Q&A with the Port Lockroy Team
We asked if you had any questions you'd like to ask our Port Lockroy team - and you didn't disappoint! Check out the answers to your questions below, and a big thank you to everyone that took the time to join in.
Your questions answered
“How often do the letters from the most South post office go out? And also who is the carrier?” ~Stefania Dimofte, via Facebook
Hi Stefania, we need to find a ship that is going to Stanley, The Falklands. So this season with less ships we will have only sent post from the island twice. Most of the time the post is taken by cruise ships but sometimes it is taken by yachts.
“What three pieces of advice would you give to people thinking of applying for this experience?” ~Caroline Watson, via Facebook
- Be yourself. There is no point pretending to be something you’re not. A lot of the way in which a team is composed is based on how people interact and get on. You might be able to put on a facade for a day or two but not for the course of a season.
- Do your research. It is a very small island with very basic amenities (no Wifi, no running water, very little comms, no private space), which of a normal season would also be extremely busy. You are much better going in with your eyes wide open.
- Stop thinking and just go for it!! So few people will ever get to experience anything like this but somebody has to do it. Why wouldn’t you take a shot at something that could be life altering?
“When do you empty the mailbox next?” ~Alan Przybylak, via Facebook
Hi Alan, we empty it anytime there is mail in it so we can process it ready for leaving the island. The last time for this season was a few days ago on 12 March.
“What is the best and worst part of your day at Penguin Post Office?” ~Shae Pepper, via Facebook
Hi Shae, like many things, depending on how you look at anything it could either be a best or worst part of your day. A prime example was when a colleague (I won’t name them for fear of embarrassment), slipped and fell while walking around on the island. Fortunately they were not hurt, however they were covered from head to toe in guano. This has the potential to be one of those moments where things can come crashing down as you realise what you’re covered in and that there is no shower on the island. Instead it turned into the best moment of that day as we went down to the sea laughing to splash water everywhere and begin the washing down process. I don’t think that there are any worst parts of the day, only plenty of opportunities to make best ones.
“How many times did you dream of working at Port Lockroy Antarctica?” ~Sandie Marsh, via Facebook
Hi Sandie, honestly quite a few times after meeting someone who had worked here before me. It really has been such a dream come true to work in such a spectacular place. To quote James Marr, the original Base Leader: “We were looking at what is beyond doubt some of the finest scenery in the world”.
“Will you be keeping in touch after you head home? And what is the best experience you've had in Port Lockroy - either this time or last time?” ~Jan Godfrey, via Facebook
- Working in the intimacy and close quarters of Port Lockroy is such a unique experience and parallels can be drawn with a quote from Apsley Cherry-Garrard “In Antarctica you get to know people so well that in comparison you do not seem to know the people in civilisation at all”. Most Lockroy teams stay in contact because of this unique bond.
- It’s a very tough call! It would either be being able to really cement my position as your favourite nephew by sending you a postcard from Antarctica or the fact that I have been able to spend such a significant amount of time in Antarctica to see the changes as the season progresses. The receding of the snow or advancement and development of the chicks into adulthood. All of these small details, and many more, over the course of a season culminate in it all contributing to being part of the best experience.
“What’s your favourite food you keep as a treat? Asking this as a ship's cook who worked on long passages where creativity and hidden treats for tough days were key!” ~Hammie Tappenden, via Facebook
Hi Hammie, most people would think it was chocolate but we have more chocolate that you could possibly imagine! I think that foods that remind you of home are the best treats. My personal favourite are the packets of Irish Wheaten bread mix that I have brought. The smell as it is being cooked in the oven can transport you back to your kitchen at home in an instant. Also, besides being a reminder of home, simply the luxury of warm fresh bread on those tough days (where the weather tends to be rubbish as well) with a bowl of soup can do wonders.
"What item do you now wish you’d packed to take with you to the base?" ~Lesley Sale, via Facebook
Hi Lesley, the thing we would want to bring, we can't! A nice hot power shower would be the dream. It'd be impossible to pack, of course. We have a lot of chocolate so, surprisingly, we aren't desperate for sweet treats as our stash has ensured a good supply!
"One for Kit. What is your skill base to become a General Assistant? ~Nigel Dean, via Facebook
Hi Nigel, it's hard to pinpoint any one skill set. I think the main thing is a willingness and ability to get stuck into anything and everything. Having a sense of adventure and always helping out when needed - we all rely on each other day in day out here. Some jobs I do at Port Lockroy need a degree of physical fitness but others require patience, an eye for detail and a genuine interest in Antarctic history is important too. As a general assistant I am involved in the post office and retail - though the shop hasn't been open as we are used to in a normal season. I help with the penguin count, supporting conservation work, taking care of the artefacts in the museum, delivering talks onboard visiting ships (again, in a normal year!)...the list goes on. If you have varied skills to bring to the table then you'll be in good company!
“Kit, what’s the job you dread starting? And, how often do you have to do it?” ~Karen Bull, via Facebook
Hi Karen, I honestly don’t think that there is a job that I dread starting . However there are definitely some that are less desirable than others! Cleaning the boot room is definitely pretty high on that list. When we enter the Nissen we take off all of our outer layers and boots in the boot room to ensure that no guano gets into the interior of the building. As a result of this it can tend to get a bit ‘dirty’. The frequency at which it needs to be cleaned very much depends on the weather. If it is snowy or dry, you do not get as much guano on your boots so it stays much cleaner. However when things start to melt or it has been raining it tends to need cleaning much more regularly.
“Kit’s cousin here… Which cousin is he missing the most while on Port Lockroy? Only joking. My question is… How has your experience been this time round in comparison to the first time you went?” ~Alexandra Godfrey, via Facebook
Hi Alex, the cousin I am missing more is Clarke ... joking I don’t have a favourite cousin. It has been vastly different this season! Previously on a bi-daily basis one of the team would go onboard the visiting cruise ship, give a short lecture about the history of the base, what we currently do and what to expect when they get onto the island as well as having a quick shower if time permitted. This was something I very much enjoyed! Being able to talk about a subject I was passionate about to people that were interested. It was also great fun with some of the funniest moments having occurred during the informal briefings with the guests. However because of our current protocols this is not possible. No guests or showers for six weeks. Although because of this we have been able to work more closely with Bransfield House. I am noticing things that even after over 100 days of being here before I had missed. Both seasons are so distinct that they are almost incomparable which was part of the attraction of coming here again.
“I’d love to know: what are the toilets like at Port Lockroy?” ~Katie Hale, via Twitter
Hi Katie, there really is no other way to describe it other than a bucket. It’s extremely simple and not going to break so works perfectly at Port Lockroy.
“Please tell us about the most unexpected or surprising visitor? Human or non-human.” ~Klaus Dodds, via Twitter
Hi Klaus, it would have to be when people you know just show up on the island. It does seem extraordinarily far fetched that at the end of the world in Antarctica you bump into friends but it does happen (and on more than one occasion).
“What's the furthest place from Antarctica that mail has been posted to from Port Lockroy?” ~Jenny Arthur, via Twitter
Hi Jenny, post from Port Lockroy makes its way every season to every corner of the globe. From Svalbard in the high Arctic to some of the other Antarctica bases, even further south than we are currently. However the furthest place that we have sent a letter would have to be to the International Space Station. We are not actually sure of the distances (we can’t Google and check it) of the ISS compared to the high Arctic.
“Because of the harsh winters, how often must the entire house be replaced rather than repaired? I'm particularly interested in the house - it's named after Edward Bransfield who came from Co. Cork in Ireland - same as myself!” ~Ann Lane, via Twitter
Hi Ann, the entirety of Bransfield House has never been replaced. Although the building has been repaired, had extensions and gone through many iterations - much of it is original from 1944.
“Do any of the penguins try to come into the building?” ~Scott Gregson-Smith, via Twitter
Hi Scott, the penguin chicks in particular are extremely curious and given the chance would venture into any open doorway. Often as we sit in the Nissen Hut we can hear a knocking at the back door, when opened only to find a young chick pecking at the door as if to ask “Can I come in. It’s cold out here.”
“Do you find that the lack of immediate amenities at Port Lockroy affects how you do things when you get back home?” ~Richardanthonymorris, via Instagram
Hi Richard, yes!! The lack of these amenities gives you so much more appreciation of them when they are readily available. Water being a prime example. Every drop of fresh water used at Lockroy has to be carried in 20L jerry cans up the island, making it a very laborious task. Therefore, after living here you become acutely aware of just how much water you are using (or wasting) and alter your actions accordingly.
“How can we send mail and receive a reply? What are the specific postal rates to ensure a self-addressed stamped reply gets back and where can we buy the respective postage (non-UK)?” ~Graphite.diaries, via Instagram
Hi, if you would like to receive a postcard from Port Lockroy then contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your request. We just ask for a £5 donation per postcard. Or, if you would like your own self-addressed envelope cancelled then send this to our UK team ahead of the next season - you’ve got a few months to get that to us! The next Port Lockroy team will carry this south, add stamps and cancel it when they are there. Again, for this we just ask for a donation of £5 per letter. If you have a request that is a little more complex please do contact email@example.com to see if we can help.
“Will there be any attention for international women's day on the 8th March in Port Lockroy?” ~Ihermans094, via Instagram
Hi, this year International Women’s Day at Port Lockroy was a day of talking about the history of women in Antarctica, sharing stories that we are each familiar with. It’s quiet here this season so it was nice to be able to reflect on the women that continue to inspire us all. Online, our UK-based colleagues marked the day with a free online talk - Untold Stories of Antarctica - which you can catch up on here.
“What one piece of advice would your 80 year old self give you about your time at Port Lockroy?” ~Amanda_barry_coaching, via Instagram
Hi Amanda, it would have to be to enjoy every moment. On a busy day it is easy, just as it is at home, to forget to stop and look around. Our 80 year old selves need to tell us to step back and soak all of this in, because it is pretty amazing.
“I see sadly, there's quite a bit of maintenance required, especially to the windows on Port Lockroy. My question is, did any of the gentoo manage to get into any of the Port Lockroy buildings whilst unoccupied?” ~Adventurous_adventuress, via Instagram
Hi, although there is quite a bit of maintenance none of the penguins have ventured inside. All of the doors and windows are securely bolted and closed over winter. They did however venture into the building in the period that it was abandoned between 1962 and 1996. There are currently no feathery occupants of Bransfield House!
“For someone applying to work at Port Lockroy, what advice do you have? What makes an applicant stand out?” ~Elianaeverdeen, via Instagram
Hi, I think the best advice we can give is to be yourself throughout the whole selection process. It’s extremely important that the chosen team ‘click’ - you spend a lot of time together in very close quarters! Thinking about experience and skills that stand out, you may be surprised at the range of skills that are useful to work at Port Lockroy so be sure to include everything you can offer on your application form. You may well feel like an underdog - I think we’ve all had that feeling at some stage during the recruitment process - but chances are you bring something unique or important to the team, a new dimension. Go for it and good luck.
“My father was part of the trans Antarctic expedition as a mechanic from 1957 - 59. What question would you ask him about his adventures that would help you during yours?” ~Clairelouise853, via Instagram
Hi Claire, fantastic. How about: what was the biggest challenge you faced on your expedition and how did you overcome it? We’d ask that because learning from the experience of previous expeditions isn’t just fascinating; we often stumble upon practical ideas and solutions to problems that lend themselves well to life and work in Antarctica today.
“What has been the most evident sign/effect of the pandemic impact (lack of visitors) to the area and animals?” ~Daniellelcardinal, via Instagram
Hi Danielle, upon our return to Port Lockroy after a couple of years of the pandemic, the windows of Bransfield House were particularly in need of repair and renovation. We are fortunate to have wonderful supporters who have helped us achieve this. As for the animals, this year we have restarted our penguin study and are now analysing the data. Some of the colonies and penguin highways have moved a little, which is interesting and something we will look at alongside the data collected to better understand what, if any, impact there has been on the penguins.
“How many selfies with penguins have you had so far? And which is your favourite?” ~Lo_li_lu, via Instagram
Hi, after living on an island with hundreds of penguins you tend to leave with thousands and thousands of photos of them (even the second time round) - so yes, safe to say we all have lots of photos with penguins in the background. Of course, no selfies though as we must ensure we remain distanced from the penguins while we are here.
“Do you like receiving letters from people around the world wishing you well on your Antarctic mission?” ~Ladynajagirl, via Instagram
Hi, it is one of the highlights and privileges of the postmaster job to get to open all of the mail coming to the island, from every corner of the globe. It’s always great to hear from other Antarctic enthusiasts.
“From the Arctic to Antarctica: What was your funniest wildlife encounter?” ~Suizita, via Instagram
Hi, some of the funniest moments come from observing the local wildlife going about their daily business. The penguin highways always bring a smile. Looking at these well carved out trails and watching the penguins waddle to and fro, getting things done, is simply brilliant. Always funny and always beautiful, in equal measure.
“What is your favourite time of day at Port Lockroy?” ~Fiona1484, via Instagram
Hi Fiona, there’s not so much one favourite time of day but there is something special about dusk and dawn. The natural light can be really beautiful and there always seems to be a peaceful quality to those times of day. During a more typically normal season, it’s also fun when we receive a ship with all its visitors - there’s a sudden buzz about the place that is hard to beat.