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Historic Nansen Sledge Gifted
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Flush at Stonington in 1964
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“Flush” (the Duchess), on the left, with Snap at View Point
Photo: Geoff Renner
“Flush” at Stonington in 1964
Geoff Renner, Geophysicist, Stonington 1964
Had she been a horse her coat might have been defined as mealy bay or skewbald. As an Antarctic husky bitch she was favourably described as “golden tan on white”, less literally as “ginger”. That her colouring was unusual was as unsurprising as she was exceptional. In 1964 she celebrated her seventh birthday, scaled in at a sledging weight of 78 lbs and moved her residence. Her name was “Flush”, though because of an engaging arrogance she was also known as “The Duchess”.
Flush had been raised at Hope Bay, a FIDS base bred with sledging legends. Field trips out of there, whether reconnaissance, survey or scientific discipline epitomised the early days of over snow travelling. Theirs was a heroic period but because of strategic and logistic reasons Hope Bay was scheduled for closure in 1964. An era had come to an end and with it the inevitable disbandment of the dog unit. However, five hundred miles to the South lay Marguerite Bay where a new order of field travel was establishing. Where better to relocate the dog teams?
Thus it was that on Sunday 22nd December 1963 the teams were led from their spans and given deck accommodation on board the RRS John Biscoe. Among the dogs was Flush. So too was the rest of the 8 dog team called the “Komats”. Flush was not only their respected leader but also the elder stateswoman, for the team’s average age was not yet three years. Behind her in decreasing order of seniority ran Joe, Achilles, Snap and Crackle then the youthful trio of Amber and her two brothers Jasper and Agate. Also sharing the uncomfortable sea voyage South to Stonington were the “Terrors”; an equally well-travelled team – if not more so.
Despite her advancing years and slow encroachment of arthritis, Flush’s unquestionable intelligence and experience still ranked her among the most regarded leaders. During her long sledging life she had led both centre trace and the much less used fan configurations. She inspired a confidence and trust particularly when being driven across crevassed glaciers or broken sea-ice. Her intuitive interpretation of the driver’s command and unseen dangers would herald success where lesser might have foundered. Whilst not the strongest of dogs, her indefatigability on breaking trail through deep soft snow or in whiteout was inspirational to the following team. Contributory of course was her coquettish mischievousness which was the privilege of all front-running bitches. She was her own mistress – at times haughty, at others humble; sometimes stubborn, oftentimes subservient; frequently infuriating but forever winning admiration. Her loyalty was absolute and when not needing the comfort of her own company “The Duchess” happily settled for Man’s.
All huskies coveted the art; few ever managed it whilst those who did quickly relinquished their freedom by challenging their current adversary to a brawl. Flush had not only perfected the art but managed it well. That art was the ability to slip her collar or harness. No amount of precaution overcame her adeptness at “getting-off”. Once she escaped from a local sea-ice trip out of Stonington. She absconded from the night span and disappeared into the fading gloom of mid-winter twilight. It was 24 hours before she re-appeared at base where she was found sitting patiently by the hut door. No-one ever knew where her escapade had taken her but her return must have crossed difficult sea-ice and an erratically calving glacier snout. The pattern was somewhat different on more remote journeys but her technique was the same. When everyone else had settled for the night she would slip her collar, bypass the other dogs and make quietly for the tent. There she would sniff around or simply curl up on the tent’s valance. Only the envious whimpers and fretting of her colleagues betrayed her presence. Hearing a responsive movement from within the tent she would ramble back to her allotted span to feign a sleeping innocence before the roused “outside man” could admonish her. At midday brew stops she liked nothing better than to be unclipped so she could sit, and be seen sitting, close to the activity, be it outside or inside the tent.
On the 13th October 1964 there was an added enthusiasm to the pace of the Komats and the Terrors. They sensed an intimacy with the landscape and a familiar tang to the air. Accordingly they accelerated to the hut below them. It was Hope Bay. They had come home over-snow – even if only for a short stay. It would be their last visit. Not until the New year did they again reach Stonington. By then they had covered over 1900 miles of geophysical traverses. The long summer journey over contrasting surfaces has linked the international gravity base stations at Stonington and Hope Bay through a network of intermediate localities along the East coast of Graham Land.
Sadly Flush was beginning to show signs of distress for, whilst stoically bearing her arthritis, it was becoming increasingly debilitating. Not long afterwards she reluctantly passed on her responsibilities to the frolicsome Amber. For hundreds of miles the pretender had prudently, though apprehensively, understudied her leader, gradually being allowed to run shoulder to shoulder. Begrudging though Flush was, she knew the Komats had a worthy successor.
Flush in black and white in 1965
Photo: Dave “Soopsey” Vaughn