03 Feb 2014 - Comings and goings

Hello again from a busy and bustling Port Lockroy.  This week has brought visitors in many forms and lots to tell you about.

We’re now in peak season and this means lots of More painting on Bransfield Housepassengers visiting the museum, post office and gift shop.  Because Lockroy is a historic site & monument under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, the number of people that can visit the island each day is limited to 350. Nevertheless, because the ships operating down here tend to be smaller than in other parts of the world, this has still meant 2 ships visits on most days this week with yachts popping over in-between, making for long and busy days on base.  However, we’ve got our ‘two ship day’ routine down to a fine art now, starting the day early carrying buckets of water up from the sea to scrub the overnight penguin and sheathbill poop accumulation off the rocks, re-stocking the shop with merchandise from the boatshed, and cleaning and tidying in the museum.  We’ve discovered that there truly is a song for every occasion and have customised a number of chart hits with special Port Lockroy references to hum away as we work.  (Think Boney M “By the rivers of penguin poop….” or for the James Bond fans “Cold Finger”)  When we are invited onto ships to give a talk and briefing to passengers before their landing, people sometimes ask us what we do to relax in our spare time.  The truth is, spare time isn’t something that’s in large supply at Lockroy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some wonderful moments, and this week brought us a number of those.

There was much excitement early in the week as we had a mail delivery courtesy of Jamie and the team on Sea Explorer.  It’s hard to convey the excitement that the prospect of long-awaited news and photos from loved ones at home brings.  Although we have a basic form of email communication on base to keep in touch with the ships in the area and our families, we can’t receive attachments, send large emails or access our own email or the internet, so photos or detailed news from home has to come by snail mail.  We were really touched to find amongst the letters and packages some mail for us from several of the passengers who we originally travelled down with on the ship Akademik Ioffe back in November.  Thank you for remembering us guys and happy onward travels!!

As well as our personal mail, the delivery included several Wrapping first day coversnew First Day Covers from the Post Office team at Stanley in the Falkland Islands to go on sale in the shop.  Kristy and I spent a couple of hours carefully wrapping the new stock and then took advantage of the opportunity to have a reorganisation in the shop. This included a re-stocking of our all important under-the-counter snack box for those moments when we are peckish mid-visit but can’t take a break.  Our Eat Natural bars do the job nicely! Despite the slow start to the season due to ice in the bay, shop sales are now going well which is really important as all the profits from the shop go directly towards funding the work of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust both at Lockroy and elsewhere along the Peninsula.

For example, another of the sites that the Trust conserves and maintains is Wordie House, further south near the Ukrainian station Vernadsky.  Two specialist conservators for the Trust (Michael & Liesl) arrived with us this week courtesy of Sea Spirit, en-route to Wordie.  They immediately got stuck in to base life, talking to passengers in the museum and helping with the visit before getting to work in the boatshed readying their Sorting out mobile kit in the boatshedmobile kit for the journey further south.  They also helped us sort out some of the windows in Bransfield House which we’ve been having trouble opening and closing.  They left yesterday, kindly picked up by Hanse Explorer to head down to Wordie and will spend a few weeks there working on repairs to the floor in the living room and doing some painting and other maintenance tasks. The last time we saw Michael and Liesl was at the assessment days for this year’s team, back in June 2013 in the UK, so it was really lovely to see them again and actually at Lockroy!  

Also aboard Sea Spirit were Jonathan Shackleton and Falcon Scott, both relations of the famous explorers and we took the opportunity to show them around base and thank them for their interest in the work of the Trust.  Some visits are more impromptu – for example when a lady from Scotland called Morag walked up to me and Helen in the shop and said she had some photos we may be interested in.  It turns out her husband had worked on the RRS  John Biscoe in the early 1950s and had photos of his visit to Port Lockroy during that period.  This was Morag’s first ever visit to  Antarctica, retracing his steps and it was a pleasure to be able to show her around.  Another important and welcome visitor this week was Forrest Mars Jr who has been a generous benefactor to the Trust over many years.  Thanks to his support, we now have the separate staff accommodation in the Nissen hut, and it was really special to be able to welcome him and his travelling companions for the first time since the construction was done and to host a mini drinks reception in the Nissen for them.

This week has also seen the return of some nice weather for the first time in January.  The days have been much drier, less windy and sunnier.  Sarah has been taking full advantage to continue work on maintaining the outside of Bransfield House.  With the bitumening (new verb!) of the walls now a distant memory from a blog of a few weeks ago, our focus is on the facia boards and windows.  We’re trying to get as up to date as we can, as there’s still a lot of Bransfield House and the Boatshed that we can’t start work on until the penguins are off their nests, so we need to be organised to make sure we get everything finished before we leave in early March.

The better spell of weather has meant we are able to enjoy being out and about instead of hurrying to and fro’, braced against the wind.  True to the adage of “if you ain’t lookin’, you ain’t seein’ ”, we’ve seen a lot more wildlife this week too.  In addition to the usual antics of the penguin chicks, Giant petrelwe’ve enjoyed several more Wilson’s storm petrels swerving about the bay, crabeater seals lazing around on icefloes and 5 giant petrels competing over the carcass of a predated penguin chick. Much as we get very attached to the Gentoo chicks waddling around by their nests,  it was an amazing sight to sit on a rock and watch these huge, prehistoric-looking birds swooping in towards us from Jougla point and ripping pieces of meat off the dead chick.  Andrew and Ruth from AGB films have had a good week of filming too, finding a couple of skua chicks to film in addition to the ‘panting penguins’ in the sunshine of the last few days.

The week rounded off with a visit from Corinthian and the generous offer of a “morning mini-break” We have no boat on base and therefore no means to travel from Goudier island by ourselves, so Captain Jacek offered us an early pick up and a trip around the corner to Dorian Bay so that we could visit Damoy Hut (also looked after by the Trust) to check on its condition.  Whilst there we took advantage of a chance to hike up to the ridge between the two bays and look down on Port Lockroy from a different perspective.  Different view of LockroySo many times during our season here we have looked up at the beautiful mountain ranges and seen people up on the ridge waving at us, so it was a real treat to stretch the legs and see the beauty of the bay for ourselves and the ranges along the Neumayer channel spreading out to the north.  We didn’t even ache the next day either, despite walking further than any other time since we arrived in November!

And so we are now in February, suddenly psychologically feeling a lot closer to season’s end, not helped by a number of goodbyes to friends made over the last few months who are finishing their contracts and heading home.  We are doing our absolute best to make every day count and keep the adventure going for our last few weeks.

Bye until next time,