The 18th May was a significant moment in the inexorable progress of the Antarctic winter here at 67 degrees South. The sun, which has recently only just kissed the peaks of the mountains around us, finally dropped below the horizon for the last time, leaving nothing but an orange glow on the horizon. This happens fairly late on in the season for us here, due to our relatively northern latitude – our colleagues at Halley Base, south of us on the Brunt Ice Shelf, waved goodbye to the sun some weeks ago.
The whole winter team assembled at the flagpole at 1.30pm local-time, the solar noon, to witness the lowering of the Union Jack which has been flying proudly above base since the first sunrise last year. Tradition decreed that the flag-lowering be done by the oldest member of the team, so Dave stepped up and spoke a few words before hauling the flag down and untying it.
Battered daily by the bitter winds and snow, the flag is tattered and torn and has completed its tenure. It now goes home to the UK with Dale, the lucky winner of the Rothera flag-keeping lottery. In a few months time, the sun will creep back above the horizon for the start of the new Antarctica year, and Mairi, as the youngest member of the team, will have the honour of raising a new Union Jack over the base.
Ceremonies are one thing, but the practicalities are somewhat more complicated. For one, we couldn’t actually see the sun sink down due to a bank of cloud on the northern horizon – a certain amount of imagination was therefore required to fill in the blanks. Also, due to the very mountainous terrain around the base, it is highly likely that we will catch another brief glimpse of the sun as it circles past a distant col. Still, the point is that it is going to get a lot darker from this point onwards!