Letter from Lockroy - 11 December 2010
Finally we have enjoyed some of those perfect 'Antarctic summer' days, which last from the early hours of the morning, until late in the evening, with bright blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine. Hen summed it up quite nicely when she said 'on such a day, you forgive Antarctica everything'. Such glorious spells have been few and far between, and even though Port Lockroy is still an astoundingly beautiful place in a storm or even with low cloud cover, good weather makes it easier for us to complete our outdoor tasks. Over the past week, mixed in with the calm days we have still had high winds which make it feel much cooler. We have heard reports from other vessels that their plans have also been interrupted by such conditions.
Aside from welcoming the many visitors and teams from the expedition ships, we have been itching to get outside and on with decorating Bransfield House. One of the nicest jobs is to repaint the roof of Base 'A', which now has a glossy coat of bitumen. Sadly our beautiful roof only stayed that way for all of ten minutes, once the sheath bills had been pattering around and leaving their 'marks'! All four of us thoroughly enjoyed the task in hand, largely thanks to the stunning scenery and some very catchy swing music (courtesy of Hen's iPod). The facia boards on the east side of the house have now also been stripped back and repainted, as have the three science room windows. It is a slow but satisfying job, and means that the windows will hopefully last for a few more years. Yet more sanding, stripping and painting is on the list...
Following Michael & Liesl's inspection visit to Damoy hut earlier in December, it was clear that the building needed urgent attention; particularly the roof. Therefore given the fair weather predictions, the decision was taken for them to spend some time over at Dorian Bay. Ylva also went along; a wise move as her extra pair of hands was essential, given the strong winds. At present, we are anticipating their imminent return thanks to a lift from the Bark Europa. The 'Damoy Team' has been in regular daily contact with us here at Port Lockroy by hand-held VHF radio, and also a remote laptop connection (Iridium sat phone). The first few days were very difficult, with sunshine but 30-knot winds, making working outside on the roof very uncomfortable indeed. Michael had noted that Port Lockroy really does afford us considerable protection, with warmer temperatures. They have now managed to free the stairs from ice, prime and paint them. Further painting touch-ups have been completed, and Damoy hut is now 'sea green'. The hut also has functioning shutters thanks to some handy carpentry from Michael; we will use these at the end of the season to close down the base before the winter sets in. We look forward to welcoming Ylva, Liesl and Michael back 'home' to Port Lockroy very soon - they have been much missed over the past week.
The sheath bills have been particularly troublesome so far this season, with a glove being kidnapped and located in the nest under the entrance to the house, and no less than four attempts by these plucky white birds to steal one of the ski poles from the porch! On one occasion the culprit managed to drag the pole half way down the ramp. Since then the front door has been kept firmly shut unless during a visit or absolutely necessary. 'Ringy' (creatively named due to a ring on it's leg) has been trying to nest with his/her mate under the veranda, however there is still too much snow there. Instead they hop about and watch us paint, threatening to spoil fresh paintwork and wiping their bills on anything clean. At last the snow is melting and the penguins are managing to nest.
We are particularly grateful to Polar Star and the Ioffe for providing hot showers, a lovely breakfast and delicious BBQ this week. The latter, on board Ioffe, brought much amusement thanks to a silly hat competition organised by Val, one of the kayak guides; the passengers were truly creative, with much Port Lockroy merchandise put to good use. This was followed by entertainment from a fantastic Taiwanese magician and a burlesque dancer from Bristol - very random but amusing! Polar Star returned a few days later themselves, swinging by into the bay on their way north for passengers to wave at Hen, Hannele and Nikki, who treated them to a can-can at the Chains Landing - it really made our day.
During the Akademik Ioffe's visit the BAS ship RRS James Clark Ross sailed by through the Neumayer Channel. Base Leader Nikki was delighted to be able to fill in John Shears over the radio on the happenings at Lockroy; including the wonderful reconstructed Nissen hut, plans and work achieved at Bransfield House and other historic sites such as Damoy and Detaille, our mural discoveries in the bunk room, and how the season is progressing with ship visits.
The entire team has been busy giving pre-landing talks to the ships now; it is always a pleasure to go on board and explain about the work of the Trust, talk about Port Lockroy's history, and to elaborate on what we do and how we live today. Whilst Nikki was giving such an early morning talk on board the Polar Pioneer, Expedition leader Howard and some intrepid climbers were tackling Jabet's Peak. It was an incredible sight to see the little figures so high up there - we look forward to hopefully seeing some pictures the next time they are here at Goudier Island.
Hen has been closely monitoring the 'screen' colony of penguins, of which just under 90% have eggs in their nests. Once 95% of nests have eggs, we will wait 5 days and then count the number of eggs in nests across the whole island.
Finally, we welcomed our friends from the Chilean navy vessel Lautaro for the last visit to Port Lockroy this year. The Captain and most of the crew will also be stepping off in Punta Arenas just before Christmas - we wish them all the very best. It was the Captain's birthday, therefore a good excuse for Nikki to make a coffee and chocolate cake. This year's Port Lockroy team all really enjoy salsa and Latin American music, and this, combined with the fact that there are a few dancers amongst us, made for a lovely evening of birthday celebrations and farewells to everyone on board. We have already been very lucky to meet some fascinating and truly amazing people here at Port Lockroy, from all over the world and different walks of life. Seeing the delight on visitor's faces when they discover the restored Bransfield House and enjoy this beautiful spot makes us appreciate even more what a special place this is.