As we worked our way through the thick bands of brash ice we turned the dog leg in the Neumeyer channel and could see the Damoy refuge in Dorian Bay and the navigation beacon on Casabianca Island. Along with the incredible scenery thoughts of digging out the base, getting a good night’s sleep and relaxing after the journey filled our heads. As we rounded Damoy Point we got our first glimpse of Goudier Island and the huts BUT between us and the huts was solid sea ice, ten tenths consolidated brash and pack driven in from the strong southerly winds that had hampered our progress further north. We moved around the edge of the pack and broke through the outer edges to get as far as Lecuyer Point on Wiencke Island but we could get no further. Dave ‘parked’ up in the ice and we all sat down to eat together for the first time in days and enjoyed a well deserved meal as we decided on what to do next. We all needed a rest. A safe mooring was all we wanted, so we headed back north to Dorian Bay whilst freeing all the mooring lines from their icy coating and inflating the zodiac. All our efforts were in vain because the weather deteriorated and Dorian Bay was now full of ice as well. Where next? Back at Lecuyer Point approx 400m from the huts Dave drove Pelagic into the ice as far as it would allow and we finally moored up with two lines to ice bergs and one to the old whalers’ chains. Heavy snow fell as we tied up, at last in a safe haven for the night.
Engines off, steak and wine - the delayed birthday dinner for Ruth. Exhaustion kicked in and the following day disappeared in slumber and some much needed food. Much discussion over the forecasts and what this meant to ice conditions and our plans. We all felt a lot better when we smashed and shovelled all the ice and snow off the decks and rigging for the second time! We estimated the amount we removed had added around 5 tonnes to Pelagic. Andrew and Ruth sorted through their film gear and we were all ready to go… So near yet so far. Although the northerly winds that are required to blow the ice did not appear we did get a consistent -15 C and 20kts from the south which brought more ice into the bay and froze it even harder.
The next day we had recovered our energy and wanted to get on with the jobs awaiting us. Tudor’s skills as a BAS field guide were now in full swing and he made a recce onto the sea ice and briefed us all on how to travel safely. Andrew, whilst voice recording for a BBC Radio 4 programme, decided to test his new knowledge to the limit by putting one foot through up to his knee, but luckily he had listened to the safety brief and took appropriate action! It if makes the cut on the radio programme it will be a classic (we had a preview of his choice commentary when we got back to Pelagic later in the day). It was only 100m across to the shore but seemed a lot further as a first excursion onto the frozen Antarctic waters, and it was more than enough for most of the team’s nerves. As we walked across to Alice Creek we were definitely going with the flow as all the penguins from the Jougla and Goudier Island colonies were returning. The nearest access point out of the water at was Lecuyer Point and with plenty of snow cover very few penguins are nesting yet so each pair go out to feed together. We had spotted the penguins massing at the point to go out fishing in the very early hours. It was a spectacular sight watching the huge numbers returning all together - nature at its best. We continued from Alice Creek to the back of Goudier Island across fast ice in the back bay, a very different proposition to our earlier pack ice excursion. A Weddell seal and pup were hauled out just off the island, the pup looking very healthy and still suckling. The nesting terns and gulls above Jougla point took to the sky as we passed by and made an incredible racket in the still air.
Not too much snow on the ground meant we had relatively easy access to Bransfield House, the boat shed and the Nissen hut. The base is in great shape, thank you last year’s team. We picked up some snow shoes, the sled and a few other items and headed back to Pelagic taking in the scenery and wildlife on the way.
With the journey here now well and truly behind us, we were even more excited and thankful for getting this far. Keen to get on with getting set up on Goudier Island Tudor and Helen sledged some supplies across the following morning and started work beginning with digging out gas bottles to get the Nissen warmed up and habitable ( it was -7 inside when we arrived) and getting the communications systems up and running. It is rather unusual to be at Port Lockroy in what appears to be the last throes of winter and with no ships or access for ships to visit us even if we wanted them to! It makes you realise what an incredible place it is even more and how wonderful the Nissen hut is when it gets warmed up (the tinned food is still frozen).
Now work could begin in earnest, Helen is plugging away at the myriad of things to get the Museum and all the operations up and running for the summer. Tudor is commuting to and fro helping Andrew and Ruth (who are still based on Pelagic) get some fantastic footage of the penguins as well as helping out on Goudier and pointing Helen in the right direction. Long rewarding days in an incredible place, made even more special with the amazing conditions. It is not often that one wishes for bad weather but all we need is a massive northerly blow to push all the ice out to the south. It may be some time though as the ice is now locked solid from the north shores of Doumer Island to Damoy Point. Pelagic is still stuck fast and Dave and Bertie are doing all they can to help out with transport of people and equipment as well as keeping the kettle boiling for refuelling stops. We can’t thank them enough for their skill in getting us here safely and kindness and consideration for our well-being on board.
We hope soon to welcome the rest of the team, Jane, Kristy and Sarah, who are on their way and due to arrive on the 13th, but who knows what will happen. Watch this space…
10 Nov 2013