9 March 2014 - The final countdown

We woke up early to make the most of our last day on Base A ready for winterGoudier Island  - although nothing is certain in Antarctica! There were plenty of final tasks to be completed, and we had a busy morning of emailing, stock counting, finalising stamp inventories and packing away the last of the museum artefacts. We stopped for lunch, and Jane treated us all to our last tinned beef curry of the season. The taste took us back to the days of no ships, when we ate tins every day and curry became our favourite thing. Good thing we all like it! And actually quite remarkable that we still like it after four months…

Michael and Liesl had been waiting to start their biggest piece of work, replacing the linoleum on the shop floor. As soon as we were done with counting the stock and all the unsold ítems had been packed and removed from the counter tops and shelves they got stuck in. We carried on packing and cleaning, washing ladders, boot scrubbers, doormats, everything that could move had a dunk in the sea with a scrubbing brush.last evening in the Nissen

The weather changed from a calm sunny morning to blizzard conditions, heavy snow and 40 knots of wind. But our neighbours on Pelagic battled through the storm to come over to the Nissen for a final farewell dinner. And not only did they get here but they also brought and cooked all the food! Roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, what a treat! Thanks particularly to Dave for all the cooking, and to everyone else for sharing our last night, and the season, with us. It couldn´t have been better.

Part way through the evening we had a radio call from Jens Koethen, the captain of Hanse Explorer, who was proposing to anchor behind the island for the night and was wondering what conditions in the bay were like. Once the ship was in position Jens and Sean popped over to the Nissen to join the farewell party, and catch up with Michael and Liesl again after taking them to Wordie Hothe mail bags depart in the inky nightuse earlier in the season. We discovered that they were travelling onwards to Stanley and Jens agreed to take the last mail bags for us. Hooray! We had been facing the prospect of having to leave these 5 bags at the base all winter, bags which included many of our own postcards (or I should say my own postcards, other team members having been more organised!). So we togged up in our foul weather gear, grabbed headtorches, and set off on a mission to get the mail, and two large extremely heavy pelicases of stamps, into the zodiac. So much snow had fallen during the evening that it was a hazardous and slippery trip in the dark down to the landing site but we managed not to drop anything in the sea and gratefully waved Jens and Sean goodbye as they disappeared into the night.

The next morning we woke to wind howling round the Nissen making the chimney wires strum. We were expecting to be picked up by Oceanbleak Deception Island Diamond at noon after they had made a passenger landing at Dorian Bay. But in this weather we knew we might either be picked up early or not at all … A radio call from David ´Woody´ Wood, the Expedition Leader, confirmed that they were unable to make their landing, but would try to get a couple of boats in the water and pick us up at 9am. Final packings and tidying, and putting all our luggage in plastic bags, and suddenly there was a zodiac at the landing site. Three of the staff had come over to get us, one driving and two as ballast, we could hardly make out the distant ship in the driving snow. Andrew and Ruth had planned to film our departure and gamely stuck to their guns and were filming as we threw ourselves and our bags into the boat. We huddled in the bottom of the zodiac with our luggage as Vladimir drove us skilfully through the waves and spray and Cam and Conrad sheltered us by sitting in the bow and taking the worst of the breakers themselves. What heroes!

We were truly drowned rats when we got aboard Ocean Diamond and stood slighFur seals and gentoos at Cuvervilletly stunned dripping on the aft deck while the ship got underway and we soon lost sight of the island and the people we had left behind – Michael and Liesl leaping around in the storm waving madly, Andrew, Ruth and Doug still filming, and Dave and Bertie on Pelagic. What a departure! no time for reflection and lingering farewells. We squelched our way to our cabins and slowly settled into our new rooms. What a treat to be in the warm and dry, we´d never felt more in need of a hot shower.

We had a great four days on Ocean Diamond, and were made to feel so welcome by the staff and passengers. We also got to see some more beautiful and fascinating places in Antarctica, landing at Cuverville Island in the afternoon of our first day and Deception Island and Half Moon Island the following day. The bad weather continued and Whalers Bay on Deception Island was bleak and windswept which added a certain atmosphere and poignancy to the derelict buildings there. The remains of a Northe team at Base B Deception Islandwegian whaling station, some of the buildings became the first Operation Tabarin base, Base B, and were occupied from 1944 to the late 1960s. The base was abandoned in 1969 following volcanic eruptions.

We set off into the Drake with a certain amount of trepidation - given the winds we had been experiencing we didn´t expect it to be calm! We weren´t disappointed, with a pretty rough night which had us hanging on the edges of our beds and spending most of the following day horizontal as well! The bridge confirmed that we had experienced 8 – 10m waves. We were very grateful to be on Ocean Diamond with its size and stablisers which certainly helped to minimise most of the motion. We even managed to give our final on-board talk of the season, going into detail about the operation of Port Lockroy and our experiences there, which seemed to create plenty of interest among the passengers as well as the expedition staff.PL team departs

All good things must come to an end, and as our voyage drew to a close we approached the Beagle channel. The sun put in an appearance while the waters calmed and we were surrounded by albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, spectacular bird-watching from the bridge. All on board attended the captain´s farewell cocktail party before a final splendid meal in the restaurant.

Roxanna Diaz and Jonathan Selby, huge supporters of the Trust and invaluable helpers to the Lockroy team every season, met us on the ship and sorted out our visas, before escorting us to our B & B. We had a memorable last night all together as a team, memorable for all the right reasons! Great food, superb wine and even better company during a meal with Falcon Scott,  Jonathan Sgreat food great company in Ushuaia lo reshackleton and Conrad Hennig who had all been our shipmates on the Ocean Diamond. I hope we will all meet again sometime.

Jane and Kristy departed the following morning, so here we are with half the team left for a few days in Ushuaia. We are missing the call of the gentoo, and planning an expedition to a colony of magellanic penguins not far from here – and we have heard there are some kings nearby too! It won´t be quite the same but the best we can do for now, until Penguin Post Office is shown later on this year and we can relive our memorable season on the small screen.

Keep following the UKAHT facebook page and blog for news of next year´s team – it´s only a couple of months 'til selection and then 4 more excited people will be getting ready for their summer at Port Lockroy.

Helen

Helen