Today, Sunday 3rd February 2013, is a little sad and anticlimatic – the ship has sailed, leaving seventeen of us to man the station until next summer. Note the choice of words (man the station) and don’t worry, the bad jokes and innuendo are rife already. This is the first year since 1993 that Davis winterers been all been male. In fact there are no women on any of the Australian bases this winter for the first time since 1986. [Post script: these facts are incorrect, see comments] If the ship arrives on time, normally late October or early November, we will be on our own for around 9 months. I’m not sure whether I should have mentioned that book I read about island strandings due to shipwrecks and mutinies. Especially in a time of budget cuts and a ship at the end of it’s life (please, pay your taxes!)
Up until now summer has been action packed. I’ve just finished my technical monthly report which was a good reminder of how much I haven’t done. It was a little reminiscent of when I marked assignments back in university – while you do wish everyone success, there is something satisfying about just being honest, and saying it like it is. Accept the present and your future is a whole lot easier.
Having said that, I have come a long way after being thrown in the deep end… we did have technical training in Melbourne, but we’ve had a lot of other stuff to remember since then, and of course it is always a little different when you get down here. I had a few technical challenges throughout the summer which helped to build confidence and experience, but otherwise my usual approach is to stand back and avoid tinkering, rather than be that monkey playing random piano keys who eventually plays Beethoven’s Fifth…
Aside from work, there has been the glorious pastime of observing the weather… oh, actually, that’s work too! It’s actually quite a meditative process. Once you have it figured out you fall into an automatic routine and the day goes by quickly. Slowly but surely though I’m trying to sharpen my skills. The afternoon meteorological balloon release used to be a good gauge of your reckoning. You know you’ve got it when you can pick the height of clouds to within a hundred feet. Now that summer has finished however we will only do the morning balloon. I might use the extra time to start reading that 685 page book on Antarctic Weather Forecasting!
January has been busy with Search and Rescue (SAR) training. Seven of us winterers were chosen to be in the SAR team. We were told that although the more likely scenario would involve far more search than rescue, we’d go straight onto the glamorous bit of throwing ropes off rocks and abseiling off ice anchors with a stretcher. Oh, and most days we’ll do this in an exotic location, accessed by helicopter. Sounds good to me! And it was, one of the highlights of the trip. Are we willing to sacrifice our Sunday to be flown by helicopter to a wind scour on the edge of the ice plateau? Ok, as long as you let me bring my camera!
Yes, flying is definitely a key highlight of the summer period as far as I’m concerned. If I was asked to do another summer that would be the first thing I’d be thinking about. The other great thing about summer is the social side of things. There was always plenty of people to talk to and it was very easy to socialise for hours and hours each evening, if not all day. Winter projects are just that – they could be shelved for later! Saturday nights were pretty lively and I got dragged along to play in the band. We established ourselves pretty well with our first New Years Eve set. Our next set for Australia day (moved forward to 20th January for us) was a little haphazard as we’d had trouble arranging any practice sessions, but just as we were finishing up our set the crowd moved onto the dance floor and we had no choice but to perform. Songs were downloaded off the internet on the fly and surprisingly we seemed to mesh better unprepared (or warmed up?). For that and the next gig, just before departure on resupply, I’d let slip that I had a violin with me so got out the lubricant spray to loosen the bow tightener which had seized due to lack of use. I still played lead electric guitar for most songs but with our amp troubles and my habit of playing by ear it was a little easier to play with a surprisingly loud reverbrating chamber right next to my ear.
When it was time for the ship to arrive, the wind piped up and we got our biggest blow of the summer to date. The only other time it was that windy was a few days later, when it interrupted the week long resupply operation. Both times the ship made itself scarce to avoid passing icebergs. While according to the schedule I had most of the week off, it was of course another busy one. Three techs were round tripping to redo the pipework on the Hydrogen facility in the Met building. I learned what I could and nervously monitored the state of my once-tidy workshop (they did a very good job of cleaning up afterwards!). I was also pretty happy to get out on the water for a couple of four hour shifts monitoring the line to the ship during the 18 hour diesel refuelling operation. The second shift in particular was just magic, with sunrise shortly after our 4am start and light winds abating to calm, before it clouded up again at the end of our shift.
Finally we said our goodbyes to the summerers, who we really have had a lot of fun with over the last two months. The fly in the ointment was the passing away of our Canadian friends, who flew and stayed with us most of the summer before leaving us for Canada – their twin otter aircraft crashed after leaving the South Pole. A consolation is that they had a great season with us and the tragedy happened only a week before our summer program was due to finish.
At midday the two helicopters were stowed away on the ships deck and the anchor was pulled, as we watched and let off flares on the beach. Their first stop is Mawson station to do the resupply there before they return to Hobart, perhaps in a months time. Now we will transition into winter mode, with more time for winter projects, jollies (recreational field trips), and getting to know each more intimately (whether this sex deprived humour lasts remains to be seen!)