Thursday 29 June 2017

Mid Winter Week

Bog Chisel Javlin at the Rothera Winter Olympics
Crate stacking at the Rothera Winter Olympics.
The tower fell over shortly after this. 

Midwinter is a significant event at Rothera. In a tradition that goes back to the days of Scott and Shackleton, mid winter is a time to be celebrate with the people exchanging home made gifts, and marking the start of the lengthening days.

To celebrate this we had a week off work which allowed us time to chill out, make the most of the few hours of daylight we get at this time of year, and enjoy some of the light hearted events such as the Rothera winter Olympics which were organised. I also took the advantage to get out on my skis in the local area, which felt great as I had not been out for a while.

The afternoon the ship left back in April, we all drew names out of a hat for who your winter gift would be for. For the next two and a bit months months people have been putting in many hours in the evening and at weekends working on these gifts. Although inevitably you saw what some others were working on, it generally remained secret as to who peoples gifts were for.
The Lamp made out of an old Primus Stove and Pyramid tent
material that I made for Zac the boatman.  
The main event of the week was midwinter's day itself.
The lovely table that Julie made for me. 
On the afternoon of the 21st we all gathered in the bar to exchange the gifts people had been putting so much effort into. I knew that Julie, one of the other field assistants, had been putting in long hours in the chippie shed. I was therefore suspect that I would get something nice when she announced that her present was for me. It was well wrapped in an old tent, and I finally manged to get the knots out and get into the thing, I found a beautiful table. The legs were made out of an old Nansen sledge. The top of the table was oak with a schematic of the view from Rothera carved in it. Thanks Julie!

After a bit of time examining the gifts, it was was down to the dining room for some food. For the previous few days Trev the chef had been busy preparing an amazing nine course meal.

Theresa opens her gift while Mari gives technical advice.
Checking out the winter gifts. 

Trev and assistant (Steve) serve up another
course of tasty food. 
The first four or so courses of amazing food took us up to around six thirty. We all then headed up to the communication tower to listen to the BBC world services mid-winter broadcast. This was hosted by Welsh singer-singer writer Cerys Mathews. There was personal messages to all the BAS staff overwinter in Antarctica on the three bases; Rothera, King Edward Point and Bird Island (about 38 people in total).

There was also group messages from Sir David Attenborough, Bill Bailey, and John Carpenter. (John Carpenter directed the classic Antarctic horror movie The Thing which we watched later in the week). There were also some gifts from home which had been packed up and sent back in October.
After that is was back to the dining room for another five courses for Trev's food. After that people headed up to the bar, but having eaten all that food, it was not a particularly late one (for me at least).

Monday 5 June 2017

The Polar Night

Looking North at around midday, the sun no longer manages to break northern horizon.
When I arrived in Rothera back in early March it was light until about 9pm. Since then the days have been getting shorter, and the midday sun lower in the sky. In late May it got to the point that even at midday the sun failed to rise above the hills to the North. From then until sometime in mid to late July Rothera would see no direct sunlight. 
Fuchs house in the darkness. 18 or so hours of darkness a day just becomes normal. 
To mark the disappearance of the sun there is traditionally a little ceremony at Rothera. On Friday the 26th of May the flag that usually flutters on the hill above base was lowered. This is always done by the oldest person on base, which this year is Trev the chef. Around midday everybody gathered on the small hill behind base to where the flagpole stands. The wind was light  and the sky overcast and grey day, which added to the atmosphere of the occasion. The flag, by now pretty tattery after 10 months being battered by Antarctic storms and bleached by the intense UV of the summer sunshine, hung limply in the calm conditions.
Samways the station leader speaks.
Paul Samways, the station leader, said a few words about significance of the occasion and how privileged we are to be overwintering in Antarctica. Trev then stepped up, read a little poem that he had written about the occasion and then lowered the flag. This was followed by a shot of whiskey, a group photo and the rest off the day off. In six weeks of so, when the sun returns, the youngest person on base will raise a new flag. 
I am usually not really into flag ceremonies, they often feel a bit contrived to me. However, on this occasion, perhaps because it did represent something significant and also very apparent (the loss of direct sunlight), or perhaps just due to the dynamics of a small group on base, it did feel worthwhile. 
Trev the chef lowers the flag while everybody else looks on. 
The group photo after the flag lowering 
So far I have not found that 18 or so hours of darkness every day has had a negative effect on me. Rothera is only just South of the Antarctic circle, meaning that at even at mid winter there is a few hours of dusky daylight every day.  The fact there is some daylight each day combined with set work and meal times, certainly keeps my body happily ticking away with it's normal  24 hour cycle. The main downside of the darkness for myself is the fact that it limits opportunities to get out and do things at the weekend.
Weekend skiing and climbing is starting to get limited by the short daylight hours. Heading off on a skiing trip before dawn (I think this picture was taken around 10.30am)
The day after the flag down ceremony myself and Steve (one of the other field guides) had a day trip up one of  Stokes Peaks, which, with it's good views to the North was still just getting a little sunshine.  
One advantage of the darkness and lack of light pollution is the opportunity to see the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights)