Letter from Lockroy - February 6th 2011

Letter from Lockroy - 6 February

This week has certainly had a very European feel to it.  Firstly, we had an extra special visit from the German research vessel ‘Polar Stern’, which had been arranged between Ylva and the Polar Stern’s Expedition Leader, Eberhard Fahrbach.  The talk on board was appropriately given by Ylva to a room full of interested scientists, and we even managed to spend some time looking at the onboard shop.  Ylva stayed on board to look around whilst the rest of the team went ashore to manage the visit from the Captain, crew and scientists.  Great fun was had by all, and the visit lasted until  late in the evening.  Many thanks to Eberhard for making the visit possible and for the gifts of a Polar Stern plaque, tumblers and some interesting Antarctic research reading material!

Eberhard of the Polar Stern - German Research Vessel  

Carrying on with the European theme, we also had a return visit from ‘Ocean Respect’ this week; the French yacht carrying three men who wintered over at Peterman Island 30 years ago; Michel, Daniel and Claude.  The yacht is also carrying three younger members who are cycling around the world on bicycles (one of whom is Claude’s son and the others being his two friends).  So far, they have cycled from France to Ushuaia.  We wish their team, ‘Solidream’ good luck on their future travels! (For more information, see their website www.solidream.net).  We were delighted to invite the Ocean Respect team to dinner to hear more about their adventures 30 years ago.  We were amazed to hear that the men had been inside the small Argentine hut on the island a few weeks ago, and had found some books they left there on their first visit, as well as a tent which they had left in a cupboard! They put up the tent and found that it was in excellent condition, having probably not been used for all that time!

Ocean Respect - commemorating their visit to Lockroy 30years on

The French have certainly had a strong presence at Lockroy this week, adding to the Gallic atmosphere of the last few days.  At one point, there were so many French yachts arriving at Lockroy that even those of us with only basic classroom French have been heard using it in conversing with visitors.  Luckily, Hannele speaks excellent French, and this came in especially useful aboard ‘Le Boreal’ which visited us for the second time at Port ‘La Croix’ as the French pronounce the name [Actually, the site was named by Charcot after the French politician and Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduard Lockroy, who assisted in securing government support]  Hannele wowed the French speaking passengers aboard with her post-visit briefing, and this made for a very successful and enjoyable visit, complete with a show of dancing from around the world, put on especially for the Port Lockroy team.  Ylva is now looking forward to doing some onboard briefings in German when we are visited by the ‘Hanseatic’ and the ‘Bremen’ in future weeks!  Appropriately, by the way, we have finished this week with a meal of tapas cooked by Hen – how very European indeed!

A special mention here must go to all the staff on board the IAATO vessels which visit us here at Port Lockroy, without whom the Trust would not be able to function so effectively.  We have been so lucky to be supported this year by some amazingly kind staff, crew and individuals, and have been offered support in the way of moving team members around (both for logistics and for a break from the routine!), moving much-needed materials, washing our laundry, offering hot showers for the team, as well as giving us fresh water, fresh fruit and veg… the list goes on!  Unbelievably, the team has also received gifts of fresh bread, salmon, sushi and an unexpected door-to-door still-warm pizza delivery this week! Many thanks to all of those staff who have thought of us, many of whom we now consider friends – you know who you are!  On this note, we would like to send our thoughts to the crew and staff of the ‘Polar Star’.  We were relieved to hear that the passengers and all on board are safely back in Ushuaia, and hope to see them again before the end of the season. 

And now an update on the island wildlife; beginning with our new edition – a sheathbill chick, which lives just under the entrance to Bransfield House.  This brown fuzzball is cartoon-like in its proportions and has rightly been described by Hannele as ‘ridiculous’ due to the size of its feet and general fluffiness.  And now to our local gentoo penguin colony: we did the chick count this week, and discovered that there are only around 440 nests with chicks on the island, compared to 576 nests for the chick count last year.   We can only guess why the number may be so low this year, but it could be due partly to the large amount of snow we experienced at the beginning of the season, and also a few very hot days which have especially challenged the new-born chicks.  The chicks are about one month late this year, due to the snowfall, as last year the chick count took place on 7th January.  The count must be done when a certain sub-colony reaches 95% of chicks in nests.  This year, this had only occurred by 1st February. Our regular readers will know that we have named a penguin Magdalen after St Mary Magdalen School in Seaham.  Year 3 will be pleased to hear that Magdalen’s chick is thriving, and is actually quite large and fat now.  Hen has named him Arthur. 

Sheathbill chick Magdalen and her chick Arthur

Being British, we can’t have a weekly diary without mentioning the weather.  This week has seen drastic differences from bright, clear sunny days to snow and high winds.  One morning saw the east wall of Bransfield House sprinkled in a thin veil of snow, which looked like someone had covered it in icing sugar – truly magical! We have also noticed that we have a ‘penguin anemometer’, in that the behaviour of our penguins show how high the wind is and in which direction it is blowing.  The sensible penguins snuggle down when winds are high, and generally turn their backs to the wind.  Of course, there is always an exception…

                                    Bransfield House in fresh layer of snow
If you enjoy the Port Lockroy Diaries, you may be interested to know that Hannele has been writing a monthly blog for the British Embassy in Helsinki about our time at Lockroy.  The link to it is: http://ukinfinland.fco.gov.uk/en/news/special-features/hannele-blog/ .  Finally this week, we would also like to acknowledge and thank everyone who takes the time to read the diary, from our friends and families back home, to supporters of the Trust.  It is especially comforting to know that our families are reading, including Hen’s dad who has just turned 70!  We have also met several passengers who have been reading our diary prior to their trips to Antarctica, including Trevor and Angela from Nottinghamshire.  A big ‘hello’ to you all, and thanks for giving us a good reason to keep writing!  So, until next week...