30 November, 2003 Rothera
by Isabelle Gerrard
November was a busy time at Rothera. Winter was well and truly over and people were arriving all the time. The weather was somewhat unkind to us for most of the month, in that, the Dash – 7 was finding it difficult to fly in new arrivals who were waiting in the Falklands for their flight South. That said, by the end of the month everything was just about on track and everyone who was meant to be here, was, albeit a little later than planned. Now that the Twin Otters are back, it’s a great time for those who have wintered to get out and about on ‘jollies’. As I write, Rich Flower is at Halley, Jon Seddon is at Fossil Bluff and Baz is staying at Sky Blu.
Jon Bursnall, Rich Burt and Neil are all out in the field with their respective scientists, carrying out this seasons project work.
As a winterer, I suppose the biggest plus of the Dash arriving from the Falklands is that part of its cargo includes post from home and ‘freshies’ (fresh fruit and vegetables). These are massive morale boosters to Base life particularly to those who have over-wintered. I cannot begin to describe the pleasure one gets in receiving a letter from loved ones back home, tucking into a nice juicy orange or indulging in a bowl of crisp, colourful salad having been deprived of such simple things for so long.
There were a couple of notable incidents this month to add to our already eventful year. During high crosswinds, one of the Twin Otter aircraft overturned on the runway as it came to a halt, fortunately both the pilot and co-pilot was unhurt. Another incident involved the burning down of the sno-cat, a tracked vehicle used for ferrying people and towing sledges up and down the ski ramp, again no one was hurt.
For me, the best thing about November meant that Cyril, the next wintering chef, had arrived. We will be working together until my departure in March next year.
I thought you might like to hear about being a chef in Antarctica, so here’s a little taster written by Cyril:
It is fairly hard to describe in words the reality of being here, now and for the coming year, getting to know everyone and doing my job right near the astonishing view of the kitchen’s windows. A huge lap of snow hanging over the ocean that rocks icebergs to sleep. Cyclopean mountains watching us being busy, doing our things, our little things. Ever blue or white, water is, without any doubts, Empress of the continent, married to a powerful Emperor, the wind. Often, time seems to stop, nothing to grab on, only this eternal white, till the wind blows again and restarts the quantum of action.
So here I am, cooking the Sunday roast, finding how to make onion gravy out of dried onions. Cleaning the kitchen to make sure Issy is happy with my work. Being a good chef, not too French, responsible, caring. Trying every single minute to become a better human being as a whole, which is hard work, some say impossible, but possible or not, this will be my only way up. The roast pork is cooked, the gravy is rich and the smash potato buttered. What else? Of course, dawned, I forgot the applesauce and the stuffing, come on, lets get some dried apple rings and the sage and onion mix. Pour some boiling water on each one, stir it and heat it, why did I bother to make it from scratch before? God knows. Here is a true good real British meal, tasty, a bit heavy, but looking so good! What are we missing? Pudding! Well, Issy s’ advise was an apple and raspberry crumble with custard, which would be lovely, but I haven’t got any butter defrosted and it would be just out of order to make a crumble without butter. But I do have some suet, so I’ll make up a sweet suet paste, a thick custard and this could be a brand new recipe for raspberry tart.
It seems like anything I can prepare is just good enough for everyone, no matter what I produce as long as I put time and passion into it, the people here will truly appreciate it. It is so different from other places I used to work in, where every single chef wanted to be the best, the best what? The best creme Brule maker? The best pasta cooker? The best onion chopper? But customers are paying, so they are looking for the best as well, we don’t really know what is the best, but that’s what we want. Well, I think I am done with all that, because I’m no longer cooking in a restaurant, but at home.
Another notable event this month saw the arrival of a very special and courageous lady, Polly Vasher, who ‘called in’ at Rothera whilst en route around the world in her little single-engined aircraft.
I asked Polly to write a few words explaining what she’s doing and why:
For: Rothera Base. The ultimate challenge for any long distance solo pilot is to fly both the Poles. The North Pole has been flown over in light aircraft by a handful of solo pilots, but although light aircraft have flown and do fly in Antarctica -it has never been done solo before, in a single-engined light aircraft.
A solo round the world flight in 2001 in my single-engined Piper Dakota was the inspiration for a round the world solo flight via both the, Poles and thus it was that I set out from Birmingham, England on 6 May 2003 in company with a Hurricane and Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight to face the biggest challenge of my life.
May 28th 2003 was a milestone because that was the date I had a good weather window to cross the North Pole. I set out from Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen over the pack ice for the 14 hour flight over the Pole to Resolute in Canada. At the exciting moment when my GPS read 90 North I picked up my satellite phone and called my husband. “I’m on top of the world” I said – to which he responded “For heavens sake head South”!
And I have been heading south ever since, through the Americas down to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. After an agonizing 5 week wait for good weather in Ushuaia, I was finally able to fly across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula on 29 November. The flight will continue across Antarctica to McMurdo and then onto New Zealand, Australia, the far East, Middle East ending back in the UK sometime in March.
Apart from the challenge to pilot and aircraft there is another agenda for this flight. It is to raise awareness of and funds for “Flying Scholarships for the Disabled” This programme gives scholarships to disabled people to learn to fly. The main purpose is to use the physical and intellectual challenge of learning to fly to help the recipients come to terms with their disability and change their lives. Since my husband, Peter and I have been involved, the courage and determination of the scholars has been humbling and inspirational, for us both. For more information on the flight and on flying for the disabled – please look at; www.worldwings.org
As you all probably know by now, the Base has a couple of depots further south from here, one at Sky Blu and another at Fossil Bluff. These depots are used during the summer months for the support of field party input by aircraft and as meteorological stations. Adam writes below about staying at Fossil Bluff:
Fossil Bluff Depot and Meteorological Station.
King George IV Sound.
South 79 19′ 30”, West 68 17′.
Not many people, outside BAS, have heard of this little isolated hut, on the edge of the Eros Glacier, looking out of King George IV Sound. Fossil Bluff is a place of extreme beauty and tranquillity. It is a place that is closed down for the winter months and was re-opened by a team of 3 from Rothera on 27th Oct, and will stay open until mid February. As one of the Rothera Met Team, I am privileged to be able to spend some of my summer working out of Fossil Bluff, looking after the station and providing Meteorological observations for both the aircraft and for The Met Office in Exeter. It’s a place I always enjoy staying and working in, a small hut, on an Antarctica Island the size of Wales, with 2 inhabitants.
It is very much a step down from Rothera: No running water, a gas powered toilet and electricity supplied by a wind generator and 2 solar panels, that continuously charge 4, 12V batteries.There is a Lister Generator for extra support, supplying electricity for the central heating and lighting. This is not used very often however, as the Aga there, usually supplies plenty of heat, and in the times of year without 24-hour daylight, Paraffin lamps make the place cosier. It is a very comfortable place, 220 nm south of Rothera.
On the Ski-way there is a large fuel depot with approximately 400 drums of Avtur fuel there at this moment, used by the BAS twin otters every time they fly south to Sky Blu and further. It can be very hectic, when all the Twin Otters are on the ground, wanting fuel to continue their journey Southward. It can also be very long hours: The first radio sched with Rothera is at 07:20 Local time, and sometimes not finishing observations until the aircraft have landed back safely at Rothera in the early hours of the next morning. These hectic days are usually interspersed with days where not much flying is happening. On these day, between SAR (Search and Rescue) met obs, you are free to do what you like. If it is nice weather, some people take the opportunity to wander around the local travel area, climbing some of the local peaks or walking around to Belemnite valley, to look at the Fossils there. On less sunny days, a good book and cups of tea off the Aga go down very well. 3 times a day we send Met numbers back to Rothera for them to send on to Exeter.
It’s harder to live: Digging snow for melting your own drinking water, making sure your electricity and fuel supply is clear and working, keeping a constant supply of warm water on the Aga, digging fuel drums from under 2 foot of winter snow, keeping the depot in order and burning the toilet every few days, disposing of your own waste. But it is very good fun, and much more relaxed than the busy atmosphere of a summer at Rothera. I could tell you lots about living at such a place, but that will have to do for now. It’s a place I will never forget.
November was a month of transition at Rothera, moving out of winter mode and picking up the pace of the summer season. It was nice to meet new people and to say ‘hello’ to familiar friends. It’s been only a year since I first arrived here, but, seeing all the fresh faces and watching them go through their induction, I felt like a real old hat!
Greetings to all our first and second contacts at home, the weather is superb here. Just imagine being in Antarctica, sitting on the veranda, sipping a nice cup of tea, sun tan lotion and sunglasses on, enjoying the most breathtaking views. Or maybe sitting on a rock on North Beach, watching seal pups playing together, penguins hopping about from one iceberg to another looking very comical as they try to maintain balance – how lucky are we?