Detaille Blog - 6th March 2011

Below is the team's last blog for the work period this season: 6th March 2011

Sitting here in the relative comfort of the Nissen Hut at Port Lockroy just a few days after leaving Detaille Island Anna, Michael and Liesl can’t quite believe how quickly our time at Base 'W' flew past. We are sure that Dave is feeling exactly the same way as he sails back to Argentina aboard the ‘Expedition’. Our last two weeks at Detaille Island were busy and productive despite the weather which on the most part continued in the usual manner. Strong winds (those darn northerlies!), overcast days and rain and snow dominated most of our remaining days. On the few good days we experienced (one of which was a corker!) we worked hard on outside jobs and focussed on making sure we left the building as weather tight as possible. Michael and Dave dealt with the windows which were in need of much attention: broken glass panes have been replaced and the gaps around and behind the wooden frames have been sealed. The final job was to prepare shutters than can be fitted at the end of the season and protect the fragile windows from winter blasting.

Dave working on sealing gap in the generator room door  Liesl working hard on completing the bitumen painting of the roof  Anna painting The finished roof as seen from higher ground on the island

Fortunately during our handful of good days we were also able to complete the vital painting of the main hut roof with bitumastic paint. Liesl pretty much  single handedly completed the entire roof of the main hut with a little help from  Anna who despite her slight aversion to heights enjoyed painting the bottom ends of the panels that Liesl couldn't quite reach. The emergency store and the pup pen, the two smaller structures on the island, were in bad condition on our arrival. The north wall of the emergency store and the door of the pup pen had been ripped apart by the northerlies and snow and ice had built up. The whole team contributed in some way: ice was chipped and shovelled out, artefacts sorted and dried as much as possible, the roofs re-felted and walls, doors and windows replaced or re-installed.

Dave working on the pup pen on our corker of a day Michael making repairs to the window before it is refitted Michael reparing the northern wall and window of the emergency store

On our one corker of a day, we all took a short break from painting and other outside jobs to take in the surrounding scenery. Fortunately, the tide was out and we were able to cross over to our neighbouring island for a longer walk. And what a sight it was! We came across 26 Weddell seals that blinked at us sleepily and nine grumpy fur seals that growled as we took the longer way round them. We spent some time taking photos of our surroundings and watching the amazing wildlife we have come to enjoy as our part of our daily life. Skuas, kelp gulls and their chicks on flying lessons, blue-eyed shags, Wilson's storm petrels and Antarctic terns have all been seen during our stay on the island. The lesser spotted Twin Otter aeroplane from the nearby British research Station at Rothera was also seen on this very same day.

Kelp gull chicks resting on the rocky outcrops Michael and Liesl enjoying the sunny weather

Inside conservation continued on a daily basis and I'm glad to say that we have left the building in a clean and dry state which will work towards protecting the original artefacts. The large stock of food in the loft was one of the biggest and most unpleasant jobs we had to deal with. Sorting through the hundreds of cans of food and separating the badly corroded and rotten meat cans continued over several days. Liesl and Anna again continued with most of this work and although much had to be disposed of, even more was saved and the loft still retains a large and varied stock of foods. Other tasks included: drying and airing bedding, linen and clothing by rotating them outside on windy or sunny days or by using our portable propane heater. Carrying out this sort of work in basic camping conditions was not easy and although they will need further attention in future they are certainly much improved.

Anna clearing rotten foods from the loft Cleaning the melt tank in the kitchen

One of the benefits of living and working at Base 'W' was that we all became familiar with the contents and were able to explore what life might have been like for the men of the time. We all particularly enjoyed reading the various magazines, books and newspapers of the time. Many of these were in very good condition but the damp and humidity as well as the leaking over the years had taken its toll on many. Anna (with much help from Michael, an avid reader!) spent many days rotating the newspapers round the fire in an attempt to dry them out and tried hard not to get too distracted by eye-catching headlines of the 1950s! 

The kitchen  Equipment in the meteorology room 

For the last few days on the island the weather continued to deteriorate and we experienced several 40-50kt wind days. On these days, the sea was a sight to behold. The swell was huge and the sea rushed in great tidal like waves between the many small islands in the area and crashed in great big frothy waves on the rocks all around us. We couldn’t  help but be in awe. Fortunately, our pick up by the IAATO vessel 'Expedition' was scheduled for the 27th February before the worst of the weather reached us in March. We busied ourselves with getting ready to leave, carrying out inventories and packing up tools and equipment. On the  morning of our pick-up the weather was atrocious yet again and we had convinced ourselves that the ship would not make it! We were pleasantly surprised to receive a call on the VHF radio giving us a 30 minute warning to get ready for collection. The wind was too strong for the ship to land their passengers for a visit so instead they lowered a single zodiac boat and came ashore to collect us. It was a quick and hectic departure from our home of six weeks and although not as dramatic as sledging across the sea ice we felt it was in keeping with the tradition of this wild and adventurous base.

                                    Swell of the sea in final days on base 

We are relieved to have completed the most important work of weatherproofing the base and hope to be able to return in coming seasons to continue the ongoing conservation work. Our grateful thanks is offered to the many supportive IAATO vessels that have assisted us with cargo and staff transfers throughout the season and who's own staff and passengers continue to support the work of the UKAHT by simply visiting these Historic Sites and Monuments.

Farewell from the Base W team,
Anna, Michael, Liesl and Dave

The team on 'Expedition' moments after being collected (Dave, Anna, Liesl, Michael)