Mawson Midwinter Madness
Midwinter is a very special time of year down here in Antarctica - the sun may be gone and the sky only slightly light enough to see for a few hours a day, but the group of people you share this experience with band together to turn this all into one of the most enjoyable times of our season. Leading up to Midwinters we cut out the hole for our ice swim just a few meters off the wharf in Horse Shoe Harbour. With the ice over a meter thick, it took the best part of the day to drill and chainsaw our way through and clear a space for our swim. Each day from there we had to go back and break up and clear away the ice that had reformed overnight, to maintain our swimming pool. Thursday was our day, this being my first trip down south I had been looking forward to going for a swim since I put my job application in - although that didn't stop the nerves kicking in. Thankfully as we all sat around the table in the mess before heading down to the wharf I could see most others were the same, other newbies like myself looking around, thinking "What am I in for here?" and veterans showing signs of "Why the hell am I doing this again?"
As a group we all wandered down to the wharf and got set up. We had a roster for the order we would go in, so those up first went into the wharf hut to change into their swimming gear and prepare themselves. The rest of us found a good vantage point to enjoy the reactions of our comrades. Then one by one, each person made the 30-metre walk from the wharf hut down to the ice hole, got their harness hooked up and then climbed into the crystal clear blue water.
And then in most cases got back out very quickly.
I still remember the stages my brain went through:
- ok in we go
- oh... actually this isn't too bad
- I'm swimming!
- actually this is getting pretty cold
- nope! get me out.
Although - the worst part was actually being out of the water, since the air temp was a nice brisk -20 (-32 wind chill) and the water temp was only -1.8, so that walk back to the hut was done a lot quicker and a lot less confidently than the walk down.
During the pack-up we had a little visitor - a seal popped its head up, curious about all the commotion, and watched us pack away our ladder, swimming flags and pile all of our gear back into a nearby Hägg before making our way back to the red shed for a shower.
That night we all met up at the bar for a few celebratory drinks and watched the footage we took of all our swims. Some people's reactions were worthy of watching several times over.
The next day everyone met up in the workshop for a barbeque, where all the machines had been cleared out and even the floors washed. Dave had done an unreal job of cleaning the floors. I was surprised to find its original colour was white! We made up a makeshift bar duly named 'The Take 5 Bar', so I staffed the bar while Shane cooked barbeque. Everyone else sat about the workshop still buzzing from the event the previous day.
Saturday was the main celebration of Midwinters. We all put on our best clothes and sat down to an amazing feast prepared by Rocket. For entrée we had Salmon Sous Vide with Nori Furikake, Soba Noodles, Soy bean wasabi cream and Teriyaki sauce. Mains was duck breast confit with ragout of lentils and root vegetables, asparagus and greens, onion marmalade and porcini jus. Then finally for desert, we were given dark chocolate mousse cake with berry fruits and Chantilly cream. Obviously a main topic of discussion during dinner was how men like Shackleton and Mawson had most definitely exaggerated the stories of their expeditions down South, because life down here couldn't possibly have been that hard.
After dinner and a quick group photo, we all returned to the bar to watch the AAD's Midwinter video, followed by the first gig of the Mawson station band, consisting of Darren, Frank and Todd, who we had all been eagerly awaiting. They put on a stellar performance.
Sunday was a fairly quiet day around station - if we had mice, they would have dared not stirred. It was mostly just people emerging to find something to eat from the 'catch and kill' fridge then quietly returning to whence they came.
Midwinters came to a close on the Monday night with a screening of the 1951 original 'The Thing'. With popcorn and choc-top ice-cream it was the perfect ending to a great Midwinters celebrations.
Honourable mention to Todd, who organised the whole celebration down to a T even though I'm sure it was more like herding cats. And of course Rocket, who outdid himself with the food for the whole weekend and who is actually still recovering from his efforts.
Our Doctor Frank has posted our monthly medical and weigh-ins for next week which I think is some kind of sick joke.
Guy Edgar - diiieeesssoooo