Letter from Lockroy - 29th December 2009
The first day of this diary entry is 17th December when we had a morning visit from Fram. It was our last chance to send post and have our laundry done for a while, so there were a few last minute postcards written and hand-franked to catch the ship before it left for a longer trip to the Falkland Islands. This day also saw a visit from Ocean Nova, who kindly invited us on board for their Flamenco evening and afterwards we were fortunate to catch a 15 minute zodiac ride to Dorian Bay where some passengers were camping for the night. It was a great chance for Anna, Claire and Eleanor to see Damoy Hut where Rachel stayed with students and teachers from Geelong Grammar School (previous blog) and see the latest progress with regards to painting.
Unusually four 'quiet' days followed with only one ship visit one afternoon, but there was still lots to be done by the first ever all girl team in the history of Port Lockroy. Different building materials and items including 'The Wilderness Comfort Station' (propane incinerating lavatory) needed to be restacked or relocated on two separate occasions due to heavy winds and uneven snow melt respectively. Also we worked on updating the museum database, cleaning the solar panels, putting up Christmas decorations around the shop, museum and living quarters and digging the remaining snow and ice off the pathway from the chains landing to Bransfield House. The Gentoos have enjoyed our efforts re the latter, sunbathing on the exposed rock and decorating it ever since. Mr.& Mrs. Limpet, in particular regularly give us a little more exercise on our rostered 'scrubbing the steps' day. However, they do provide us with entertaining moments when catching our breath, especially with chicks hatching out everywhere over the last week.
We saw Eve get free from her eggshell by the boatshed at 11.30am on Christmas Eve, then Nowell by the flagpole arrived on Christmas Day and Dora by the Door on Boxing Day. It is amazing to watch the chicks struggle to stand, their tiny flippers next to their necks and heads and then to see them reach up to put their beaks inside the back of their parents beaks to feed, only to flop down with exhaustion or loss of balance. We can hear the squeaks of the youngest ones, indicating that Mum or Dad has stood up to stretch and adjust themselves on the nest, and look to see if it is possible to sneak a peak of the little one, possibly intertwining and snuggling with a sibling. However, the sixteen day old chicks, like Uno and Mr.& Mrs. Concrete Pillar's pair (the first, third and fourth chicks on the island respectively) are getting to be half the size of their parents, who can now only half sit on their fluffy offpsring to protect them from the cold and hungry skuas. Every two days Claire and Rachel have been doing a chick count of the chronology colony by the Stevenson mount (where Base A scientists used to place the Stevenson Screen that housed meteorological instruments) to establish when to complete a chick count for the whole of Goudier Island.
Another bird we see daily (and hear pattering on the roof) is the snowy sheathbill, which has the body of a dove but the face and feet of a turkey! They perform quite an amusing rapid bowing dance to each other and spend most of their day distressing the Gentoos by walking close to their nests to clear up krill from penguin guano, but would also take any opportunity to steal an egg or young chick. We currently have a pair of sheathbills nesting under the decking by the front door, completely oblivious to most visitors.
One nice afternoon, whilst Claire was filming a hatching chick, Anna, Eleanor and Rachel went over to Bill's Island, which is accessible at low tide. There we were lucky to see three speckled heads popping up from a Dominican gull's nest and two Weddell seals resting nearby. Other wildlife sightings have included an Antarctic minke whale in the bay and a red coloured octopus by the chains landing on Christmas Eve. This evening a leopard seal, which surprisingly shocked us by its size, swimming several times under the zodiac that was giving us a lift home after a welcome sauna and showers aboard Professor Multanovsky.
On 21st December we celebrated the longest day of the year in true Port Lockroy tradition with a special mid-summer day dinner cooked by our talented chef and chief Anna. Eleanor had caringly produced handwritten, humorous menus, which we all signed, and invented the cocktail 'Antarctic IndiAnna' (one part Aquavit Antarctica, two parts Pisco Sour, one tsp brown sugar and the juice of one orange over crushed glacier ice) in honour of the occasion. Dress for the evening was 'Black Tie and Thermals' or 'Frocks and Crocs', to which down jackets were rapidly added as the gas for the fire ran out just as we sat at the table. There have been many other culinary creations in the kitchen with Eleanor's mince pies, Claire's Thai and crumbles and Rachel's gnocchi and turkey and mushroom pie.
We had several ships and yachts (Aura and Seal) between 22-24th December and we donned our Santa hats / reindeer antlers complete with festive earrings to greet our visitors. A couple of people from the older generation reminisced on childhood days upon seeing the gramophone in the old lounge. They enjoyed Rachel playing the record 'Cheek to Cheek' for them and 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' for the younger passengers. During this time it was wonderful to have bacon and pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast on Polar Pioneer and dinner with Pisco Sours on Antarctic Dream.
Our Christmas began with a special invitation for a barbecue on Polar Star after their visit on Christmas Eve (the most glorious day we've had since Tudor left). This was especially great for Anna, who could spend more time with her cousin visiting Antarctica on holiday, whilst Claire, Eleanor and Rachel socialised with crew and passengers, singing along and dancing to Abba. We were whisked away back to our island at just gone midnight and wished each other 'Happy Christmas' with hugs upon getting through the front door. After a small lie-in on Christmas morning we exchanged gifts and had a fantastic combo of cinnamon pancakes, fried eggs, champagne marmite, golden syrup and hot coffee for breakfast. Eleanor and Rachel tried to find the BBC World Service in the old radio room hoping to hear the Queen's Christmas Speech but unfortunately Her Majesty's voice didn't come over the radio waves as there was poor reception due to high winds.
At least we had a white Christmas with snow in the late morning to welcome our visitors from the Dutch yacht Anna Margarette, who were pleased to share our gorgeous Christmas cake with us from Mrs. M (Anna's Mum). In the afternoon we were invited on the yacht, Seal, for Christmas cake and although it was very tempting to join them for a walk on Jougla Point, our turkey which just fitted in the oven was ready sooner than expected. Anna again produced a delicious feast with roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts with walnuts, mushroom stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread sauce and proper gravy. I don't think any of us expected a roast in Antarctica – it was truly amazing and we give much thanks to Prince Albert II, Fram and Antarctic Dream for their contributions to the delight! Unfortunately, the Christmas Pudding and Elvis jigsaw puzzle will have to wait until New Year's Day, as our evening was spent doing a combined English and Scottish scrum against the insulated panels for the Nissen hut, that had collapsed haphazardly due to uneven snow melt. This had to be continued on Boxing Day evening as in the end it was better to unpack and restack the lot. Still, it was a good excuse to be outside enjoying the splendour of our Antarctic surroundings.
Peace and Best Wishes to all for the rest of the Festive Season and for 2010 from the most peaceful continent on earth.