rail to people that we probably will not see again. They were so near and yet so far. Those on dry land are wintering over, with all that winter in the Antarctic can bring, no chance to change your mind now. Perhaps it was for the best that it was over quickly, this is one of the worlds most committing farewells. Personally I felt rather abandoned at Rothera that morning. I have been through this experience before so I have managed to persuade a couple of others to write about how they felt that day.

The Day the Ship Left!!

Mairi Nicolson:   When asked if I'd write a few lines about how I felt when the ship left, I was worried because people expect and like to hear that it was a magical and exciting moment. I felt panic!! All of a sudden the good friends I'd spent the summer months with were sailing away leaving me in a small and unfamiliar group. I'm sure it wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't had quite so many rums on the ship the night before, gone to bed late and then gotten up at 6 am for a live radio interview; it had all taken its toll on me. Fortunately a good sleep in the afternoon and a walk around Rothera Point with Jenny to see the ever amusing fur seals and scruffy Adélie penguins had me back on form. Being a miserable kind of day weatherwise, Jenny and I decided to lift our spirits further by watching "Paint your Wagon", an odd western film she has been raving about since we arrived. It worked and we were humming the theme tune for the rest of the day.

The first week was quiet until everyone readjusted and having only 21 people at Rothera now feels normal. Winter trips have been keeping everyone excited and busy, fresh snow has transformed the local scenery, we are being invaded by fur seals, whales have been spotted in the bay, parties and quizzes take up weekends and badminton, yoga, running, skiing and boarding keep us fit and active - it's a great place to spend the winter. Everyday has its magical and exciting moments.

The Shackleton departs. Click to enlarge Kris Hall:   I remember feeling subdued. I was upset that the gang plank went up before the safety brief had finished and felt a bit of a lump in the throat at not being able to give a physical handshake to the guys I've worked with for two summers. But even if I did get to shake their hands it might have been more emotional.

So it's just us then was another thought. A rather slow day followed and I kept expecting people to walk into the bar or canteen. So yeah, sadness but a sense of relief as well. Glad I got the first "true" nightwatch of winter as I did some thinking that week.

Mooring ropes were dropped and we all waved and shouted goodbye. As the ship moved away we set off loads of hand held orange smoke markers and fired off flares as the ships whistle sounded.

We have a great team here for this winter and the atmosphere after the ship left was good, we all chilled out and sat together with a cup of tea. As expected the departing team had left loads of practical jokes for us. We spotted the ping pong balls above a hatchway, and the computers sporting several cartoons. There was the usual cold tea in some of the bar bottles, drawers in the kitchen were filled with shaving foam, and kippers in the air conditioning that were easy to find. The pranks were taken in good faith except for one involving the pool balls that were found glued together.

One of the early winter choices for "Foxhat" was Toy Story II. Spooky though, a Buzz Lightyear figure has appeared at the head of the dining table. Buzz Lightyear has taken to attending meals and seems to sit in a different chair every time and has recently moved into the main accommodation. We also have started "word of the day" and "ailment of the day" on the notice board. The accommodation has been divided into southerners, the midlands and the northerners.

BBQ guests. Click to enlarge The other Saturday we had a BBQ, set up and run by Chris Hall and Jon Leach (left to right Jenny, Pete, Dave Bowden and Felicity).

Is that there own hair? Click to enlarge Afterwards each section put on a bar and the midlands had raided the dressing up box, so we each had to find something to wear before the next drink was allowed. (Left to right Felicity, A Wolfman, Pete, Tom and Dave Molyneaux). Games of table tiddlywinks croquet and carpet bowls accompanied by wine and canapes were provided by the posh southerners. We ended up in the north drinking in a boot room, wearing head torches at the "Miners Arms". I went to bed a little early as I was out on expedition the following day.

Panorama - the Sloman Glacier. Click to enlarge

The panorama at the Sloman Glacier camp site
Click on image to enlarge

The Sound full of mist. Click to enlarge Starting the trip on the glacier above Rothera station you could look across the sound which was full of mist. We tied sledges onto our skidoos and set off. There is a considerable amount of camping gear required for a winter trip. I started with a shovel attached to my skidoo and my safety helmet ready for when we set off. A shovel is an essential item here and one that was pretty vital on this journey as lots of powder snow delayed our return as we struggled to dig sledges and skidoos out from soft snow.

Pete and his skidoo. Click to enlarge We headed out though the McCallum Pass, then turning south to travel down the Fuchs Ice Piedmont. We stopped to camp just north of the Sloman Glacier. For the next three days it blew a massive storm. Honestly, the worst and strongest winds I have ever experienced in a tent. One night we never slept. I had told my companion to get into his bivi bag with all his clothes and boots inside as well. We both lay there wondering if a pyramid tent rated to 80 knots was going to hold. It is pitch black so if you open your eyes you cannot see anything, not even the rim of your sleeping bag. The sound of the winds blasting into the tent are like tormented souls screaming out from the underworld and shaking the cotton and nylon fabric of your tiny shelter in an insane attempt at revenge. Blowing snow hits the tent walls with a sound that reminds you of thousands of rats scratching at a coffin lid.

Pete and Dave digging out! Click to enlarge The weather did calm down eventually and allowed Dave Molyneaux and I to dig out our skidoos.

In the tent. Click to enlarge A more restful night followed and we could go out and travel the following day.

The team. Click to enlarge Here is a picture of the team after the storm left to right Pete, Dave Molyneaux, Andy and Tom. I am glad we took sufficient equipment to survive the storm, our camping system has been developed over many years and it works.

The campsite. Click to enlarge It takes a while to set up but a properly arranged camp can protect you from some of the world's harshest conditions.

Pete beside experiments. Click to enlarge On the return journey we paused to check on one of the science experiments running locally. Here I am beside some equipment with the mountains of Stork Ridge in the background, nearly home.

Each night a radio link is maintained with field parties and it is nice to have so many friends come and talk. They bring news of events on the station and enquiries about how we are getting on. Back home is peace and quiet, friends, good food and a comfortable quiet bed. I often think about those explorers who did not return and the cross high on Rothera Point is their memorial. It is a peaceful and beautiful spot. Winter is hard work, it takes effort to survive and good companions are essential. This team are looking forward to the challenges ahead, wish us luck. If you know somebody here support them via the e-mail, it will be appreciated more than we can say. If you meet somebody who has wintered over, shake them by the hand, they deserve it.

Pete Milner

The cross at Rothera Point.

The Cross on Rothera Point

Pete Milner, Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island. Antarctica