Feb – The End is Nigh

28 February, 2007

The end is nigh.

Firstly I’m going to cheat a little, only by a few days, but I’ll start this month’s diary at the end of January. This is because I was lucky enough to get a trip to deepest darkest Antarctica (the “darkest” is a bit of a fib!).

Myself, Nico the pilot, Liz Homer our field G A and Andy Elliot, were off to Berkner South to raise the depot’s full fuel drums (this involves digging around them and then pulling them out with a ski-doo so they are back on top of the snow). We also had to crush some empty fuel drums, which we then took to the Blue Fields depot; a stones throw from Halley, returning with full drums to restock the Berkner depot. All three of us had a co-pilot flight, which was amazing, flying across the Ronne Ice Shelf; we also flew over the Argentinean Belgrano base.

Being at Rothera on Adelaide Island with its great mountain views you can forget just how vast Antarctica is but from the air flying over the Ronne ice shelf at 8000ft you can see just how big a wilderness it really is- you could lose Great Britain in the Peninsula alone.

Rothera lost a valued character this month when pilot David Leatherdale flew for the last time here. David has flown with B A S for the best part of ten years = 4000 flying hours!

When he turned out of the apron for the last time, it was amusing to watch people run around like headless chickens hastily spelling out BYE- DL in huge orange letters.

Good luck on your retirement David, from all at Rothera.

The 07 wintering team had a busy month, starting with oil spill response training. This involved putting the inflatable boom onto the sea by the boat shed to prevent any oil spreading to a larger area.

Fire fighting training followed this. So they are confident with all the breathing apparatus and protocols in case it is needed.

On the lighter side there were two local area familiarization flights on the Dash-7. This is an opportunity to get to look at the places they might like to visit on their two winter training trips.

The field season is drawing to a close now. Ski-Blu was shutdown on the 17 th. This involves taking down all the tents, parking vehicles in the underground garage and itemising all the fuel drums and food etc.

Fossil Bluff remains open for the time being as there is still work to be done by the Masin team.

On Monday 19th we had a visit by the cruise ship M S Bremem. Where 150 German tourists were given a guided tour of the base. This gave Birgit a chance to speak in her native tongue whilst showing people around the Bonner lab. Jade also got in on the act, which impressed the Germans. All in all it was a great afternoon.

The deepest field party of the season returned from Pine Island Glacier, some 800 miles away from Rothera. Andy Smith and Julian Scott spent the last two months doing seismic reflection work along with Rob Smith and Roger Stilwell as field assistants. This research involved using explosives to send sound waves through 2 km of ice, to the base of the glacier. The reflections were then recorded in order to investigate what type of surface the ice is sliding over.

Pine Island Glacier deposits the biggest quantity of ice into the sea of all of the glaciers in West Antarctica. A total of around 69 cubic kilometres of ice per year. This makes it one of the most important sites for glaciologists to study in the world. The work will help to establish Antarctica’s future contribution to sea level rise, which could be increased by global warming. The team from BAS were the first people to stand on the glacier making this an important British first, as it is possible that the Americans could go there next season. Logistically this was a large operation and many people from Rothera were involved in flying the team and equipment out through Fossil Bluff and Sky Blu and maintaining temporary fuel depots even further away.

Folk Night

Folk night has been a tradition for a number of years at Rothera. It gives everyone on base an opportunity to get up and perform. This year there were some sterling acts. Our hosts for the evening were Cyril looking sharp in his 70’s style retro look and Kelvin interloping as his little women (ok only for the beginning and to be fair he looked a bit scary).

As a fantastic team they introduced the acts and kept us laughing with standup that often cut close (like all good comedy). Crispin braved the first slot with a poem by Herbert Ponting a photographer in Scots Tera Nova Expedition, that would have tongue tied even the most experienced public speaker.

By the end we didn’t know if the inside or the soft side, the outside or hard side was the right side to be beside! Radio talk is something that many of us are familiar with here. However, we often miss out on the tower talk with aircraft and so, a little insight was delivered by Tristan and Cyril with a ‘Santa’ theme tribute to David Leatherdale. Lets just say Blitzen, Prancer, Dancer and Rudolph managed to make it back and the pictures turned out fab.

Musical talents abound at Rothera this year and we were wooed by the fiddles as Rob and Tristan played ‘Da Slockit Light‘. Cilla Black joined us in a interesting dress, wearing shoes that most women couldn’t even stand in let alone walk. Blind date FGA style certainly won a great deal of laughs (special guest appearance by Rod ‘Butch’ Arnold).

Richard Logan provided the visual sections of the night with three great shorts of Fossil Bluff and the New Bransfield Build. It’s amazing how immune we become to our surrounding and how much work has gone into the building over the summer. To see it grow from a mere shell to something resembling a building was spectacular.

In true storytelling style MPJ amused us with a tale of a Platypus. Cyril and Agnieszka took to the dance floor and with the power of technology we were privy to their thoughts. As you can imagine some were not too wholesome and Agnieszka stormed off stage! The 2006 winter girls threw an interesting piece. A bottle blowing musical rendition of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ conducted by Richard Hall.

Bringing in a bit of Belguim charm, Riet braved the stage with his guitar and despite complaining of nerves sang a fantastic melodic song for us. Looking forward to some juggling and hearing it was to be with ice axes we couldn’t wait to see Matt Balmer show us his tricks. However, it appears that ice axes may have been a bit ambitious and he lead us on a musical journey instead.

In true form of folk night often people on base will have the mickey taken out of them. Alistar the Doc was no exception on this. Jim our new boatman took great pleasure in demonstrating to us the ‘medical’ research that is being carried out on the 2007 wintering team. Sounds a little torturous and the Indo, German, French, weirdo accent Jim used did worry us too.

After much planning, preparation and practice the Morrisons delivered the ‘Brummie Team’ (a take off of Auf Wiedersen Pet) and a karaoke piece (with a faulty microphone as most bars have) ‘Have you read your Contract’ ?

You may think that this was a full night and what could possibly be added. Don’t forget the Rothera Band! We rocked away the night and special guest star Paul Breen wowed us with his moves on the guitar. Despite not having prepared encores we managed to convince the band to play some more for us. A musical feast and a good night was had by all.

On Monday 26 th Rothera FC had it’s biggest game of the season against the mighty Morrisons builders. Over the last few weeks there was plenty of good natured banter between the two sides building up to the big match.

Over the summer season Rothera have lost every competitive match with one exception, against the American science ship the L M Gould.

So on Monday everyone was expecting another thrashing, but we played out of our skins to secure a nil-nil draw. The finishing was awful but with our mountainous surroundings and perfect sunset no one seemed to care. 0-0 a fair result.

On the last night of the month we had a power down. This means all utility’s are shut off; electric, water and sewage systems. The nigh shift included Jamie, Kenny, Richard L, Andy M, Kai, Pat and the two Morrisons sparks JD and Matt.

The work is being carried out so routine maintenance can be done, also so the electric cable for the new Bransfield House can be fitted. What a nice bunch not interfering with base life as they were working while everyone else was in bed…cheers guys!

Thanks for reading and I hope you have enjoyed this month’s diary.

I have been at Rothera for 15 months now and it’s time to make my way home. I have had a fantastic time here, being able to go out boating, skiing, have 2 winter trips, go flying into the field. But the best bit for me was to be able to go onto the sea ice in winter to see the Weddell seal pups hours after they were born. Quite surreal to be walking on 500 metres of water!

To my family and friends thanks for your support. Hold tight I’m coming home.

Mark Saunders

Winter builder 2006 (Aka Rothera FC goalkeeper)