Midwinter is the most important day of the year in Antarctica, a cause for celebration as it marks the point at which daylight starts to get closer (or last for longer) and with it the promise of summer and its relative warmth and the return of wildlife. While increasing numbers of people are lucky enough to experience Antarctica in the summer, either through work or the burgeoning tourism industry, experiencing an Antarctic winter is still something that is restricted to very few. And midwinter day is that point in time when we can sit back and know that we have lived in this most hostile of places, through the worst of what it has to offer. And like any decent holiday, it is also a time for expeditioners to loosen up a little, exchange the odd gift and remind each other of just how awesome this place is before we knuckle back down to work again. It may be midwinter after all, but that still leaves over three months before the conditions will allow any summer people to come in and join our community.
At Casey, our celebrations for midwinter started with a BBQ in the workshop on Wednesday evening. A long sheet of plastic, a makeshift goal and ice hockey pucks made using the local conditions, water and egg poaching rings provided the entertainment with Mark G demonstrating prowess with the custom-made hockey stick. Just to remind us why we were celebrating, the weather picked up and we had 90 knot winds and blowing snow during the evening. Yep, midwinter!
On Thursday morning we had a late brunch before our video hook-up with the other stations and head office in Kingston. Our planned swim had to be postponed because of the weather. Our feast was planned for 3:30pm, with cocktails and canapes in the bar at 2.30. The canapes and cocktails were so good we were a little late getting into the mess, but when we got there, chef Gav (and his helpers) had produced a wonderful meal for us including duck fettuccine (with freshly made wattle seed pasta), seafood medley tartlets, Midori lime and mint sorbets, dukkah crusted lamb racks and lobster and hollandaise topped beef fillet among all sorts of other goodies. We enjoyed a trio of berry cheesecake, white chocolate and Sambuca mousse for dessert and an extensive cheese platter to finish. The station leader’s wine cellar was raided and everyone dipped into their own supplies to find their best bottle for the occasion.
During dinner, RSVPs to our invitations were read out, colleagues remembered and gifts were exchanged. Jason and Sheri had brought gifts for everyone from home, Jeb had crafted us all leather keyrings with commemorative centenary inlays and Phill had made everyone a beautiful hand crafted replica ice axe mounted on a timber backing. Mike had also created an exact replica of the signpost outside the Red Shed mounted on a spirit barrel and engraved with the names of the 2012 wintering crew. Mike presented this to Station Leader Mark H on behalf of the whole team. It is a fantastic piece much appreciated by Mark. A few speeches were then made and some excerpts from midwinter diaries of 100 years ago and 25 years ago (the first midwinter at the preset Casey Station) were read out.
The late start to the meal meant that our 8:00pm planned showing of the midwinter pantomime was put back a little, but all agreed that it was well worth the wait. The station put on a performance of Snow White and the Seven Tradies, partly written, directed, produced, edited and starring local thespian and comms tech, Andy. With Bri putting in a starring performance as the wicked stepmother, Stu as the mirror, Gav as the hapless Snow White, Misty as Prince Charming, Mike as The Woodsman and Dave & Craig as Met Fairies, not to mention the seven tradies. The show had the rest of the station in stitches and wrapped up the day's formalities perfectly.
We wound down with some dancing and singing and no small amount of laughter.
Friday meant there was some work to be done. The station doesn’t run itself and the weather prevented us still from having our swim (or doing much else outside for that matter). But we had a roast pig on a spit in the workshop for dinner and a modified curling competition to keep us amused. Andy (with some help from Dan) had manufactured ‘stones’ out of ice with timber handles and these worked very nicely on our ‘ice hockey’ surface from Wednesday evening.
Saturday finally brought with it some nice weather and Jason, Dan, Misty and Stu headed down to the sea ice to prepare our swimming hole. By 11.30 we were all briefed and ready to go. Doc Sheri was a little apprehensive about the whole concept but as one after the other the expeditioners made it into and out of the water with no apparent ill effects (but with a fair amount of screaming and cursing) even Sheri found the whole thing a lot of fun. Some mulled wine awaited us back in the Red Shed (thanks Brewmaster Jeb) and various low impact activities were chosen for the rest of the afternoon. The spa and sauna were very popular.
Saturday evening brought Stu’s Single Malt Whisky Appreciation Extravaganza, in which we all dug deep and found a wide selection of single malt whiskies and handed them over to Stu. Stu (our resident Scot) then gave us presentations on the history and types of whisky, provided tasting notes and a video explaining the proper way to taste whisky (quite different form wine) and walked us through a tour of the various whisky distilling regions of Scotland. We had a couple of glasses of whisky as well (in moderation, of course). Very enjoyable evening and we all learned quite a lot as well.
Sunday saw the finish of our midwinter celebrations. With the weather improved, Dave, Jamie, Mark G and Andy headed over to Wilkes for a short ceremony to scatter the ashes of one of the previous station leaders — Dick Saxton. In the middle of the day, we enjoyed a champagne brunch, put on by Doc Sheri and in the evening we watched some of the footage and photos from the preceding few days before deciding we were all too tired to watch The Thing and needed to get some sleep before heading back to work in the morning.
Our midwinter celebrations were a great success. Everyone on station contributed and we will all remember this weekend for the rest of our lives.