Heading Home – copyright 2009 Jack W. Cummings
Springtime in the Antarctic is a glorious time. Glorious winter snows have covered everything. The skies are a brilliant blue, and the increasing number of daylight (sunny) days has an obvious effect on morale. Plus summer will not be far behind and with it ships, replacement crews and mail. And in our case a surprise visitor: I was in the bathroom of our multi-purpose building one morning, when I caught a glimpse of a gentleman in a dress blue uniform passing the window. By the time I got to the entrance of the building, here was a Chilean Naval Officer arriving for a visit. Apparently his ship (I seem to remember that it was a decommissioned US Navy minesweeper) had come in unannounced for a surprise social visit. Although Articles of the Antarctic Treaty state that: Article 1 – area to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited, but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose; Article 7 – treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all activities and of the introduction of military personnel must be given. As any communications with the Chilean Navy would have come through me, I cannot remember the Chilean government advising us in advance. No one from our crew seemed concerned with political protocol – we were just happy to see a new face. I think we even broke out a bottle of champagne and celebrated.
Housekeeping chores still had to be performed, and I was selected to help Fergie take care of the most unpleasant of all – honey bucket replacement! (This can be most unpleasant, so those with weak stomachs should skip ahead to the next paragraph) Sewage treatment plants in those early years were not in station budgets, so each station was left to deal with the problem as best they could. Ours was very simple; cut a fifty-gallon fuel barrel in two, add handles, and slide it under the toilet seat through a trapdoor in the side of the foundation skirting. When the contents reached a manageable level, two people carried/slid the “honey bucket” down the hill and onto the ice. As the ice pack broke up, our honey buckets would “go to sea”. I might add that the trap door in the skirting was not perfectly sealed. If you were sitting above the honey bucket, and someone opened the door to the generator room where the facilities were located, the change in pressure brought a hurricane of FRIGID air through the trapdoor. You can guess what happened next! In the picture on the right, the trapdoor is located at the far right of the building. Penguins can be seen climbing the hill pretty much near the “honey bucket” trail to the shore and the sea ice. It could not be dumped, rolled or otherwise disposed of – it had to be placed intact on the ice!
Spring and summer also meant that we could now enjoy short outings and play in the fresh snow. Of course Eddy had to accompany us.
I am not sure on what day the USCGC Eastwind arrived to anchor in Arthur Harbor, but I do know that the arrival of their attached helicopter with mail was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. It was just a short time, until we had been relieved (my relief was RM1 Vernon L Nance) and were on the first leg of our trip home. Four Chiefs can be seen in this picture in our traveling clothes. Next stop Punta Arenas, Chile, followed several days later by boarding air transportation to Santiago. After a night in that beautiful city, we were flown to the airport in Providence, R. I., after stops in Lima, Miami, and New York. After a couple days of “debriefing” at Davisville, we were on our way to our families and home. I arrived at Los Angeles International in the late evening hours on the 9th of January 1966, and Barbara was there to meet me, over 13 months after seeing me off. It was a glorious homecoming. JWC