Halley Diary — June 2003

30 June, 2003 Halley

By Elaine Cowie, Meteorologist

June has been a very busy month as this month we celebrated a very important date 21st June, Mid-Winters Day. So we can officially say that we are now past the middle of the dark period and very slowly we will see the days getting lighter as the sun comes back knocking on our door.

To celebrate this event we all had a week off work to enjoy the games and festivities. During this special week the science still continues and base work still has to be done, so cleaning duty had to be done, and the melt tank, our daily source of water still has to be filled, not a nice task after the previous night’s party!

This June has actually been the coldest month at Halley since records began and on the 10th June we saw the temperature plummet to minus 52 Deg C, and at that temperature you really do feel the cold. But since we are in Antarctica we can’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime, and we do a run around the building. I didn’t know whether to feel proud or stupid…..I must admit I have never felt as cold in my life but it was certainly refreshing!!

The week before mid-winter celebrations started we had a evening looking through the box of fancy-dress clothes that we have here, and discovered that with 14 winterers on base, we have enough wigs for everyone to have one!

On the Simpson Platform our routine does not change, the work still continues every day and our Meteorological observations every 3 hours and daily balloon launch still take priority, so myself, Annette and Stuart drew straws to see who would be the unlucky individual to work Mid-Winters Day and sorry to say this year it was me.

This year we kick started the holiday period with a day of relaxation leading up to our traditional “pub” crawl with a little “pub golf” in the evening, and what an event that turned out to be. Craig our chef prepared the drinks for our “pub golf” and this certainly played a hand in our reluctance to get out of bed the next morning!

The venues were, first stop the melt tank shaft, then on to the Simpson, which had been decorated as a 60s/70s bar. After that it was on to the ice cave. Rob, Ben and Toddy have been busy digging out this cave into the ground for months in preparation for Mid-Winter and what a success it was, it was absolutely amazing and the candles in the alcoves gave it a nice relaxing touch, just what we needed after our first 2 venues!

Then we were on to the Piggott, a Forest in the Library, the Surgery, The Fox and Frostnip (our own little bar), Star Bar (GA store) and finally to end our night on to our nightclub ‘The Berg’ in the Electrical workshop.

Other events for our week included a film day, cocktail night, pool competition and our Heroes fancy dress night.

The most important day of the week is of course Mid-Winters day. The day started off with Pat McGoldrick our Winter Base Commander serving up breakfast in bed. This could have been anything from a fry up to a glass of champagne, fortunately for Pat only 3 people wanted breakfast and this mainly consisted of a cup of tea.

This then led onto a relaxing morning and a light lunch courtesy of Mark Stewart. Craig offered to do nightwatch that week, but he still got up and cooked us an amazing meal.

The most nerve wracking part of the day for me was the exchanging of our Mid-Winters gifts. For months we have been investing all of our free time into making a gift for someone on base and then comes the moment when you finally get to give your gift to the unsuspecting individual. Names are drawn out of a hat early on in the winter and the name you get is the person who you will make the gift for. The names are kept a secret so it can be as much of a surprise as possible.

Ben did the honours again this year and was our Santa Clause passing on our presents.

The pressies this year were of an amazing standard and the time and thought that must have been devoted was incredible.

After the opening of the presents we were then given the delights of the hors d’oeuvres just to tempt us before the meal. Then we went through to the Dining Room where Craig put on an excellent spread and produced an amazing 5 course meal.

After the meal we had time to relax and for some of the guys keep up the tradition of another run, this time for Mid-Winter. So off went Ben, Graeme, Gavin, Russ, Toddy and Tommo around the Laws building at minus 40 Deg C.

Then came the moment of hearing our family and friends on the radio for the Mid-Winters Broadcast on the World Service. It is a great moment hearing your loved ones send a short message to you. It really makes you realise how unique it is being in Antarctica at this very special time. The song we chose this year to hear was People are Strange by The Doors, a very fitting tune I think !

This year there are a great bunch of people wintering and for all our families to see I have put in our Mid-Winter group photo so you can see the gnarly bunch.

During Mid-winter all the different bases on the Antarctic communicate with one another, sending photos like this and season’s greetings, and we’ve had letters from heads of state and government officials all over the world wishing us a happy midwinter.

The rest of June has seen the Met team completing our annual Dobson Spectrophotometer Twin Lamp Test Calibration. This is the instrument used for Ozone measurements and is essential in monitoring the hole in the ozone layer. The calibration is a very tedious long test but is essential to assure that the Dobson is working accurately.

Now that Mid-Winter has passed they say that this is the hardest part of the winter as you still have another 50 days in darkness with nothing to really celebrate. Sun up is another really big event but that can sometimes feel a very long way away. This is now my second winter and I am still loving the experience of being down here, I feel I am a very lucky individual.

Thinking of you all back home

Elaine XX