Having a dip in the ocean is good for the soul. It’s revitalising, reconnects us with nature and makes our bodies sing. Of course, there are many different ways in which you can achieve this: snorkeling in the tropics, going for an ocean swim on a hot summer’s day, subjecting yourself to the washing machine action of the surf zone, or the occasional dip to celebrate a change in season.
In Antarctica, where the water is −1.8°C and a layer of sea ice insulates that balmy temperature with its frozen crust, we do our best to stay warm and dry, and not fall into the ocean below. That said, the midwinter swim is something else. It is a tradition. This is all that needs to be said really because let’s face it, we’ll do crazy things for a tradition. And why wouldn’t you; you’re taking part of history, doing it as a team and living a life without regrets (presumably). All well and good until you actually see the hole in the ice, the dark navy blue ocean below, feel the freezing cold air temperature (−20°C or less), and realise you need to take your clothes off. More on the swim later — next week when we take the plunge on midwinters day.
For now, it’s all about making the swimming hole. Like anything in Antarctica, you need a plan and then to double check you’re doing it all safely. Team dieso (Richard, Marc and Jock) are the pool creators. They are highly skilled, enjoy the task and are creative by nature.
So, stage one: find the site. This is based on logistics. We want to be close to the station (because it makes life easier), with a good backdrop for photographs, and on quality sea ice. The ice is over one metre thick near the shore so ice isn’t a problem.
Stage two: remove the ice to provide access to the water. Our regulations require a hole of 1.5m x 1.5m as a minimum. The easiest way to do this is create a grid of holes with an auger so you can insert a chainsaw and remove small blocks of ice one at a time. The excavator then scoops them out so there is a clear patch.
Stage three: set up the site. This will be done later closer to the swim but consists of laying down matting (so your feet don’t freeze to the sea ice), and insert a ladder (made of fibreglass or wood so your hands don’t freeze to the rungs). Other vehicles and shelter will be brought onto the ice on the day to provide a changing room and a warming area. And finally, there are the artistic components which make it our pool in our year.
Sounds pretty straight forward but it has taken team dieso all day to make our pool, mostly in darkness. It looks great. We have lots of people planning to swim next week but we’ll see who is inspired on the day.
For those of you in more temperate regions, we ask you to also consider an oceanic dip on midwinters day next Wednesday. How could you not?
Kirsten (Station Leader)