30 June, 2010 Rothera
The month of June is one of great celebration in the Antarctic; it is the month when the days are at their shortest and the sun remains below the horizon. During this month we celebrate the Midwinter solstice, with a week-long holiday on base centred around Midwinter’s day, the shortest day of the year and one which is full of tradition for Antarctic winterers all over the continent.
For us at Rothera, June continued where May had left off, with strong winds and drifting snow. This combined with the short daylight meant that outdoor activities were heavily curtailed and some of the more active base members were missing being out. Most folk, though, were still being kept busy with other tasks, namely completing their winter gifts ready for Midwinter’s day. For myself and several others we were kept especially active by taking part in ‘Race Antarctica’, a challenge within BAS to travel the equivalent distance from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to the opposite side of the continent; a journey of 6000km, to be covered as teams of six by running, cycling, rowing, skiing, etc. So throughout June the gym got a lot of use as the miles were racked up.
There were also four birthdays celebrated this month, those of Bruce Maltman, Mike Stainer (AKA Smiler), Jon James (JJ), and Ben Tibbetts.
On the 10th June we marked the point at which the sun had set below the horizon (although we had lost sight of the sun several weeks earlier behind the mountains that surround the base). We congregated at the flagpole for Alan (our oldest base member) to lower the flag. This was by now rather worn and tattered (the flag, that is, not Alan), and back in the canteen, with a cup of tea to warm up again, it was raffled off. Mike our comms man won the flag and it is now his to keep as a memento of the winter.
With Midwinter imminent, plans were made for Midwinter’s week and production was stepped up a gear to complete winter presents. All too soon for many, who were still putting on last coats of varnish and polish to their gifts. Midwinter day began with the Base Commander (me) delivering breakfast in bed to the scientists and support teams.
We continued long standing tradition of watching ‘The Thing’, probably one of the finest pieces of cinematic genius ever created, and a true representation of life in the Antarctic. Obviously we no longer have the dogs down here but I am glad to say that the flamethrowers, cupboards packed with explosives, and battling alien foes are still a daily part of life in this barren wilderness!!
At 4pm the evening’s festivities began as we each gave our Midwinter’s presents to their recipients. There were some fantastic and beautifully crafted presents to be seen; I received a framed, hand drawn panorama of the Ellsworth Mountains, a great reminder of my time spent down there. Other presents included an electric powered model skidoo, a handmade quilt, and potentially the oddest present was a framed set of fishing flies, each one made using the hair from each one of the winterers — strange, but very nice.
After presents given it was time for dinner — a lavish affair laid on by Justin our chef, it consisted of eight courses. After the starting courses we had a break from eating in order to head over to the comms tower where we could listen to an HF broadcast by the BBC World Service with a song of our choice (we chose Times Like These by the Foo Fighters) as well as messages from friends and family back home and even a special message from Rolf Harris saying hello to all us Antarctic winterers on the BAS bases.
Then it was back to the dining room for the main course of Marinated Ostrich Steaks with Red Wine Lentils (it really is tough out here in the wilderness).
The winter Olympics was organised by the GAs during Midwinter’s week and included such events as ski and snowboard slalom, ice climbing, javelin (using bog chisels), skidoo time trails, and box stacking.
Midwinter’s week was also the first outing for the new Rothera band called ‘Snow Rhythm’. Despite the band name they certainly did have rhythm and performed some great covers.
For me another winter is passing its halfway point and again I am wishing there was more time left. This is a very special place and each winter team shares a great experience, I am lucky enough to be wintering with a fantastic group of people whom I look at as being much more than just friends and workmates.