Station Life

I was assigned the nightshift for the relief of the ship and had a day to adjust. We waved off the dayshift on their way to Halley in the two orange vehicles, the snocats, almost like monster trucks on caterpillars, which had come to meet us. Late afternoon I dressed in all my kit, cleared my room of the last 3 weeks and piled into the snocat ready to take me to my new home. Almost 3 hours and a very bumpy ride later we arrived at Halley in glorious sunshine. Like brightly coloured toy blocks placed in an endless white desert the station met us as the dayshift came to an end. We installed ourselves in our shared rooms and started our nocturnal work, mostly handling break bulk cargo and fuel drums.

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I’m very glad I got to ease into my new home during the calm of the nightshift, which was in fact light due to the 24h hour daylight. There were only a few of us on duty and I got to know my surroundings without the hustle and bustle of a full station. We had a lot of fun while working and even managed to relax with a movie between cargo runs. The work was physically very demanding after lounging around for 3 weeks, so I was glad I had done my daily workouts on the ship. I also experienced my first fire alarm at 4 am and the nightshift lot fiendishly smirked at the sleepy faces that met us en route to the muster. After the 12 h shift I tried to learn as much as I could from my predecessor, Celine, about my new role, but my brain had limited functionality with the huge information overload, hard work and long hours. After 10 days we could readjust to daytime and celebrate Xmas and New Year, as we had missed these occasions during relief. Life soon became shockingly normal on station as everyone busied themselves with all the summer jobs and the winterers started their job-specific handovers. Every Saturday morning the incoming winterers had training of some sort, including medical training, learning to use the breathing apparatus and fire equipment, drive the various vehicles and skidoos around base, as well as the procedures during fire alarms, musters, oil spills, and major incidents.

Once I was confident to do the daily met duties on my own we set up a rota with early and late shift, where someone would start with the 6 am observations, while the other would finish after the 9 pm ob. Even with dividing the workload we often worked long hours and weekends until more people were trained on met.

The constant daylight was wonderful, as it made you feel energised no matter what time of day it was and allowed plenty of time to do recreational activities outside with my new friends after work. I soon picked up cross country skiing, kiteskiing, skijouring (being pulled on skis or a snowboard behind a skidoo) and just sledging on the wind tails behind buildings was a lot of fun. There would be some energy left to socialise in the evenings, but often I ended up falling asleep. Sleeping was not an issue with the light, as I was so tired and with blackout blinds the rooms are surprisingly dark and comfortable.

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On Sundays when I wasn’t working I signed up for as many outings as possible to go and see features in the ice, visit the coast for some ice climbing or just ski offbase. Other times we would play football or rugby outside in the snow. If you had enough forward planning you could use the sauna once heated up and spend hours running in and out into the snow. Saturday evenings were smart dress occasions sometimes with themes, including Latin night, dancing Salsa, Burns night with Highland games and haggis, or just a lovely oriental themed dinner.

During the summer we also partook in some experiments such as sleep studies (that’s how I know I fell into deep sleep within 2 min of going to bed), but also training to fly and dock the Soyuz spacecraft using a simulator. A lot of these experiments have no or very few repeat studies and limited number of participants, so every little helps to advance our understanding of how the mind and body react to isolation, 24 light or darkness, as well as the level of practice needed to retain important skills after long periods of inactivity. One day when humankind lands on Mars I would love to have contributed to that achievement in some way.

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