Letter From Lockroy - December 2004
18 December 2004
Well, this will be a slightly rushed letter because we weren't expecting the mail to go until some time in January...
Firstly I'll introduce this year's team. Pete Milner (our esteemed Base Leader) should be familiar to anyone who's been reading previous letters as this is his third season here at Port Lockroy. Before that, he spent 2 winters at Rothera station and has spent 2 northern summers at Spitzbergen in the Arctic. There's a bounty on his ponytail but he's not letting it go...yet...
Matt Jobson (Polar Medal) is our resident carpenter and is something of an Antarctic veteran (or permafid as they're known), having spent 3 winters at Rothera, a winter at Bird Island and numerous summers at various cold spots in between. One of his favourite phrases is "This'll be my last year South..." but from past experience we don't believe him.
I seem to have caught the same bug - I spent 14 months as Medical Officer at King Edward Point station, then another 5 months sailing through Antarctic waters on RRS Ernest Shackleton and now here I am back in the Antarctic and I'm not quite sure how it happened...!
We were quite late in arriving here at Port Lockroy as our big red taxi, RRS James Clark Ross (JCR) spent some time doing science work in the Drake Passage. Fortunately we had an extremely calm passage south and got some great views (particularly of Elephant Island and Deception Island). The weather was initially not quite so good when we reached Port Lockroy and we had to wait a couple of hours for the wind to drop enough for the boats to be launched. First ashore were the team from Sky News - Michelle Clifford and Olly West - then we followed and were filmed stepping ashore and opening up the base.
Everything was in pretty good nick apart from the boatshed door which had blown open and needed new hinges. Fortunately we had been told of this while we'd been in Stanley and had been able to bring some new hinges down with us. Matt set about organising a repair team (thanks to Glen, Andy, Andy, Matt and anyone I've forgotten) and some tools from the JCR and very soon the door was back on its new hinges and keeping the wildlife out. The weather stayed good and, in addition to getting all our cargo ashore, the FIDS and ships crew were able to have a good look around the base and the island. Once radio communications had been established with Rothera, the JCR collected everyone back on board and sailed in the direction of Rothera.
The three-masted Bark Europa was also in the bay while the JCR was dropping us off - she made for a timeless sights against the backdrop of the glaciersand mountain peaks surrounding us.
The following day we not only ship-free (giving us a chance to stock the shop and Post Office and get ourselves settled in) but also gloriously sunny. On days like that there really are few better views in the world. The good weather continued into the next couple of days and there really wasn't a cloud in the sky.
So, what have we been up to in the week or so since? Well, the cruise ship itineraries have been thrown into turmoil by the presence of large quantities of sea ice down the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula this season. Many ships simply haven't been able to reach us due to the amount of ice, and even if they have made it into the vicinity, it isn't always possible to get their zodiacs (inflatable landing boats) through the brash ice. So far, the number of visits made by cruise ships has been substantially lower than expected, although some ships which couldn't get to other destinations have made impromptu stops here. We're pretty flexible about visits and can be ready within half an hour - although a ship which enquired about a midnight visit was politely refused!
The first island-wide penguins count has been carried out - this one involved counting nests and eggs. Although the number of nests is slightly down on last year, there's still a very healthy population of penguins. One pair of penguins down by the boatshed has an amazing 4 eggs (the normal count is 1 or 2)!! Some penguins have already acquired names, for example Obelisk and Asterix - so called because of the resemblance of their nest to a miniature Stonehenge.
Matt has been busy and has already rebuilt the step into the Post Office, replaced the perspex which protects the shop counter, scraped the loose paint off all the accessible window frames and made a draining board for the counter in our living area. Pete and Matt have erected a new dipole antenna so we now enjoy clear radio communications with Rothera for the first time ever.
Pete has been enjoying his role as the public face of Port Lockroy, meeting and greeting the tourists and their expedition leaders as they come ashore. After their briefing the visitors make their way up to the base and look round Bransfield House and buy their postcards, stamps and souveniers. Matt and I are learning the sales pitch and competing for sales of Port Lockroy fridge magnets but I'm afraid we can't compete with Pete yet!
Following the successful clean-up of Bases O and J (Danco and Prospect Point) last season (see last year's RRS Ernest Shackleton diaries), there were a fair number of historical artefacts recovered which have been brought here for display in the hut. Recording these items will take a long time but we've made a good start and there are some interesting new additions to the kitchen shelves.
So, although we've been a bit short on cruise ship visits this season, we've made good use of our time. There have been many days when we've been working well into the evening withough realising it - with the almost constant daylight it's easy to lose track of time. Well, it's almost bedtime so I'll call it a day here.
Best wishes to everyone out there, especially our friends and family.