Rothera Diary - October 2001

written by Pete Milner


I actually have quite a sad feeling as the winter draws to an end. Thoughts like "I've done my last sledging journey", "not many days left driving a skidoo", "queues for meals" and so on. These thoughts are balanced by the excitement of the mail coming and perhaps some fresh fruit. Officially the end of our winter season happens when the aircraft arrive. As usual we held a sweepstake to guess when the planes would actually arrive. The prize was the last bag of chips. Food supplies begin to run short at this time of year and we will have to manage with more people coming to Rothera and knowing that the main supplies will not arrive until the ship visits in a month or so. As the winter 2001 team starts to think about the end of our unique time together other Rothera locals are just starting out on their own adventures. I'll let Jenny explain.....

"On the 1st of the month, we were thrilled to find that a Weddell pup had been born behind the hangar. We came to know him as Phoenix, and he was the cutest thing to watch. On the 9th we watched Phoenix being coaxed into the water by his mother for his first swim. There was a bit of sea ice and he was supposed to go in through the hole into the water where his mother was waiting for him and calling to him. It was quite amusing to see how this was most certainly not his idea of fun and no amount of encouragement and nudging from his mother would get him into the freezing water. However, by the 13th he was in the water, happily exploring his new world and the pair of them even came up to the shoreline where I was watching, as if to show off how well he has learnt to swim!

If this wasn't reward enough, a crabeater pup was born behind the hangar on the 11th. Crabeater seals usually breed deep in the pack ice, away from human contact, so are rarely seen so young. This one is a female, who became known as Katie. She is now 3 weeks old, and unlike Phoenix who left with his mother at about 2 weeks, she is still in the same place and doesn't seem to have been swimming as yet. She is almost the same size as her mother now, who has lost almost half her original weight. They have also been joined by a male who seems to be protecting them and waiting for his chance to mate with the mother. This probably won't happen until Katie is weaned at about 4 weeks."

Dr Jenny Dean - Medical Officer, Rothera Station

Phoenix the
Weddell Seal Pup. Click to enlarge. Phoenix 
and his mum. Click to enlarge.

Images of Phoenix the Weddell Seal Pup and his mum

and his mum. Click to enlarge.

Click on the images to enlarge

I believe the name Phoenix is a reference to the Lab fire, we also had a seal called Nigel after Nigel Bonner. While the seals are enjoying themselves we have our chores to do as the preparations for the summer continue. The lads have been out with the big snow blowing machinery clearing the runway and access routes. Steve takes up the story.....

"This month has been a busy one for the mechanics. With the planes due to arrive on the 16th almost every day was spent either snow clearing around the base or preparing equipment ready for the air unit. Snow clearing is a task that at times appears to be a losing battle. Everyday the runway and apron is cleared of snow and every night lots of snow will fall. Luckily we have some very powerful equipment! These are two whanging big JCB loading shovels with snowblowers mounted on the front. Each combination has around 500hp in total and can blow 1700 tons of snow an hour. With the arrival of the air unit came several large dumps of snow to be cleared. The runway must be clear of snow for the planes to operate so sometimes they have to wait until the runway is clear before taking off. Of course there is always an exception which came when some Twin Otters arrived from Canada. The planes flew in on wheels, fitted their skis and took off from the runway after we had blown snow back on for them, all very exciting stuff. The machines are vital to the operation of the base but are great fun to operate and while it keeps on snowing we will still be very busy."

Steve LeBretton - Vehicle Mechanic, Rothera Station

The last Saturday night of winter is obviously special and this year the girls organized an 'Oscars' night. The dining room was laid out with a red carpet leading up to the lectern, gold envelopes were produced listing the nominees in the various categories and the eventual winners. The categories were:- Best Female - Best Reporter - Most 'Lush' Male - Hardest Man on Base - Best Snowboarder - Spectacular Driving Award - Best Bum - Best Musician - Best Singer - Best Taste in Music - Base Shark - Own Category / Jovial Jock - Lifetime Achievement Award - Base Brains - Rare Species Award - Best Dancer - Best Gymnast - Best Imposter (Impersonator) and Comedy Trio. As we ate a superb buffet, video clips showed the nominees in action. Everybody won some sort of award, I'm actually pleased with mine and I am now the proud possessor of a penguin statuette made from an old mayonnaise bottle. For weeks a notice in the dinning room was asking for used mayonnaise bottles. I must admit I did wonder why, but hey it's the Antarctic - many strange things happen! If you feel the need to know who won each category you will have to contact us by email.

Our weather has again been poor this month restricting the amount of days we could have skiing and climbing. We spoke to the aircraft by radio as they flew south and also to our office in Port Stanley. Nice to hear the voices of friends we have not seen for months, but strange to think it is so close to being the end of my second winter. It's a weird feeling and although I don't really want it to end, it will be nice to have the summer routine starting and to be able to see many old friends again. We welcomed the arrival of the planes by putting out some cardboard and cloth palm trees on the veranda. Mairi made these and it added a touch of style to our welcome. I've been busy getting stuff ready for a trip to open the hut at Fossil Bluff. The Bluff is just the nicest hut in the world, nick named 'Bluebell Cottage' by residents. With luck the incoming summer management will be too busy to think about bringing me back for a while. When the weather turned better two aircraft took off and headed south. After landing and starting to sort out the radios, generators etc. around the hut I had time to look at the Fossil Bluff diary. The last entry read....

"Game over - Once again it is time to leave this place to the cold and darkness of another Antarctic winter. The privilege is ours once more to face the sadness of leaving this, the most southerly permanent structure of the Empire. The sadness however gives way to the anticipated pleasure of being here yet again in 7½ months time. Gentleman, lower the Jack - Long live the Queen. The End" Adrian (Chum) Mildwater

The initial entry this season was made by the first pilot to arrive. The air unit also had the honour of raising the flag again.

"Friday 19 October 2001 - Earliest opening for a few years. Back to open the Bluff on a beautiful spring day. Just about as good as it gets here, clear and calm. AZ arrived at 1445 Z with Ant Tuson and Jon Leach, followed shortly after by Lez Kitson, Dave Routledge and Pete Milner in BB. Snow surfaces just about perfect for aircraft ops, here's to a good season at the Bluff ( my favourite place)" Ant Tuson

With the arrival of the post came a certificate and cloth patch as a gift from the US Antarctic program. It was a thank you to the winter team for our efforts during the South Pole rescue mission. (See the April diary). The message reads as follows....

"Please accept this patch with my thanks for your participation in the record setting rescue of Dr Ron Shemenski from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in the middle of the dark and cold Antarctic Winter. This patch commemorates the efforts made by many Antarctic agencies and individuals who conceived of, implemented and executed the very successful operation. As you well know, work in the Antarctic is unique. Executing an operation of this nature required coordinating the expertise, experience and devotion of hundreds of people. Be proud of a job well done.

Tom Yelvington (Vice President Raytheon Technical Services Company,
President and Program Manager Raytheon Polar Services Company)

Thanks Tom for a kind gesture, it is appreciated by the Rothera Winter 2001 team. The italics are mine and I feel it should serve as a message to the 21 people who wintered at Rothera Station this season. Be proud of a job well done. It was and we are. October ends with Halloween, so of course this being the Antarctic you should be very, very scared!

Cheers for now