Snowy and blowy has been the theme for most of this week at Port Lockroy as the weather has taken a real turn towards winter. Some mornings on waking up we’ve been transported back in time to our first few weeks on base back in November; ice in the bay, howling winds, generous coverings of fresh snow and even aborted ship landings! Things are really coming full circle during our last few days on Goudier island.
The snowfall covers everything in a blanket of twinkly whiteness, interrupted only by the fresh footprints of penguins and sheathbills. As well as being beautiful to look at, the snow has the added bonus of saving us time and effort on the rock scrubbing in the mornings – it’s much easier to clear the penguin poo off the rocks with a snow shovel than endless buckets of seawater and scrubbing brushes which is the normal routine on dry days!
With our time here coming to an end, nearly everything we do now is ‘the last of this’ or ‘the last of that’. Sea Spirit visited us for the last time at the beginning of the week. A lovely visit as usual, made all the more exciting by the appearance of the first fur seal that we’ve seen on the island this season. He or she provided a great deal of entertainment, relaxing on a rock before taking itself on a tour of the lower side of the island around the boatshed, sending surprised penguins scattering in its wake. We watched it go all the way across to the beach by the chains landing before diving in and setting off again to who knows where. Shane and the team from Sea Spirit invited us all on board after the visit for a delicious farewell dinner with the team. It was lovely to spend a little bit of downtime with the people we’ve worked alongside all season and to share memories before saying goodbye for now.
We said goodbye to Polar Pioneer, Le Boreal and L’Austral this week as well, but there was also a reunion of sorts. Two regular characters from this season (Skip from Pelagic and Piers from National Geographic Explorer) both returned to the bay, this time aboard the Lord Nelson, a square rigger on a circumnavigation of the world in various stages. She is sailing in Antarctica for the first time and is of particular interest as she was specially designed to be fully accessible to wheelchair users and people with disabilities. We were really excited to be invited for a tour and lunch before meeting the voyage crew and doing a briefing. Then everyone who wanted to was able to come ashore for the landing. A real triumph for inclusion and team work.
As Andrew and Ruth continue work on their film project, we also briefly welcomed another film crew this week, when Steve Backshall and the BBC team working on a new series “Deadly Pole to Pole” popped in to the post office. We hope we weren’t too scary! Speaking of the post office, Friday was a big day with Fram due in for a visit. As well as really looking forward to seeing the team again and meeting the passengers, this was an especially important visit as Fram was taking the final outbound mailbags for this season to Stanley. After this there would be no more mail out until November. However, the weather intervened again and reminded us that in Antarctica no plan is ever set in stone. Even within the shelter of the bay the strength of the wind was such that the anchor wouldn’t hold. We watched through windows with baited breath from the relative sanctuary of the shop as they tried and tried to get a good anchorage, before finally having to sail away. Thanks for trying Fram and, for those of you wondering, we’re still working on the revised post plan!
Work is well underway now on putting Base A to bed for the Antarctic winter and to leave it in as good shape as possible for next season’s team. With the weather not playing ball for some of the outside jobs like painting the windows or walls, the focus moved to indoor activities. With storage always at a premium, we’ve reorganised the boatshed to make as much room as possible for the sledges and other items that will need to fit back in there before we leave. It’s amazing the amount of space we’ve managed to create, and also the amount of cardboard waste we’ve generated as a result of clearing out all the boxes. This is another area where the ships are really helpful to us, often agreeing to take our cardboard or other types of waste away with them at the end of a visit.
We’ve also started putting artefacts away in the museum, packed all the postal stock that needs to be returned safely to Stanley for the winter, and have gone cross-eyed with spreadsheets of inventories! Michael and Liesl have also helped us put our indoor time to good use. Liesl has been busy painting anything that was dry enough, whilst Michael took the drying theme to new levels, fashioning a new and improved rack for the stove area in the Nissen hut so that we can now get our wet and snowy gear dry more quickly. Thanks guys!
Saturday was St David’s day (the Welsh national day) and with Ruth and Michael both hailing from that fair land, we marked the occasion with an (indoor) unfurling of the welsh flag and an effort by all to make sure the base was “tidy”. We hope all our Welsh readers had a great day too.
The sheathbill chicks underneath the Nissen have been gradually venturing out from the protection of the building and now have some of their white plumage. The penguin chicks are growing up very quickly too, with crèches appearing all over the island and almost all the chicks being at some stage of getting their adult feathers instead of their downy grey fluff. Those chicks in the in-between stage are a cause of constant amusement, with some sporting the appearance of rather groovy mohicans or feather boas whilst they wait for their final feathers to come through. As is the natural way of things, this means predation too. We were just clearing up after lunch one day when, through the kitchen window, we saw two skuas take a penguin from a crèche. Then on Friday everyone came running to Michael’s calls of “quick, quick!” as a leopard seal in the water in front of Boogie island caught a penguin and thrashed it around before enjoying it for lunch. The chorus of enthralled yet appalled ‘oohs and ahhs’ from the team as we watched from the front deck of the Nissen hut would have given any fireworks display a run for its money.
The week closed with a visit from Plancius; another case of things going full circle, as Plancius was one of the first ships we ever met here. Kelvin and the team kindly arranged to take Michael and Liesl around to Dorian Bay so that they could check on Damoy hut for a final time this season and replace the shutters ready for the winter. Kelvin also invited us all on board for a barbeque tea – our final time out together as a team in our boatsuits. Despite it taking us a while at the start of the season to feel the love for the cumbersome suits that make us feel like penguins out of water, they really are essential for the wet and windy rides to and from the ships. We have developed a certain fondness for the ‘boatsuit look’, so we marked the occasion with a photo!
It’s hard to believe that within a week we will be saying goodbye to Goudier Island. From that seemingly endless cargo night in a raging blizzard, to a beautifully sunlit cruise of the Lemaire channel, hearing the bongs of Big Ben on New Year’s Eve or following the progress of Innocent, the first chick, it’s been a feast of experience and memories.
Someone remarked to me earlier this season that “the further south you go, the smaller the world gets” and in our experience on this adventure, that has really been true. It seems that everyone knows somebody or somewhere that you know, everyone looks out for each other and everyone is united in their wish to enjoy and make the most of their experience in this very special corner of our planet.