I went to Cambridge in the last week of August. I was hoping to know all all the people with whom I would share the base by the end of the year but that only happened a few weeks later.
My first days in Cambridge were to get familiarized with BAS headquarters, meet and start working with my line manager and the big chunk of BAS supporting team that would remain in Cambridge while I would be knee high in Antarctic snow.
I had to do my sea survival training right out of that first week in Cambridge. When I was still in Portugal, one day I got a brief email from BAS stating that I needed to do that training and to be sure that I would bring a pair of swim shorts, a towel and my passport. When I saw this list associated to “sea survival training”, I logically assumed that I would be brought in a boat to the English Channel and surprise dropped somewhere in the middle of it and it was expected that I would be able to swim to either shore, hence the passport.
Reality was simpler that what my imagination had fabricated.
This is a compulsory course for any personnel that steps foot to any of BAS ships and since I was supposed to go to Antarctica on board of RSS Ernest Shackleton, I had to do it.
Right on my first Wednesday in Cambridge, I went to BAS headquarters at first light, were a mini bus caught me and a couple of colleagues and took us to Norwich, where the training centre was located. Once there, I spend the morning going trough several theoretical presentations about…well…sea survival. Specifically, what to do in case of a capsize or something of the kind: how to use a life saving vest, how launch a inflatable vessel, how to operate an emergency radio and so on. In a nutshell, if the Shackleton has a surprise encounter with an iceberg, a dead whale or a really, really fat seal, we should use this techniques and survive as long as possible until getting some rescue.
The rest of the day was spent in an indoor pool practicing these concepts, something that, considering the context, was quite fun. During the training we used plastic helmets and heavy impermeable suits to simulate wet clothes, since we were not going to hang around the southern seas in swim shorts and bikinis and avoid getting all pruney after an hour in the water. The pool was deep but also reasonably warm and since the life jackets that we were wearing forced out heads out of the water at all times, the afternoon was strangely relaxing since most of my time there was spend floating around effortlessly in warm water. Once in a while I had to jump from a 4 m board, turn a raft over or hug someone (to conserve heat that is…)
And that was pretty much it. The passport was actually needed to oficialize the proof of conclusion, the towel because I was going to get wet eventually and the swim short because running around naked in a public pool is almost never a good idea.