Letter From Lockroy - 19 February 2009
As the season is rapidly drawing to a close here at Port Lockroy, the team is making the most of the final fortnight and is as busy as ever around and about Base 'A'. There is much to do here and we are all anxious to complete the various jobs that need our attention before we bid farewell to Goudier Island on 3 March.
Until then, our thoughts are turned to the final reports that we have to prepare for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (regarding the Post Office, shop, museum and general report). Jude has been busy preparing the post office supplies (stamps, first day covers and the like) ready for transfer back to Anton at Stanley Post Office in the Falkland Islands. Besides this, she has been kept busy with some complex philatelic requests from around the world - our Deputy Post Mistress has an eye for detail which makes her ideal for the job! Laura is progressing well with various archiving jobs in the museum, and recently has been concentrating on the old generator shed and the shop, which are of course still part of our 'living museum' here at Bransfield House! Our trusty archivist and museum curator has been identifying, photographing, cleaning and labelling new artefacts, as well as sorting through and ticking off old items from existing lists. On her return to the UK, Laura will spend a few days at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge updating records for items at Port Lockroy. Nikki meanwhile is holding off on a final stock take in the shop, as this needs to be left until fairly late in the day and we anticipate welcoming at least another dozen or so ships between now and closing the base. The boxes of stock that were sent down en masse at the start of the season have been steadily disappearing, and movement around the aisles in the boatshed has been a bit easier in recent weeks without fear of being engulfed in boxes of T-shirts and fleeces! As you know from previous diary entries, the shop is essential for raising funds for UKAHT and supporting the historic huts - a list of new ideas has been sent back to the UK for future stock lines, although the range of goodies on base is already very extensive! The team will also be busy with an inventory of supplies on the base - the more thoroughly we can do this, then the better prepared next year's team will be for the coming season - it is quite a big job to count every tin of beans, bag of pasta and roll of toilet paper!
Maintenance work here at Port Lockroy has been ongoing in between ship visits, with Rick venturing under the building (bringing to mind the film 'The Great Escape'!) in order to feed the gas pipe from the new stove under the floorboards and move the gas cylinder to the cupboard outside of the bunk room. This was no easy (or clean) job, thanks to the mess that the snowy sheathbills have made under there - some rather mucky overalls have been vanquished to a large black bin bag, ready for removal back to Ushuaia! Incidentally, many thanks to Quark Expeditions for the very helpful removal and recycling of waste from Port Lockroy over the season - a less than pleasant but very essential and much appreciated task! The exterior of the boatshed has seen a good coating of black bitumen paint thanks to Nikki and Rick, and the windows have also been treated with tender loving care. Each year there are various jobs that need to be done so that the buildings will survive another winter and stay in good shape, and we are pleased to have accomplished these in good time this season!
Just last week National Geographic Endeavour's Expedition Leader, Tim Soper, called with the offer to Rick of a lift down to Detaille, the old Base 'W', in the Marguerite Bay area. Rick was able to have a good look around Detaille, taking photographs and noting what work will be necessary to repair the house and return it to good condition. Endeavour's First Officer, Berndt, helped in removing snow from the building, and organised the ship's carpenters with assisting in some urgent and essential tasks, including repairing hinges on various doors and securing the building as best they could. It was an invaluable trip and the Trust is very grateful as ever to National Geographic and Lindblad's assistance this austral summer.
We have reached a new high in cordon bleu cuisine here at Port Lockroy, thanks to Dr Jack and his lovely wife Dr Jean, who we first met on the team's journey south. At that time, Laura's love of icecream became very clear, and this penchant has spread far and wide throughout the ships visiting us here at Port Lockroy (the Akademik Shokalskiy even offered a take-away service to our icecream-addict!). On National Geographic Explorer's last visit this year to Goudier Island, we were absolutely over the moon to receive a special present from Dr Jack & Dr Jean - an icecream maker! Our eyes have been opened to world of making icecream without electricity, specifically created for campers! Key ingredients are cream (longlife), rock salt, vanilla essence and lots of ice! Just incase Dr Jack & Dr Jean also snuck a dehydrated icecream bar for each of the team into their bag of goodies - a delicacy originally meant for astronauts! Our sweet tooths are truly satisfied now... Thank you!
A big thank you also to everyone who has sent some very creative and wonderful goodies south by post this season - highlights include green tights, malteser chocolates, wind-up salt & pepper shakers (hours of dinner-time fun!), pick 'n' mix sweets, clootie dumpling, lace snowflake decorations, birthday cake, hair dye, table-top games, all-singing all-dancing Mama Mia DVD and a surprise ultrasound scan photograph from one of Jude's friends! The last incoming post also contained a huge emergency supplies box of goodies from one of Jude's fellow passengers on the Ocean Nova last year -she is currently sitting at the bunkroom table working her way through the Reese's peanut butter cups, with a big smile on her face!
Just this morning we heard footsteps outside the bunkroom door, and were delighted to discover that they belonged to Daniel, a solo yachtsman onboard his ship 'Waterbird'. He looked like he might appreciate some of Nikki's home-baked ginger cookies and a nice hot cup of tea, after which Rick soon had him set to work on the base in the customary orange Dickies overalls! After travelling for two months on his own, we all enjoyed making him feel at home and treating him to a few Port Lockroy base comforts, including one of Rick's legendary curries.
It won't be long before the first gentoo chicks venture into the water. The young birds can be spotted by the odd tuft of fluff still attached to their backs or around their heads, their curious expressions and their slightly paler-coloured plumage. We still have plenty of very fat and fluffy chicks wandering around Goudier Island, making a spectacle of themselves to visitors. Nobody seems to have informed a particular group of our little friends of the 5-metre IAATO rule, and the odd one or two who have taken a shine to the path up to the house are particularly fond of rucksack straps, rubber boots and coat toggles! Although we and the expedition staff obviously keep a close eye that the wildlife is not disturbed by humans, the chicks' curiosity is unavoidable at times as they are learning about the white world around them. We have a good number of moulting penguins who have to be treated with the greatest respect, as they have little energy and are at a difficult and uncomfortable point in their cycle - unable to feed as their moulting feathers mean that they are not waterproof. Interestingly, like most animals, once they have grown, the adult penguins lose almost all interest in their human neighbours and with careful management of passengers they go about their business as if we were not here. The wellbeing of the penguins has to remain at the forefront of everyone's minds both living at and visiting Port Lockroy.
The evenings are certainly drawing in now, and we have had some cold nights, with grease ice forming around the back of the island and into Alice Creek. However just a few nights ago there was bizarrely an overnight temperature increase of an astonishing five degrees celsius. Whilst Rick and Laura were snoring softly, Jude and Nikki were awoken by the whole bunk room actually shaking to the roaring sound of ice crashing outside. Over the course of the season we have been watching a particularly fractured part of the glacier around the back of the bay sink closer and closer to the water - revealing a gaping blue crack in the white snow and ice. So ferocious was the incredible noise in the middle of the night, that we'd feared that the whole ice shelf had collapsed and that the yacht moored offshore from the control colony at the back of the island would be washed by ice and a large wave! Needless to say, we couldn't see anything in the relative dark, and the next morning there were some remnants of ice but the ice cliff was still there... The sharp change in temperature has set off plenty of activity around and about Port Lockroy! With the close of the summer we have seen the moon again for the first time in months, together with some absolutely stunning sunsets over Mount Doumer and out towards the southbound entrance to the Neumayer Channel. The light in the evenings has been stunning, reflecting golden onto the waters of the bay and hitting the Wall Range, Jabet's Peak and parts of the Fief Range in a truly spectacular glow. It is at times like these, sitting on our peaceful island full of gentoos, that it really hits home how special Port Lockroy is - a sentiment no doubt shared with the many generations of privileged people that have lived here on this tiny island. Until the Vavilov arrives to take us back to reality and the hustle and bustle of South America, we will continue to make the most of these last few days in our Antarctic home.