Port Lockroy Blogs
Week 1 - The Journey South
So it has now been two weeks since we all met at the gate at Heathrow Airport, bags packed full of warm clothes (not enough gloves for me!) and ready to start our long journey to the world’s most southerly Post Office.
We had a great few days in Ushuaia exploring the streets, buying last minute supplies: dry crackers for the notorious Drake Passage (just in case!) and also doing a little bit of work.
The 10th arrived and we all hopped on board the ship Akademik Ioffe, our new home for five days, and began in style with a Sangria reception with all the crew and passengers. A storm was passing through the Drake Passage so our departure was delayed by 12 hours until the morning of the 11th, so my first ever night sleeping on a ship was a docked ship!
The next morning we cruised down the Beagle Channel and out into the Drake in beautiful sunshine, spent the day out on deck wildlife spotting and saw black browed albatross, giant and cape petrels, magellanic penguins, Peale’s dolphins, fin and humpback whales. Whilst we missed the eye of the storm we definitely still felt the effects and so our experience of the Drake was the ‘Drake Shake’ with 6m waves and unfortunately not the ‘Drake Lake’! The 12th was a rocky day just sailing through the Drake and everyone - crew included, was very excited to make our first landing at Yankee Harbour on the South Shetland Islands.
We were initially greeted by a spy hopping leopard seal as our zodiac weaved through the maze of brash ice and once on land we were lucky enough to spot a Weddell seal sleeping on the sea ice. It was ‘march of the penguins’ as hundreds of gentoo penguins propelled themselves out of the sea onto the beach and ice and began the waddle up to their colonies to find their long term partner to breed. Our second landing was to Whalers Bay on Deception Island, a horseshoe shaped sunken caldera which is still volcanically active and is also the home of Base B (Port Lockroy being Base A). As well as the opportunity to explore the derelict buildings including the huge whale oil tanks, wander along the black sandy beaches, Iain and I went snowshoeing to warm up before running into the sea for the polar plunge!
Our second day of excursions was equally exciting, with a 6.30am zodiac cruise through icebergs and brash ice in Cierva Cove, a wander round an old Argentinian hut left on D’hainaut Island with more of our gentoo friends and a spectacular zodiac cruise around Spurt island where we weaved in an out of channels cut off by icebergs and tunnels of rock, we couldn’t quite believe how amazing it all was. On our final evening aboard the Ioffe, the five of us gave a talk to all the passengers and crew about the UKAHT and the work we’d be doing for the next four months and were able to say bye to everyone that had become good friends over the last five days.
Week 2 - Port Lockroy at last!
The morning of our arrival at Port Lockroy was very windy and snowy but at 7.00am we climbed into our zodiac full of all our bags and got very splashed as we made our way to the island. It was quite an adventure even just landing on the island and eventually we found a spot where we scrambled up and pulled our very heavy bags with us.
The morning was spent digging our way into all the buildings as even though a few days earlier 20 mountaineers aboard the ship Sea Adventurer had very kindly shovelled some snow, lots had fallen since so there was lots to do. We all gladly welcomed our first cup of tea and the excitement of being in our new home, the Nissen Hut, began when we chose our beds and unpacked our few belongings. It was all hands on deck as we familiarised ourselves with the shop, museum and post office in Bransfield House as our first ship visit was landing the very next day.
All our hard work paid off with a delicious first lunch then dinner using last year’s leftover tins ‘a la Rachel and Adele’. Whilst we were all settling down to our first breakfast of porridge, the door knocked, but as we were slowly getting used to our noisy pecking friends the Sheathbills we didn’t think anything of it until we realised it was real people! The visit from the ship Ocean Nova was meant to be in the afternoon but due to conditions they had changed it to the morning and had tried to contact us but had no answer as we hadn’t managed to set up all our communications yet. After wolfing down our porridge we quickly got ready and managed to pull an off a very enjoyable first ship visit. We are really grateful to Jonathan Selby who not only welcomed us into his home in Ushuaia with his wife Roxanna for a delicious meal but also helped set up all our communications here at Lockroy whilst we were busy with the Ocean Nova visit.
Whilst the first two days on Goudier Island were cloudy and quite cold, we knew the mountains were all around us and on our third day we woke up to glorious sunshine, blue skies with the temperature reaching 9.6C in the afternoon. The views were spectacular and we couldn’t quite believe how beautiful a spot it really was as pictures just don’t do it justice.
As the previous two days were full on, we relaxed and finally explored our little island and even managed to walk across the sea ice to neighbouring Bills Island where the snow was cleaner (less penguin guano) so snow angels had to be made! Every day has an element of shovelling snow and as it was so hot I even managed to just wear a t-shirt, something I hadn’t thought was possible in Antarctica and as a treat we had our afternoon cup of tea in deckchairs on the snow! We are slowly getting used to finding a penguin free path to get across the island as the many gentoos are congregating into their colonies, finding their partner and beginning to build their nests. Our version of television and internet is to watch them as it is very amusing with greeting rituals and their squabbles, some of which result in one being chased at quite a pace across the island! Probably the two most exciting things, since arriving of course, have been the huge box of fresh fruit we were kindly given by the visiting ship Ocean Diamond; it is so nice to have salad, potatoes and even a pineapple, and also the lovely hot shower that we had on the ship Ushuaia, the simple things in life are all that matter!
We are slowly getting used to life on a small island, currently covered in snow with the Union flag flying proudly in the sky and have started our daily rota. With Anna helping us set up the base for two weeks the five duties are cook, base diary, clean, gash (waste) and ‘People’s Choice’, life is so different but also so similar to what we are used to! The sunny weather has unfortunately left us for a-while, as has the rumblings of glaciers calving but whilst the mountain peaks are now hiding behind the clouds, it gives the island a mystical feel so who knows what tomorrow will bring.