Letter from Lockroy - February 27th 2011

Letter from Lockroy -  27th February

As you have already been able to read in our last blog, we have now two main types of work to finish next to the regular ship visits, that is the last items of the maintenance work and the inventory. This is all very essential work here in Antarctica since on the one hand the snow storms act as sand blasts coming from a horizontal direction and removing the paint layer from the exposed bits of wood. On the other hand, the next shop is not around the corner and all the supplies for the whole summer season have to be well thought through based on the end of season inventory....a tremendous job for the team in the head quarters in Wales (Tudor, Rachel, Anna).  

Hannele working on the inventories

The weather keeps changing here with each hour. Currently we have a lot of precipitation either in the form of rain or snow accompanied by strong winds. The other day we were really worried  whether the chimney on our roof which is secured by three wires would still be up there. But as it turned out, it was nothing to worry about.  However the storm did have one effect and that was the cancellation of a ship visit. One day we were even so desperate for some dry weather and some sunshine that we have asked one of the expedition leaders to bring some sun along in case she encountered some on her trip. And yes indeed, the afternoon was sunny and Ylva was able to finish the puttying of the boatshed windows. On other days with ship visits Hen was able to crack on with painting the windows...every minute is now precious. Luckily we received a message yesterday entitled "Here comes the sun" from that same EL. That sounds promising. 

                                                            Ylva gets on with puttying the windows

Last week Tudor stopped by on the regular stop of the Fram and was able to check one last time to see that we are actually "getting on with it". The next time we all meet up will be at our debrief meeting to evaluate this last season back in green Wales in May.

One incident occurred last week that shows how not all visitors adhere to the IAATO guidelines and the Antarctic Treaty.  We were informed by the Bark Europa that they had observed an empty metal drum at Damoy Hut where someone had burnt their unwanted waste and left it there. In collaboration with another visiting vessel, the Expedition, Nikki was able to go over to Damoy hut during the visit and clean up the rubbish (five rubble sacks!) while Hannele, Hen and Ylva were welcoming the visitors back on base. The relevant authorities are on the case of working out who the culprit was.  This highlights the continuing need to raise awareness of the importance of keeping Antarctica pristine.

All of us notice that it is really hard but enjoyable and satisfactory work down here. However we do notice that towards the end of the season the energy levels are dropping slightly while our minds are buzzing with the last bits and pieces that have to be finished as well as future decisions to be made. Therefore we decided to treat ourselves one evening after dinner to some rejuvenating activities like footbaths (a nice treat after hours in three layers of socks packed in a boot walking around mud and penguin excrements), head massages by Hen (a precious moment where you were not allowed to think) and a back massage by Ylva (Hen woke up the next morning for the first time without crackings in her back).  Some of us even put on some face masks too – how indulgent!  These are our ways of having a down time since we are on duty 24/7 and have not yet had a whole day off since we arrived at the beginning of November.

As quick and unexpected as the weather changes here in Antarctica, other situations can also change suddenly. Initially the four of us were scheduled to leave Port Lockroy on 16th of March, while the Detaille Team was supposed to leave on the last ship out of Goudier Island on the 22nd March. However due to an update in the last few days, highlighting problems with available cabins on the last ship, plan B had to be put into action in getting everybody out before the winter arrives (thanks Tudor!). That means that Nikki and Hen will be leaving Port Lockroy on 1st March via South Georgia and Falklands to Buenos Aires while Hannele and Ylva will be leaving Port Lockroy tentatively on the 11th March to Ushuaia. The Detaille team is due to arrive on the 2nd March to Port Lockroy, finishing last items around here and close down the base on the 16th March. This is all part of the Antarctic experience where flexibility and adaptation is so crucial to survival not just in the old days but even nowadays. These changes offer all of us new experiences and opportunities!

 One other new wildlife experience was to perform the whole island count, this time on the chicks. Why is this new for us? Well, the last two counts were done on the nests, focussing either on the eggs or on the chicks in the nest. However this week we had to figure out a strategy how we could count chicks that were running around the island, gathered in crèches, chased by skuas or just lying on a rock sleeping while dreaming of their next krill feed. Can you picture us standing on the rocks discussing borders, comparing counts, counting again the same area in order to get a good representative average of the same number of chicks? A very nice experience and we managed to get reliable numbers!

Carrying out the last of the chick counts Getting on with other tasks! Hen polishing items in the museum

We were very glad when we were able to share Goudier Island the other day with one of our Trustees, Robert Alston and his lovely wife Pat. We exchanged first hand experiences while walking through all buildings showing the latest changes and also discussing plans, improvements and next steps for the future. They were also able to observe and take part in a ship visit and see us all in action in the shop, the museum, the post office and outside. A very enjoyable visit.  Thanks also to Pat for looking after a sickly Nikki with cough medicine and a hot toddy; remarkably, she has managed until now to avoid a cough or cold!

                                                             Nikki with UKAHT Trustee Robert Alston

The seasons starts to get close to its end now and we now realise that we will not see some of the ships anymore and certain activities are executed for the last time. We all appreciate the simple life here at Port Lockroy without internet, without running water, just a little comfort of a warm fire, good company, sufficient food, great scenery around and nice work to do ...

 ...and now while you are having a nice cup of tea reading this blog, I have to get out into the rain and get on with it :-)  And I am loving it!


Beautiful sunset looking out to Doumer Island