So here we are in the home stretch. A visitor asked me the other day if we were at the stage of "winding down," a phrase that suggests to me a gradual slowing or even a lazy river, the kind that's good for floating on a raft. If that's what the phrase means to you, then we are definitely not winding down on Goudier Island. In fact we are busier than ever. To illustrate: in the past week, we've had about the same number of ship visits as we had in the whole month of December. And in addition to that regular work, we are in the process of preparing the base for its lonely winter. "Winding down" will have to wait until we are all back at home.
Monday was a busy two-ship day. Passengers on Polar Pioneer in the morning were still recovering from a lively visit the night before to the bar at Vernadsky Station. Hardy Antarcticans, many of them refreshed themselves by skiing the nearby peaks, kayaking, or scuba diving in the sub-zero waters, in between visiting us in the museum and shop. The afternoon brought another busy visit with L'Austral and then a unique treat for the team: dinner on board, followed by a cabaret show. It was our big cultural night of the season, and it felt surreal to be in a darkened theatre watching dancers perform everything from flamenco to vogue to kick-line. Having met the dancers on shore and chatted with them often during the season, it was very special for us to see the show and applaud their talented performance. Thanks, Hannah and all of L'Austral!
The next day, everyone made good use of a ship-free half day to make progress with end-of-season tasks. At the moment, our two big projects are finishing up the painting and doing inventories. Often when we tell visitors that we spend a lot of time painting here, they think we mean watercolours. But our painting jobs involve ladders instead of easels, and so far we have produced no still-lifes of our canned food. For the last week at least, Sarah and Helen have been super busy scraping, adding putty, and painting the red-and-white windowpanes of Bransfield House to keep the building draught-free over winter. Every dry day finds them perched with their buckets and brushes amongst the now-abandoned penguin nests, working hard to get the job finished as our days here dwindle.
Meanwhile, Jane and I have been busy with our respective inventories:
Jane of all the shop stock, and me of stamp stock and everything else on the island. One of the challenges of running a base in this remote location is making sure we have exactly the items we need to live and work, and no more. Certainly no less, as the nearest shopping centre is about 750 miles away! In our three buildings, we must cram everything from teaspoons to tar, and keep track of all their quantities. Jane has spent what she calls "happy hours" down in the boatshed, doing the gargantuan job of assessing the remaining shop merchandise. I've spent mine counting medicines, cans of food, stationery, books, and all the rest. For those of you who are interested to know, at the end of this season we have, for example, 125 AA batteries, 83 packets of Lemsip (a British cure-all for colds), and 32 massive slabs of chocolate (I won't tell you how many we started with!). Based on the numbers we send back to the head office in the UK, next year’s cargo shipment will have precisely what the 2014-15 team needs for a successful season.
After a big day of painting, inventorying, and greeting passengers from Plancius, we did manage a wee bit of recreation. Corinthian, whose staff have looked after us extremely well all season, sailed into the bay around 9pm on Tuesday and had us on board for a late dinner, along with Jim Mayer, the Plancius EL. After a fun meal with the bridge officers and crew, we were led out of the dining area and into the kitchen by Yannis, the Hotel Manager. I thought he was taking us on an end-of-season tour of the kitchens, but instead he pushed open a back door and voila, we were in the midst of a crew karaoke party. We decided to retire from our karaoke careers for the remainder of the season (or maybe lives).
The next day, we were up scrubbing rocks, joined by Captain Jacek and Chief Officer Bosko Petrovic, who carried up bucket after bucket of water from the sea for us. After the visit with Corinthian and a barbeque lunch on board, we got the island ready for the next passengers from Ocean Diamond. It was a special visit, as the ship brought back Falcon Scott and Jonathan Shackleton, relatives of the famed explorers who had visited us before with Sea Spirit. This time, we put them to work. Falcon monitored the shop, while Jonathan franked mail with me in the museum lounge. Visitors snapped photos whilst Jonathan declared himself the new postmistress (perhaps should be postmaster), thus making me redundant. I am now searching the job listings here on Goudier Island, looking for new employment.
After welcoming passengers from Bremen and then the yacht Xplore the next morning, we were transported back in time, as an afternoon visit from National Geographic Explorer was cancelled due to ice! The same south-westerly wind that plagued us early in the season sprang up late in the afternoon, pushing a thick layer of ice in to block the chains landing. NGE staff managed to navigate a zodiac close to the boatshed and, as it was low tide, the four of us waded out to exchange end-of-season gifts and farewells with them.
After visits from Expedition and the yacht Vaihere on Friday, we realised that every vessel will now make its final visit with us for the season. So in between scrubbing, restocking, painting, franking, and counting, we are busy saying goodbye to the friends we have made these past four months. However, we did have one big hello this week too, which has helped make up for the goodbyes. Michael and Liesl, the restoration carpenter team who have been working at Wordie House, were restored to us yesterday by Ocean Nova. It's great to have them back, and their arrival means we are a team of six now for the remainder. We've been busy swapping stories over huge meals, and look forward to sharing the next week or so with them, until our own farewell.
As this is my final blog post, I want to say how very much it has meant to me to be a part of Port Lockroy and to have a place in its unique legacy. Having visited Goudier Island before I got this job, I was prepared to be awed by the scenery and wildlife and weather. I did not expect that the people I would meet and work with here would be the most awe-inspiring part of it all. Take care one and all, and I look forward to seeing you again in this small word, south or north.