Letter from Lockroy - January 28th 2010

Letter from Lockroy - 28th January 2010

 We have had fairly consistent weather alternating between a glorious day to a cloudy day the next.  It sounds as if we should be sending, rather than receiving, messages from home of 'hoping you are coping with the snow and ice', as we have been fairing better than the UK.

This has all been good news for the Nissen Hut build team who've made steady progress with the back half of the building.  The cylindrical cardboard formwork was dug into the rock platform of the old Nissen Hut and levelled, before the concrete mixer was assembled to make concrete for the foundations.  Once the concrete had hardened, three curved steel frames were bolted together to form an arch.  Four of these arches have been plumbed in place on the concrete pads to form the framework of the build and with the structural insulated panels (SIPs) slotting into the steel ribs, the hut has begun to take shape, nicely fitting into the skyline, by just being visible above the met tower rocks from afar.

The Nissen Hut under construction in 1944The Nissen hut under reconstruction in 2010

 The Nissen hut reconstruction has provided an additional attraction to Goudier Island with many visitors taking interest in the development and wondering 'who is in the yachts' anchored at the back.  The Expedition Leader (EL), Howard, of our first cruise ship, Polar Pioneer, on 21 January knew that the construction team was living in the Australis and this meant a happy, albeit brief reunion, with his daughter Skye for the first time in six months.  Also on board was Dave Burkitt, who led the four man team that restored Bransfield House in 1996.  He put things in order by setting the clock in the radio room to the right time, informing us it must be wound weekly, and tidying up the Union Jack that had become entangled with the flagpole during the night.  We also learnt that the 'Ingrid' sign in the kitchen refers to one of the old generators and that The 'Beastie' machine can be opened up to see where the camera is fitted.  Polar Pioneer left us with freshly baked hot pizza which was eagerly consumed by the Lockroy Ladies and Construction Team whilst sitting out on the decking in the sunshine.  This has since been repeated a couple of times with tea and cake instead.


 We have all been doing very well with our meal credits this week, which are given out when not having to cook an evening meal due to being invited to dine out.  In the evening of 21st  we were invited on board the exclusive Hanse Explorer for dinner of sashimi and sushi following their afternoon visit and the next day, Skye on Australis more than reciprocated our welcome drinks in the lounge (previous blog), with superb homemade humous and pickled aubergine as dips for starters and then a traditional Aussie BBQ of sausages and chicken for an early Australia Day celebration!  It was great to look at photos of Rick and Joe's hard work on the newly renovated Wordie House, whilst listening to music and sipping Vernadsky vodka, from the Ukrainian base, neighbouring Wordie.  The following evening the nine of us (Lockroy Ladies and Construction Team) were invited on Corinthian II for dinner and whilst having pre-dinner cocktails in the bar, saw the Bark Europa majestically sail into view with all her sails billowing in the wind. The three-masted Dutch barque celebrates her 100th birthday in 2011 and it was great to meet her new expedition team during their morning visit.

 This week has also seen visits from Prince Albert II, who treated us to breakfast, and the maiden voyage of Plancius, a former hydrographic ship of the Royal Dutch Navy with the ever reliable Rolf Stange as EL.  Dr. John Dudeney , former Deputy Director of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and now lecturer on the Minerva, provided further insight of the workings and results of the 'Beastie' machine (the focus of his PhD) which was used for upper atmospheric research in order to forecast radio transmission frequencies.  He also talked of his forty years at BAS and involvement in the Vernadsky (formerly Faraday) handover.

The ionosonde - nicknamed the 'Beastie'

 We've had about six yachts moor in between Goudier Island and the glacier this week: Selma who kindly brought across some freshly baked buns and Ada II who will undoubtedly be around for a few days to come, waiting for the right weather conditions..... This yacht has an experienced French team of three sailors and three mountaineers doing a two and a half month expedition around the  Antarctic peninsula, in which they are attempting to complete previously unclimbed routes and/or peaks at a rate of one per week.  Their goal on nearby Wiencke Island is Mt.Luigi di Savoia 4640ft (1415m), which is the northernmost peak of the Fief Range that provides a backdrop to Bransfield House, and was first ascended in February 1905 by two men from Charcot's Français party.  It has been a pleasure speaking with Isabelle Autissier who has given us regular updates of the mountaineers' progress, but also, when asked, has spoken of her own remarkable achievements in sailing.

 From the French to the Scottish, with the Saltire displayed in the bunk room for a late Robbie Burns mini supper lovingly prepared by Claire.  The construction team came across at the end of their working day on 28 January to join the Lockroy Lassies around the table for haggis on oatcakes drizzled with Drambuie (courtesy of Claire's step-mum), accompanied with a glass of whisky and warmth from the fire.

Burns night with haggis and Drambuie Sheathbill attack - succesfully knocking the krill away from feeding chick
And so life goes on at Port Lockroy, when we are not looking after visiting cruise ships, we're hand-franking postcards, cashing up, restocking the shop, completing stock takes and finishing painting the roof.  Likewise, our neighbours from the animal kingdom are living their lives too.  We've had a visiting crabeater seal lying on an iceberg and a Weddell seal enjoy lazing on the remaining snow on Bills Island.  Also, when walking across to Bills Island at low tide we've spotted a couple of the Dominican gull chicks and watched the intriguing aeronautical manoeuvres of the Antarctic terns and Wilson's storm-petrels. 

Our gentoo penguin chicks are forming creches and have as their playground the ramp up to Bransfield House plus boot brush or the old whale bones depending on if they are in the 'Bransfield House & Union Jack' or boatshed colonies respectively.  We see many penguin chicks chasing the adults for food and when the parents finally relent, we regularly observe the klepto-parasitic behaviour of the snowy sheathbill which launches mid-feed, disturbing the regurgitating moment with the aim of stealing some of the food.  Also we have witnessed some cruel deaths of our beloved gentoo chicks by the brown (subantarctic) skua and, as is the circle of life, in turn seen a skua being eaten by a southern giant petrel.  Ben from Australis pointed out to Anna a couple of giant isopods in shallow water, which had disappeared by time the rest of us arrived...a bit like the elusive whales which we hear, but rarely see, in the distance amongst the breath-taking landscape of blue icebergs dotted across the bay in this magical white continent.