Midwinter at Davis
Today’s blog post is a few hours behind schedule owing to a long weekend of midwinter celebrations. It’s an event with a long history down here in Antarctica, and I’m going to just briefly show you how our Midwinter’s Day has unfolded.
It starts weeks in advance with a fair amount of planning, including the sending out of invitations to attend the celebrations. For the Australian stations (and a few of the others), it’s been a long-standing tradition to send out joking invitations to celebrities and read out their responses during the midwinter feast. My favourite was from Dick and Pip Smith who also gave us, in their RSVP, a bit of Antarctic history that none of us head heard before.
In the week or so leading up to the winter solstice, we are bombarded with well wishes and greetings from the other Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic research stations. We return in kind, of course, by sending our invite out to each and every one of them. It’s great to feel joined to everyone by the continent and the conditions, rather than separated by nationality and language.
The bottom two invites are extra special because they’re from our neighbours. Both the Russians (from Progress station) and the Indians (from Bharati station) paid us a visit over summer, and it was great to have the opportunity to show them around our station and talk about the differences in our buildings. We were also fortunate to have the Russians stay for dinner and a few drink one evening, and the station was treated to guitar and singing from both our own musicians and our guests.
The part of the celebrations that really grabs peoples’ attention, however, is the midwinter swim. A lot of preparation is involved in getting this going, both because of the difficult it making the hole (for which well over a ton of ice needs to be removed), and because of the safety preparations. Safety measures include mats, a heated tent, observers and a harness for swimmers, and so on. You can see me enjoying a refreshing dip in the -1.8C water.
This part of the event even made the news in a few places (watch the video on the second one!). It’s interesting how all of the various sources had incorrect information in one way or another. The midwinter swim was held on the solstice, which was Saturday. We had a ‘pre-swim’ on Tuesday so that we could get the footage to Australia over the satellite link in time for news coverage. The water is -1.8C, the temperature on the day was a little under -20 degrees (not -32 as one source stated), and there was light snow and not a breath of wind (unlike the channel 7 coverage, in which they added lots of windy sound effects and a fake censoring of an expletive that was never uttered). It was a balmy -17 on Saturday when we celebrated midwinter properly, and it was similarly still. Ideal conditions for it, really.
So after the swim we came back to the Living Quarters (LQ) and donned some warm, dry clothes. We had a delicious brunch (thanks Leslie and helpers), followed by presentation of our hand-made midwinter gifts. The rules were that if you wanted someone else’s present, you would choose a gift and swap it for the one you wanted. One bloke had four different gifts pinched from him before they finally left him alone. It pays to be last when opening midwinter gifts as you can choose anything!
After this was a couple of hours in the hot tub. The water was toasty and the beers kept freezing. Standard practice was to soak your (plastic) cup in the water from time to time to ensure the beer stayed liquid. It was interesting having a frozen beard and hair just inches above the (literally) steaming hot water.
Finally, it was time for the midwinter feast. We had hors d’Oeuvres (jokingly pronounced ‘horse doovers’) in the bar before a delicious entree and an all-night gourmet buffet. Highlights included a whole cooked salmon, delicious duck, tender eye-fillets and ice bowls full of prawns and lobsters.
It has been a fantastic weekend, and I apologise for the lack of photos of it all. Many of us made a conscious decision to enjoy the weekend to the fullest by leaving our cameras in our rooms. I was one of those people, so the photos in this post have been graciously shared by fellow expeditioners. I’d like to thank all of them for their hard work in making this weekend so enjoyable for all of us.
And, because I feel bad about having a post without a single photo taken by me, here’s a sneaky one I took earlier in the week while experimenting with some new camera settings: