This week at Davis: 14 July 2017

This week at Davis we're celebrating birthdays, visiting the plateau, welcoming back the sun and talking with our brewmaster.

Station update

Birthday celebrations

The last couple of weeks has seen Davis celebrate three birthdays starting with Fitzy the plumber reaching the milestone half century!

A good night was enjoyed by all with Fitzy being ecstatic to receive an unexpected birthday present and the party going well into the night. This was followed last Friday with a joint birthday with Kezza our chef and Shoey the plumber turning the big 30. The night of celebration started with a magnificent spit roast followed by a poker night. Birthday boy Shoey ended up taking the chocolates, it was his birthday after all.

Barry B2 (Electrician)

Visiting Woop Woop

Last week we made it up to the plateau to retrieve our third Hägg. At the end of summer several pieces of equipment are left up at the Davis Plateau ski landing area, affectionately known as Woop Woop.

This equipment consists of two groomers, a skidsteer and a Hägg, all of which are needed up until late in the season. At the end of summer it is difficult to bring the equipment back to station; it’s too heavy to be slung by helicopters and the sea ice has gone so driving the vehicles down is also not an option.

Now in winter, we need to go and retrieve this equipment so it can be both utilised on station and serviced in preparation for next summer. Consequently, we did a trip up to Woop Woop to retrieve the Hägg. This enabled us to become familiar with the route and assess the bigger task ahead of us of retrieving the groomers and skidsteer, which we hope to do next week.

Going up to the plateau sounds romantic and exciting, but this job was more about digging than romance. Eight expeditioners left station at 8 am in total darkness, departing the sea ice and embarking on the plateau a couple of hours later. Instantly there was a strong wind. The plateau had some snow cover but it was mostly icy with corrugations of compacted snow. This made for a slow bumpy ride, but the scenery was beautiful – ice as far as the eye can see in pastel twilight.

Soon enough we came across the buildings of Woop Woop. The Hägg we had come to retrieve didn’t look too bad initially. However, upon closer examination the cabin was full of blizz and the tracks and underbelly of the vehicle were solidly encased in compacted snow. Soon we were all down on our knees trying to free the Hägg so the tracks could move and it could be reversed out.

After many hours of digging we ended up towing the Hägg out of the pit we had dug around it. This worked but the Hägg’s interior was still icy. Marc and Bryce gallantly offered to drive this frozen vehicle back to station. Eventually we got back around 6 pm, where a hot dinner was on offer, along with hot showers. It took quite a while to warm up again but it had been an exciting and satisfying day, now that we had our third Hägg back on station.

Return of the sun

The other milestone this week was the return of the sun. Our last sunset was on the 3rd of June, so we've had 37 days without the sun. At 68 degrees south we don't have total darkness during this time but rather a couple of hours of civil twilight each day. Consequently, the return of the sun was a big deal and worthy of celebration.

To mark the occasion we met on the deck of the heli hut and had a toast to the returning orb. Luckily we had a clear sky so could see the sunrise in its full magnificence. The sun rose at 1:37 pm local time and was up for 32 minutes, before setting at 2:09 pm. Seeing the sun, and the entire sky, is a primal need. Instantly everyone is cheerier and excited by more light. We didn't realise how our light had been limited to a small area on the distant horizon whereas sunrises and sunsets ignite the entire sky with colour and texture in the clouds. The novelty still hasn't worn off as we wander around staring at the sky and having conversations about the clouds most days. The light will now steadily increase by 20 minutes or so a day. Bring it on we say.

Kirsten (Station Leader)

Two Hägg's headlights reveal people standing on the sea-ice. This is early on in the trip, when it is dark and very cold.
Most of the journey is done in darkness. Here we're having a…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The view from the back seat of the Hägg, looking out the windscreen to the vast plateau in soft pastel light during civil twilight.
Civil twilight provides some soft pastel light as we travel across the…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
A landscape shot of the Antarctic plateau in twilight. Wind has blown the snow into sastrugi patterns but it is a hard surface, very cold at -30 degrees and there is a strong breeze.
The Antarctic plateau behind Davis' Vestfold Hills. It's a crisp -30 degrees…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The Hägg is partially buried in blizz, requiring both excavation and extraction. Two people are seen on their knees attempting to dig out the snow on the Hagg's tracks.
The Hägg is partially buried in blizz, requiring both excavation and extraction.…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Several hours later we're still trying to get the Hägg out of the snow.
Several hours later we're still trying to get the Hägg out of…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
An orange glow from the sun is seen in the sky above the icy plateau. There was no sunrise but we enjoyed the colour in the sky.
The sun never rose but at least we could enjoy its glow.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
A yellow sun can be seen just poking above the horizon.
Return of the sun. Our first sunrise in 37 days. Happy, happy,…
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Toasting the return of the sun (L-R): Jock, Fitzy, Ralph, Sharky, Bryce, Millsy, Kerryn, Rob, Barry B1 and Kirsten.
Toasting the return of the sun (L-R): Jock, Fitzy, Ralph, Sharky, Bryce,…
(Photo: Barry Becker)

Davis brewery

Wassail! Na Zdorovie! Kanpai!

There is nothing quite like going to the watering hole to bend the elbow, to grease the joints, to wet your whistle and crack the top of a cold one with the boys, or girls for that matter. Who doesn't enjoy a cold beer or cider after the work day is done?

Luckily for us here in Antarctica, we are able to brew our own! This makes a lot of sense really, since for some of us it is a hobby to actually brew (more an obsession to be honest) good flavoursome beers. And, if you think about the logistics of transporting and storing a year’s worth of brews for the whole wintering party, as well as three month’s supply for the 80+ summer expeditioners, it is very sensible to have brewing on station.

So for me, it's quite the honour to be the Davis station 'brewmaster' for the year. As well as your standard fare of Coopers Lager, Draught, Real Ale, Dark Ale, Stout and Cider, thus far I have made around 30 different 'specialty' beer styles, from Fruitcake Christmas Beer, Bavarian, Vienna and Märzen Lagers to Schwarzbier, Caffè mocha and Oatmeal and Cherry Russian imperial stouts, Belgian Coriander and Honey Trippels, Belgian Dark Ales and Trappist styles as well as standard, double, triple and orange IPAs, hoppy pales, amber, caramel and dark ales, bourbon barrel, robust and baltic porters and a very special winter dark ale with oak and vanilla infused rum, made especially for midwinters celebrations. I have certainly tried to keep the variety up and as they say, variety is the spice of life! Oh yeah, warm spiced cider as well as a Lemon Myrtle and Raspberry Mead too!

I try to brew beers on the weekend because sometimes it takes several hours to get all the ingredients right and several different procedures for the special ones. I can usually whip up the 'plain' batches during the week, usually adding some additional hops for that extra flavour punch!

Since it is around 12°C where we ferment them, it takes a bit longer in the winter to ferment fully than in the summer when the temperature in the same place can be 10 degrees higher. This is not a drama and the beers often turn out better due to these lower temperatures. Also, thankfully the temperature is quite stable and I am able to brew using real bottom fermenting lager yeasts for some really crispy lagers.

Every Thursday is bottling night. This is when we get together to bottle the beers I have concocted (as the name would suggest), and also sample a few specialty beers I have in the works, for testing purposes and science, of course!

Washing bottles and filling them with beer is not the most exciting thing we do down here, for sure, but some music and a good atmosphere really turn it into a social occasion rather than plain old drudgery, so...

'Here’s to a long life and a happy one, a quick death and an easy one, a good man and an honest one, a cold pint… and another one.'

Cheers!

Millsy (The Brewmaster)

Washing the beer bottles in preparation for bottling the beer.
Washing the beer bottles in preparation for bottling the beer.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Bottle capping and labeling and bottle filling to the right.
Bottle capping and labeling to the left and bottle filling to the…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)