Apr – Shackleton departs

30 April, 2006

After days of false starts, the RRS Ernest Shackleton finally departed for sunnier climes (and Grimsby) on April 2nd. We waved and shouted our goodbyes between deck and wharf as she slowly turned and slipped off into the half light of dawn. The ‘disposal’ of as many almost-out-of-date flares as possible made for a great firework display to mark the occasion. And that was it. After a few moments we turned to one another, glassy eyed, and began to make our way in twos and threes back up to base. After all that waiting around, winter had somehow snuck up on us from behind.

Although the first week of winter was dominated by giving the whole base a good clean (‘…who’d have thought it, in his/her bedroom?’ etc etc), the first day was marked by the discovery of the various parting gestures left for us by our outgoing colleagues. A CTD device (used to measure conductivity, temperature and depth in sea water) with 200m of rope entangled in Helen’s bed and wardrobe, and a well positioned waste paper basket full of ping pong balls above Mark M’s office door were two of the more memorable finds.

There is a sure fire way to avoid exclusive and divisive cliques forming: institutionalise them! Welcome to Rothera 2006, the winter of the club. To get anywhere these days you have to be a card carrier of some sort. The radical circuit training splinter group for those who love to sweat before breakfast, the infamous ’30 minute club’, boasts a cardio-vascular-tastic membership of three, while for those who prefer their recreation in the early evening, the legendary ’90 minute club’ seems to still be very much in evidence, providing an hour and a half’s light liquid refreshment on a Friday. But do not be fooled, not all clubs are named after the number of minutes for which you punish your heart or liver. The ‘Body For Life’ plan (it seems only right to capitalise all the words and say it in your best Terminator voice), offers a complete way of life for the devout, and has gained at least two disciples who spend the week whipping themselves with bits of birch and doing weights at distinctly un-Godly hours, to build up enough positive karma that it is only proper that they annihilate themselves on Saturday.

On different nights of the week Spanish club jostles with ‘Everything you never realised you need to know about computers, but now that it’s dawning on you, you’re worried that you might actually know nothing’. (A big ‘Thank you’ to the ever knowledgeable and patient MPJ for continuing to run these superb classes). Similarly, thanks to Kirk and Riet’s excellent spring clean of the indoor wall, rock climbing at Rothera is enjoying something of a renaissance, just so long as the faithful haven’t been pilfered by Jamie’s ‘Planet Football’ in the hangar, or Mr Saunders’ wonderful world of carpentry and woodwork.

Incredible as it may sound, amongst all this frivolous recreation our slimmed down winter team of elite researchers still found time to push the boundaries of global science in an Antarctic context. They also went out to east beach and installed a number of ‘Boulder loggers’. These consist in sensors that are sealed into boulders, and record the temperature of the sea as it freezes over, thus contributing valuable data to our understanding of how the local environment changes during the different seasons.

Base sounds busy, don’t you think? Well apparently it was. I spent much of April sitting in my tent. The first week of winter trips saw Mike, Jade and Mark S jet off to Carvajal in the company of Tom M, Bruce and Soup (who is occasionally referred to as Mark, but it’ll never catch on). Unfortunately that more or less used up our monthly quota of luck.

The next week Lowri and I spent seven days sitting in a tent at Lincoln Nunatak. Thankfully, we now know that in fact Winhoek is the capital of Namibia, and that ‘sur’ is the French word for ‘on’. Phew.

Tom V and Kirk made the thinking person’s choice by staying in the local area, and managed some good ascents between the particularly nasty portions of weather. The next week Kai had the pleasure of the company of not one but three GAs (field assistants) while they sat in the fog near the Myth, although all was not lost as Kai and Bruce abseiled into a very impressive sounding crevasse, and Tom M and Tim made an ascent of the Myth itself.

After a week on base I was suffering withdrawal symptoms from the lack of 13 hour naps and drinking my own body weight in tea on a daily basis. Thankfully, Richard Logan and I, in the company of Ags and Kirk, spent four days in the mist at P buttress, and order was restored to my life once more. When the cloud finally lifted we tried to dash for home, although deep soft snow and an un-co-operative sledge halted Richard’s and my progress somewhere near Trident, where we had another couple of days lie up. Although it was a frustrating week in some respects, consolations came in the form of a takeaway pub quiz from ye olde Antarctic Tavern ‘The Seal and Nido’, which sharpened the mind, and a bottle of Polish cherry vodka, which restored the usual haze. Needless to say, both had their own distinctive merits and were highly enjoyable. And at the request of those base members lucky enough to be present on the night, a big Thank you to Lowri and Helen for the authentic pub-grub, big screen sport, and of course the quiz.

I spent Easter weekend lying in a tent gorging myself on mini-eggs. But for other members of base, questions of honour and glory were at stake as people paired up for an egg throwing competition. I’m not sure of the origin of this most ancient of fertility rites, nor who was eventually crowned Alpha-male, but in the getting yoke in your boots stakes, Jade was reputedly second to none.

When not working overtime far above and beyond the call of duty coaxing skidoos back from the brink, Matt continues to quietly produce masterpieces. The latest of which is a slide guitar, although I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to go on about it (but its great!) Bernard, when asked about his profession tends to answer with words to the effect of ‘what boatman?’, while Richard H, despite being the terrestrial assistant, has selflessly crossed disciplines to contribute to the marine life of Ryder bay with the gift of a snowboard (just don’t tell the owner!)

Well that was April at Rothera. Hello to everybody at home, in Sweden, Switzerland, and everywhere else, and happy birthday to dad and Simon.

Thanks for reading.

Tom Spreyer (Field Assistant)