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Rothera Diary — October 2008

The start of Summer

Hi, I’m Ali the marine assistant. It is exactly a year since I last wrote an entry for the Rothera diary. I have been at Rothera for close to two years now and it is incredible how quickly the time passes. October is a strange month for most people, the major event being the return of the planes signifying the end of winter. A base complement of 21 people soon turns to 40 (but will be over 100 at its peak); your usual coat peg in the boot room and your favourite seat in the lounge is suddenly ‘fair game’; the seating arrangement in the dining room is changed to accommodate new arrivals and you’re suddenly having to sit far too close to people at meal times; there is the prospect of having to share your room; all that was ‘familiar’ about your home has now changed. However, the arrival of summer is by no means a negative thing, of course the winter will always be best but summer runs a close second.

The weather this month was a great improvement on what has felt like an eternity of wind, cloud and snow for much of the latter part of winter. The appearance of the sun from behind the clouds has encouraged people to make the most of the weather and get out and about in the local area. On a dingle day at the beginning of October five of us made ascents of a classic route on Orca called Toulouse Lautrec. It is a challenging mixed (snow & rock) route and offers stunning views across Ryder Bay to the south and McCallums Pass to the north.

Myself and James nearing the summit of Orca
Myself and James nearing the summit of Orca
Orca and the Sheldon glacier
Orca and the Sheldon glacier

As well as climbing, other popular good-weather activities include walks along Reptile & Stork Ridges, snowboarding or skiing, ski-mountaineering, snow-shoeing, ice climbing on the ice cliffs behind the hangar and walks around Rothera Point to observe the local wildlife and admire the stunning views across to the Antarctic Peninsular. The Weddell seal pups are growing fast and this month some were seen, somewhat reluctantly, taking their first dip into the chilly ocean (surface temperatures are currently around −1.5°C).

Weddell seal pups on Lagoon Island
Weddell seal pups on Lagoon Island
Weddell seal pups on Lagoon Island
Weddell seal pups on Lagoon Island

The annual winter photo competition was judged this month. This year categories included ‘wildlife’, ‘base life’ (some might say the two are interchangeable), ‘a photo taken in September’, ‘inanimate object’ and ‘landscape’. As usual there were some stunning entries, making choosing a winner very difficult. Adam’s photo of a winter trip camp silhouetted against a sunset was a dramatic and deserving winner.

Adams winning photo
Adams winning photo

The onset of the good weather finally gave us an opportunity to take the traditional winter team photograph. John had been given the ‘honour’ of organising the whole affair and did an admirable job of managing to find and assemble us all at an appropriate location, which even with just 21 of us can be quite difficult. Perhaps surprisingly it’s not often that all of us are in the same place at the same time — there is always someone on night watch and people have different ways of spending their free time. So there is a special feeling on the rare occasions when we all get together — even if it is when posing for a photograph. After numerous takes (each involving a comical dash to beat the timer given the lack of remote-control for the camera) John was certain that one of the photos would be suitable. Later in the month after hours in the darkroom (the tradition of a black and white winter photo taken using film continues) ensued by more hours spent in the chippy shop John emerged with the final copy of the photo immaculately framed. It is an honour to walk down the corridor lined with photos of Rothera wintering teams dating back to 1976 and to see yourself as a part of it.

The 21 members of the Rothera 2008 wintering team
The 21 members of the Rothera 2008 wintering team

There have been a number of people with birthdays during winter and in October Birgit, Ali Dean and Al celebrated theirs. Al is a huge fan of Kit-Kats so it seemed fitting to attempt to make him a giant Kit-Kat instead of a birthday cake. Using a combination of most of Nicola’s cooking chocolate, broken-up Kit-Kats, butter and a bit of imagination the result was impressive yet not particularly healthy!

Als birthday Kit-Kat
Als birthday Kit-Kat
Als birthday Kit-Kat
Als birthday Kit-Kat

Many people give themselves projects to do over winter, most choose to develop a new skill — learning to play an instrument; perhaps improving on languages or photography; but this winter Rob has gone one step further and given himself the incredible challenge of building a guitar. He has spent many hours in the chippy shop over the past seven months, showing incredible patience as he painstakingly sands away millimetres of wood to create the perfect curves and required thickness. The day finally arrived this month where he was able to attach the strings and play the first notes. A worrying time for Rob as if there were any slight errors in the dimensions the result would be a very beautiful but functionless guitar. Fortunately his dedication paid off and it both looks and sounds amazing.

Rob making guitar-building look easy
Rob making guitar-building look easy

On the final Saturday night of winter, Nicola prepared and served yet another superb meal, the job of the chef is ever challenging, catering for everyone’s tastes with a store of somewhat limited choice and no fresh ingredients. Luckily for us this is a challenge Nicola is very capable of rising to. After dinner the winter band subjected the rest of the base to a few acoustic tunes, we think they appreciated it!

The 13th October was no ordinary Monday morning at Rothera, with the arrival of the BAS Dash 7 aircraft, our first physical contact with the outside world for 6 months. I’ll hand over to Adam, one of the Field General Assistants (‘GAs’) and his thoughts on the start of summer…

With metres of snow cleared from the runway, our peace is shattered. The sound of the aircraft warning sirens, turbo props and the occasional whiff of aviation fuel now fill the air. My home has been changed in an instant, reverting back to its true role as an operational logistics base.

The winter season is now officially over and with it our leisurely 9–5 working routine, with the rush to get depots open and field parties out, free time is scarce. It’s not all bad though, we’re rewarded by what the Dash brings down, loaded in her fuselage. Fresh South American fruit and veg now feature on our menu! I never thought I would appreciate it so much! Juicy ripe tomatoes, the Hollywood star of my sandwich and crunchy apples awakening my taste buds!

The planes ‘human cargo’ is also a treat and the initial shock of ‘trespassers’ on our base is short lived as new people bring new interest and different conversation. A minority of the winterers who have been ‘counting the days’ are replaced by fresh faced eager newbies. Their awe and enthusiasm at being in such an amazing location is refreshing to see, it takes me back a year to my first arrival, and off their excitement I can feed!

It’s shocking to realise that I have now been down here for a year, but so far I’m happy (a jail bird content with captivity). Who knows if I will feel the same when I’m still here one year from now?

The end of October gave the perfect opportunity for the first party of summer — with a Halloween theme. The effort to which people go to for fancy dress parties is rather impressive…

Halloween
Halloween
Halloween
Halloween
Halloween
Halloween

I am approaching my 3rd and final summer at Rothera. In April, following 30 months living and working in this truly incredible place, it will be time for me to leave, I wonder how I’ll cope with my return to the ‘real world’. I shall never forget my time down here and I certainly hope to be coming south again very soon!