"Winter Over"

Terry Trimingham - Februrary 6-12, 1995
Communications Operator

    Two weeks ago I thought I would be gone by today, and now here I am looking at not leaving for MONTHS! That is the big news, I am staying here for the winter. Since that decision is what occupied me for most of this past week, I will just go day by day and you can see how it all unfolded.

Monday I had a holiday coming to me, so I could sleep in if I wanted to. I went to the Greenhouse in the morning, and then did a little walk in the afternoon, just around town. I was also organizing and sorting through my stuff in preparation for leaving. We had a brief meeting for the Castle Rock booklet that I had been helping to write, but only two of us showed up. I was able to see some of the graphics that had been put together to break up the text, and it was very impressive. That evening I went to the aerobics class, and it was pretty small, only about nine people came. I left the aerobics class early to go to dinner. The food in the galley hasn't been really exciting lately. There have been very little fresh vegetables. The planes have been concentrating on closing down all the remote field sites on the continent, and so there hasn't been a lot of north/south traffic (and we get our freshies in Christchurch).

Tuesday when I went to work all the camps in the Dry Valleys were closed, as well as the remote science camps. All that was left operating was Black Island (our satellite receiving station about 22 miles to the S), Marble Point (our refueling station 48 miles to the NW), Byrd Surface Camp (a refueling station 1/2 way to South Pole) and the South Pole. There was very little radio traffic, and the time went by REALLY slow! It was nice to have some time to just be able to sit and talk with my co-workers after having had so many busy days.

Wednesday I was told to come in late as it was so slow. I found out that one of the comms operators from South Pole was in town, so I asked him if he wanted to walk around. While I was waiting for him to show up I started making phone calls, letting people know I was interested in coming back to McMurdo next season. I had given up on finding a winter position, after all it was only a week until I was scheduled to leave! Right after I got off the phone, a friend came over and told me that a job had opened up, and if I wanted it was mine. The job was to be a general assistant (GA) for FMC (Facilities Maintenance and Construction). It meant being an extra unskilled person that they would use however they needed. GA's sometimes get really neat opportunities to go places and do things that a lot of people don't get to do, but they also get the lowest pay on station. I hesitated on grabbing it - the job would entail a huge cut in pay. I did call and found out that I had a couple of days to think about it as long as I called on Friday with my answer. Initially I felt like I wanted to do it, but the more I pondered how little money I would make the more I wasn't sure. I decided to bounce it off a few folks that I know, but still kind of keep it to myself.

My friend from the South Pole and I had a nice walk. I showed him a lot of sights around McMurdo that he hadn't seen before, and we had a nice chat. The Greenwave was in (our resupply ship). Ship offload started on Sunday, and was going strong 24 hours a day. I had met the captain of the Greenwave two years ago and saw him Tuesday at lunch. It took me a moment to recognize him, but he is quite a character, and not hard to remember. Wednesday evening, a friend and I were invited to have dinner on the ship. We walked over around 5pm. It has become cold and windy the past week, and just walking the ten minutes to the ice pier we felt the cold cutting into us Before he would come to dinner the captain wanted to load a helo on the ship. We stood on the deck and watched as they brought it up by crane and gently jockeyed it around to get it into the hold. It was touch and go for a while. I thought it would hit into the side of the open hold, but they did a great job and it was slick to watch. We then went to the captains table and had lasagna and fresh lettuce salad - it was good. After dinner we went to look at the wheelhouse, and staring out at the water I saw a minke whale come up briefly! I was happy to see it. Usually at the time of year there is a lot of open water, and this year there isn't, so whales just haven't been spotted.

I wasn't able to hook up with anyone to talk about my winter decision that evening, so had a fitful sleep that night!

Thursday was another slow day at work, Black Island and Marble Point had closed on Tuesday, so only Byrd Surface Camp and South Pole remained out there to talk to. I did have fun speaking French with the Frenchman at Vostock I had met earlier, and also got to speak with a few ships in the area (the tanker as it left, and our research vessel called the Nathaniel B. Palmer). After that I went and got the marsgrams and typed them up. On my way back to my room I stopped to stare out the window and watch the progress on the ship loading ship at the ice pier. By then they had finished off-loading and were now loading things on that we were retrograding. Most of what we retrograde is sorted trash and it gets sent to Port Townsend for recycling. The containers were steadily being loaded, and there is something mesmerizing about watching it all happen.

Friday morning I decided that I was ready to stay for the winter. It appealed to my sense of adventure. I have wanted to do it for years now, and this seemed to be an opportunity, so why not? I have never done anything for money yet, so this is typical of how I am. I decided to not think about the low pay at all, just to DO it because I wanted to.

I was told I may be able to get to Christchurch for a couple of days to get more clothing and I am excited to get the chance to go swimming again and buy some goodies. I hope it works out! After I accepted the job I had to go to the dentist here for him to make sure my teeth looked OK (there is no dentist here over the winter). I also filled out an application to work for MWR in the bowling alley. I will take turns running the cash register and setting pins - I hear it is a good workout! I think it will be fun! In the afternoon I went for a walk with a girlfriend who had wintered here in 1992. She also told me all kinds of nice reasons to stay, and was very supportive about it all. It is hard to imagine what it is going to be like here. The population of McMurdo is going to drop months, I am not going to be at a computer in an office (I will be outside in the COLD in my bunny suit!), there will be no mail or planes flying fresh vegetables in. Also, it will be a year until I see any of my friends and family again (by the time I leave here). On the appealing side, there is a chance to watch a sunset that takes over a month to finish, the aurora australis is supposed to be spectacular, the community gets very tight and camaraderie is great, and it is something I have never done!

Friday was my "new years" holiday, and I had a good time shopping in the skua piles that afternoon. Since most of the station is leaving, there is a lot of things being put out for others to help themselves to. I got a couple of really nice sweaters! In the evening I went to watch a friend practice the bagpipes. He has been doing it all season and I had until now I had only heard about it. He practices in the chapel and it was really nice to hear those pipes, a very moving sound! Some friends and I wanted to watch a movie that night on TV, but after 15 minutes of watching, it went black on the screen. The TV station puts all the videos in, and then they don't stay around in the station. We called around trying to find someone to fix it but no go. In the end I wandered into a lounge and watched a movie someone had put in the VCR in the dorm lounge. After that I took a sauna. It was really cold and blowing outside. In the evenings now the sun is at a low angle and the shadows are very long, it almost seems dusk!

Saturday the supply ship left. It carried eight passengers from McMurdo to New Zealand. They will get to Christchurch in about 6-7 days (where the passengers will get off), then continue to Port Townsend to offload the recycle materials, then go to Port Hueneme to offload other cargo. In the evening the "heavy shop" had a BBQ to celebrate the end of ship offload, and we went over there and had beer and steaks - it was good! I had a nice evening visiting with friends I knew were leaving soon, and finished off the evening watching movies with the people I know in information systems. It is very strange to think that all my friends are going to be leaving soon!

South Pole closed Saturday afternoon, and so the radio room where I work ceased its 24 hour operations. We are now just working regular business hours, and talking to the ships and Terra Nova Bay (the Italian Base about 200 miles away from here). There is a lot on my mind right now as I say good-bye to all my summer friends here and try to imagine what things will be like once everyone leaves. I am also thinking about things to get if I get to go to Christchurch. I am excited about what I am going to experience over the winter - it will be a real adventure!

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