Around April each year, a new overwintering team is sailed down to the research base on Marion Island to relieve the existing overwintering team from their duties. The primary focus of the relief teams are maintaining the base and conducting scientific research. The spheres of research include Conservation, Space Physics, Meteorology, Biology (Avian and Marine Mammal Ecology), and Geomorphology. The takeover process lasts approximately a month as scientists have data to collect and precious information and processes to pass onto their new project custodians.

Looking back to the the last day of April, 2016, the month long takeover was finally coming to a close with the agenda for the day being an initiation of the new relief team at 15:00 pm and the formal take-over function at 18:00 pm. The theme for initiation was “tight and bright”, as instructed by the “Fairy Mother” of Marion, played by an alternative male botanist from the previous over-wintering team. Dressed in a pink crop top and tutu, the Fairy Mother ordered the initiates to line up on the lower Heli-deck where she regaled us with a list of what it is to be a ‘Marionite’. Everyone on the research base had gathered around the Heli-deck to watch the initiation unfold, cameras at the ready. With an exposed midriff and Mohawk mullet that flicked around violently as she shouted orders, the Fairy Mother was rather intimidating and no-one dared cross her.

Fairy Mother
Initiates gathering for the initiation ceremony at the Fairy Mothers behest.

Windowlene bottles of vodka infused blueberry Game were part of the Fairy Mothers arsenal, which she thoroughly equipped her minions with to pacify the unruly crowd of initiates. Suddenly, the Heli-deck became of blur of colour as the initiates engaged in numerous aerobic activities upon her instruction. Soon after, she had them jog a lap around research base which terminated in a mire run. Underneath the research base, which is raised on stilts to keep it from exposure to the boggy elements of Marion, a gauntlet through a cold, muddy mire had been set up for the initiates to pass through. One by one, they made their way through the mire trying hard not to lose their gum boots with every laborious, squelchy step. All the while being herded by the fairy minions, who stood on the side-lines ready to douse them with fists full of flour, followed shortly by a good hosing down as they exited the circuit to get rid of excess mud before they hit the showers in preparation for the evening’s festivities.

The take-over function itself was relatively short and sweet, with a few heartfelt speeches, some lovely musical performances by scientists visiting the base, as well as the formal and somewhat ritual act of “taking over”. This was done by calling up the previous team member and their corresponding relief member so they may exchange gifts, shake hands and sign over responsibilities. It was an emotional moment for all, the current team looking forward to leaving and relief team looking forward to the year ahead. The remainder of the evening was filled with gourmet finger snacks and dancing in the bar until the early hours of the next morning. For the relief team, this was the last big get together for the next 12 months, a daunting prospect compounded by the thought of the ship leaving three days later.

By the 3rd of May, the relief team found themselves in the upper Heli-hangar, waving off the old team and cohort of scientists one flight at a time until they were all back on the ship by 15:00 pm. By which time the relief team had made their way down to the lower Heli-deck at the front of the research base, gathering around in anticipation to watch the departure of the SA Agulhas II from the coastline. With a plume of black smoke to signal the start of the ship’s engine and a sounding of the horn, the SA Agulhas II set sail at 16:00 pm. The relief team stood on the deck and waved goodbye, watching wistfully was the red vessel grew smaller in the distance against the charcoal grey of the clouds and eventually disappearing over the horizon as the night sky drew in.

Good Bye Ship
Goodbye SA Agulhas II, hello isolation.
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