So you’re ready to go down in history as a Marionite? Congratulations! Before you get into the thick of things, with so much to consider for the upcoming 14 months you’ll be inhabiting this beatific island, we’d like to help you out with our unofficial guide to overwintering on Marion Island. This guide has been adapted from Pierre Joubert (previous over-winterer on Marion) who modified the original version from a colleague before him (Jon Ward – previous overwinterer at SANAE, Antarctica). It is based off experience from countless Marionites before you, detailing everything you need to know, from team dynamics to packing recommendations. Happy reading…

The Job

The base exists solely to support the science that is being carried out on Marion Island. Each person on the team will be hired into a specific job.

The technical support team, comprised of the base engineer, diesel mechanic and radio technician, are responsible for the power distribution (generators and electrical), water (fresh and waste) and communications (internal and external) systems of the base respectively. There is one base Medic, he/she will be responsible for the team’s physical and mental wellbeing.  The “metkassies” (weather team), usually a senior and two junior technicians, perform hourly weather observations and report back to their HQ. These guys work shifts, so be considerate during the day. The Environmental Control Officers (aka ECO’s – there are usually two) are managed by the DEFF, their function is to ensure the island stays as pristine as possible. The SANSA engineer is affiliated with the South African National Space Agency which entails keeping their systems and data-logging running on the island. He/She will also responsible for the screen in the dining area

The field assistants are the biggest group on base, responsible for continuing the research of their PIs (Principle investigators, aka heads of a research group) throughout the year. Field assistant positions include Botanists, Geomorphologists, Avian and Marine Mammal ecologists (aka Birders, Sealers and a Killer Whaler). Their jobs are going to be very physically and mentally strenuous,  oftentimes they will require a helping hand with which is a great opportunity for you to get stuck in and learn about island life.

As part of a small, select group the most important aspect is that you operate as a team. In a remote, challenging environment you need team players with good inter-personal skills. Whilst each individual on the team has his/her crucial role to play, nobody can perform their job without the support of the rest of the team. It is therefore important to recognise that each person on the team plays an equally important role. The success of your team and its scientific mission will depend on your ability to work together.

In addition to your designated role on the team, you will also be expected to play a role in the other, more menial day to day tasks – preparing and managing food and meals, cleaning your own toilets, organising your own entertainment etc. and keeping yourselves sane and happy for an extended period of time. Please be considerate and pull your weight equally, if one team member is slacking then the rest of the team will be forced to make up for that team member. It is imperative to recognise that although you are hired to perform a specific job, you are part of a team that will rely on you and that you will be accountable to both in a work and a social setting. Members of your team are not only your work colleagues but are quite literally your friends and family for the next 14 months, the only people you will have direct contact with. How you work together will affect your social relationships. Remember to be there and accountable to fellow team mates both in work and play! If you expect to work a 9-5 job and then disappear into your room for the rest of the day, you are going to have a very long and rough year. Prepare yourself to have plenty of social events and encourage everybody to get involved.

The Team Leader

DEFF will appoint somebody on the team to be the team leader. That individual will be responsible for what happens during the year and will direct the activities that will need to be carried out.

It is not an easy job being the team leader. The person who is appointed would not have necessarily asked or volunteered for the appointment. Be as supportive as you can towards the team leader as he/she has a lot resting on their shoulders. Recognise that not every decision that is made will coincide with what you would want to happen. Be prepared to sometimes be disappointed.

The team leader should be doing what he/she believes is best for the entire team. If you have an issue with what the team leader is doing communicate it by arranging to speak to him/her privately before involving the rest of the team. Remember, that after many long months of relative isolation emotions and tempers are more likely to be sensitive.

A deputy team leader will be appointed and can also be involved in decision making or in mediating disputes with the team leader.

Sponsors, Gifts and Team Clothing

Before you depart from Cape Town, the team leader is usually responsible for organising sponsors and donations. This should be done as early as possible to ensure that you receive the items in time. This is not his/her official job and be prepared to assist should he/she decide to delegate certain tasks to other team members. The team leader may do this intentionally to assess your work ethic prior to departure and to get the team to start working together. It is also recommended that the team leader represent the group when dealing with potential sponsors as they would have been properly informed of the relative DEFF policies to which you have to adhere.

The team leader should also get the ball rolling in designing a team logo and ordering team clothing (this has to be approved by DEFF so get the guidelines from them before you start your designs). It is a good idea to involve the whole team and to get submissions from each team member. The team can then vote and decide on a logo and what team gear to purchase. This is an important aspect as the logo will need to be digitised and the team clothing ordered. This needs to be done as soon as possible.

During the take-over function the teams are expected to exchange gifts. This usually takes place in the form of a buff or an article of team clothing but can be anything.

Make sure that you understand any expectations that sponsors may have (within the DEFF policy), and make sure that you communicate with them during the year and send them a few photos; this will keep most sponsors happy. Make sure you have enough team clothing and other items to exchange with the other teams.

In terms of what team clothing to get, a team golf-shirt is recommended (with a collar) as it is also acceptable attire in the dining hall of the SA Agulhas 2 and can be used to identify year-team members on the ship. A team buff and/or beanie is also a great idea. Team badges that can be sewed onto clothing are popular and you will be able to trade them with other teams so get several per team member. It is a nice idea to have a team jacket or something that you can all wear for team photographs. It looks good when the whole team is wearing official gear in their photos. In addition to these things, you should get a rubber stamp of your team logo as well as a team flag.

Team clothing can turn out to be quite an expense, especially since you will be spending quite a bit of money, on gear and supplies for your year away. A good way to deal with this expense is to work out how much each team member needs to pay and then order extra gear to sell on the ship, so that you can make your money back. You will fi that many people will want to buy your team memorabilia, so work out a fair price and you will probably make your money back with enough to supplement your own gear as well.

The Ship

You will need to budget for liquid refreshments and for any items that you wish to buy from the ship. You cannot take your own booze so you will have to buy any drinks and snacks you consume. Take about R1000 cash for each way especially if you want to purchase ship memorabilia, such as clothing, caps and badges. When you get onto the ship you will have an account started for you and you will not be able to leave the ship until you pay your tab.

The ship is really where you set the tone for the whole trip. This is a great place to socialise and get to know the people with whom you will be spending the next few months. Build relationships, be friendly and the time will go quickly. Make use of the bar hours, attend special events, organise card games, movie nights etc. – just don’t hide in your cabin otherwise nobody will even know who you are by the time you get to Marion and everybody else would have already formed their own social clubs.

As I mentioned before, take your sea-sickness tablets. The first couple of days are the roughest and then most people are alright. The food on the ship is awesome so to ensure you don’t miss out, make sure you follow the dress etiquette, otherwise they will not serve you. During dinner, men need to be wearing a collared shirt (definitely not t-shirts) and closed shoes.

Packing Checklist

The packing checklist has been compiled with the sole purpose of ensuring this adventure you’re about to undertake is the best and most comfortable experience possible. It is not necessary for you to go out and purchase anything or everything on this list, it is possible get by on the island with only DEFF issued gear (but we can’t guarantee it will be as cosy).

Go to our Packing Recommendations page or access the downloadable version here: Overwintering Checklist

This is going to be one of the most incredible years of your life. In this time you are going stretch your limits a lot further than you imagined, make lifelong friendships and most magical of all, bear witness to intricacies of the sub-Antarctic life-cycle. You’ll see Albatross chicks through to fledging, seal harems grow and dissipate, and snow-capped peaks melt into green and red. Enjoy every moment and don’t take it for granted because you will look back and miss it when it’s gone.

Wishing you all the best for the year ahead. Smash it!

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