Week One – a bit of a blur

November 11th, 2005

Goodness me, doesn’t time fly? I’ve been at Rothera for ten days now, and have only just got time to sit down and write another blog entry. “Freshers Week” here at the University of Antarctica is definitely a busy time – here are some of the things I’ve been doing:

  • Base training: how to use the shredder and baler to dispose of waste; where to go to get toothpaste/suncream/razors and the like; first aid refresher; skidoo and Gator (wheeled buggy) driving lessons; health and safety
  • Basic field training: ropes and harnesses; snow anchors; walking on snow slopes; ice axe arrests; linked travel (walking roped up so that if one person goes down a crevasse, the other can rescue them); use of crampons and ice screws. We also did basic campcraft, which involved putting up tents and staying overnight on the skiway, which is on the mountainside above the base. You can’t see the base from there, so putting up our tents in a 30-50 knot wind was a taste of the “real Antarctic”. But they didn’t blow away, and we were all pretty warm in the morning, thanks to the immensely warm BAS sleeping system.
  • Learning the job: talking to field parties on the radio, talking to aeroplanes, passing messages to people and dealing with the computer system. We’ve been doing a lot of flying recently to put depots of fuel in for the start of the field season, so I’ve had a lot of time in the tower doing flight following. Several days this week I’ve been working from 0700 until 2130. Now that we have two more radio operators, Pete and Owen (they arrived on the Dash7 earlier this week) we should have a more reasonable workload.
  • Skiing: I’ve had one lesson, and am enjoying it. I’ve not managed to get out since, due to work pressures and variable weather
  • Wildlife spotting: I’ve seen one Adelie penguin (from a distance), and been introduced to Bubba, the “base skua” – skuas are large brown birds, looking like a big fluffy seagull sprayed mud-brown, and they scavenge whatever they can find – penguin eggs, carrion, whatever. Rothera’s had base skuas since it began – the original pair were called George and Mildred – but Bubba appeared last year to take over the territory after George finally passed away. They have a voracious appetite – apparently George was known to be able to eat 7 cold sausages and still just about take off!
  • Co-piloting: this is a bit of a jolly, but for work reasons! The Twin Otters are certified to fly with a single pilot, but BAS rules say that no-one leaves the base perimiter alone. The solution: people from round the base get allocated to co-pilot on routine flights, keeping the pilot company and getting to see more of the world beyond Rothera Point. I went to Fossil Bluff on a fuel run: we have a hut there that’s manned during the summer (it was a wintering station in the 1960s) and a huge fuel dump that’s used to refueld the planes as they fly further south. Most of the journey was cloudy, but I did get to see the huge rock formations around Fossil Bluff as Alan (the pilot) wanted to do some recces for work later in the season. Flying low over big mountains and glacial valleys affords a pretty stunning view.
  • Recreation: Saturday night is always a special evening at Rothera: there’s a more formal meal at 8pm, followed by general drinking and merriment. As it was a clear evening, we sat outside before dinner, drinking G&Ts on the verandah in our shirt-sleeves – the strong sunshine makes you feel warm even though the temperature was -5 Celcius. On Sunday evening, much later, I managed to speak to a chap in Alaska on the amateur radio frequencies, and he was having colder weather than us, much to his surprise!

Anyway, I’ll try and write more, and take more pictures this week.

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