Letter from Lockroy - January 2006

Letter From Lockroy - January 2006

The last time we wrote we were about to be disembarked at Port Lockroy. It feels like that was a life time ago, in reality it was only a little more than three weeks ago. As usual Port Lockroy is a wonderfully mad place to be and there is never a dull moment.

Our planned date of arrival at Port Lockroy was the 10th December which is rather late to be turning up, unfortunately the James Clark Ross was delayed by about four days so we didn’t arrive until the 14th December. Unloading all the cargo from the ship went well and we were able to host a large landing party of BAS personnel and crew from the ship. Their help with moving the numerous boxes of supplies from the ships tender to the boat shed store was much appreciated. We were sad when it came to waving farewell to all the ships company when it came time for them to leave but delighted when we found our hut was well stocked with tea, biscuits and whisky.

Our first impression and observation at Port Lockroy was how little snow there was for the time of year. All the penguin nesting sites were clear from snow as was most of the path to the Chains Landing Site. There seemed to be slightly less penguins than Rick remembered from two years ago, but not significantly less. Most of the penguins were well established on their nest sites and in fact only two days after we arrived our first chicks hatched. Interestingly none of the sheathbills had laid eggs when we arrived. The buildings looked in fantastic shape. It was hard to believe they had been left unattended for eight months and Graham looked forward to an easy summer of building maintenance!!

Twenty ships or more had visited Lockroy before we arrived and many of them had come into the building. There were post cards piled high on the kitchen table and warm notes from many of the expedition leaders welcoming us back and asking us to post the cards. It made us feel so pleased to be back and be in the centre of the action of the Antarctic tour ship industry. The day after we arrived there were three ships arriving, so our first night on base was spent frantically getting things operational. Mairi and Graham quickly got to grips with how the shop and post office operates and Rick re-hung the pictures from the safe and set out some of the other artefacts that had been locked away. Some how we managed to bluff our way through the first day. The charm and interest of the buildings and their situation made up for the lack of order behind the scenes. Fortunately the following day we had a chance to catch our breath and organise the shop and our living conditions.

We enjoyed some wonderful warm, sunny weather for the following few days and settled into our surroundings. The ship visits slowed down during this time as unusually thick pack ice drifted into the bay around Port Lockroy on the tide. This prevented some ships that planned to visit from being able to land their passengers. We almost had a chance to become lonely for a couple of days. Bark Europa, the 56 meter, three masted sailing ship, did manage to sneak into see us during this period. It was a wonderful sight to see this fantastic tall ship making its way through heavy pack ice under a bright blue sky. She stayed in the bay for a couple of days and we were able to go out for a visit.

During this spell of relative calm, we were able to count the penguins on the island. We have 681 breeding pairs this year which is just a few more than last year. We were also able to get up on the roof of Bransfield House and paint it with bitumen paint. Rick was extremely proud to see how well the roof looks ten years on from when he helped rebuild it during the building restoration. It still looks as good as new. It was so hot while were painting it that we couldn’t comfortably sit on it for fear of being cooked. Another thing we couldn’t control was the Sheathbills who decided to help us spraying white lines of excrement over the new black surfaces and then trying to steal the paint pot lids. We also spent quite a bit of time trying to bring some order to the boat shed store which we had filled with boxes of stock for the shop. We were all beginning to wonder if we were cut out to be a shop keeper at this stage. All this stock and no customers due to the pack ice! Fortunately that was all about to change.

Once the ice blew out the expedition ships started to arrive. Since before Christmas we have had two or three ships visiting a day. We have arranged the shop so that our customers are now able to help them self to most items that are for sale. What a difference this has made. Every thing is flying off the shelves. We have lots more shop fitting to undertake before we leave but it has to be done when there are no ships here. As we have over forty ships due to visit in January it is unlikely that much else will be going on this month.

There have been a few yachts visit Port Lockroy this season already. The first was Vaihere, a French two masted yacht that had twelve passengers on board. We were invited out to the yacht for dinner one night which was a most enjoyable cosmopolitan affair. A few days later Northanger a smaller yacht with friends of Rick’s aboard arrived. They ended up staying with us in Bransfield house one night when the wind started to blow so hard it was unsafe for them to return to their yacht.

Christmas and New Years celebrations aren’t quite the same when there are twenty four hours of day light. None the less we made a point of enjoying both occasions. As we were busy with cruise ships during Christmas Day we opened our presents late on Christmas Eve in the lounge bar with the newly acquired gas heater making what is normally a cold room quite cosy. We had been invited out onto one of the cruse ships for New Years Eve but the wind picked up and the ship left before midnight and our visit was cancelled. We ended up celebrating the arrival of the New Year in our bunk room plied with sufficient whisky, clad in ample amounts of tartan, dancing to fine Scottish music provided by the band Wolfstone, while the fire burned in the grate. Some what sleep deprived and feeling the effects of excessive indulgence we rose to the challenge of four cruise ship visits on New Years Day.

The past few days have all been just as busy with around 300 visitors coming to the island daily. Today we have only had one ship visit with 50 passengers. This allowed us to take the time to count our penguins again to monitor their breeding success. We are delighted to report that we are now sharing our small island with 1264 adults, 996 cute fluffy chicks and 68 eggs. It is interesting to observe this year that hatching has been spread out over quite an extended period and we have chicks of all sizes on the island at the moment and still lots of eggs that haven’t hatched yet. There are a lot more sheath bills nesting here this year and needless to say they are up to their normal tricks, harassing the penguins constantly. Most of the island is now free from snow and with all the fine dry weather of late it has become quite dry and not quite so smelly. It has been unusually warm here the last few days. The cruise ship that was here yesterday recorded an air temperature of 12 degrees C.

Rick Atkinson, Mairi Nicolson, Graham Gillie