12 February 2018

 A visit from IAATO

At 1.5°C outside and with 40 knot winds howling by and rain pinging off the chimney, instead of my previous blog writing position sitting outside in the sun, I find myself today huddled up indoors with the fire on in 11°C. With this morning’s ship visit cancelled due to the wind, this gives us time to get on with other important jobs, and with only one month left here, we are already working on tasks that need to be completed before we leave. Sally has been going through the inventory of what we have on base, and quite amazingly for such a tiny place, we seem to have everything we could possibly need, and as hard as we are trying, we still have plenty of chocolate left.

As no week is ever the same as the previous one here, there is always something eventful at Port Lockroy.  This week we opened our door and offered our sofa bed to Lisa Kelley, Head of Operations at IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) who was transferring between ships at Port Lockroy. Thanks go to her for getting stuck in with our duties here, from greeting guests at the boot-brush, ‘doing gash’ (emptying our toilet and grey water buckets), and even doing all the washing-up during her stay.

We were also able to conduct our final whole island count of our Gentoo chicks. We were up and out bright and early to coincide with the low tide so we could walk over to neighbouring Bill’s Island. Armed with clicker counters, and a couple of us even dressed in our cosy floatation suits for warmth, we set about trying to isolate groups of a manageable size to count. We each counted every group about four times to get our figures as close to each other’s as possible. Of course, when you are counting lots of very similar looking black and white fluffy penguins, it can be tricky to remember which ones you have already counted. Also, as non-breeding juveniles and adults are now moulting, we needed to distinguish them from our now adult-sized chicks who are also getting their adult plumage. However, thanks to the penguins’ generally impeccable behaviour, with hardly any wandering out of their crèches, this made it much easier for us. I can now report that of our initial 966 eggs, 610 have made it this far and it will only be a matter of weeks before they start taking their first swimming lessons.  They are certainly becoming more and more adventurous and curious recently with some looking in through the back door of our Nissen hut, and others trying to sleep on our boot-brush, and they continue to entertain us by nodding off with their head or feet hanging down off rocks, or madly chasing their parents over the island for food and constantly falling over in the process.

It has been interesting to recognise the changes and progress during our time here since arriving mid-end November. We began with snow meters high obscuring doors and windows, and were digging out paths and snow steps. Now, we have hardly any snow remaining, and most of that is either brown from guano, or green from algae, rather than its pristine white original state. Instead of digging snow we are now daily scrubbing rocks on the path to clean them of guano involving repeated trips to the sea to fill buckets with water. The changes observed in the Gentoo life-cycle began with mating and egg laying in November, chicks hatching around Christmas, now crèching, and soon fledging. And as for the site, we have been making progress with our artefact survey and maintenance tasks. So far we have surveyed over 130 artefacts, reporting on their condition, and how they are coping with Antarctic conditions. We are also making headway, when weather permits, with scraping off the paint on the boatshed and around the windows of Bransfield House so the wood can dry. The next stage will be to continue puttying to seal the windows for the winter.

One task that we work on every day is the cancelling (franking) of the postcards. We are very efficient though, and generally have them all done by the end of the last ship visit. Yesterday, however, one ship gave us 1200 postcards that they had sold on board, so I found myself finishing the job in the evening, as the rest of the team worked on some other daily tasks. Once cancelled, the mail is packed in mail bags ready to go out on the next ship going to Stanley in the Falkland Islands, before it goes on a flight to the UK, and then onward to its final destination. We generally have mail going out once a week or so, and it takes about a week to get to Stanley. The fastest known receipt of mail to the UK this year has been three weeks, but it will take 4-8 weeks to get elsewhere. So far this season, over 350 kilos have been sent out from Port Lockroy. As for incoming mail and messages, we received a lovely note this week from the son of Ivan Mackenzie-Lamb, who was the botanist on Operation Tabarin, the team of men who set up Base A here in 1944. We also had one of the team who rebuilt our Nissen hut visiting this week, and quite often meet ship staff who have spent time here at Port Lockroy. For us, it is wonderful that the base’s past lives on, not just in the museum, but in its people too, and with the work we are doing here, and the seasonal running of the site, Port Lockroy’s heritage continues into the future as well. With applications for our positions working here next season opening around now, we want to wish all applicants the best of luck, and look forward to meeting those chosen for the selection in May.

Next week will bring us another team member in the form of our Cambridge based Operations Manager, Lauren, who will be with us until the end of the season, so we look forward to having an extra pair of hands on base as we become a team of five.


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