A final farewell to Damoy
In her final blog post about life at Damoy Hut, field guide Jo Bradshaw explains how it’s not necessarily the places you go but the people that make life special.
I’m sat in my van looking out on the pretty Peak District countryside with my dog at my feet and the birds chirruping around me. I’m feeling a touch reluctant towards writing this final piece as it feels like putting a full stop to one of the best jobs I have had the privilege to undertake during my 15 years working in the outdoor adventure industry.
As you may know, this job was a little different to my ‘normal’ work life of public speaking, teaching DofE students in the UK or guiding clients on high-altitude mountains around the world. No clients – only the three of us on site and being static for 26 days whilst on the project. No trekking, no altitude briefings and no safety chats with 14-year-olds. Simply three people in a pristine environment hoping to turn a historic hut orange.
However, as much as the environment and the job were incredible, it was the people I worked with and met along the way which added that special something to an already pretty bonkers two months in Antarctica.
The team spent 26 days in Antarctica (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
I came to understand a whole new industry and felt a small part of it when I finished my time in Antarctica. I gained a whole new understanding of heritage thanks to the talented team at UKAHT who gave me the shortest but most concise training before I left. It was a big education on the do’s and don’ts of historic buildings and the importance of heritage in our world but mostly I came to once again appreciate the strong bonds you develop with your colleagues when your lives depend on each other.
I mentioned in my first blog, the expedition team and crew, on board the German cruise ship MS Hamburg, who kindly took me under their wing from Ushuaia to Port Lockroy. I was a bit of an anomaly on board. The guests were a little surprised to hear that a British girl who doesn’t speak a word of German was heading to ‘work’ in Antarctica but everyone welcomed me on board.
The Port Lockroy massive
Once at Port Lockroy, I was warmly greeted by base leader Lucy, who along with her colleagues, shop manager Natalie, postmaster Clare and wildlife monitor Mairi, had been on Goudier Island looking after and running the island since mid-November.
Our arrival practically doubled the population. We soon got to grips with the routine which included but was not limited to cleaning, cooking and toilet emptying duties as well as swotting up on the regulations that come with living in such close conditions with a colony of 1,000 Gentoo penguins.
It was a collegiate time at Port Lockroy (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
We were staying at Port Lockroy for 10 days, so needed to not only get our kit and equipment together but also contribute to life and work on the island. Before I left the UK, Clare sent me an email asking if her Mum could email me a game Murder on the Disorientated Express.
“No problem,” I replied.
“Don’t look at it, it’s a surprise,” she told me.
Roll on to our second night and, with a lot of prep from Clare, we played said game. A little bit of vino, some good food and some very dodgy accents later (mostly from me), we had finished this brilliant icebreaker of a game. With seven of us and eight characters, Sven was chosen to play two different people so seeing the transition from one to another was hilarious. I am not going to tell you who did it, it’s worth playing and finding out!
Port Lockroy is a very social place with smaller cruise ships coming in for landings twice a day plus yachts visiting in between. Only a certain number of people are allowed to land on the island each day to protect the wildlife but we still came to know a few of the expedition teams. Visiting ships varied from sailing yachts which carry nine passengers for either pure sailing or ski mountaineering to older vessels, including the Bark Europa which is over 100 years old and a square rig sailing ship, to the most modern motorised and hybrid vessels with their fancy newly design of X-bows and all the kit and caboodle on board.
We welcomed all on shore in their allotted time slots and were offered dinner, showers, laundry and food goodies in return for the hard work and diligence the team at Port Lockroy put into looking after their passengers and making their experience a once-in-a-lifetime memory.
The Damoy and Port Lockroy teams (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
After 10 days of getting to know the Port Lockroy team, we bade them a fond ‘see you in a month’ as we boarded HMS Protector for the short hop around to Damoy. Once on the island, we established radio contact with Port Lockroy and continued to keep in touch. To have comms with the people we had come to call friends was a joy.
Not only did we need their help and support when our email system played up but it was lovely swapping the ‘thought of the day’ when we checked in with them in the morning and finding out how their day went after the ships had left in the evening. They managed to come over to see us on a couple of occasions courtesy of a Zodiac ride from a friendly cruise ship and we regularly swapped out goods or asked them for more soup or coffee.
Hearts in the ice
Working on such a historic site in Antarctica with ships visiting during our time on the project meant that we met a number of people who had strong connections to our little hut or to the polar regions. Some cruise ships have guest speakers on their expedition teams, people with certain links to times gone by in Antarctica.
On our first full day on-site, we were having our lunch at ‘home’ when our second Hurtigruten ship of the day was offloading her expedition team. I remember Martin popped his head out of the door and then ran down to the hut to warmly greet two women.
Sunniva Sorby and Hilde Falun Strom (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
Sven and I smiled and carried on with our chores before Martin came bounding back up to the mess tent and said that Sunniva Sorby and Hilde Falun Strom – the first women to overwinter on Svalbard – were guest speakers on the MS Fridtjof Nansen and were with us all afternoon. I had heard of their achievement via social media, both were incredible women who truly pushed boundaries.
When I plucked up the courage, I went over to them to have a chat. An hour flashed by with lots of stories from both sides and the obligatory selfie when we all realised that we needed to do some work and parted company. Meeting people like Sunniva and Hilde was such a joy and I would encourage you to read their book Hearts in the Ice.
“I can’t find the butter”
When Alan McPherson, expedition team with Ocean Adventurer, came ashore, there was a glint in his eye.
“I came through here in 1983,” he told me.
“Really! Do come and look around the hut,” I replied.
He had seen the hut and been inside on many an occasion with his work as an expedition team member but never without passengers so it was a treat to have a wander around alone.
“What was the atmosphere like inside? I remember Sir David Attenborough said he felt a strange atmosphere at Scott’s hut,” Luke Hull asked on social media.
Not such a strange atmosphere at Damoy Hut but you can definitely feel what it was like to live, work or transit through the world’s most southerly waiting room. As it is modern history and from a time when a lot of the equipment in the hut is still being used today, it is like stepping into my Dad’s workshop.
Alan said the same, it hadn’t changed much at all, even in the 10 years of its use before it closed after he passed through. A bright and vibrant character, I could have talked to him all day. He has certainly lived a life.
Being an integral part of Damoy's history
As our time at Damoy was coming to an end, we received an email from head office to say that Jonathan Walton was on Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen who was landing on our final weekend. Jonathan had been instrumental in getting the Structaply material used for Damoy Hut and was a guest speaker on the expedition team along with Rachel Morgan – a former director of UKAHT, who was also part of the team.
Jonathan at Damoy (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
We borrowed them from their duties for a few minutes to take some photos and hear stories from Jonathan of how the hut came to be and from Rachel of its transition to a historical monument. We then asked Jonathan if he would place the screws in the new plaque which he very proudly agreed to and finally gave him a Damoy baseball cap which he looked as pleased as punch to have been given. A small gesture on our part but one that he will hopefully wear with pride.
Most people with connections to Antarctica and the Arctic will know Nick Cox who spent 47 years at the British Antarctic Surve, and a stalwart of life in Longyearbyen on Svalbard, he also had a common friend Sven and Martin.
The team with Nick Cox (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
His guest speaking slot on Viking Polaris and landing at Damoy coincided nicely with our final few days on-site and also gave him the opportunity to officially open the hut. The three of us were picked up by Zodiac early morning and taken on board for breakfast with Nick and his wife Katie.
We were chatting so much that we nearly missed my speaking slot about Damoy as an introduction to the passengers. We were given showers on board and popped by the restaurant to enjoy an early lunch when the chef came over to find out what we were up to at the hut. After a conversation about our mess tent, canned menu and limited facilities he asked what we would like to take ashore.
“Peppers,” I told him. It’s the simple pleasures! He came back with not only peppers but also potato cakes and a bottle of wine so fajitas were then on the menu for that evening.
Simple pleasures (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
Once back at the hut, we went about working through the final jobs. Berne, the Expedition Leader, said that once the passengers were all on board, they would then send Nick and a small party back to officially open the hut. This was an afternoon to remember.
Nick came ashore with his customary grin and walked into the hut for the first time in over 35 years. It was like he was walking back in time. He told us a story about the time he nearly had an impromptu dip in the sea when the Twin Otter he was in had trouble getting airborne from the glacial runway above the hut. Hair-raising stuff.
Then it was time to cut the ribbon that had been placed across the door. And then it was all over. A fitting end to our time at the hut. None it would have been possible without my colleagues, Sven and Martin.
And finally, Sven and Martin
I first met them on a video call on 28th December, only a few days before we separately left for the deep south. They had now known each other for around five months, had gone through 10 days of training with the Port Lockroy team and had also had regular video calls with the UKAHT team. I was new to the party and the first things Sven asked me were: “What is your personality type and are you a morning person?”
Oooph, big questions!
“Not sure and you’ll have to find out!”
Everything comes to an end (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
Forming a team in such circumstances can be tricky but I can honestly say that I have never had so much fun or laughed so much on an expedition. I learnt so much from the guys, about their backgrounds and backstories, about their trade, the intricacies of Sven’s cabinetry work in Ireland and the large-scale carpentry of Martin’s work in Norway. They graciously ate all of the food I made, never complained, fed me porridge with salt in it (that was a first) and taught me that, in the end, “It’ll be OK” – Martin’s favourite phrase!
The team (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
And what else did I learn from my time in Antarctica? That there is a work life outside of guiding clients; that there is a whole other industry to explore where I am not battering my body and mind whilst still being in extraordinary places; that being static is ok – for a while at least; that I can withstand hurricane force winds in a tiny tent and that it is possible to survive in a 4x4m mess tent with two other humans (see this post) and the kindness of strangers means everything.
I said a fond farewell to Damoy as we pulled out of Dorian Bay – hopefully, not forever.
Saying goodbye to Dorian Bay (Credit: Jo Bradshaw/UKAHT)
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