Friday, March 03, 2006

Back to base

Once back at Rothera it was nice to be able to get on and do things, so I managed to keep myself busy helping the Comms guys laying some cables and sorting through some maps. Some of the older maps of Antarctica are hugely entertaing, consisting of nothing more than a blank sheet of gridlines, with perhaps one line where a sledge party travelled in 1956. Some are more detailed though and it was interesting to get an idea of the geography of the continent, and also realise just how much of it has never been seen. Rothera was quite busy with field parties starting to pack up and return, and also a few other visitors such as a DC3 full of Russians, a helicopter from a German ship, a yacht with a Canadian film crew, and the BAS ship James Clark Ross.

DC3 landing at Rothera International Airport

Enjoyable though Rothera was, I was keen to get back home to Halley and see everyone, so was quite glad when, despite winds and overnight snow, Ian the pilot announced that we'd be heading out. The flight itself was quite long, 6 hrs at about 12000 feet with mostly cloud to look at. When we arrived at Halley I was flattered to see that a small crowd had turned out to say hello. It wasn't until we were taxiing that I realised it was the samba band, drums and all, who were playing to welcome me back. It was a really fantastic way to return, and the guys had a done an excellent job of learning a new number while I was away with Alex at the helm. I fear I may soon be redundant as mestre..... Luckily I had come home on the day that there was a planned BBQ and Club Nido night in the garage, so after saying hello to everyone it was straight into burgers curry and beer!

Samba band at the skiway

I'd hate you to think it's all a life of leisure down here though, and as I'd been away for a month and there was only a week until the ship arrived to take people away there was plenty to do. Mike the outgoing Comms manager had been having some problems with the satellite system while I was away so was keen to go through the shutdown and startup procedures, and Richard from the IT department at Cambridge had been performing a server upgrade so there was plenty to show me there. Hopefully we managed to cram enough into the week so I can look after everything over the winter. No doubt I'll discover the gaps in my knowledge as soon as something breaks.

The last week of summer seems to be a flurry of people packing, trying to finish all their summer work, handing over winter work, saying goodbye, and generally panicking that things haven't been done. As a result it was almost eerie when the base suddenly became very quiet. Once the aircraft had left, most of the outgoing people left on one day, out to the ship in a caravan of seven snocats, along with several winterers who were driving the cats back again, so we went from having about 40 people on base to having 8. Without wishing to speak ill of those leaving base, as they've all been wonderful to work with, it was a nice feeling to finally be left with just the 16 of us, our family until October or November when we next see anyone.

The last plane gives a flypast of the Simpson building before leaving

There are several traditions that have grown around life in the Antarctic. One of these is that the outgoing winterers leave little booby traps for the incoming people. We discovered the first when we found that the melt tank was blocked. The melt tank is our water source. Snow is shovelled into a chute that leads down underground to a tank where it is melted to provide all the water for the base. In this instance we found that it was blocked with about 9 metres of snow, which took four of us two and a half hours of shovelling, poking, chipping and swearing to clear. Oh how we laughed.

One tradition that unfortunately we weren't able to take part in due to bad weather is that of waving the ship off at last call, which would have been a fine excuse to go and let some flares off at the edge of the ice shelf. Another tradition that we definitely managed however, is a meal to celebrate the beginning of winter. After a few pre-prandial G & Ts in the bar we were treated to an incredible feast from Nicola our chef, tortillas with a selection of dips to start, steak for main course, and as it was Shrove Tuesday, pancakes to finish. Then back to the bar to celebrate our independence and sample some of the contents of the winter bond. This then led on to one of the newer Antarctic traditions, that of new and exciting haircuts. Possibly it was a mistake when Jules and Kirsty suggested I have a trim at three in the morning, but it seemed a fine idea at the time, and I'm pleased with the result. Some of you will know that I'm no stranger to wierd and wonderful barnets, however those with a weak constitution may wish to look away......

Sorry Mum. That's Jules on the right, it's all his fault.


Anonymous WaterDon said...

Re: the 0300 hair cut - Like an auto wreck, you can't look away no matter how your stomach wants you to.
Is it fair to ask how Kirsty's turned out?

5:03 pm  
Blogger Dave Down South said...

Heh, no Kirsty was playing more of a supervisory role in the haircutting. I think lives would be lost if we tried to so the same to her.....

4:45 pm  
Blogger Bigjuli said...

The hair looks great. It would look even greater if you gelled it everyday. I agree, lives would be lost if we tried to cut her hair....

9:04 pm  

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