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Rothera Diary - April 2014

The RRS Ernest Shackleton left us on the 21st of March this year so April saw the first month of winter here at Rothera.

We are getting used to a quieter base, decreasing daylight and the extra responsibilities that come with wintering here. There are 19 of us over winter – base commander, plumber, electrician, vehicle mechanic, generator mechanic, electronics engineer, meteorologist, communications manager, chef, doctor, dive officer, four marine biologists and four field assistants. We are entrusted with the upkeep and running of the base and continuing science over the winter months. We will be alone here until October when the first planes come back to the continent for the summer season.

Rothera Base (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Rothera Base (Photo: Mairi Fenton)

My role on base is to carry out the winter science for the Dutch collaboration, so I work in the Gerritz Laboratory and collect water samples by boat out in the bay. This is increasingly difficult in the winter months due to unstable weather, but when we do get a weather window and make it out onto the water there is no better job in the world! Though collecting the samples does involve a lot of winching by hand – usually we can persuade some willing base members to join us!

Heading out sampling. Photo - Kenrick Turner
Heading out sampling. Photo - Kenrick Turner
The three strong gentlemen who volunteered to help me winch plankton nets! (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
The three strong gentlemen who volunteered to help me winch plankton nets! (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)

One of the many highlights of wintering at Rothera is the opportunity for  ‘winter trips’. Each winterer gets two weeks (one before Midwinter, one after) where a Field Assistant will take them camping and exploring Adelaide Island. This is part recreation and part field training - there is the chance to climb, ski, walk, explore crevasses and have some time off base. I went out for my first winter trip in April with Malcolm and although the weather wasn’t amazing we made the most of it and had some awesome days climbing (as well as a couple of days of ‘lie up’ in the tent playing card games and eating copious amounts of food).

Malcy climbing (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Malcy climbing (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Malcy looking like a hero after a long days climbing! (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Malcy looking like a hero after a long days climbing! (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Me following Malcy up a new route. (Photo: Malcom Airey)
Me following Malcy up a new route. (Photo: Malcom Airey)
Having fun with torches and glowing pyramid tents (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Having fun with torches and glowing pyramid tents (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Kiting above base on a rare sunny day (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Kiting above base on a rare sunny day (Photo: Mairi Fenton)

I was lucky; Sabrina (Marine Assistant) and Dave (Winter Base Commander) were supposed to be on their winter trip the week after me but the weather was so bad they didn’t get off base for the whole week. Hopefully they will have good weather for their post-Midwinter trips! We managed to keep Sabrina fairly well entertained during the week with a selection of indoor activities including badminton, table tennis, slack lining, poi, jigsaw-ing, chopping onions, arts and crafts and indoor camping!

Badminton - the best use of an aircraft hangar! (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Badminton - the best use of an aircraft hangar! (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Chopping onions (to freeze them before they all go off)! (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Chopping onions (to freeze them before they all go off)! (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)

Another winter activity is the making of the winter present. At Midwinter we all exchange hand made gifts, so one of the first jobs of the winter is to pull a name out of a hat and commence a work of art for that person. As the days darken this is a good way to keep us busy – whether it be in the chippy shed working with wood; the garage with metal or the sewing loft with a needle and thread - a lot of time and effort is put in.

We celebrated Easter with an Easter Egg hunt and Dave organised an Easter Bonnet competition, everyone put the effort in and there were some incredible bonnets on show!

Easter Bonnets. (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)
Easter Bonnets. (Photo: Sabrina Heiser)

On the entertainment front Saturday nights included a Mexican night (Bel cooked us up a Mexican feast); Pub night (Chris cooked us food to order and we had a pub quiz!) and Italian night (strangely this coincided with the Easter Bonnet competition so there was the odd combination of gangsters in bonnets…!).

Chris is our chef and he prepares the most incredible food for us. Everyone needs a day off though so it is up to the rest of us to give him a break and fearlessly enter the kitchen ourselves! So far we have had no culinary disappointments, but we’ll keep you posted on that front...

There is still a lot of wildlife about; a walk around the point is a pleasant stroll (if you manage to avoid the snarling fur seals and farting elephant seals). These animals will soon leave us and head out to sea for the winter.

Fur seal (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Fur seal (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Elephant Seals (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Elephant Seals (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Penguins around the point (Photo: Mairi Fenton)
Penguins around the point (Photo: Mairi Fenton)

There are many things I haven’t mentioned about wintering at Rothera – from nightwatch and the complexities of Nido (powdered milk) making to learning the art of suturing from our doctor Kenrick to the wonders of diving in the Antarctic. I’ll leave this to my colleagues writing the next few months’ diaries…

The magic of winter in Antarctica is gripping us all, and we have had an amazing first month of isolation. We are bonding well as a team and, as we gradually say goodbye to the daylight we are looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead.

The team on a Saturday night. (Photo: Chris Walton)
The team on a Saturday night. (Photo: Chris Walton)

Love to all at home.

Mairi Fenton

Marine Research Assistant