Saturday, November 25, 2006

The end of winter approaches

Sometimes we need a reminder of what life is like in the real world, just in case we start to think that what we have down here is in some way normal. To this end Simon gave an interesting talk and slide show at the beginning of the month, showing us shots from various canoeing trips on the rivers of Scotland, and a ski touring holiday in Austria. OK, so the ski touring photos were quite similar to here, but the rest was a good opportunity to see some green scenery and trees.

Then a couple of days later to further highlight the changes happening here, we all had a trip on a cruise ship. Well not quite. In order to celebrate Vicki's birthday we decided to do a murder mystery party for dinner. If you've not done one of these before, everyone is given a character to play, and with the aid of a few clues and hints has to work out the identity of the murderer, usually good fun and a chance for everyone to bring out their inner sleuth. Ours was set on a 1920s cruise liner, and after much costume making, overacting, and accusations and counter-accusations, it turned out Simon was the dastardly murderer.

Straight from an Agatha Christie novel......... - Photo by Anto

Having had a fairly quiet week on nights (although we're now well into 24hr daylight), I was taking advantage of some good weather to raise a few catenaries when I was interrupted by John asking me and Jules to go and check the skiway. Skiway is a bit of a grand term for a line of drums in the snow marking where the planes should land, but nevertheless we checked they were still all there as we were due to have to some unexpected visitors. It turns out that the DC3 that had visited the previous week had run into difficulties and a search and rescue plane was coming through on it's way to help them out. Luckily no-one on the DC3 was hurt, they had just landed on some unexpectedly rough terrain and hit a large sastrugi, breaking a wheel strut and a propeller. Luckily there are agreements in place between the various Antarctic operators so in the event of a problem help can be called upon. In this instance a Twin Otter run by one of the tourist companies was coming through, so we had some more new people to meet, and had a very good evening entertaining the Canadian crew.

ALE Twin Otter at the skiway - Photo by Jules

The good weather continued for a while so I took advantage and spent a couple of pleasant hours sitting outside reading and enjoying the sunshine. It's a bit strange having the smell of suncream in the air but still wearing several layers of clothing and not being on a beach. Vicki and I also managed what seemed like a mammoth ski out to the 5k marker and back. Luckily we made it back in time to finish cooking dinner.

Preparation for summer is picking up pace now with more base jobs to do. One of the main jobs is cleaning the melt tank. This involves everyone having the luxury of extra long showers (a whole 4 minutes!) in order to use up the water so that people can climb into the melt tank and give it a good scrub out. Once this is done we should be able refill with water from the Drewry melt tank, but unfortunately this time there were problems with frozen pipes so we spent about a week doing daily water runs from the Drewry to the Laws in order to maintain a workable water supply. Luckily the tech services guys here pulled out all the stops and got things working again fairly quickly so we were able to do some washing again.

Filling a transit tank with water to take to the Laws

Also on the list of base jobs has been getting the Drewry, our summer accommodation building, fit for habitation as it is shut down for the winter with no heating so requires a bit of fettling and a good clean out to get going again, and various bits of sledge clearing and drum raising. As a result I've been frantically trying to locate all the bits of IT equipment that I took out of the Drewry at the end of last summer to make sure they still work, but I think I've found them all now.

All that was left to complete our preparations for summer was our end of winter celebrations. As usual on special occasions Nic produced a fantastic spread for dinner, and then we got the various instruments out and had a musical evening in the bar. Luckily we got a lie in the next day as we changed our clocks back to GMT -3 to put us in line with Rothera and the other bases. All that remains now is for the summer people and next year's winterers to arrive. Due to various logistical problems things are running a bit behind schedule but we expect to see the first summerers later this week, with most people arriving on the ship around the middle of December.