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December - Sunny Rothera-by-the Sea

Rothera Web Diary December 2005

by Pat Fielder

Well there we go, the blink of an eye and another month has disappeared under our belts here at sunny Rothera-by-the Sea. Unfortunately it has flown by a little too quickly for me and we are already into the second week of January as I sit writing this, oops. Luckily for me December is one of our busiest months on base with numbers ramping up due to regular Dash 7 air bridge flights arriving from the Falkland Islands, the arrival of one of our ships, the RRS James Clark Ross, and a whole host of other work and social activities going on. It will be more of a struggle to restrict what I write to a sensible length rather than casting round for items to fill the page! I will also try to illustrate some of the base activities with pictures gleaned from various sources, many thanks to the photographers for allowing me to use their images.
A quick introduction first dear reader. My name is Pat Fielder and I am the Facilities Engineer for Rothera Research Station. Based at BAS Cambridge during the spring and summer I then travel ‘South’ each year for the austral summer season to manage all the maintenance and some technical project works on the station, looking after all the trades team on base; Generator Mechanics, Electricians, Builders, Carpenters, Plumbers and Vehicle Mechanics. It is now my fourth season at Rothera and before that I worked at Halley for three summers and a winter. It is a fantastic job that I really enjoy, and I never get to see the winter, what a great life!

Anyway, back to Rothera during December. Ski conditions at our local ski area, Vals (an adaptation of the name of the popular European resort Val D’Iserre), have been very good for most of the month and lots of the base complement have been out and about enjoying the slope.

A rare sighting of the lesser Spotted Andy McConnachie on the slopes.  It was a warm day! Photo Pat Fielder
A rare sighting of the lesser Spotted Andy McConnachie on the slopes. It was a warm day! Photo Pat Fielder

Matt Brown with snow board waiting to go back up  hill. Photo Pat Fielder
Matt Brown with snow board waiting to go back up hill. Photo Pat Fielder

The photos were taken on a particularly warm day here with bright sunshine and cloudless skies. This may help to explain the attire of our intrepid winter sports participants shown above, but then again Matt may just like wearing his red thermal undersuit…….

The arrival of the RRS James Clark Ross is a big event in the Rothera calendar. This ship brings us the bulk of our supplies for the coming season, including scientific and building equipment, domestic supplies and more base personnel who have joined the ship in the Falkland Islands. It also carries fuel to re-supply the station and is usually moored ‘alongside’ at our wharf for four to five days. The ship encountered heavy 10/10ths pack ice to the south of Adelaide Island and there were some concerns that the ship may not get through this to reach us. The Dash 7 aircraft was deployed from base to carry out an ice reconnaissance flight to try and advise on any potential routes through the ice or leads to follow, but there didn’t appear to be any viable options.

View through the Dash 7 windscreen with the RRS James Clark Ross in heavy 10/10ths pack ice. Photo: Matt Brown (Dive Officer)
View through the Dash 7 windscreen with the RRS James Clark Ross in heavy 10/10ths pack ice. Photo: Matt Brown (Dive Officer)

Captain Chris Elliot decided to turn his ship around and head back out to clear water and evaluate his position and then, drawing on his many years experience as a ships Master in Antarctic waters, Captain Elliot decided on a potential route through the Johnston Passage, to the south east of Adelaide Island. This proved to be just the right move and the ship navigated the passage and rounded the tip of Adelaide Island to steam into Marguerite Bay and continue the last few miles in to Rothera.
Once the ship arrives at Rothera and is tied up at our wharf then relief operations can commence. This involves the offloading of all our cargo that has been consigned down to us and took four full days this call, with a 6.30am start each morning, yikes!

Chief Officer Robert Patterson and Bosun George Stewart keeping a watchful eye on a slung load. Photo: Rod Strachan
Chief Officer Robert Patterson and Bosun George Stewart keeping a watchful eye on a slung load. Photo: Rod Strachan

Glen Stewart taking a quick break as steel work sections are offloaded. Photo: Rod Strachan
Glen Stewart taking a quick break as steel work sections are offloaded. Photo: Rod Strachan

This season was Captain Elliot’s last as Master of the RRS James Clark Ross due to his retirement and to mark this occasion he was invited up to base for a formal meal, along with another nine of his crew. After the meal Captain Elliot was presented with a beautifully carved Antarctic breadboard and a framed picture of the RRS John Biscoe in Antarctic waters, the first ship that Captain Elliot sailed on with BAS. The Captain was moved by these gifts and for once, apparently, at a loss for words.

After relief operations were completed there was the compulsory James Clark Ross versus Rothera football match, which takes place on the hangar apron area. Unfortunately for the base we lost by 4 goals to 1 on this occasion, oh well, there’s always next year to try and get our own back.

Mark Blaby (JCR) fires a scorcher past Mike Tattersfield with Mark Stant, Kat Snell and Donald Campbell racing back to defend. Photo: Pete Lens
Mark Blaby (JCR) fires a scorcher past Mike Tattersfield with Mark Stant, Kat Snell and Donald Campbell racing back to defend. Photo: Pete Lens

Another sporting event in the busy month of December was the Rothera 10 kilometre run. This auspicious affair was organised by Keith Weston and there was a splendid entry of 21 people. The run takes place around the perimeter of the runway here on base and covers five and a quarter laps. A motley assortment of base personnel were out and about training for the big day up to 6 weeks beforehand, fitting in their practice sessions with aircraft operations, obviously the aircraft have priority for use of the runway! The run took place on Christmas Eve on a rather windy day that saw the runners battling a 25 knot headwind up the runway and then being bowled back down the other side. Despite the breezy conditions there was a good turn out of supporters and photographers. Many thanks to Cathy Moore and Mike Prior-Jones for taking care of the official timing duties.

And they’re off, the start of the Rothera 10km race, including a penguin!
And they’re off, the start of the Rothera 10km race, including a penguin!

As you will appreciate this is just a brief view of all the things that have happened here at sunny Rothera throughout December, there is so much more going on and there wouldn’t be room to explain it all, even if I wrote a novel for this month! It is truly a special and inspirational place to work and I certainly feel very privileged to be allowed to come here. Even in such a wondrous place there are still some things that you miss and for me it is my fiancé, Jacqueline, who owns my heart.