Dan's Antarctic Dairy - Weeks Seven & Eight

Sunday 13 February to Saturday 27 February
I've had to cheat for this fortnight; one way or another I've ended up really busy with work and neglected diary writing. I also haven't done much. I lead an exciting life.

The weather has often been bad in areas where we are working and that's meant I've had to spend a lot of time monitoring the weather, looking at satellite pictures and occasionally amending weather forecasts. Bad weather also means down time for operations as well and that's not the best either. One of the hardest things to forecast here seems to be just how bad snow will be. Sometimes when it snows it's pretty heavy and visibility is poor and skies particularly grey. On the other hand there are times when snow is light and doesn't seem to affect visibilty too much. When a big weather system is on the way in and can clearly be seen on the satellite pictures it's obvious how bad snow is going to be, but there have been two or three times during the last couple of weeks when seemingly innocuous bits of cloud, or at least cloud not looking particularly different to other clouds in the area, have led to a fairly prolonged spell of snow accompanied by the sort of cloud and visibilities that render flying difficult or inadvisable.

Anyway, the summer season here has been winding down over the last couple of weeks. Field parties have all been collected and brought back here to be showered, shaved and sent home - some of these field research parties have spent 2-4 months in tents with no showers! The permanently manned bases (Fossil Bluff and Sky Blu) are in the process of being closed....Sky Blu was closed for the winter during the last couple of days and Fossil Bluff will close next week and then that's pretty much it for me - there'll be little more flying after that, and in fact during the next few days the Twin Otter planes will be flying to Calgary, Canada where they are stored 'out of season'. During this time any maintenance work is carried out and I suspect they may be leased out for a time as well. On the whole the weather has been pretty poor this season so the Antarctic Survey haven't got as much done as they'd hoped so I guess they're a little disappointed.

Of course it's not just the planes and field parties that are disappearing. There are a number of people here just down for all or part of the summer who are steadily departing. And some people who have been here for the last year and a half or two and a half years will also be leaving soon. A supply vessel will pick them up at the end of March and take them on to either the Falklands to catch planes back home or sail them all the way back to the UK. I guess an 'end of term' feeling is beginning to develop.

I've remained busy in the kitchen. I am increasingly well acquainted with the potato peeling machine, which can also be used for carrots. However, there are not many fresh potatoes and carrots left now so this little part time job will soon come to end. Fresh vegetables are regularly flown in during the summer when planes return from the Falklands. However, during the winter there is no flying so no new fresh vegetables. No-one gets scurvy though because there's freezers full of food!! The chefs have let me do one or two other things as well though, including borrowing the plumbers blowtorch to knock up a creme brulee. Always a winner this one - it looks incredibly flash using a blowtorch on a dessert just as people are coming into the dining room......and this couldn't possibly be done any earlier because the caramelized sugar turns to syrup if the dessert is left standing for ages. Speaking of food, meals here are very good and food is plentiful. Which means I have turned a little lardier in the last few weeks. Bit of a let down on the self-discipline front.

So what else have I been up to? Well, Rothera is on a small rocky peninsula which sticks out from a snow covered island. We are allowed to walk round the perimeter of this rocky peninsula. Because this rocky peninsula juts out into the sea animals pop along. During the last few weeks there weren't that many animals, just Weddell Seals who are pretty passive and sleepy. They look like big, fat grey slugs but tend to do little even with a camera pointed into their face! During the second half of February more animals have come along. Most annoyingly there are a lot of fur seals about. Fur seals are wankers. They stink of fish and shit. They are rank. They are also nasty - they growl, bark and rear up and will 'have a go'. At Rothera they have no territory and tend, in any case, to be young males so most of the noise and rearing up is show. I'm told. At their colonies they will go for humans. And fur seal bites are nasty - their mouths are full of all manner of bacteria. Anyway, it took me a little while to pluck up the courage to run the gauntlet of walking past fur seals. I can't be doing with grumpy, bad tempered animals. After all, I see one every morning in the mirror when I brush my teeth and admire my beard.

On the plus side there are also a lot of penguins, which is marvellous. Penguins are great fun, and it's just about worth running the fur seal gauntlet to see them. The penguins here are 'in transit' between summer feeding grounds to the north of us and their colonies to the south. They stop here in late summer for some 'r and r' en route and to moult. They have no natural predators on land so they are fairly inquistive and it's possible to get quite close to them by hunching down and moving along slowly towards them. I got within a few feet of penguins a few times which was nice. The ones I've seen are all Adelie Penguins who are 'just' black and white, rather than having yellow and orange bits on them. At first I thought this was disappointing and they weren't 'real' enough penguins for me. But Adelies have really great, playful eyes which can come out really well in photographs. The big Emperor penguins with the yellow and orange bits (these penguins don't come here by the way) have black eyes so are actually much less photogenic. Anyway, these Adelies are fun. They tend to potter about in groups and occasionally squabble and make some interesting tooting noises. I've seen them flap their wings sometimes when I've moved towards them so I wonder if this is a sign of fear. Their wee is yellow, but their poo is green/pink. In fact their poo is quite exciting....I saw one poo the other day and it squirts out from the jotter at a fair pace, and in fact the 'poo streak' tends to extend back a good 30-50cms. So don't stand behind penguins!!!

I'll leave you with that pearl of wisdom....

Penguins. Note the poo squirt.A Weddell Seal I woke up.Smelly, horrible fur seals!

Dan Suri, 26 February 2005. Click here to go to my home page and click  to email me.