Port Lockroy blog 3: Sub-zero sunshine and the surprises so far
General assistant Clare Ballantyne gets reacquainted with her old haunts – and neighbours – around Port Lockroy.
At 6am on 6th November, I opened the curtains of my cabin’ on the Sylvia Earle and instantly recognised the helmet-shaped Mount Hindson and towering sides of Mount William. The scenery flanking the western side of Port Lockroy, my home for four months last season, is unmistakable.
A big smile spread across my face. It was good to be back.
Rushing up to the ship’s bridge, I found the new Port Lockroy team looking out the huge windows through binoculars – with a hint of trepidation – at their home for the next 22 weeks.
After anticipating this moment for months, it felt strange to see the historic buildings slip out of sight behind a flat-topped glacier as our ship continued into Dorian Bay. We had work to do!
Our team were dropped off on the rocky granite shoreline and walked through deep snow to reach Damoy Hut. It was unmissable and iconic, a bright orange rectangle within a large white expanse speckled with clusters of penguins. We removed the shutters from the windows before Bridie led an opening ceremony and welcomed the first guests into Antarctica’s only protected historic transit facility.
The new team seeing Port Lockroy for the first time (Credit: Clare Ballantyne/UKAHT)
The five of us then headed by zodiac to Port Lockroy. Arriving at the snowbank hiding the Chains landing site, Shabs was struck by the amount of snow covering the island, and the pristine white bellies of the gentoo penguins standing proudly at its 10m-high peak.
In contrast, I was surprised by the lack of snow in comparison to last season when we were digging through roof-high snow to find our front door! This arrival on a beautifully sunny afternoon would prove much smoother and within two hours, the team were excitedly exploring the Nissen.
The building was bigger, brighter, and better equipped than they’d expected!
Feeling at home in the Nissen Hut (Credit: Laura Büllesbach/UKAHT)
As the ship sailed out of sight later that evening, the reality started to sink in that there would be no more showers, running water, flushing toilets, or reliable internet until the next ship arrived in four days. These transitions from luxurious cruise ships to very basic living conditions make life at Lockroy full of contrasts.
Having only left the island seven months ago, everything felt familiar to me and I was looking forward to introducing the team to this unique and awesome place in the days ahead.
Bridie and Clare preparing to dig the first steps at the landing site (Credit: Laura Büllesbach/UKAHT)
However, Port Lockroy had several surprises in store for me too! During our wildlife and beach debris surveys, Jerome discovered vibrant marine life around the island that was unseen last season. Along with isopods, sea urchins, and anemones, he spotted a purple-pink cylindrical creature with electrical currents rippling down its length. Its identity has subsequently caused animated debates on iNaturalist, so we are referring to it as an alien lifeform until proven otherwise.
Aliens have reached Antarctica! (Credit: Jerome Viard/UKAHT)
Antarctica has also treated us to 10 days of uninterrupted stunning sunshine and mild winds that I previously hadn’t thought possible. The reflections of nearby mountains in the glassy water, bathed in sunlight and wispy clouds, result in surreal views in every direction.
Stunning reflections (Credit: Clare Ballantyne/UKAHT)
I feel I should pinch myself to check I’m not dreaming, but this scenery is beyond my imagination. To make the most of the fine weather- and because it’s warmer outside than in the base buildings- we have been spending as much time outside as possible. Our reward has been seeing our gentoo neighbours starting to build their nests of pebbles. Also, one chinstrap penguin (a personal highlight for Shabs), a pair of Adélies (Bridie’s favourite penguin couple), and even a young female leopard seal – much to Jerome’s delight!
Getting to know the neighbours (Credit: Jerome Viard/UKAHT)
Finally, it has been lovely to see some familiar faces within the ship community and make new friends too. This week a small yacht moored up next to our island, so we invited our new neighbours over to say hello. Imagine our surprise to discover that we were in the company of Australian polar explorer, Geoff Wilson. Being the record-holder for the longest solo unsupported polar journey in human history, Geoff had some fascinating stories to tell, especially after a few whiskies! As his four-person Project Zero team is on a mission to promote sustainable exploration, we also had some great conversations about the importance of hope in the face of the climate crisis.
The team enjoying some evening sunshine (Credit: Clare Ballantyne/UKAHT)
Our team are united in the hope that sharing our enthusiasm for the incredible landscapes and wildlife at Port Lockroy will inspire people to care about and value this place.
If our visitors and supporters are motivated to act as ambassadors for Antarctica, taking action to protect the environment in whatever capacity they are able, then our small team on a remote two-acre rock can make a big difference.
– Clare Ballantyne, general assistant, Port Lockroy
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