It was nice to get a full night’s sleep, but at this point it was December 22 and we were worried about getting to McMurdo before Christmas. Most weeks, contractors in McMurdo have Sundays off, so no flying is done that day. This week was an anomaly because of the Christmas holiday, so we weren’t sure whether or not we would be able to make it to McMurdo for the holiday or not.
I got up the next morning and skipped the shower. Everything went smoothly getting to the airport and going through security. Probably due to runway conditions and crew availability, we were scheduled on a C-130 for the 8 hour flight to McMurdo. Our new departure time was 10am. We were issued bagged lunches and shuttled out to the runway in 2 groups. We went through safety training for the plane, were shuttled out to the runway, and boarded. We put our earplugs in, settled into our books, and taxied out to the runway. Then at 10:05am we heard the engines shut down. Turns out the weather forecast is released at 10am and it didn’t look good.
So we all deplaned. While we waited for the shuttle to come back around for the second group, we hung out with the pilots who were also disappointed but fun regardless. When we got back to the terminal, they de-palletized all of our luggage and told us we would be on an airbus departing at 1pm. Could be worse.
Then at 11:45am we got word that the flight was cancelled “indefinitely”. The NZ National Guard folks who were managing things were sympathetic, but “indefinite” is not a word you want to hear in these situations. The fact that they’d already rebooked hotel rooms for us for the night was also not comforting. Nonetheless, before we left the airport we had a new departure time: 2am, Sunday December 23.
What does one do with 12 hours? Well, we were a little worried to stray far from the hotel, since we now knew our flight could be moved up at any time. Still, we decided it was unlikely given the myriad of delays and what we had heard about only being able to leave late at night, especially on the Airbus. So what did we do? We went to the beach, of course.
It was gorgeous. There was a library right on the beach with a bar inside (although it was closed for a wedding reception at the time). Two members of the group who were clearly losing their marbles went swimming in the ocean just for kicks. We walked along the beach. We sauntered down the pier. We chatted with the fishermen. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful location. At that point, none of us were complaining about being held back.
Remarkably, that night I was able to take a shower without anyone bringing bad news. We were old hat at this flight check-in thing, so we breezed through and got suited up with our ECW gear. Good thing we were experts, because when we arrived at the terminal we heard the flight was being moved 30 minutes earlier to meet a weather window into McMurdo.