Ashley Antarctic

Ashley Antarctic

While not a sailing story, we’ve been deluged with requests for more information about racing boat captain and yacht management chick Ashley Perrin’s Antarctic adventures.  We ran a piece on Ashley last month, and we hope she continues to give us insight into the fascinating world of high-latitude living through an ocean racer and lifelong sailor’s eyes.  Ashley is only 31, but has amassed over 70,000 ocean miles on everything from IACC yachts to Moore 24s, and has scored big in the Newport Bermuda, the Round Britain and Ireland, the Rolex Transatlantic Race, the Caribbean 600, and the Fastnet.  She decided to take a ‘sabbatical ‘ from racing yachts this year, and is now working in Antarctica for the British Antarctic Survey running a fleet of RIB’s at a base on Adelaide Island.

I am working for the summer season at Rothera Research Station in Antarctica at 67S on Adelaide Island. My job title is Boating Officer but I also dive as a support diver for the scientists – last week I was diving everyday except Thursday (we can only dive 3 days in a row before we have to have a day off diving).

As I write a new lot of beakers (scientists) have arrived on the Dash 7 which is our air link in the summer to South America and the Falklands. As it is a requirement of Marine Search And Rescue (SAR) I am out on the water for all Dash 7 take off and landings with a crew on the RIB and a few bags of medical kit. Our runway is 900 meters long and there are icebergs sometimes at the runway threshold hence the necessity for SAR in the event of a crash.

There isn’t a typical day for me down here.  Things change according to the weather and what beakers require of us. However, I do have a routine of getting up at 6:45am and going to the gym to row or take a bike and go for an 8km bike ride on the runway. By 7:45am I am at the Air Operations and Met Brief to find out how my day is going to go in terms of weather and the SAR requirements. At 8:30am I am conducting a boat meeting with the Dive Officer to tell the scientists if the conditions will allow us to do what we had planned for the day. 8:45am the first boat is being launched for the day and we are at work till 1pm when we stop for lunch and start up again at 2pm till 6:30pm when we stop for dinner. After dinner there are a large number of activities to take part in – walk around the point, ice climbing, crevassing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, boating, climbing inside on the wall, gym, science talks, watching movies, reading in the library and of course the bar etc.

We have three RIBs in the boatshed and they are loosely tasked to island science, marine science, SAR, CTD and diving. When I first got here there were six boats however, one was sent to the Falklands for a project there and the other two I declared unfit and they have been sent back to the UK for disposal. I am slowly getting used to boats with engines and no masts to climb or sails to haul around and trim. I do miss the feeling of sailing but the vistas here are the most amazing I have seen in my travels, so every now and again I lie on the front of the RIB when it is going fast to gain some of the feeling of being out on the end of a bowsprit.

Last month, in 17 days that were workable, we did 162 hours on the boats.  Last December only 86 hours were done in a 21 days. So a busy month for us at the boatshed but nowhere near as crazy as running a few race boats on the circuit in the Caribbean, East Coast etc. There was quite a lot of island science on top of the daily diving schedule where we collect animals for experiments. I do feel sorry for the animals that I snatch from the seabed and hope that the knowledge gained from their deaths will be useful for mankind. The scientists down here are very good at what they do and have great reputations so I am sure no little creature’s life is wasted.

Besides boating I also get involved in other parts of the stations workings including a compulsory Gash day which means you basically cook and clean for a day. The fun other compulsory activity is co-pilot on the Twin Otters that fly out into the field inputting scientists – yes we really do fly the plane amazingly enough and my second time out after some tuition the pilot let me land at Rothera. Depending on how busy you are on station you also end up being put to work on depots up to 500 miles south of Rothera.  You act basically as a petrol station attendant for the planes that come and go with the field parties. There is a lot of digging involved but being out in the middle of the Antarctic continent in a remote camp makes up for it. 

Then there is always a scientist behind on a project that needs a helping hand – this week I helped with the Skua survey which involves wearing a hard hat and dodging large birds intent on braining you as you pick up their eggs and measure their volume or their chicks and weigh them then mark their beaks with tipex! Another project I helped with is cleaning out four aquariums in the Bonner Lab as the animals had unfortunately been infested by white fungi. Standing in a -2C room with your hands in -5C water for 3 hours is a great way to lose weight as your body goes into over drive trying to warm you up! Not sure if it is more preferable than running around before a regatta in foul weather gear dehydrating yourself for weigh in!

If you are interested in reading more about the science being done down here or just general life on station please visit my Racing Management Blog.  Thanks! -Ashley