Living on the base is very nice and very interesting. The water supply on the base is maintained by shoveling snow into the ‘smelly’ or snow smelter. This has to happen six times a day in order for the base to have enough water to operate. The electricity supply on the base is provided by three very large generators. During the little downtime we had, we made use of the movie theatre, the pool tables, table tennis tables, the gym, and the climbing wall in the helicopter hanger. When the weather is bad, we have to stay inside the base unless we have to go shovel snow into the snow smelter. In January, we had a two-week-white-out. A white-out is when the visibility is so bad you cannot see your hand in front of your face, the wind speed goes up to 75 knots (140 km/h) and the temperature drops to -27 degrees Celsius. During white-outs, we try and do all the laboratory work inside the base.
After seven wonderful and tiring weeks on the base, I returned to the ship on a CAT train. A CAT train is a train of snow sleds pulled by Challengers. A Challenger is a very smart snow tractor. It takes the CAT train 38 hours to get to the ice shelf where the ship is because the CAT train only travels at 20 km/h when the weather is perfect. The ship departed from the ice shelf on 7 February 2015 and only took 10 days to reach Cape Town again. The northbound voyage takes less time because most of the ice has melted by now due to the summer conditions. On our way back from Antarctica, we picked up the research team we left at Bouvet Island on the southbound voyage.
Going to Antarctica was an amazing and life-changing experience. It was difficult, it was challenging, it was cold, and we didn’t sleep a lot, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. “