Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Fid's Christmas in Antarctica

Many feeling a little worse for wear, the Fids gathered on the monkey island under a cloudless sky to greet our Christmas visitors. At 12:20 the bright red Twin Otter appeared on the horizon and came in low, buzzing the bow to waves and cheers from the crowd. The official purpose of the flight was to inspect the sea ice and look for leads we could navigate towards Halley. We gathered round Dean’s handheld radio and listened to the aircraft captain’s report as he circled above – the wind was still from the wrong direction and we were going nowhere fast. Coming round for the last time, the Otter passed spectacularly low before climbing and heading on to inspect a potential ‘port’ further along the coast.

Although Christmas dinner was postponed to allow the galley more time to prepare, a special treat was arranged in form of a wander on a nearby ice-floe. After the GAs* had confirmed it strong enough, we cambered awkwardly down the rope-ladder to the FRC and took a step closer to real Antarctica. The ice was either rock solid underfoot, or had a crunchy crust with dry powdery crystals beneath. Either way, it worked better for rugby than football and we played about for nearly an hour before heading back to give the others their turn. Back on the bridge for the afternoon’s weather observation, things seemed to be improving with the wind turning to a more favourable direction.

Boxing day was again, bright and still, but the wind had shifted off-shore and the ice begun to open up. The night shift had found a lead through to the fast ice (sea ice bonded to the ice shelf) and moored the Shackleton alongside. Eager for another wander, we peeled the spuds in record time, kitted up in our giant Mukluk snow boots and waited to board the Geordie man-hoist. Crewman Martin kept the brief simple – feet here, arms through here, hold tight – and held a tensioning line as Charlie craned us smoothly onto the ice. This was more like what I’d hoped for: soft, flat powder. A gentle breeze was perfect for Matt’s kite, although as a beginner I decided not to risk my first lesson so close to the sea!

Back on the ship, I bodged together a music round for Izzy’s excellent pub quiz in which our team did spectacularly badly despite conferring with others. Tomorrow is Christmas dinner.

Click here for stunning sea-ice photos.

*GA – General Assistant. Usually a mountain guide with significant glacier experience. Employed to oversee safe travel on the ice. Posted by Picasa


Anonymous Becs said...

Merry Xmas Dave!! One of the few to have a white christmas.
I'm surving the south of England with friends, family and far too much food! Van DIY going well, you would be proud. Looking forward to heading to the hills for new year. Sounds like you had a good one, dont squash too many seals on your way through, Becs.

11:48 am GMT  

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