Letter from Lockroy - 12th December 2008

Letter from Lockroy - 12 December 2008
This past week we have been very glad of the fantastic handiwork of the Operation Tabarin team back in 1944 when they built Bransfield House. It is an amazingly sturdy little shed that stands up to all extremes of weather. The beginning of December has seen some very wild weather in this beautiful corner of the Antarctic Peninsula, which has affected both human activity and the penguin breeding season.

Historic photo of Port Lockroy

Last week we were wondering when our next visitors might stop by (and also when our next shower and water re-supply would be possible), as some truly spectacular snow storms and howling hurricanes conspired to prevent any ships from making it in to see us. Just as we had given up on the possibility of any one coming to see us, the brave and hardy little sailing yacht Northanger arrived seeking some protection from the developing storm in the sheltered bay behind our island.

Ever since Adrien de Gerlache discovered the area aboard Belgica, Port Lockroy has been known as a natural shelter (there are few such places all along the west coast of the peninsula). During the days of the storms we had been listening to the VHF radio in the bunk room and have received numerous messages from Captains and Expedition Leaders saying that they have been blown out of various landing sites, whilst others have been contending with 80 knot winds in the Bransfield Strait! Unusually, the strong winds have been blowing from the south west and we have never known it to blow pretty much continuously from that direction, for the past two weeks. Sadly this has meant that many of our ship visits have had to be cancelled. When visibility has allowed (through the snow storms), the view from the shop (new generator shed) these past couple of weeks has been of a spectacularly beautiful navy blue ocean, topped with impressive white crested waves that would make any surfer smile! Not so good for landings however..... The snow just seems to keep on coming; which has created a clean and pristine island - normally we would have expected most of the snow to have gone by now.

Bark Europa and Jabet peak in background

Surely one of the nicest things in life is to tread through fresh powder, however the penguins and their nests are covered in snow, another challenge to be added to the list of difficulties the penguins have had to endure during this extremely difficult breeding season. We have heard from expedition staff that gentoo and adelie chicks have already arrived further north on the peninsula.

There are none to be seen here yet we expect it may be a week or more before we see chicks here on Goudier Island. Across from us, there are already blue-eyed shag chicks hatching at Jougla Point, so we hope to have our own little ones here soon. Laura (our official wildlife monitor) has been eager to get on with the egg count, however with the poor weather this has not not been possible yet. The gentoos are hunkered down on their pebble nests doing their best to keep their eggs warm and the last thing they need is interference from us. Thankfully, we have enjoyed a few brief interludes of glorious spells of sunshine in the middle of this wintry weather, which has meant that much of the wet and 'pink mud' had dried up and the stony nesting sites were looking as they should (particularly down by the boatshed), rather than being waterlogged and occupied by very muddy penguins. With all the melting snow now, they may not have to venture too far for a swim when the sun comes out!

Muddy (guano!) penguins by the boatshed 

Life at Base 'A' has been very cosy indeed, and with the wintry feel outside we have been enjoying our new stove. A big thank you again to Hunter for their kind donation. Rick in particular is especially pleased with his handiwork, and the results of the installation are clear for us to see on his weather station, which also gives readings for inside the base. With the old portable gas fire, there had been no means of venting the condensation caused by the combustion, which meant that humidity was around 95% in the bunk room, and our walls were very often running with water at various points during the day. With our beautiful new stove, humidity has plummeted down to an average of approx. 58% (it is 51% and 18 degrees in the bunkroom as I write this - Nikki), and we are all much happier folk. We cannot emphasise enough the difference that this has made in keeping the the building dry, and avoid the damp and mould that has been creeping in the past few years. Thinking ahead, with plans afoot for the new Nissen Hut, it is notable that the old foundations on which the new building will sit are still buried under snow at this stage, and thankfully there are no penguin nests on or near to the site.

We are very fond of our little bunk room in the back of Bransfield House, however it would be wonderful if UKAHT can add this room to the museum, and display it as it would have been in the 1950s. Meanwhile we are happy for visitors to have a brief peek inside (the door is always open, with a rope strung across it), if they are curious to see how we live here in the Antarctic!

Now that the season is progressing, we have welcomed back the sailing yachts to Port Lockroy. We hope to see Greg and Kerry of 'Northanger' soon, under better weather conditions (the relaxed evening that the team spent with them in Ushuaia prior to our trip south seems to have been a lifetime ago already!). Meanwhile, yesterday M/Y Pelagic Australis stopped by, with a lovely Latvian group onboard. Earlier in November M/Y Australis spent a day or so with us, and we look forward to seeing Roger and his team again in the new year, together with Sky and Ben aboard M/Y Philos. The yachts typically spend much longer around these waters than the expedition cruise vessels, and passengers are called upon to help out on board with sailing, cooking and the general running of the vessel. This is also the case with the beautiful three-masted boat the 'Barque Europa' which sailed into our back bay a few weeks ago, looking like something out of a pirate film - a truly impressive sight!

These are some of the fantastic sights and experiences at Port Lockroy which make every day special and unique. And today the wind has blown in a huge amount of ice into the Chains Landing and around Bill's Island.

We have been out with our cameras, capturing gentoos playing on the icebergs and making the most of this spectacular scene - the ice is a myriad of shades of blue and sizes and is simply stunning. We feel it would be rude not to collect some of the clear 'dimpled' ice for a glass of something special later this evening... We will raise a toast to you all at home and your good health!

Judith, Laura, Nikki, and Rick

Boatsuits at the ready!