Well that was all a bit of a blur…
Given the obvious lack of posts by myself you’ve probably worked out that I have either had lots to do or nothing to report, in this case there’s been a fair bit to report, it’s just that I’m trying to cope with life at one hundred miles per hour again, something that’s a little hard to do when you’ve been used to the lethargic day to day pace of an Antarctic Winter.
Contrary to our still lingering thoughts on last years long and difficult journey through the pack ice this year the ship shot through the ice with little trouble and was close enough to station to deploy the high priority passengers to us by Helicopter on the 5th of November. The sudden influx of about fifty people was a bit of a wake up call, all the station vehicles were being woken from their hibernation, inductions were being run, the radio was full of chatter and plans were being actioned. The ship in the meantime chomped it’s way through the final few kilometres of thick fast ice to get to within a position close enough to station that we could run out the fuel pipeline the next day. The fuel pipeline is approx four kilometres long and is used to pump the 700,000 litres of fuel to refill the stations tanks, the operation itself is pretty swift but is dependent on the ships ability to get close enough to station – If the ship can’t get close enough they have to fill large 1000 litre containers and sling load them via helicopters ashore which as you can imagine is expensive, weather dependent and takes a fair amount of time. Parallel to all this the ‘cargo ops’ is being run to unload the materials, food & mail for the forthcoming season which sees a constant traffic flow of heavy plant, noise, more radio chatter and the largest display of hi vis clothing I’ve seen for some time..
For my part (Communications) we aren’t as visibly busy to others during resupply but the workload increases the second the first person steps off the ship. The most noticeable change for us is that the increased numbers on station (approx 84 currently) bring with them the worlds supply of digital gadgets that all need connecting to the network, iPads, iPhones, tablets, laptops, desktops & kindles all arrive in their droves and unlike a few years ago where someone would have had maybe only one device or laptop quite a few people (most actually) appeared at our door clutching an array of different bits and bobs that they desperately needed connecting to the internet as if their life support system was about to fail and they only had thirty minutes to live. The change in human nature and how we perceive that we ‘must’ have constant connectivity over that past decade is something I find funny to watch – I won’t deny that I have felt that ‘disconnect’ when I’m offline for a period of time but the thing I find most interesting is that when suddenly ‘reconnected’ again and you burst onto Facebook or whatever social media stream you’re hooked into you realise that actually nothing has happened whilst you were offline and that you really are quite sad and pathetic..:-)
The oddest part about resupply for me was that as soon as it started it seemed to finish, it was without doubt one of the best resupplies on record in terms of efficiency and planning but when it’s finished there is no fanfare, no celebration and no period to dwell on the success, the ship is loaded, hatches are closed, gangways are lifted and the ship is gone again chomping its way back through the ice to Hobart for it’s next mission. Resupplies are carried out with a ban on alcohol which certainly makes a lot of sense, the number of people arriving on station who’ve not been here before along with the mix of heavy machinery use in unfamiliar conditions certainly wouldn’t be helped if those working were impaired but with that we also lose the chance to have that final few beers to celebrate the year and say goodbye to our colleagues that we’ve spent the last fifteen months with. Just over half of the winter team boarded the ship to return to Hobart, we decided that we’d walk out to the ship together rather than drive which was good, it was a little weird, we were quieter than I expected and to some degree less visibly emotional too, funny to think that the ship is heading back with only eleven returning passengers, a bit different from our trip down here last year when we would be three or four people to a cabin they’d be getting three or four cabins each to themselves which would be very nice.
So we’re back into the swing of it now, containers are being unpacked, aviation is being utilised to move people around the local area and off to other stations, the internet access has practically ground to a halt and the place is generally livelier, a great deal more social and you seem to have very little time to do anything for yourself. I’ve no doubt the next few months will fly by, last Summer was the same, the only difference now is that we’ve lost some of the ownership of the station as we’ve handed over to the new team for the next year – We are no longer winterers, we are just summerers who are staying on, we don’t look after the Fire team or ERT, we can just kick back and enjoy just doing our jobs without the additional community roles that we use to need to fulfill – It’s a weird feeling having to hand over your ‘home’ to another group of people who don’t know how it works yet but that’s the way it is, that is the system in which we work and has done for many years..
So the 67th ANARE is now officially over and we’re into the 68th, we received our wintering team Antarctic medals and now have our team pic up in the link walkway – the link contains the pics of all the Wintering teams back to when the station was originally setup back in 1957 so we now occupy our own little piece of history on the wall.
But for now its phase three of my Antarctic stint, the home stretch which will possibly bring us over the “five hundred days in Antarctica” milestone, however, with anything out here you have to remain flexible to possibility of change, either way, bring it on…. 🙂