Ukranian Antarctic Station Academic Vernadski can be found on Argentine Islands and it was a mystery for me for some time. Acording to my old books a British station Faraday should be there. The puzzle was solved when I arrived to the Antarctic. At first I was told at Palmer that the british sold the base to Ukraine fo one dollar in 1996. "It´s been definitely one pound" said the the British at Port Lockroy so convincingly that I have to believe them. Do not laugh. It´s not just a national pride - currency issue. It made the whole thing twice as expensive!
The main building on the left is dwarfed by mountains forming Le Maire channel which is 20 kilometers away.
Igor become my good friend here. We had something in common. If nothing else, we both enjoy our hobbies to such extend that it is hard for a woman to like it. We talked about the important things first: station history and Czech visitors since the beginning until today, folk singers from Ural to Woodstock, famous classical musicians from Antonin Dvorak to Lubomir Brabec (the former has not visited the station but they have his music here anyway:-) the latter left CD with his concert here and it is liked and it has not been forgotten), noteworthy Czech movies like "Limonadovy Joe" and "Sedmikrasky" (or Daisies in English, directed by Vera Chytilova. Both are well known at Vernadski), fears and friendships with Russia and many other. He showed me his own drawings, I recognised Vladimir Vysockij on one of them. Later we got to minor detailes like where I am going to sleep if I ever have opportunity to such a timewasting at Vernadski and talking about work we agreed that having your bed at your office is not a bad thing and there is no point to go home if nobody is wating there for you.
Igor showing the machine used to measure ozon - dopplermeter.
One of scientific achievements done in these walls is nothing less than the ozon hole discovery. It is not just a fact it is an exciting story which reminded me a fable about a race between a turtle and a rabbit. Igor´s job here is to mesaure the ozon concentration every day and as I could notice he is proud of it. He is still using the same dopplermeter as his ancestors since this work started at Faraday. "This man discovered the ozon whole" pointing on a framed photogrhaph on the wall. It is a soccer team (a sport still played with nearly latin americanlike passion at Vernadski) on a snow playground. The guy is smiling and he is the only one on the picture wearing shorts. He was not the only one who was measuring ozon in that time. NASA had a lot of data as well but what they had found seemed to be so dramatic that they did not believe it can be true. They have found very little ozon and made a conclusion that there must be an error. Wrong conclusion. Their data were actually correct but the ozon hole remained undiscovered. The irony of it is more evident for everybody who knows about history of American research program. Huge projects with a many milions of dollars equipment (including one nuclear power plant) is the rabbit. The turtle in shorts with a suitcase size machine using one hole in the roof is the one who wins.
I like the story so much that I must be forgiven if I simplified it. Everybody from a small and not rich nation must like it. (I know that UK is not the case but there is a difference between their and US program in Antarctic. I came from a country where science survives sometimes miserably but there are some fast turtles there). The photograph has one personal conotation to me. My school teacher should see it. That one who was making circles with his finger in the front of his forehead when I came to school in shorts in early spring. (As a teacher has not found words to express himself verbally. It was not bellow zerro by the way). I know what he would say: "Petrasek, when you discover something like ozon hole, you can come to school in your underware and I will make a tea for you".
Australian Yacht Philos brought a present for Vernadski station. An animal from South America. No animals are allowed in Antarctic because of foreign species invasion danger, but this one could not make any harm. It did not have skin, any hooves and the head was also missing. Because it was in this condition, it was hard to defend against rumours that it was a llama which had shrunk by excesive drying. But all the meat experts confirmed that it was a lamb, most likely from the eastern side od Tierra del Fuego mountains and in its last moment it did not suffer much. It was washed down by two unusual drinks. One of them was Vernadski vodka (made in the Antarctic, all the station around have a bottle.) and the other one was a bottle which had sailed around the world on one of the visiting yachts. Party was great but not very pleasant for Czech colours. When I tried very hard I was able to hit a billiard ball but to get them into a hole was too difficult. When I saw a French lady dancing "kozatchek" like the local guys if not better, I found a dark corner and hoped that nobody can find me. Nikolay the magician cheered me up with his trics later. End is well all is well, I even had some sleep in the attic that morning.
The station is unique for more than one reason. The british past and and Ukranian present goes together. You can find old Beatles LP with today Ukranian music in one shelf. In a supposedly most southern souvenier shop on the planet you will find Penguins a la Russsian doll (you can put six together) and old british nautical books a bit further. The guys are making the station clean up every day after dinner. "We took this tradition from the British. It was the same in the Wordie house" explained one of them. Instead of "after dinner" , they say "pósle úžina", meaning is the same. (Wordie House - the original base since 1947 is not far and it become a museum. Hopefully it will be restored - as Port Lockroy was - by UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.) Icons, traditional eastern christian religious paintings can be found in the laboratories above most of the work tables and guys with snowshoes and wooden boats from British Antarctic survey are still smiling from black and color photographs around the station. In one frame you can find both - in one picture in a different way: a visit of her royal highness - she is sitting in the bar among Ukrainian crew.
Wordie house - original british station (used 1947 - 1954) become a little museum.
Vladimir also become my friend here. He studies Earth magnetism and he likes anything which is crazy enough or more. (Who else would bring the movie Daisies?!) That might be a reason why he was so interested to know everything about my sailing adventure. His plan is to travel around the world on a bicycle and I assured him, that in case he does not have money, he can just walk. What a freedom. Sailors can just envy it or be scared that it would be too much even for them. He is also one of the good station photographers. I wish he will make it somehow with an interesting book about it at the end.
A couple of times in my life I had an opportunity to stay in "only man" communities (not talking about small groups but it may be similar). One of them was a Scout leader training , later in firemen troops in Prague. Vernadski station was the last so far. They all have something in common. The atmosphere is special and what I like most is the humour. A joke and some kind of fun is never too far and a laugh starts even in unexpected moments and usually everybody can join it. It is a pleasant atmosphere and rarely becomes too painful for somebody. Of course people laugh everywhere and I am not saying that women are against fun (not at all). It just seems to me that there is something else in the air when men live together without them. I noticed that if such a community have a leader which understand this sense of humour and does not suppress it, the place become very pleasant to be and also to work in. I had the priviledge to see it in all above mentioned places. It will survive in the most adverse conditions like Antarctic winter, big fires and it can overcome even a real trouble - religious differences for example. It is hard to describe satisfactorily. If you visit the station, look around, look at joke-pictures around the station, ask for movies the guys made as birthday presents, movies about Midwinter celebration, fishing, looking for water. Join the table. All you need is time. (Visitors from big cruisers do not have this luxury and small yachts lack all other luxouries. A choice.)
Bread in the frame - break the glass in emergency. This can be found where the meals are normally served.
I would like to mention a special collection which still continues getting bigger thanks to visitors and which has been maintained by various crews there. Talking about men hobbies I can say that the Scouts did not have anything like this (and scouts collect almost anything!) and firemen did not show it to me (I was a psychologist there and you do not want to tell them everything). It is a bra collection. As far as I could find a charismatic base commander started it a couple of years ago. He addressed not a small group of women (probably visitors) in the right moment to make the collection. He had to be the kind of guy that they were not able to say no and the custom got a good start. New bras are still comming. I talked to a lady who decided to leave her 85 USD piece so the visiting group of hers would not leave a bad impression. Another one was sorry not to have more than one and too boring - good for climbing but not anything else. There is one piece in the window which must belong to another species, some kind of a giant. (a commercial promoting breast feeding sounds just too crazy). Small sample of the collection is displayed behind the bar (about twenty) and there are four more boxes upstairs.
If you got an idea that there is not much time for scientific work here you got it wrong. Actually the working hours are kept and they are quite strict and everybody has to listen to the boss. (On the other hand he is the kind of boss who takes the garbage away when it is his turn, easier to have a boss like this). Of course I had too many distractions to find more detailes about what the station does. But only visitors are exused from hard work. Apart from ozon measurement there is a couple of biology projects running, earth magnetism research (part of it is an international program Intermagnet) and seismology measurement. The service staff was more than busy making new pipes and heating maintenance for the station and others were measuring soundings among the islands. There is a doctor, nice chap but he is a surgeon and I had nothing to offer to be cut. The most important man is of course Vova the cook. I enjoyed his meals, its style reminded me what my mother used to make for me in Prague when I was a boy.
Once I was asked: "You have seen Palmer, what do you thing about our station?" At first I could not say anything but obvious and something what they new very well. "Palmer has all the toys, anywhere you can look in the laboratories, galley, bar, gym..." Later I could add something: "Many people including people from Palmer told me about how friendly you are and how nice time they were having here¨". I can say it now myself as well. Ater visiting Vernadski I think I understand what they had in mind. And by the way it is not so bad with the toys here either.
Švandu se mi kazit nechce
vyjímku však uprosím
nepřispěju do kolekce
mám jen jednu, tu nosím.
Vodka dojde, nedej bože
a mráz ještě přitvrdí
ochraňte si holé tváře
nasaďte ty podprdy.
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