Our long weekend in Rothera-on-Sea
At last! I have managed to sneak a few moments in my cabin to 'blog again. Sorry it's been so long, dear readers, but for a while not much of note happened (apart from the usual consumption of mega-calories) and then all of a sudden there was a flurry of activity such that I was unable to write. Anyway, here goes:
Since my last entry we have been out to the shelf break and done a fair few CTDs out in the deeper water, including a few casts that featured polystyrene cups attached to the CTD in socks. This is an old 'outreach' trick to demonstrate the effect of ocean pressure to school kids - the cups go down the size of a coffee mug and after 3000 decibars or so of pressure come up looking like tiny rustic shot glasses.
After all that deep-ocean frivolity the cruise was basically finished so I was allowed to come off night watches and see daylight again. After my last watch I slept for 18 hours to celebrate, interrupted only by a 20-minute trip to the duty mess to eat a plate of 'German' sausage and Sauerkraut. At least I don't think that was a dream because Bobby George wasn't there.
However, we were not totally freed from our shackles because we had a few fairly large odds and ends to tie up before going home. We called in at BAS's Rothera base to do the 'last call' before the winterers are left to face the elements unaided until about November. This involved taking on a reasonable amount of 'gash' (rubbish) and collecting a consignment of thirsty builders who have been working hard all summer on a new building for the base. Here are some tasty photos I took on the way into Rothera:
We also had to use the JCR's big cranes to collect an oceanographic mooring which was nearby. Here are some photos of that. The big conical things are sediment traps, designed to catch the bits and pieces of wildlife as they sink through the water column.
It was a good day for photos all round, and got even better when a Minke whale turned up, attracted by the acoustic signals we were sending to the mooring to make it pop up to the surface after languishing underwater for a year.
After the extremely hard work of watching the crew doing that we needed to unwind, so we went for a short constitutional around the base before dinner. Conquering the north face of the 'point' gave panoramic views of the ship, the mountains, the base, and my pink nose. To liven things up I decided that the walk would be more fun if I posed as a Cossack dancer whose hot-air balloon had been blown off course over Krygystan.
After that mammoth expedition, lasting over 20 minutes, we were thankful to get back to the ship, which we had been missing terribly. That night we had the end-of-cruise dinner, which was a smart affair involving yet more wearing of the tie. However, this time the tie-sporting was combined with champagne and speeches. It was a bit like my wedding but without the mother-in-law jokes.
The next day we went for another stroll around the base. We saw lots of fur seals and a few Elephant seals. They were generally in a feisty mood and up for a rumble but luckily the Doc is well-experienced at scaring them off with his fearsome growling and stick-work. See how they cower. Shortly after we left they went back to their natural behaviour of clapping and balancing balls on their noses.
To give you an idea of the damage they inflict on each other in the name of land-ownership, have a look at these two bruisers leaking on a floe; reminds me of another mammalian species with power-sharing 'issues'. I did wait until they woke up to ensure that they were alive, in case you were worried.
And the day after that? Why, we went on a stroll around the base again. We were starting to realise why winterers start gnawing the runway and brandishing axes at the moon three days after the last ship has left. Actually I am exaggerating, because it was all fun; this time one of the field assistants kindly led us up the icy 'ramp' nearby and we had a very dignified ride in a Skidoo followed by a Queensbury-rules snowball fight.
After an enjoyable Easter break in Rothera and a couple of days of bar-swapping with the locals, we left for more adventure on the high seas. For the winterers this was presumably quite an important moment as it signified their severance from the wider world. The whole crowd came down to wave us off and clear out the backlog in their pyrotechnics cupboard. For god's sake look after our people.
However, the fun didn't end there. Our dauntless captain Graham was not content with following the well-trodden open-ocean path back to Stanley and instead decided that conditions were right for a swath-buckling sojourn through 'The Gullet', a not-often-used passage between islands. It held some of the most stunning sights of the trip (and hence my life) so far, with blue-tinged glacier-covered mountains rising vertiginously from a translucent and beautifully calm sea. The light wasn't great for photography but you get the gist from these:
Needless to say there were many camera memory cards filled up that day.
On the way out we saw some Humpback whales, which was nice. Apparently Lester recognised a Killer Whale as well, but I could only see a grey blur in the distance.
So that's it really. I am now steaming North and only a day away from Stanley, where I will rest a bit and get used to civilisation for a day before flying home to good old Britain. From the sound of the barbecue schedule it has been quite clement over there so I look forward to seeing something green again. All that remains is for me to say thanks for reading, and a paticular thank-you to the UK taxpayers out there for funding the cruise.
PS: It has come to my attention that I am being mocked by certain malevolent elements out there in blogland. Probably a bunch of pasty land-lubbers who don't know their bilge-pump from their cratch. I can assure you that I will do everything in my power to have the perpetrators downgraded to bottle-washing if they ever set foot on an Antarctic research cruise. So there.