We spent the last few weeks before the start of winter getting everything ready. The Shackleton came in for her final call a bit early around the 25th February delivering spare fuel and food and taking out empty fuel drums and waste. Relief was short, but the bad weather and low contrast made it difficult for the drivers who have to drive for 3-4 h each leg of the journey to and from the ship. We also saw the last planes off after accommodating three Canadian aircraft on their way north for the season. A Borek twin otter arrived a few days earlier and struggled to make a trip to a fuel depot near the Shackleton mountains. 30 kts winds and blowing snow left them stranded for a night to camp out as the attempt to return was abandoned. Comms and met (me) were very glad that the original plan of staying on duty to 3 am was binned. A few days later two more Canadian planes arrived, two Baslers and the station became a bit more crowded for the last time. They both landed within 10 min of each other and offered a great photo opportunity and allowed us to have a look inside.
John Harper, the captain of the Shackleton invited us that week for our winter meal on board, so we all piled into the snocats on a nice day and headed towards the coast. We were greeted by the crew who had set up a check point and sign reading “Shackleton toll road”, as well as a picnic table and benches to enjoy the sun on their day off. This was the second rotation crew who we hadn’t met yet, so it was lovely to talk to these hardy sailors. They were very keen to show us around on the bridge, the conning tower (lookout point), and the engine room, the one spot that I didn’t see on the journey down. Dinner consisted of rack of lamb, lots of salad and sticky toffee pudding with custard. It felt good to be back on board, almost like meeting an old friend again. We slept in the cabins, a luxury after having to endure the new bits of thin foam that health and safety have forced to replace the mattresses for those of us unlucky enough to be sleeping on the top bunk back on base. The next morning we waved the ship goodbye and set off in the poor contrast heading for home whilst attempting to nap in the back of the snocat. Later that week the weather finally improved and the planes departed for their migration North to the arctic via Rothera and then South America.
Saturday and Sunday saw the departure of the summer station staff and outgoing winterers. People were in a frenzy packing, checking and rechecking everything, as well as saying their goodbyes. We waved the snocats off in more blowing snow with mixed emotions. I will miss many new friends, but also am looking forward to a quieter station and getting settled in to my winter. At the edge of the ice shelf the drivers set off flares to wave the ship off as it sounded its horn.