Richard, the purser on the JCR, was the first person to welcome us onboard. He made sure we settled into our cabins allright, went over the safety procedures and led us into lifeboats during the first emergency drill. My sister was a purser at Turkish Airlines for a while, so I wanted to chat with Richard and find out what it is like to be a purser on a polar-bound ship as opposed to a commercial airline.
DA: Where are you originally from?
RT: I am from Sunderlend, in the UK, where I still live. I went to college there, and studied catering.
DA: What do you learn when you study catering?
RT: You learn to be a chef. I was 16-17 at the time. I grew up with a mother and grandmother who cooked all the time, they would cook for days and bake delicious pies and cakes. They used to let me help while cooking too. But as a part of studying catering, you also learn about being a waiter at a restaurant, planning and running receptions, hotel management etc.
DA: What did you do after graduation?
RT: I had a part-time job before graduation, which turned into a full time job later. After graduating, I was a commis chef- a junior chef – at a hotel in Sunderlend. At that position you go around various stations in the kitchen such as sauce, dessert, vegetable, salad… Later I was promoted to be in charge of a station, doing different sections.
DA: How did you get to Antarctica from there?
RT: I Joined BAS in 1999. My first job was actually a base chef, I over-wintered at the Halley Station. But I should mention I was the head chef in a hotel for 7 years in the northeast of England. I spent 2.5 years at Halley without a break.
DA: At an Antarctic Base with only a dozen or so people, does a chef work non-stop? Is there another chef that could take over if you felt sick, or just needed a day off?
RT: No, there is only one chef. The chef works 6 days a week, and on Sundays one of the winterers takes over. There is no full hot breakfast though, it’s mostly cereal, so the chef cooks lunch and dinner six days a week.
DA: We have heard that one year at Rothera, the base faxed a 6-page list of the food supplies they would need for the coming winter, but somehow only the first page of the fax reached BAS. And nobody realized this until the shipment came in at the end of the summer and the winterers ended up with only 1/6th of the food they needed. Is Halley also remote like Rothera where no planes or ships can come 6-7 months a year during the winter?
RT: Halley is a bit more remote than Rothera actually. Planes come on the skiway but there is no runway. Ships would arrive in December to do the main relief, take 2 weeks to offload, go to Stanley, load up, and then come back in February to take all the summer personnel away. This would be the start of winter. There’d be about 16 people spending the winter.
DA: The people at Rothera mentioned that the fresh food and veggies run out within a month. Then the potatoes and onions last another month, but they are basically out of everything fresh in the third month. What would you cook for the rest of the winter months?
RT: Normally BAS orders the food when you go there for the first time. You can advise on the amounts the following years. Anything you need more or less of, you can mention next time around there is a shipment. So once the fresh food is gone, we use frozen and dried food. Actually frozen veggies are just fine; you can treat them as fresh vegeatables.
DA: From Halley, how did you get to work on the JCR?
RT: I had applied for a position on the ship and actually got the appointment before I left the base. I started on the JCR as the Chief Cook in April 2002. The chief cook works 7 days a week for 4 months on board. All of the crew are 4 months on, 4 months off. I Did that for 2 trips. Then the purser decided to retire so I got that job in May 2003.
DA: What does a purser do on the JCR?
RT: It is like being a hotel manager. Think of it as hotel services, hotel accommodation. I order all the food, wines, beers, the chocolate you girls eat, crisps, the shirts and sweatshirts we sell with the JCR logo. I also administer everyone’s personal accounts – there could be up to 48 scientists onboard (DA’s note: we don’t use money on the ship. Every has a credit card number provided to BAS in advance so whether you have a beer or a chocolate bar, you mark it off next to your name, and Richard tallies the marks at the end of the cruise to charge that sum to your credit card). I also do what we call the Safety Induction and and make sure all the scientists muster correctly at emergency drills. In an emergency drill, in preparation for a real emergency, we muster all scientists at the muster points, and once everyone is there with their special survival suits and personal flotation devices, we take them into the life boats and brief them in there.
Normally the chief cook decides the menus, and passes them over to the purser, 1-2 days in advance. Last year on a very busy science cruise where we had to work 24 hours, the chief cook, Ash, got sick for a few days. I worked in the galley for the day shift and Jamie, the 2nd cook did the night shift.
DA: How many times have you sailed to the polar regions?
RT: I have had 11 trips total. I like the Arctic a lot. The West Coast of Greenland, with still calm waters is fantastic. But I am always surprised by how the Antarctic never ceases to amaze me. Its beauty and the wildlife is just amazing every time.
DA: What do you do during your 4 months off?
RT: I travel and relax. I also like to take photos, and cook. You can see my photos on my website. I like to keep fit. I did ice climbing while at Halley. I also enjoy reading biographies and travel books. I keep a diary of my travels as well as my time on the ship.

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