Letter From Lockroy - 11 November 2007
The Summer Preparations
Over the summer months preparations were taking place across the UK to get ready for the departure of the Port Lockroy Team for the 2007/08 season. Back in May, last year’s team met up in Cambridge to debrief the past season with Rachel Morgan and Philippa Foster-Back. Visitor numbers, museum displays, Alan Carroll’s visit, which shop items were popular and which were not, were all discussed. There was much debate regarding new product development and what items in the shop should be > dropped. At this time we were also interviewing for new staff members. A way forward was decided and who was going to do what. Two new staff members were recruited to work with Rick Atkinson (the project leader): Helen Annan from the Lake District and Rachel Hazel from Edinburgh. Rachel Morgan got the orders for stock underway early to ensure they arrived to be packed in August. Tudor Morgan was tasked with writing a new operations manual for the Port Lockroy operation as well as reviewing the H&S provision.
In June Rachel travelled to Tasmania for the IAATO conference and discussed the operation with Ship operators and Expedition leaders. The relationship between UKAHT and IAATO members continues to grow and is very reassuring. Hurtigruten agreed to take our cargo on MS Nordnorge from Europe to Port Lockroy. Quark expeditions and Abercrombie and Kent agreed to assist with staff transport to and from Port Lockroy. Everything was falling into place.
Vans started arriving with boxes of merchandise from July onwards. This year it was agreed to rationalise the product ranges and stock items that were either specific to Port Lockroy or the Peninsula. Boxes were checked, put in waterproof bags, stronger boxes, strapped, put on pallets and wrapped. Inventories were made for customs clearance and Bills of Lading for shipping south. During this time both Helen Annan and Rachel Hazell visited for a briefing on separate occasions and Rick made numerous visits.
The climax was to come when all the boxes had to go off to France to rendezvous with the Nordnorge. Rick, Rachel and Tudor spent a frantic few days packing the last boxes. Things kept on appearing – new Port Lockroy information leaflets from Jeldwen, Staff clothing from Tog 24, batteries from Manbat, new tea towels, new fleece clothing, t-shirts, baseball caps, tartan etc. Before we knew it we had almost 600 boxes, in all 28 cubic metres – 8 tonnes. GRP haulage came up trumps again and their employees Spike, Gerald and Martin assisted in loading it all onto a lorry. Rick went with Martin on the lorry across the channel to the Cherbourg to meet the ship Nordnorge. With more than a little help from the ship’s crew all the cargo got on ready for the journey south.
Now all the cargo had gone, all we had to do was make sure the people could get south, plane tickets were confirmed - departure day 15th October. With the volume of cargo that would need to be unloaded at Lockroy, 2 new people and the Ops manual in final draft, it was decided Tudor Morgan would join the staff for the start of the season, which of course he agreed to!
The journey south
The 15th October soon came round, final preparations were all complete. Rick, Helen and Rachel all met up in Edinburgh with a mountain of baggage to check in, somehow Rick managed to sweet talk the excess baggage charge down considerably, meanwhile Tudor was checking in at Heathrow. After a few hours all the team were united in Frankfurt, spirits were high and we were all keen to be heading south. We boarded our 747 bound for Buenos Aries, the hours seemed to go fairly quickly for those that managed to get some sleep and slower for those that did not. Team bonding was going well – Rick misplaced his glasses so Helen read to him and the rest of the rows in the back of the plane!
Before we knew it we were speaking Spanish getting a taxi from the airport to the dock to meet the ship, the weaving of the taxi driver through the traffic kept us on our toes for the 1 hour journey. Our bags were cleared by customs and off to the ship we went, checked in, and photos taken etc. Rick (or Ricky) was welcomed by many of the crew and expedition staff (he is a living legend you know!). We settled in, unpacked had much needed showers and cups of tea.
The passengers arrived in the afternoon and as it got dark we set sail out of the Mar del Plata leaving the lights of BA behind us. We soon got into a daily schedule of running around decks in the morning, going through some work, eating some of the fantastic food onboard, having the odd drink and of course enjoying the hot tub!
After three days we were off West Point in the Falkland Islands and joined the passengers for a trip ashore to visit the black browed albatross and rockhopper penguin colonies, as well as having fantastic tea and cakes with Roddie Napier. Back on board for lunch whist the ship sailed to New Island, again looking at the black browed albatross, rockhopper penguin and blue eyed shag colonies. It was good to catch up with Ian Strange and Tony Chater who both live on New Island and to see their new museum. We managed to listen to some of the Rugby World cup final on BSBS radio, the second half we listened to on the internet whilst onboard the ship….say no more.
Overnight we sailed to Stanley. We met up with Sally Owen who had procured essential liquids for us fuel, paint and beer. When we got the liquids on board we all headed to the Post Office for Helen to be briefed on duties as a Post mistress, whilst we all counted stamps and transferred them to our new big black waterproof case. When we were finished loading in the stamps we could only just move the case it was so heavy. We then had time for a bit of sight seeing while Helen went for lunch with Sally Owen to glean some more top tips from Sally on how to run the post office.
We had the afternoon to our selves and decided some more team building was in order. A game of badminton followed by a swim at the Stanley school seemed like a good idea. Great fun was had by all. Our last chance to go into a pub was taken – thank heavens for the smoking ban in the UK! The last bus back to the ship and we were heading south proper. Next stop South Georgia. Two more days at sea, some more work, some slightly rough seas, some fantastic lectures including one from Amir Klink the Brazilian Sailor and we arrived at Fortuna Bay. Tudor was asked to assist with the boat landings by the expedition staff, so spent most of the landing in the water holding boats but had plenty of fun. The reindeer and King Penguins were in abundance and the chicks looking as fluffy and brown as ever.
The afternoon we spent at Leith Harbour - a frightening reminder of how man almost wiped out the whales. Later in the afternoon we cruised up to Prince Olaf harbour so the expedition team could recce a potential landing for the following year. The Captain showed off the ships manoeuvrability in the tight harbour entrance, but the conditions were too rough to allow anyone to go ashore. On route we managed to have a hot tub on the back deck. It was very surreal as the wonderful landscape of the South Georgia slowly passing us whilst in the luxury of the tub, - we may have to order one for Lockroy!
The following morning we arrived at Grytviken. We caught up with Skip Novak from the yacht Pelagic, who was with some clients having done a Shackleton crossing. We were also able to spend some valuable time in the museum speaking to the SG Heritage trust staff and with Sarah Lurcock who was running a Post Office on board Nordnorge. Sarah and Anton from Stanley Post Office have just produced a wonderful new manual on how to run a remote post office. It was also good to catch up with the gossip with Pat Lurcock and some of the BAS folk from King Edward Point. Oh yes, Rachel managed to stretch her vocal chords by doing some singing in the church. Before we knew it time was up and we were off heading south to Drygalski fjord.
En route there were lots of tabular icebergs to keep everyone on their toes. In a couple of hours we entered the spectacular narrow fjord, rock that was once the old sea floors towering above us on the south side and continental rocks to the north. Fantastic glacial scenery spilling out into the fjord from hanging valley’s on ether side. Nearly all of the 200 passengers on board were out on deck taking thousands of photos. All too soon it was time to head southeast for the Antarctic Peninsular.
It was then two days of steaming at 16 knots before we arrived at Elephant Island, our next port of call. During this time both Rick and Tudor gave lectures, Rick on the UKAHT and the work that we do at Port Lockroy, whilst Tudor did a talk on his time with British Antarctic Survey and field work. Both lectures were given once in English and again in German with a translator. It was Rachel’s birthday and she claimed the lectures made the day! But it was the hot tub, bottle of champagne, wine with dinner and a birthday cake along with Happy Birthday sung by the crew that topped the day. During those days we also spent some time getting ready for our onboard shop, bringing the boxes up from the hold to a spare cabin.
Overnight we sailed to Admiralty bay, recent ice reports had suggested that the sea ice was extensive and thick. Fortunately the ice had been cleared by winds from the south but fog and heavy snow fall made this leg of the journey quite interesting. The morning arrived and we were edged into pack ice off the coast of Artowski station (A Polish research base). The ice was too heavy to make a landing there so we headed to Ferrar the Brazilian station around the corner, also the site of old FIDS base G. It was good to see the wintering team, the base was buried in a remarkable depth of snow. Our thoughts were increasingly turning towards Lockroy, now that we were amongst the snow and ice of the Antarctic Peninsula. Would we be able reach our station that we had planned to be our home for the next four months? Rick, Helen and Rachel inspected the British memorial crosses on the hill above the Ferrar station whilst Tudor spent more time in the water holding the landing boats.
On returning to Nordnorge we continued south along the east side of the South Shetland Islands reaching Half Moon Island late in the afternoon where were we were able to visit the Chinstrap penguin colony. Back on board and we headed south. What would the ice be like? - so far we had been incredibly lucky with the weather and the ice. An anxious night was spent wondering, amidst more snow storms and wind, occasional bands of ice… The shipped slowed and edged into Point Wild on the north of Elephant Island and we could see the brass bust of Captain Prado who saved the Shackleton’s men. The weather provided the atmospheric backdrop, all very fitting and a reminder of the hardships Shackleton’s men went through surviving 4 months under upturned boats. Antarctic Heritage at our finger tips.
In the morning we arrived off Cuverville Island and things were looking good. The Captain and Expedition Leader looked at the schedule and the conditions in the morning and said they wanted to put us off at Lockroy that evening. If ice and weather conditions remained kind they would try and offload us with as much cargo as daylight would allow.
In the morning we made a landing at Danco Island instead of Cuverville as there were thousands of gentoo penguins coming ashore at Danco and hardly any to be seen at Couverville . Danco is the site of the old FIDS base O that was removed 2003/4 as part of a clean-up programme. After a quick visit ashore we headed back out onto the ship to set up our onboard shop. Three very busy hours of trading left all four of us feeling quite exhausted but happy that the items we have for sale were so popular.
The afternoon was spent making preparations for the potential landing at Lockroy later in the day. Water jerries had to be filled, essential cargo to go ashore first had to be organized ; food, clothing, sleeping bags etc. Meanwhile the expedition crew were making a landing with the passengers at Neko Harbour. After a last shower, last buffet meal, fond farewells to all the ship’s crew who had been so friendly and kind, it was time to leave the security and comfort of the ship and face the reality of why we were in Antarctica.
The familiar scenery of the Weinke Island was fast approaching. Killer whales and Minke whales were seen feeding just off the south end of Doumer Island.
By 20.30 we were close to Lockroy, buildings in site, high tide, no ice. Luck was on our side. The helpful willing crew and expedition staff sprang into action. The polar circle landing boats whizzed back and forth from the ship to shore with all our cargo. Franz, Marco, John, Arne and Amir all came ashore and assisted in moving the growing mountain of boxes that grew and grew on a tarp outside the boatshed. By 23.30 bad light stopped movement for the day. What a long, busy day.
Rick had checked out the base, got doors open and confirmed it was in excellent shape. There was considerably more snow around the base than last year and fortunately for us the penguins had not started nesting. In fact all the penguins were roosting over on Bills Island when we arrived, - well out of harm’s way. After a bit of sorting out and a brew we eventually got to bed around 1am.
Up early and a quick tidy up and we were in business. Our first visitors of the season, Franz and his team arrive at 08.00 on the dot. Marco helps out with some domestics and we are all go. It was fantastic to show the passengers our new home having talked about it for the last 10 days to them. After 3 hours of passengers and some more fond farewells, 4 more boat loads of cargo arrived including half a tonne of sand and cement, lengths of timber and more boxes. After a well earned moment to relax and take stock we had some late lunch. We then set to, sorting out the mountain of cargo and food to be unpacked. Day to day goods were taken up to the base, and all the merchandise was piled high into the boatshed. By late evening we have everything stored in the buildings.
We had 4 days before our first ship visit was due and felt this was an ideal opportunity to get the shop decorated before we filled it with merchandise. We figured 3 days painting and one day setting up. So we got going on painting the ceiling, painting in the cold is not as easy at it sounds and much slower than when it is warm. Explorer II asks if they could come a day early as they are ahead of schedule, no problem! So we put our backs into it and get cracking, a few long days later we were all ready to go (but not all decorated) – where was the ship? We get a message they could not get through due to heavy ice in the Gerlache, so back to painting the walls and kickerboards and the rest of the shop. We had another 3 days to go before the next ship so we made the most of the opportunity to get some other essential maintenance work done. The kitchen, science room were given a much needed paint.
The Nordnorge was the next ship due to visit on its return leg south from Ushuaia but the same happenened – too much ice to get through. It makes us realise how lucky we were on our trip in to Lockroy. Another extended period before the season really starts and the sitting room, radio room and food cupboards all get a few coats of paint. The heavy sea ice conditions and wild weather conditions have made it frustrating not getting the ship visits but it has meant that we have been able to get a lot of much needed base maintenance work done.
The penguins have arrived back in their normal numbers, territorial battles are taking place and the first nests are starting to take shape on the snow free rock areas. Mating season is in full swing, it will be interesting to see how many chicks there are, and how quickly the snow melts away, allowing good rock nest sites to become available – watch this space… The sheathbills continue to do there head nodding dance and run around the island after any source of potential food. There seem to be even more of these remarkable birds around this year. We had the local leopard seal with us for 3 or 4 days followed by a young bull elephant seal that was battle scarred and needed a rest. We all took pity on it and wanted to administer first aid and TLC but kept our distance. Giant petrels, Dominican gulls, blue eyed shags, Antarctic terns, Wilson’s storm petrels, cape petrels, Weddell seals, jelly fish, star fish and sea worms are among the other wild life sightings already seen on our outings around the island..
We have had mixed weather so far since we arrived: a few fantastic still sunny days, the magnificent backdrop of the Fife range looking outstanding with its sugar icing coating of snow; other days we have had horizontal snow and 30kts of wind and we have not been able to see the boatshed. It is the Antarctic and spring has only just started to arrive.
A snow bust of Captain Bruno Buckle (a well known local hero) has appeared on the western side of Bills Island. Not sure how long he will last? Our next ship is due in a few days and by then the place will be more than ready for the season’s visitors.
Until next time
The Port Lockroy team:
Rick, Rachel, Helen and Tudor