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Rothera Diary — April 2011

With memories of those who left us in March becoming more distant by the day, April was a month of “getting into the swing” of the Winter regime proper. While for a number of us it involved week long Winter Training Trips, for most of us it was a case of getting into the winter maintenance work. It was also a period of getting used to the self sufficient nature of base life over the winter period.

Man-hauling

One of the most enjoyable parts of life during April was Winter Training Trips with other members of winter staff. For my most recent trip, Dave Hunt (Boating Officer) and I chose to leave the skidoos on base and travel with pulk sledges by leg power alone, a practice known as “man-hauling”. This had obvious implications on the distances we could travel and the level of comfort (and discomfort!) we experienced whilst camping. This, and a week of challenging weather (the wind only twice dropped below 30 knots) lead to a pretty frustrating week, but it was good training and gave as an insight into how tough many of the Antarctic pioneers must have been.

Dave Hunt (Boating Officer) and I head off at the start of our 'man-hauling' trip. - The pulk sledges weighed approximately 80kg and 110kg, but on a good level surface they moved reasonably easily over the snow. (Photo: Ian Hey)
Dave Hunt (Boating Officer) and I head off at the start of our 'man-hauling' trip. - The pulk sledges weighed approximately 80kg and 110kg, but on a good level surface they moved reasonably easily over the snow. (Photo: Ian Hey)
Dave checking the guy lines of the tent at one of our campsites. (Photo: Mike Brian)
Dave checking the guy lines of the tent at one of our campsites. (Photo: Mike Brian)

Winter Maintenance Works in Fuchs House

As a Field Assistant, it is a big part of my job over the winter to make sure that all the field kit we have here in Fuchs House is serviced, repaired and maintained in preparation for next summer. This involves inspecting and repairing tents, kerosene stoves and lamps, wooden Nansen sledges, clothing, mountaineering equipment and ropes, amongst other things. Looking at them it’s pretty obvious that one or two of these items were put to very hard work last summer; the wind blasted skidoo tarpaulin that came back from Alexander Island looking like it was attacked by a shark, for example!

Our summer field season starts in October and lasts for about 5 months. The start of the summer sees lots of scientists arriving here with ambitious plans and projects. As well as requiring lots of planning by them, it’s really important that we’re well prepared when they arrive, as time down here is at a premium.

In all this we also have to take stock of what we’ve got here and what condition it’s likely to be in two or three years time; it’s just not possible to nip out and buy stuff here on the day that we need it!

Tom Weston (Field Assistant) patching a hole in one of our 'pup' tents. - These tents are smaller than our pyramid tents and generally used for very short trips or emergency backup. (Photo: Mike Brian)
Tom Weston (Field Assistant) patching a hole in one of our 'pup' tents. - These tents are smaller than our pyramid tents and generally used for very short trips or emergency backup. (Photo: Mike Brian)

Rockhopper TV Film for the BBC

Last summer, a significant number of Field Assistants and other base personnel worked with a film production crew, Rockhopper TV, to produce a documentary for BBC News. “Our World - The Vanishing Antarctica” was broadcast several times by the BBC during April. We were able to download a copy here at Rothera; it was greatly enjoyed by those of us who assisted or appeared in it, as well as by family and friends back home. If you see the programme, I’m the one on the Skidoo with the big hat!

'Our World - The Vanishing Antarctic' was filmed from Rothera and broadcast several times by the BBC during April. (Image courtesy of the BBC)
'Our World - The Vanishing Antarctic' was filmed from Rothera and broadcast several times by the BBC during April. (Image courtesy of the BBC)

Base Life

Obviously we have to be self-sufficient during the winter period; it’s well over six months between the last departing ship and the first incoming aircraft. The fresh fruit and vegetables are running pretty low, but the freezers are well stocked!

We all have to “pitch in” when it comes to chores, and put any skills we have to good use.

Ross Harper (Electronic Engineer) and I cooking dinner for 20; Lorna, our sole chef needs a day off as much as any of us! (Photo: Gavin McInnes)
Ross Harper (Electronic Engineer) and I cooking dinner for 20; Lorna, our sole chef needs a day off as much as any of us! (Photo: Gavin McInnes)
Diary Lorna Lomax (Chef) putting her other skills to use; an excellent job she did too! (Photo: Ross Harper)
Diary Lorna Lomax (Chef) putting her other skills to use; an excellent job she did too! (Photo: Ross Harper)
Simon Reeves (Marine Assistant) learning to place a cannula in Dave Hunt (Boating Officer) while Vicki Rainsley (Doctor) looks on.   - This enables us to help the doctor if needed, or indeed to attend to the doctor if necessary.  Needless to say, Vicki is even more careful than the rest of us not to injure herself! (Photo: Mike Brian)
Simon Reeves (Marine Assistant) learning to place a cannula in Dave Hunt (Boating Officer) while Vicki Rainsley (Doctor) looks on. - This enables us to help the doctor if needed, or indeed to attend to the doctor if necessary. Needless to say, Vicki is even more careful than the rest of us not to injure herself! (Photo: Mike Brian)

Well, that’s about it for the month of April. As I write (mid May), we’re preparing for the “flag down” ceremony to mark the last time we’ll see the sun for about two months. Things aren’t too bad daylight-wise though; we’ve still got about 5 hours a day, and do manage to get out in our lunch break and at weekends if the weather’s good enough. It is going to get worse before it gets better though!

On a personal note, I’d like to send my love to Marianne, my Mum and Dad, Jayne, Trevor and Brodie and all the rest of my friends and family back home. I miss you all and am thinking of you!

Mike Brian
Rothera Field Assistant