Rothera Diary — January 2010

30 January, 2010 Rothera

Power Downs and Parties

The year is 2010, the month is January my task to write about the trials and tribulations of base life down at Rother research station. Well then let me begin at once. The year was welcomed in by a rather grand shindig which saw the vehicle mechanics garage converted into a highly apt venue that had a stage, a lighting rig, a wall projector, a dance floor and even a mirror ball suspending from the ceiling. The entertainment was supplied by means of several live band performances and a few DJ sets. The evening was a huge success and widely enjoyed by all. New Year’s Day was a work free day for most of the base a small group of us gathered on the apron at 4 o’clock to play football for a few hours before we were treated to a sumptuous new year’s banquet. The R & R of course wasn’t going to last forever and it was soon back to full steam ahead. There were some ice cores from the LARISSA project that arrived on base to be stored at −25°C and, on the 1st Monday of the year, the science was back on centre stage with a very informative science talk about the hole in the ozone layer. For the technical services department, work got underway with the modernization programme of the pump house, early prep work was started for the installation of a new U.V. sterilisation unit on the sewage treatment plant too.

During the 1st week of work, 5 others and myself were treated to a recreational boat trip down through Ryder bay. It was the first time I had been on a boat trip since arriving in early December. As our little RIB weaved in and out of the bergy bits (no folks that’s not a made up word. It is the technical term for small ice bergs) I got to see these ice jewels up close and personal. The whole experience was just amazing, our whole crew looked like a snappy happy boat of tourists (which, in fairness, we were) taking 200 photos per minute. But no photo can ever fully capture the majestic beauty of each truly unique berg. The colours are a wonderful a mixture of dark and light blues that radiate from every hole, slit and cut on the berg, no matter how good your lens is it just never picks it all up. We even passed a few lazy Seals lounging around on a rather flat berg and the boat was probably no more the 5 metres away. There was a Leopard seal and a couple of Weddell seals. It was quite intimidating to see these large mammals in their home turf. We were entering their world, floating right past their front door. If they so wished they could easily sunk the boat, the Leopard seal was only a youngster but was roughly 7 foot long and 2 foot wide. It popped it’s head up to watch the intruders as they coasted passed then soon resumed the horizontal position and went back to sleep.

We carried on through the bergs and finally stopped a hundred meters or so from the edge of the Glacier. I felt very humbled by the sight of it protruding into the water, standing 4, maybe 5, stories high and emitting a deep crystal blue glow. The engine was turned off and we just sat there listing to the sound of the water lapping against the bergs and the slight whistle of the wind as it blew through the holes in some of them — it was very tranquil. We stood there silent in awe for several minutes. I had been on base for just over a month and it was only then that I genuinely started to appreciate the elegant charm of my surroundings. Working behind the scenes on the maintenance and up keep of the base I spend a lot of time in plant rooms, lofts, boiler houses etc. (When I say plant rooms, I don’t mean one in which you might find some tomatoes, peppers and chillies growing. Seeing that there is no plant life more advanced then grass on this continent that would be unlikely) and during these jobs I could in fact be anywhere. It’s only when I get outside and see the views that I am reminded of just where I am.

The Pump house was re-clad and I had to refit some electrical services, which gave me a bit of time outside, and I was lucky enough to be blessed with unbroken sunshine all day long. It actually felt quite hot as I was sheltered from the wind by the boatshed and the transport aquarium. I had to laugh, as I remembered seeing the headline — “Britain in the middle of a big freeze” only the evening before. I thought of the irony of me travelling half way across the world to get to see some real snow just a month before Britain had its biggest snow coverage in years, and there I was basking in the sunshine.

The weekend of the 9th was a joint birthday celebration for two of the met girls. Being that this is Antarctica and everything has a theme, one way or another, this night was no different. The theme was ‘weather related hats’. There was a formal dinner which had a very Indian feel, then drinks at the bar with a few tunes being played on the 1’s and 2’s. Another good night enjoyed by all.

Sunday the weather had changed, it was rather dull and grey. Undeterred I made the effort and went up to Vals with a few others for a spot of snowboarding but found the going a tad to icy for a beginner like me. Sunday even saw the weekly poker game in which the army plumber took victory.

Monday and it was back to work. The pump house project was complete and it was on to the Bonner lab aquarium. Some new experiments were to be started soon and they required some more electrical supplies. The dash had arrived early in the week with some more people and then departed on Thursday taking away some of the friendly companions I had gotten to know. Friday was very windy but it didn’t stop our regular evening football match there were a few new faces on the teams which is always a good sight.

On the Saturday the Air mechanics hosted a barbeque that was awash with the finest cut’s of South American beef I had ever seen. The weather was no different from what you would expect to see back in Britain, overcast and grey but mercifully calm. I feasted well on the choice meats and sampled some Chilean beer. It was a good opportunity to get to know some of the new people on base. After the barbeque there was a traditional Scottish Ceilidh which had been arranged by one of the Bonner lab scientists to celebrate her 30th birthday. I had only ever been to one Ceilidh before, which, funnily enough, was at the BAS conference only a couple of months ago, so I found it all a bit strange and new but never the less I got involved with the crazy old school dancing and had a very enjoyable night.

With another weekend over it was back out on the frontline of base maintenance. This week was to be a very busy one. There were fresh water pump sets to be installed in the winter accommodation block and the Bonner lab as well as a planned power down on the Wednesday. Unfortunately for the tech services team the most convenient time to have the power down was 21:30 which meant a lot of the guys had to work late. This didn’t dampen our lively spirits though the team pulled together and got on with the job in hand. One of the cooling radiators had become blocked with dirt and grit and required a good clean out. This couldn’t be done with the generator engines running as there was a distinct possibility of losing an arm or a leg to the cooling fan. If the fan was stopped with the engines running we would have less the 5 minutes before the whole system would overheat and that was a time scale even the swiftest of men would fail to meet. So the whole base would have to remain powerless whilst the covers and guards were removed and the radiator could be attacked with a large industrial vacuum, two hours later power was restored successfully much to the delight of the rest of the base who somehow had managed to struggle on through, with no internet, DVD players or Hi-Fis for two whole hours.

The day after the power down was my birthday and some one was looking out for me because it was a stunner, beaming sunshine and not much wind at all. After work I went off base to a nearby weather station with our wintering met girl Rebecca to collect some data. This was the first time I had been so far off base. After 20 minutes on a skidoo there was absolutely no signs of human civilisation it was amazing, the views really took my breath away.

That weekend was another big one. We had our annual visit by the Lawrence M Gould a U.S science vessel. They arrived in the morning. A group of 20 of us went on board, half to undertake some marine science and the other half (including me) just came for the jolly. Our American friends gave us a guided tour of the ship (which included the galley where I came across the biggest and most tastiest cookies I had ever encountered!) we got to see the labs and have a wander around. The ship departed for a local cruise to go and deploy some CTDs. After the cruise there was an oil spill response exercise and then the most important part of the day was the football match. A yearly tradition in which we do battle on the pitch against our U.S. cousins. Move of the match — Skinner tackled an advancing yank just yards from our goal and he slipped it to Wedlake. Wedlake sent it down the wing to Bowen, who chipped a cross in to Gerrard. Gerrard made a sweet pass across the goal face to Withers, Withers connected well and sent it in to the back of the net! It was just like watching Brazil play. The final result was 4–0 to Rothera.

That evening there was another party in the mech’s garage. The bands played a blinding set. They were even joined by a chap from the Gould who turned out to be one of the finest Blues guitar players I had heard in a long while. After the bands had finished the decks came out, and John and I kept the music flowing till late in the night. That morning we waved goodbye to our special visitors and I got out and about on a boat trip to the islands.

The last week of January was a bit more relaxed, and there was a visit from the Gould’s bigger sister the Nathaniel B Palmer. I also managed to get two days free to become trained up to crew the boats — an experience which I truly enjoyed. The month finally drew to a close with the birthday of my room mate and very good friend John and a marvellous day snowboarding up Vals. As another month passed by I thought where has it all gone? Time has a funny way of flying by down here. Have I really been here for two months? It doesn’t seem like it, how will I feel after another 14 months? Will much change over the winter? Only time will tell. If the last two months is anything to go by I am in for a treat. As this month comes to an end all that is left for me to do is wish you all back at home a very happy 2010. May the force be with you.

Nathan Bowen

2010 wintering electrician