Letter From Lockroy - February 2007
The season at Port Lockroy is marching on. It seems like it was ages since Jo Hardy switched over with Gerard Baker but in reality it was a little more than two weeks ago. Thanks Jo for all your help and welcome Gerard. January has been extremely busy and we are all feeling the strain. We have been blessed with unusually fine weather for almost the entire month. Although not as intensely hot as January last year it has been extraordinarily dry. In fact there has been no rain to speak of all month. The island has become almost entirely free of snow and the guano covered ground has become dry and dusty.
The main benefit of this has been how easy it has been to keep the house clean (no muddy boots tromping through) and how pleasant it has been to walk around the island. In the middle of the month we experienced some unusually strong winds that shook the building quite violently. The remarkable thing about this wind was just how warm it was. For more than twenty four hours warm gusty winds blew from the south! Warm enough to stand outside in a Tshirt.
One of the highlights of this passed month was the visit by the Trust’s Patron HRH The Princess Royal. She arrived at Port Lockroy on HMS Endurance on the 19th January. We were blessed with a day of particularly fine weather and calm seas. It was low tide in the afternoon when she arrived and we were able to take an extended walk over to Bill’s island and enjoy the impressive scenery of the surrounding mountains before heading up to the base. At the front door of the base she formally cut the ribbon to officially hand over the base from the British Antarctic Survey to The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust.
We then looked around the inside of the base and sent some letters and post card in the shop. A very enjoyable time was then spent in the lounge consuming Gerard’s freshly made scones and a nice cup of tea. Distinguished guests included our Patron's husband, Admiral Laurence, Captain Nick Lambert, Jane Rumble from the UK foreign and Commonwealth Office and Philippa Foster Back, the Trust’s Chairman. Some lively conversation and discussion regarding Antarctica continued for some considerable time.
At the same time as the Royal visit, we hosted the members of the Historic Bases Working Group, who were here to inspect the buildings and passess the needs of the site with the intention of forming an on going maintenance and operation plan. John Shears headed up this team supported by conservation architect, Michael Morrison, Dave Burkitt former base leader at Lockroy and Bret Aurry, microbiologist. We spent a very productive time looking at the structure of the buildings before enjoying a convivial meal and a wee dram in the lounge. All the members
of the team stayed with us overnight and continued the survey the following morning, returning to Endurance around lunch time.
The penguins seem to be having a better time than when we last wrote. All those that survived the intense persecution by skua predation earlier in the season now look strong and healthy. Although it has been dry there have been quite a few cooler windy days which seem ideal for penguin chicks. There has also been a plentiful supply of locally available food for the chicks and consequently they have been growing fast. During the last few days the chicks have left the nest site and have started to wander around. Up to now they have not formed into creches this year, probably because the parent birds have not had to spend much time at sea feeding. Although we lost over 200 nest sites to skua predation early in the season, when we did the last chick count we had almost as many chicks as we did at the same time last season.
We have had some interesting penguin visitors this season, even more interesting than the macaroni penguin that showed up here last year. We have had about a twelve chinstrap penguins on the island most of the season that feed and roost amongst the gentoos. We had two adelie penguins that for a few weeks were hanging out with the gentoos. They were just like the adelie penguins in the movie Happy Feet and tried to act really cool just like the gentoos but never quite getting it right. Our most unusual visitor has been a juvenile king penguin that has been on the island for the past five days. It is a long way from home, probably having swum all the way from South Georgia. We are not aware of a king penguin ever having been seen at Lockroy before. It looks like it will stay here to moult.
The dry weather has allowed us to get on and paint all of the roof and most of the walls of Bransfield House. The hut looks really well with the fresh coat of black bitumen paint and red, newly painted windows. Although the roof was only painted a couple of weeks ago it no longer looks so great. The ever increasing sheathbill population that roost on the roof have managed to turn it white with their droppings already.
We have had our share of interesting ship visits this month which have included a day with the World, the enormous luxury apartment ship. Then there was the beautiful 180 foot sailing ship called Adele that looked like one of the wonderful historic J-class sailing yachts but was built less than two years ago. We have had any number of different naval vessels showing up around Lockroy and private motor yachts, to say nothing of the numerous cruise ships that pass by with thousands of passengers on board. Then there are the various smaller yachts that anchor in the bay behind the base. Port Lockroy is living up to its name.
Saga Rose arrived on the 31st January replenishing some much needed stock for the shop and offering some extraordinarily warm hospitality and words of encouragement just when it was needed most. Thank you Saga Rose. Reaching the end of January has been quite a milestone. There has been no let up in the intensity of ship visits and work to do. It appears we are likely to have had 50% more visitors to Port Lockroy by the end of this season than we had last year. One of the main reasons for this is that we have manned the base since 31st October instead of mid December as in the previous season.
The coming month promises to be every bit as busy.
Rick, Sally, and Gerard