Rothera Diary - January 2002

written by Felicity Aston

A New Year

I sat down to write a letter on New Years day, dating it 2002. It suddenly struck me that I had spent ALL of the year 2001 in the Antarctic and I will spend the whole of 2002 here as well. It seems like such a long time when you think of it like that and yet the last 14 months since I first arrived here have gone by so quickly. I began to wonder about the year ahead - the rest of the summer season, saying goodbye to everybody for a second time in March, then a winter, with new faces replacing the ones I have got to know so well. Will this winter be a repetition of the last or something totally new?

Felicity Aston at Fossil Bluff - Click to enlarge

I am the 'met-girl' on base, sharing the job with Ian Martin, the 'met-man'. One of the most fantastic things about our job is that we spend a lot of time at Fossil Bluff during the summer. Fossil Bluff is a small 4-man hut 250 miles south of Rothera. It was built in the 1960's and I don't think much has changed since - infact there are probably a few original tins of Spam floating about! During the summer it is run as a met station (therefore becomes the summer retreat of the met department - lucky us!) and re-fueling depot for the planes as they fly further south. I spent New Year there with Jim Olson, the new wintering Medical Officer. We had intended to climb up one of the nearby peaks and welcome in the new year from the top but after gingerly sticking our heads out of the hut doorway we found plenty of excuses for staying in the warm such as 'Ooh look, its gusting 25kts - far too windy.' We cooked ourselves a huge improvised Chinese meal instead, including prawn crackers and pancake rolls. The picture here is of me at the Bluff with the Rayburn that we cook on. It keeps the hut so warm that we have to leave the door open at night otherwise it's just too hot!

Back at Rothera the New Year celebrations sounded a lot more eventful. Rayner Piper is the drummer of the winter base band. He has an impressively enormous beard that he has been cultivating since the ship left us at the beginning of last winter. It is the envy of all the budding 'beardy-weirdies' down here. With his wild drumming style he looks incredibly like "Animal" the drummer from the Muppets. He can be seen here in the picture (photo courtesy Jeremy Robst). He can tell you what I missed:

Rayner 'Animal' in action - Click to enlarge

"On New Years Eve day, Mark Thorley organised a half marathon. The team set out with good intentions but the wind was howling down our necks, and the sea spray was freezing in the air and hitting us like bullets. We did ½ a ½ marathon, but it felt like we had been on some torturous SAS training regime. Anyway, with that out of the way it was guilt free partying. The party was set up in the garage and kicked off fairly early with a lovely BBQ organised by Keith and our new winterer Mike "Sloppy" Wallman and plenty of beers to wash it all down with. Once the revellers were suitably sozzled it was time for the first band to take to the stage: The Commited, who pulled out all the stops and raised the roof. Tommo, the front man hitting all the high notes, received many pairs of BAS Y-fronts from the adoring crowd. Then it was time for the wintering band, The Shambles, to play (named after a local glacier, as well as our chaotic style) and they rocked! We did so many top tunes, Song2 Blur, Teenage Kicks the Undertones, Clash, Reef, Kinks, Violent Femmes and the winterers song, Ice cream Man by Jonathon Richmond. The crowd were uproarious, we wouldn't have had a better reception if we had been the Rolling Stones! At midnight it was Champagne and the odd cigar, whisky and singsongs then dancing 'til we dropped. It was a great send off for Will the boatman our lead singer who left on the 2nd still high from all the applause."

One of the bands in action - Click to enlarge The Marathon - Click to enlarge

"The Committed" rock the house, and the runners struggle against the elements in the marathon
Click on images to enlarge
(Photos courtesy of Jeremy Robst)

Inghams Army - Click to enlarge

I was away at the Bluff for only a fortnight but when I returned there were lots of subtle changes around base. Our summer season is only 5 months long and it is the only time when much of the heavy building and maintenance work can be done, so things tend to move quickly. Rothera is forever getting bigger and more complex so there are a large number of support staff who come south just for the summer season to help with the work. Building services, otherwise known as 'Ingham's Army', after the project leader Dave 'Gripper' Ingham, have been busy. The huge Dipole antenna for the vital HF radio at Rothera has been moved from North beach onto the point to make room for our new sewage plant. For days Nathan, Dave Ingham and Ian Parsons where balanced on top of the two masts, 18 m above the base, connecting all the cables. They have now moved onto the next project: our new sewage plant. I'm not a builder so to me it looks as if they have spent a few days digging a huge hole only to fill it back up again with concrete - and it is a LOT of concrete. Alan 'Big Al' Powley and Johnny 'Concrete' Coyle managed to shovel 12.5 tons of concrete EACH in a single day! The picture shows from left to right, Dave Ingham, Alan Powley, Nathan Keen, Matt McLeish, John Coyle, Steve Faulkner.

Elsewhere on base the Bonner Lab clear-up has started. Most of the debris has been cleared away and loaded into containers ready to be shipped out. They have saved any interesting 'artefacts' that they found in the debris. Prize finds were a completely unscathed 'toilet' sign, which despite being made of plastic miraculously escaped the high temperatures of the fire; and a gas cylinder, which exploded and now resembles a tulip!

It hasn't all been hard work though. We've been given several excuses to party this month. One weekend the American Research ship, the Lawrence M. Gould paid a visit. They were in the area to do some science in Marguerite bay. She stopped in the morning to pick up a few marine scientists who had some interest in the science of the cruise and some day-trippers who just fancied a jolly! I wasn't one of the chosen few but here's Matt Danby to fill in the gap.

"On the 19th of January we had a visit from our American friends on their research vessel the Lawrence M. Gould. It came into Rothera early in the morning and a lucky few got the chance to head out again with them around the back of Jenny Island for the day while they did some more science work. And a lucky few of the Gould crew got the chance to stay on dry land here at Rothera.

There was a mix of science and support staff on board and while the scientists carried out valuable work we took the opportunity to have a good look around the ship and enjoy the entertainment laid on for us. Mainly consisting of South Park videos and fantastic food plus loads and loads of crisps, which we don't get a lot of on base. It was great to be able to see the surrounding scenery from a different viewpoint. I spent a lot of time up on the deck looking out for whales but none were spotted, but not to worry I still have quite a long time here to see some.

Being lifted aboard the Gould from the wharf - Click to enlarge

The scientists from the ship spent the day looking around Rothera. In the afternoon there was a "USA versus the Rest of the World" football match outside the hangar. All I'll say is that the USA won - comfortably. The Gould returned and the visitors joined us for an Antarctic barbecue, tended by our base Kiwi's, Pete Martin and Kylie Wakelin. (It may have been burnt but it was burnt the true antipodean way!) Antarctic barbecues differ little from your typical British barbecue. As soon as the barbecue is planned the clouds gather and the weather gets gradually worse. Everyone stubbornly ignores this fact and pushes on with the plan despite the snow and gale force winds! Later on in the evening the base band performed in the sledge store and got all our guests dancing. The set even included a special (hopefully one-off) performance from 'Ol'Blue Eyes' himself - Matt McLeish.

There have been lots of comings and goings over the last month. The bustle is the hallmark of Rothera during the summer. Lots of people everywhere. When they all arrive you don't think it is possible that you could get to know all of them - but you do. This summer has been a particularly quiet one, especially as most of the planes have been needed over at Halley for much of the season. I enjoy the summer, the people, the constant activity, the opportunities to see some more of Antarctica and yet I can understand the urge to wish them all gone - it will be nice to have the place to ourselves again.

Felicity Aston