December – Festive, Restive, Joyful

31 December, 2006 Rothera

Festive, Restive and Joyful

To many, December makes us think of winter, of short days, long coats, bustling winds and curling up in front of the fire with a duvet and a cup of tea. Oh and of course, lets not forget the Christmas tunes, decorations, parties and the last minute fight to get your auntie another box of chocolates. Here at Rothera however, the tune is somewhat different. Firstly this is the summer season and believe it or not the temperatures turned warmer (in what felt overnight) and the texture of the snow around base and the local areas changed to something resembling little balls of glass.

Our summer season is well underway after its shaky start and a general feeling of hustle and bustle is felt around base.

The first ship to venture through the remnants of sea ice was the Lawrence M Gould, an American ship. Being our first ship the ‘Kodak moment’ photo spots were full with new video and digital cameras recording merrily away. Thinking it would be a quick passage through the ice (as we believed it to be thin in comparison with a big ship), it was not to be. The whole journey must have taken about 4 hours. But we were impressed by the Captains job of breaking through an area by the wharf to moor up. They spent a night by our wharf and many had the opportunity for a tour around the ship and took advantage of the chance to have a few Pringles, orange juice and cashew nuts.

After the Gould had been to visit we could see no reason why the James Clark Ross would not be able to get in. As our first ship relief we were looking forward to the cargo she carried as well as catching up with some old friends. After being here as a meteorologist since December 2004 I have had the chance to get to know a lot of the summer visitors. I also sailed on the JCR from the Falklands on the fated year when she did not get in on first call. I could see the excitement on all the faces of the new winterers and summer visitors as she finally sailed in and moored up alongside.

Days of relief work were to follow as cargo, both scientific and base orientated was offloaded. Relief is always a great team bonding session as groups of people get into chain gangs to fill up the base supplies. The freezers start looking a bit healthier not to mention other areas. Captain Gerry invited the old winterers on board for a lovely dinner and I think we were all pleased to have a different place to eat and lemon to put in our drinks, not forgetting of course many new faces to talk at (sorry, I meant talk to). This summer is the summer of football with many keen players inhabiting Rothera and we can never resist a challenge. Feeling confidant from many games on base and a team to die for, how could we possibly lose against the JCR team. After all they have been at sea for …… days! Hmmmm, seems that a very good fight was put up and the JCR team sailed through to a victory 1-0 game.

Two ships visiting encouraged the break-up of our sea ice and the boatmen and marine team were on tender hooks to get out on the water as soon as possible. It’s always a strange time when no access is allowed on rotting sea ice and this restricts access by boat. Patience wins out in the end. The weather turned favourable, the waters became free of ice so the marine science for the summer took off. Bernard our boatman I’m sure was the happiest after having a land bound winter.

It sometimes feels as if we are an international airport due to the amount of visitors we get through. Winterers are woken from their slumber for the Borek planes that buzz through before the BAS planes arrive. More photo opportunities as the American Basler (a strange beast I think) comes through and of course the German Donier stayed over too. Being the beginning of the season these visitors are eager to get fuel, check their aeroplanes, change to ski’s and move on to their destinations which can be as far as McMurdo.

Christmas Day came around in the normal speedy fashion as it does at home but the atmosphere is slightly different as we have 24 hours light and a 100 or so people. Cooking in the kitchen had started previously with all three chefs creating masterpieces that we could not wait to taste. Mince pies were abundant and several cups of tea were consumed in the mad rush to have another pie. Best outfits were put on (with some silly hats to boot) and people gathered in preparation of the traditional Christmas ‘fill your belly’ dinner. How we all managed to fit in the dinning room I’m not sure but it certainly gave us all a feeling of comradely. Several courses later belts were loosened, shoes kicked off and coffee served to those still able to fit in another mouthful.

10 km run. Seeing the runway clear has a certain appeal to the strangest of people. Yes, the running fraternity grab any opportunity to go around in circles on our lovely 900, runway. Of course this is only after consultation with the operations tower to ensure there are no pending arrivals and/or takeoff of Twin Otters and the Dash 7. Don’t be fooled into thinking the trip around the runway is without any hazards. This summer looks to be a bumper year for wildlife and an aggressive tribe, pack, gang, flock of Skuas have claimed ownership of the runway and do not appreciate visitors. Running through their domain results in fly bys that have seen even the most hardened Antarctic hero duck and speed up.

But, you ask why on earth would anyone be interested in running around in circles (don’t worry I did to) well, it’s called the 10km run. Something of a tradition beginning to form here at Rothera around the festive season. Finding the right day to do it however posed a few problems for a couple of years. The day after Christmas or after new years are never any good for obvious reasons. Yes, too much food! So New Years Eve was chosen. Having been here for two years and not partaking in the previous runs, I not only joined the mad runners but also organised the race. I could not have done any of it without help from others though and we even had our own official race gator. The blast off in the beginning of the race was comical as the horn we had blew air rather than an ear-piercing screech.

Well, that is a quick rundown of December at Rothera. Life here becomes so busy during the summer that we struggle to get all the events, work, life, recreation and sleep in a day. It is a hustle and bustle surrounded by beauty and from personal experience I am just as stunned and captivated by my surroundings as the day I arrived. This has truly been an experience to remember, not only for the environment but also the fantastic team of people who I have met here.

Love to all my family and friends.


December 2006