Letter from Lockroy - 12 November 2008
The Port Lockroy team of Rick, Jude, Laura and Nikki are happy to report that they have settled in at their new home for the coming 08-09 Antarctic season. We are all very proud to be supporting the UKAHT and feel very privileged to be living and working in the white continent on behalf of the Trust; we look forward to updating the Port Lockroy diaries as often as possible.
The team arrived at Goudier Island on a beautiful evening on Saturday 8th November. We all stood up on the bridge with Captain Olaf and Lisa Trotter of the National Geographic Endeavour as we sailed around Damoy Point and Bransfield House came into sight. Rick was particularly pleased to see that the buildings had fared very well through the winter months, and that the front door to ‘Base A’ was not too built up with snow. An absolutely stunning sunset haloed Mount Doumer – befitting of a truly amazing past week; we had enjoyed some fantastic landings and experiences onboard the Endeavour en route to Port Lockroy. Many thanks to National Geographic, Lindblad Expeditions and the entire team onboard for all their wonderful support in delivering us to Goudier Island! We thoroughly enjoyed our time onboard; read on!
Rick and his new team got off to a great start with a relatively smooth crossing of the Drake Passage and after just a day and a half at sea, we made our first landing at Barrientos Island at the north end of the Antarctic Peninsula. An icy cold wind was blowing – the reality of Antarctica – and we were all very appreciative of the gear that UKAHT Director Rachel Morgan (courtesy of Tog 24 and Chocolate Fish Merino) had sorted for us!
Later that evening, due to an unusually low sea ice cover for this time of year, we managed to work our way down the east side of the Peninsula into the Weddell Sea; a first for Rick which made the experience all the more special. This is an area that is often restricted to ice-breaker expedition tours even in the Austral summer when the sea ice is at its minimum extent. Captain Olaf navigated the ship down through the Antarctic Sound and we made a number of landings over the following days. These included Brown Bluff where we watched small armies of adelie penguins marching along the shore to find a safe spot to enter the sea while a leopard seal patrolled the shore; and Devil Island where Captain Olaf navigated exceptionally heavy sea ice before the expedition team took us on a zodiac cruise around small icebergs while adelies, blue eyed shags and even a sleepy weddell seal rested on the bergs and small ice floes. The day just kept getting better as later on that evening our expedition leader Lisa spotted three pods of Orcas - an awesome sight.
The following day we sailed back through the Antarctic Sound leaving the Weddell Sea behind us. We passed enormous tabular icebergs which had probably calved off the Larsen Ice Shelf and the Captain estimated their depth to be up to 200m. In the afternoon we visited Paulet Island, home to 100,000 pairs of nesting adelie penguins. The island was also home to the 22 men of Nordenskold’s expedition in 1903 when they were forced to overwinter in a small stone hut. Only one perished and a cross marks his burial place on the other side of the island. A truly humbling moment as we paid our respects. Having left the Antarctic Sound we made two landings in the Deception Island area. The first was at Bailey Head, a notoriously difficult shore landing. The expedition team handled the swell brilliantly, and once ashore we were rewarded with an incredible amphitheatre of nesting Chinstrap penguins. Once there they would mate, incubate the egg and not return to sea for approximately three weeks. The difficulties will come in the weeks to come when the Skuas will prey on vulnerable nests for eggs and small chicks.
The Endeavour sailed through Neptune’s Bellows, the half mile wide entrance into Deception Island. There are rocks lying under the water and it requires careful navigation by the captain to get the ships in safely. Once inside we landed at Pendulum Cove which was once a whale processing base and later a British base – a truly fascinating place. Buildings and remnants of the past still remain there and our thoughts were with the lives of the past inhabitants of this remote natural harbour. Jude even braved the thermal waters of Pendulum Cove and represented the Port Lockroy contingency with finesse by taking a polar plunge.
Moving ever southward towards Port Lockroy, gentoos were nesting on the lower slopes of Neko Harbour and we climbed up high above the sea to get a view right out over the bay. Later that day we arrived at Paradise Bay – an area that really is as stunning as it sounds. The Oceanites team (a penguin research group based in the United States) landed at Almirante Brown, and although the Argentine flag was flying, nobody was at home. Finally, the time had come for us to bid farewell to the National Geographic Endeavour; with the very kind assistance of Lisa and Robert, we set foot ashore and Rick opened the door to ‘Base A’. All was well inside, and the buildings looked to be in fantastic shape – testament to Rick and past guardians of Bransfield House. Finally, with gear temporarily laid out in the lounge, we took to sleeping bags and passed a comfortable first night in the bunk room; penguins and snowy sheathbills occasionally ‘tap dancing’ on the roof!
Closer inspection the next day revealed a considerable build up of snow around most of the buildings except the boatshed which always seems to remain clear, dry, and comparatively warm. Photos were taken (and we hope to post them on this website as soon as possible), and we set to clearing the snow from the bunk room windows and making a path from the boatshed landing and the chains landing, ready for the return of National Geographic Endeavour. Laura set about organising the museum and removing covers from the artefacts, whilst Jude and Nikki unpacked the shop. Endeavour returned on 10th November after part-navigating the Lemaire Channel (blocked 2/3 down by ice), and we welcomed our first visitors to Port Lockroy! It was wonderful to see so many smiling faces and business was brisk in the shop; invaluable for raising funds for UKAHT. The next morning brought an unscheduled yet very welcome visit from the Akademik Sergey Vavilov – her passengers braving horizontal snow to come and visit Port Lockroy – it was fantastic to see them all enjoying their time here. Over the past few days since we have arrived we have enjoyed brilliant blue skies and sunshine, the occasional snow flurry and also howling winds – it is all part of the experience and we are enjoying all varieties of Antarctic weather!
We are looking forward to a visit very soon from HMS Endurance, and to welcoming further visitors to Port Lockroy between now and beginning of March. We hope to update you all as regularly as possible, meanwhile we send best wishes to all our friends, family and supporters back in the UK and around the world. A special thank you to Rachel and Tudor Morgan for all their hard work in making this all possible. Port Lockroy has a very special place in British Antarctic history and we are very excited and grateful to play our part in its continuing story