As you read this I should hopefully be ploughing my way across the Drake Passage with no internet access, so some final thoughts before I go. A few big blows have broken up a lot of the ice that was starting to form a thick layer, which gives nice views when the sun pays a visit, though Hero Inlet adjacent to the base is solid with its winter coat of snow there to stay.
One of the most important people on base is the cook; such a small community cannot afford discontent based on bad food.
In addition to morale, he also plays an important role in maintaining good health. The heroic age of Antarctic exploration was dogged by poor nutrition, though with ready access to frozen food and delivery of ‘freshies’ every 6-8 weeks that is not a problem here. Nevertheless, I have of necessity eaten food well beyond the ‘sell by’ date over the years at different bases, and get very angry at the profit motive that leads to an obscene waste of discarded food as people slavishly adhere to a very conservative ‘best before’ timescale. Treated well, it takes months for fruit to go off, eggs last an age, and someone last night told me how they used to eke out vegetables for the 9 months isolation experienced at South Pole! Some people get obsessed by taking vitamin supplements, but in reality Vitamin D is probably the only one needed (we hide our skin from UV burn in the summer, and frostbite in the winter).
Ever had to plan a family shop for more than a week? Spare a thought for our logistics team that have to cater for a variable ‘family’ of between 24 and 64 for 3-6 months at a time, planning in advance for both variety and sufficient stock in case the boat can’t make a delivery for a while. They also need to take care of supplies for the carpenter, plumber, electrician, boatman, electrician etc. And at this time of year they have the additional responsibility for ensuring everyone’s luggage gets here/leaves on time – quite a task!
Entertainment on base is of course home-grown. The day starts with most people glued to the NY Times news summary, but more importantly the crossword (which keeps many going until evening). The base band practices regularly, and has a number of talented musicians: Harry (carpenter) on lead guitar, Kris (waste management) on bass guitar and sax, Adina (electronics tech) on fiddle, keyboards and vocals. Bob the base commander holds it together on drums and vocals. The very good farewell jam session was much appreciated.
And that’s it – cargo and samples are packed away, now its time to catch up on lost sleep and think about how we’re going to process the huge amount of data we’ve accumulated over an intense 3 months of experiments. It was exhausting but (I hope!) worthwhile, and certainly enjoyable. I have lots of memories to take back with me, including surprise visitors (see http://youtu.be/EnD9rJ-A95M – this is the view from outside my lab , look out for the Leopard seal popping up for air before diving under the ice) and some stunning sunsets.