Letter from Lockroy - January 15th 2011

Letter from Lockroy  - 15 January 2011

 In true British style, one of our favourite topics of conversation is the weather, and it has been a 'mixed bag' this week, as former Base leader Alan Carroll had duly advised us to anticipate! Unusually hot, tranquil sunny days have stood in marked contrast with spells of howling wind and rough seas. The weekend started on an overcast note, with banks of snow clouds rolling in from the across the Neumayer - watching the looming grey move towards Goudier Island was quite eerie.  Hen measured 35 knot winds at the top of the ramp to Bransfield House, with the hand-held anemometer. None of us dared to venture to the top of the actual anemometer tower, and we often marvel at how the men who occupied the base during operational times ventured out in all conditions, to take their regular meteorological observations.  On these blustery days, we've been hugely grateful for the comfort and cosiness of the reconstructed Nissen hut, when we are not out and about busying ours elves around the base. Unfortunately the crashing waves and strong gusts did prevent a couple of ship visits, such is the nature of Antarctica! 

Waiting for the Fram  Visitors to the island 

Port Lockroy is a natural sheltered harbour, and we have seen an incredible number of yachts here in the bay, as  they come to visit the base and take advantage of the good anchorage, largely out of the wind!  Our language skills have also come in handy, with French and German conversation flowing around the base.  At one point, we even counted seven yachts in the back bay, to the east of Goudier Island - lined up in a neat row and bobbing about on the waves!   Quite a remarkable sight, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.  Whilst many yachts are charters with passengers on board, others are privately owned by couples or families, all inspired by the stunning scenery and fascinating wildlife. Amongst the yachts visiting this week, we welcomed Paratii, Xplore, Isatis, 'No Comments', Pelagic Australis, Spirit of Sydney, Esprit d'Equipe, Ada Dos and Uhuru. We were delighted to join Igor, Paolo and Miguel on board Paratii (joined by the lovely Jean Pierre and Janine from Isatis), for an evening meal. All seven yachts in the bay were on ice watch, due to some impressive calving from Harbour Glacier earlier that afternoon. It was a privilege to join Igor and his team on board Paratii, after we have heard so much about the yacht and Amyr Klink's adventures; Amyr overwintered at Dorian Bay by himself in 1990 on board this very same vessel.  Mike Powell and Richard Haworth from yacht Uhuru (skipper Steve Powell) climbed our very own Mt Luigi on 15 January, and we were astounded at the incredible photographs they took from the summit and on the climb (leaving at 4am from Alice Creek, returning at approx. 9pm).  Our many congratulations to them both on the ascent.

yachts in the back bay  Ice in back bay from calving of the glacier on Wiencke Island
This week, thanks to some glorious sunny days in between the windy spells, the maintenance of Base 'A' has progressed nicely. The new bunk room windows, so kindly donated by Jeldwen and installed by Michael and Ylva, have received their customary lick of red and white paint from Liesl, in keeping with the rest of the building. It is a delicate balance and considerable thought goes into observing and ensuring that the material of the building is cared for and sympathetically restored or replaced as necessary.   Nikki and Ylva enjoyed an afternoon up on the roof of the Nissen hut, replacing some of the previous screws with bolt and washer 'coach' screws - not an easy job due to the pitch of the roof, and avoiding the evidence of sheath bills!  Various bare wood that has been added to the construction this year, has received a coat of paint from Nikki, to protect it from the elements and harsh winter.  Liesl and Ylva secured the 'cheeks' to the dormer windows, thanks to their problem-solving skills! Hen and Hannele have continued to pay attention to the windows of Bransfield House, however we will soon need to wait for the penguin chicks to creche by the boat shed, before we can move on with painting around the new generator shed/gift shop.  Hopefully February and the beginning of March will bring us fair conditions for outside work, as the 'warmer' sunny and calm days have sadly been a bit of a rarity this season.   Thanks to Michael and Liesl's persistence, our 'rocket loo' is now fully operational, and there is a shower cubicle (albeit without a source of water) and fully functioning bathroom sink in which to brush our teeth (what a step up from the water jug and slop bucket of days gone by!).  As with the kitchen sink, two jerry cans are stored underneath; one from which a hand-pump tap pulls up water, the other to collect waste water (our permit allows us to dispense of this into the sea).  

Ylva on the Nissen hut roof  nesting gentoos with Bransfield House in background 

Due to the incredible amounts of snow that we arrived to in early November, we still have a considerable amount lying here on the island, with no real significant sign of melting.  The fault between the anemometer tower and the north wall of the Nissen hut is still a few metres deep in snow, and the gulley between the screen colony and south of the Nissen hut is also full of snow. The path up from the Chains landing site to Bransfield House needs daily maintenance as the rocks appear, and to break down the rock-solid ice, which occupies a fair few hours of our time on a regular basis. There is no doubt that we have fewer nests, just from glancing a the colonies, particularly by the south eastern end of the  boat shed, and also the birds that usually nest around the base of the flag pole are all gone.  This is the area which was particularly covered in a huge bank of snow for some weeks earlier in the summer. Some gentoos are still on eggs, but the vast majority now have one or two fluffy chicks.  Sadly we have noted a fair few chick mortalities, and the sheath bills are not slow to move in for a feed. Our first chick outside of the control colony, 'Puddle', is now wandering around outside of its pebble nest, although not far from its parents.  Puddle's comparatively impressive size offers quite a marked difference from the wobbling heads of the tiny wet chicks that we are also observing at the same time.   Although we very rarely see whales from Goudier Island (Michael has a keen eye however, and is usually the one to spot them out in the Neumayer), we have heard fantastic reports from visitors and expedition teams of large pods of orcas close to the entrance of the Gerlache. It is always such a thrill to hear of the wildlife that surrounds us in abundance. These sightings make the whaling artefacts of Goudier Island all the more poignant.

Zodiac ride with view of the Fief range

A new chapter is about to start this season, as the final preparations for work on other historic bases on the peninsula are underway. We were really pleased to hear from National Geographic Explorer's Expedition Leader, Bud Lehnhausen, that the team were able to deliver essential cargo (including fuel, provisions and timber), to Detaille, ready for work to start.  We are, as ever, indebted to Lindblad Expeditions and the team on board for all their help.  Anna Malaos and Dave Burkitt flew out on 15 January from Heathrow to Buenos Aires, and will be joining National Geographic Explorer in Ushuaia, with an ETA at Detaille of 21 January.  Meanwhile, we were pleased to receive confirmation from Captain Martin of Hanse Explorer, that they will collect Michael and Liesl from Port Lockroy on 17 January, with an ETA at Detaille on 20 January.  Detaille Island is located at 66°52’S, 66°38’W, and is situated on a narrow isthmus at the northern end of Detaille Island, Lallemand Fjord, Loubet Coast.  The site is relatively unaltered, and consists of a hut and a range of associated structures and outbuildings including a small emergency storage building, bitch and pup pens, anemometer tower and two standard tubular steel radio masts. Established in 1956, Base W was primarily used for survey, geology and meteorological science and to contribute to the International Geographical Year in 1957. After considerable campaigning by the Trust and various individuals, the site was designated HSM 83 in June 2009.  We will be sad to bid farewell to Michael and Liesl, but are sure that they will have an amazing and productive time at Base W, and enjoy the journey further south, which to their delight will hopefully take them twice through The Gullet, also visiting Stonington and Horseshoe. What a fantastic opportunity for UKAHT to take a closer look at these other historic bases, with a view to future work there.  As always, UKAHT is incredibly grateful for the very generous assistance of the expedition ships, in particular National Geographic Explorer and Hanse Explorer on this occasion, who make the maintenance and restoration of these special places possible.