Oct-Nov – New arrivals

15 November, 2004

Rothera Diary, October/November 2004

After a fantastic winter at Rothera, the onset of spring and summer brings many new arrivals to the base. With the busy summer season due to start in less than 4 weeks much of October was taken up by preparing the base for the new arrivals.

However, the first of the new arrivals was probably some of the most welcome. The first of the Weddell seal pups arrived at the end of September, but it was closely followed by three or four more in the first few days of October. Most of them were out on the slowly fracturing sea ice but one of the newborns was just a few feet off the rocks in North Cove. Looking like a wrinkly bag of fur when they are born they grow with an astonishing speed, their ferocious appetite meaning that all they seem to do for the first few weeks is suckle. Watching them grow over the past 8 weeks has been amazing, with now the only way to tell the difference between the mother and pup is by the state of the fur, and also that the pups are still quite inquisitive when we wonder around the point taking photos.

Much of our time during October was spent clearing snow from round the base. The boys from the garage, Scotty (Iain) and Vacant (Paul) spent much of the month driving up and down the runway in the snow blowers. The rest of us donned the high tech shovel and dug out doors, windows, balconies and any other areas that had not been used over the winter. Every time we seemed to clear one section it would blow overnight and drift in again, so it seemed a never ending task.

The benefit of all the fresh snow meant that we could get off base occasionally and make some fresh tracks in deep soft powder. Making the best use of the occasional good weather that we got at weekends, Dougal and I got out to Stork Bowl, which is at the edge of our local travel area. The area is about 4 km from base, and because it is crevassed, requires mountaineering equipment, including ropes, crampons and ice axes to travel through it. A lot of effort but well worth it. The feeling of skiing down a slope through the new snow with only the tracks of your companions is fantastic. Looking back at the slope from the bottom of the run and seeing your tracks cut through the deep powder a joy.

One of the big jobs on base in October was the remodelling of the caboose. The caboose is an emergency shelter that normally lives by the ski-way, where the planes used to land before the runway was built at Rothera. Its role these days is to provide an emergency shelter if people are caught out in bad weather, or if the planes have to land at the skiway instead of the runway, then the crew can use the caboose to shelter in till they are able to get down to base. The main use is to provide a cup of tea to weary folk who are out skiing or climbing. The caboose was brought down to base in September ( see Sept ), and spent much of the time in the garage and outside the chippy shop being remodelled. Nearly everybody on base helped out and the refurbished was returned up to the skyway. It looks much better as you can see from the before and after photos, and now provides a much welcome break from a hard days skiing or climbing!

The reason for all the frantic activity was the arrival of the Air Unit with 3 Twin Otters and the Dash-7, and the commencement of the busy summer season. The first of the Twin Otters arrived on 18th October delayed due to poor weather. The Dash arrived a week or so later again delayed by the poor weather and the thick ice that had caked the runway over the winter. This involved lots of hard work digging out grit from around the base to spread on the runway to help the melting process.

As well as BAS aircraft, Rothera also plays hosts to other aircraft working for other nations. This month we have visitors who have flown on to the South Pole and McMurdo, Terra Nova and Neumayer.

Poor weather over the beginning of November meant delays in a number of arrivals with many people sitting in Stanley gnashing their teeth. Gradually as the weather improved the Dash starting bringing many new and old faces into the base. With the first arrivals, also meant the departure of a number of the winterers. Andy Silvester, relieved to see the Dash arrive ready to take him away, was the first to go home. After a quick handover to the newly arrived plumber, Andy was away. He has kept us entertained over the winter with jokes and stories, and otherwise been an absolute star on base. Also leaving, although temporarily, was Tim Burton. He has gone north to Stanley to meet up with RRS Ernest Shackleton to travel to Halley, as part of his summer field season.

At the end of October we experienced an unexpected site. A lunar eclipse occurred whilst there was a clear sky over the base. The combination of the setting sun and the eclipsed moon made for spectacular sights as the moon gradually changed from bright yellow to a dirty brown, with icebergs faintly lit up below.

Of the new arrivals who have been sitting in Stanley for many days were a group from Windfall Media, who are at Rothera, filming for part of the Christmas lecture series on Channel 4. Professor Lloyd Peck is the presenter for the lecturers, and they arrived to show Lloyd at work in Antarctica, diving, pulling sledges and abseiling down crevasses. All part of Lloyds everyday work! Trying to make up 12 days filming into 5, the 3 man crew worked extremely hard, assisted by the marine team, FGAs and other base members, not finishing until the early hours of the morning on some occasions.

Well that’s about it for the last 2 months. Finally after not having a web diary for the past 6 months we have caught up. Thanks to Dave Wattam at BAS Cambridge for sorting out the mess of data for the last 6 months worth of diaries that I sent him, into something fit for human reading.

Hopefully we will keep on top of it over the summer and keep it up to date.

Fin O’Sullivan