23 Dec 2013 - Merry Christmas from Port Lockroy

Painting Bransfield HouseThe book of the week right now in the Port Lockroy shop is ‘A Field Guide to Ice’, by James Fenton. It’s an excellent guide, with definitions and photographs illustrating all the different varieties of ice in Antarctica. Ice flows, for example, are blocks of frozen sea ice, whereas icebergs calve from glaciers. A bergy bit is a small iceberg, and a growler is smaller still (only 1 meter visible above the water). All of them drift around according to the winds, currents, and tides and when they bunch up together, they form what is known as pack ice.

The ice gods were apparently watching our book of the week shelf, as they’ve given us plenty of opportunity lately to put Fenton’s guide to good use. Our bay is once again packed quite full, for at least a quarter of a mile beyond the chains landing, making it impossible at the moment for us to receive any visitors.

Our advisor in the UK, Alan Carroll (PL Base Leader 1955 and 1956) has tracked the weather in this region for more than fifty years. He tells us that this has so far been a highly unusual season. Whereas the prevailing winds at Port Lockroy, especially at this time of year, are from the northeast, which keeps the bay clear of ice, we have experienced almost exclusively winds from the southwest, which packs the ice close into shore. Lately we have had only brief windows of clear water, in which few ships have been able to land passengers – 10 so far this month out of an anticipated 25.

A festive team PL with NGE anchored close behindHowever, the week did begin with a short burst of northeasterly winds, so we were able to welcome back National Geographic Explorer on Monday morning. Thanks to a gracious invitation from Expedition Leader Lisa Kelley, we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast on board before Helen gave the briefing and took questions, among which was the ever popular, “Can men apply for this job too?” Helen replied that yes, they can, and explained that there was a man on the team just last year (hello Ben, if you are reading this)– although we do have to wonder if a team of only men would be asked if women could apply! After a very cheery visit on shore, NG Explorer once again offered their passengers the chance to take the polar plunge into -2 degree waters. Since their captain likes to bring the ship in very close to the island and ‘practically’ beside Bransfield House to shorten the commute for passengers and staff, we had a great view from the chains landing from which to cheer on the brave plungers.

The bay stayed clear just long enough for Expedition to land their passengers on Monday afternoon, and then Expedition Leader Alex Cowan invited us on board for showers and a really lovely dinner and drinks. Among the staff at our table was Frank Todd, who wrote the guide to Birds and Mammals that we sell in the shop, and whose vast knowledge of Antarctic wildlife was appreciated by all.

Thanks to NG Explorer and Expedition, we have been eating like queens, as both left us with Christmas care packages of eggs, cheddar cheese, fresh fruit, vegetables, and the largest wheel of brie most of us had ever seen in our lives. Brie has featured regularly on the menu this week, and we’ve been discovering that pretty much anything will taste fantastic when dipped in some brie fondue.

Tuesday dawned with a great deal more ice in the bay, so much that our next ship, Ortelius, could send only one zodiac to shore. Sarah, Jane, and Helen quickly packed up the first mobile shop of the season and zoomed over to the ship, while Kristy stayed on shore with the first official cold of the season. After their return, the ice really did close in and we were cut off once again. At the same time, the yacht Pelagic, carrying Andrew of AGB Films, his wife Emma, and his daughters Daisy and Amy, had made it across the Drake Passage and was starting to make its way to Lockroy. But with the ice closing back in, we spent our next days wondering if and when they would make it here.

Ice collectingAfter a few days of navigating an ice-filled Neumayer Channel, Pelagic succeeded in getting into the bay during a brief lull in the southwesterlies on Thursday, mooring quite close to the boatshed and setting lines to keep a clear patch of water around the boat. This has meant the return of friends old and new to Goudier Island – we were very happy to welcome back Dave and to meet Pelagic skipper Skip Novak, as well as Skip’s children Lara and Luca (and thank you, Skip, for buying a copy of A Field Guide to Ice!). Pelagic’s return has also meant that Ruth can begin her much-anticipated filming for her documentary for CBBC, starring Andrew’s daughters Daisy and Amy. When they’re not filming, the two girls, along with Lara and Luca, have been meeting the penguins and exploring the island, and the whole troupe even went to work on Friday collecting glacier ice for our water, coached by Sarah. They filled seven buckets! Nice work, Team Ice Collection.

In the meantime, we have been carrying on with the annual maintenance work that protects the buildings of Port Lockroy during the dark winter months. The whole team have been busy painting bitumen on the outer walls of Bransfield House walls and sections of the Nissen Hut, repainting the red-and-white window frames and museum ceilings, and replacing the treads on the walkway into Bransfield. Kristy was very pleased to finally finish scraping and painting the old Enfield generator that is the centerpiece of the shop, and which Helen has since named Harry. With so few visitors at the moment, we all stop from time to time to have a chat with Harry, who is looking very handsome with his fresh coats of black and green paints, and a shiny glow from Renaissance Micro-Crystalline Wax.

Luca and Lara making icing penguinsEvenings with our Pelagic neighbours have been a highlight of our week. Last night, we had everyone over from the yacht to the Nissen Hut to celebrate summer solstice and, as it turned out, to immortalize our penguin neighbours in sugar. Helen’s mother had sent down black and white icing to decorate her Christmas cake, but Sarah quickly discovered that the icing could be put to much more hilarious use by fashioning it into tiny penguins. Lara, Luca, Amy, and Daisy saw the potential of this project immediately, and spent the evening creating an icing penguin colony, while Sarah cut out tiny feet and beaks from orange peels. The group began by making regular icing penguins, but soon progressed to nesting penguins, penguin eggs, penguin chicks, pooping penguins, orcas, krill, and, after inspiration from a photo from the Antarctic Peninsula Expedition book by M/V Suri, a penguin with its head being ripped off by a leopard seal. Ketchup was put to very creative use in this particular project by Luca and Amy, and we are all looking forward to having the most unique Christmas cake decorations in Antarctica.

ThSummer solstice partyere are only a few doors left to open in our chocolate-filled advent calendar (whoever is on cook duty has the honour of opening the door and eating the chocolate), which means that Santa Claus will soon be making his annual farthest trip south. We will leave out some of our rations for him to enjoy (BAS biscuit and Tang, Santa?) and hope that he brings us all some northeasterly winds. To all our friends and families back home and to you, our readers, a very Merry Christmas.



23 Dec 2013