Letter from Lockroy - 9th January 2009

Letter From Lockroy - 9 January 2009
 (100 years today since Shackleton reached his farthest South at 88º23'S, 162º0'E)
A Happy New Year from us all at Port Lockroy! We can hardly believe that it is two months since we arrived here on Goudier Island - so much has happened in such a short time, and we are also now half way through the season! At this point many of the teams on the ships are changing around, or heading back for home - we would like to express our thanks to everyone for their continuing support of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and Port Lockroy.

Funds have been steadily pouring in for the Trust via our little gift shop and post office, and we have received lots of lovely feedback and encouragement from notes in our Visitor's Book, as well as some great chats with interesting folk from all over the world. It really is a privilege to welcome people to Lockroy who have a passion for Antarctica and understand why we are here, and derive so much pleasure from visiting Bransfield House and watching the wildlife. We are continuing to work hard to raise lots more invaluable funds for UKAHT in the next few months, and to ensure visitors have a fantastic experience here on Goudier Island. Rick, Jude, Laura and Nikki had a pleasant end to 2008 - we joined the Professor Multanovskiy for a delicious BBQ and a chat in the bar/lounge with passengers, before heading back to base to bring in the New Year. Rick conjured up some of his delicious popcorn, and a fair few toasts were made thanks to a bottle of bubbly (kindly donated by a lovely American lady passenger a few weeks ago). We also seem to remember some 'interesting' dance moves to some Latin pop music in the bunkroom - the photographic evidence of which is for our eyes only - sorry!

 It has been an especially good start to the year - we were all absolutely over the moon with excitement to hear that Rick has been awarded the Polar Medal in the Queen's New Year Honours List - Laura, Jude and Nikki would like to publicly announce our very many heartfelt congratulations to our heroic Base Leader - a very well-deserved accolade for all Rick's hard work and historic conservation efforts in Antarctica. Rick hopes to squeeze in a meeting with HRH Queen Elizabeth II in between sailing around the Scottish Isles, possibly working in the Arctic onboard an expedition ship, and our team debrief this spring/summer!

                                                  Rick Atkinson - awarded the polar medal

Soon after the New Year, we celebrated Laura's 26th Birthday on 2 January; perhaps now she will stop being mistaken for Rick's granddaughter! With truly wonderful sunny skies starting off the day, the team decided to sit out on the veranda for breakfast, followed by sporadic opening of presents throughout the day. Laura was particularly delighted with the Birthday/Christmas cake that her Mum had sent through the post - we'd like to give lots of brownie points to Mrs Ling for getting it here in one piece! It travelled remarkably well and tastes delicious with a strong brew! Jude set up the shop counter ready for a 'penguin bowling' championship in the afternoon, fuelled by a glass or two of mulled wine. Nikki's idea of baking a marbled chocolate and ginger birthday cake went a bit wrong, but Rick came to the rescue and managed to salvage the non-burnt bits out of the tin (I blame the oven)!!! Eventually the Fram came in for their early evening visit; Anja the Expedition Leader had announced that it was Laura's birthday to all and sundry onboard, meaning that Laura was delighted with a birthday greeting from almost everyone who set foot in Bransfield House that evening!

Laura with cake sent from homeLaura with cake from Fram!

To top off the day, the wonderful chefs onboard Fram had sent over an absolutely delicious chocolate cake decorated with marzipan red roses, complete with a three-foot sparkling firework on top. This caused some mild concern in the bunkroom, what with the pitched ceiling! The look on Laura's face was priceless - a wonderful end to a very unique Birthday down here in the Antarctic. A big thank you also to chefs Andy and Graham as well as the entire crew on Polar Pioneer, who treated Laura to yet another lovely Birthday cake and singing, the very next day!

It is incredible to note how much the island has changed since our arrival on base on 8 November 2008. At that time, the house was buried deep in snowdrifts, and we spent a good few hours digging out the bunk room windows and snow from the veranda and the old lounge and science room windows. Those first few weeks we experienced some unbelievably wild and windy weather from the southwest with lots of snow, with a considerable swell at the 'chains landing' in particular. Now that we are well into January, the snow has melted back significantly from Goudier and Bill's Island, with just some small patches still on the ground.

We've watched with fascination at how the snowmelt has revealed Port Lockroy's secrets - particularly the whale bones. It is humbling to observe the skull and jaw bones by the boatshed and the enormous bleached white jaw bone behind the large rocky outcrop in front of Bransfield house. We also moved the old sledges onto their stand to the front of the new generator shed, now that it has appeared. They are a welcome greeting to visitors walking up from the landing site, and signify the hard physical work done by the FIDS and BAS teams in days gone by. The two waterboats are now also fully revealed, and various paths over the smooth rocks have come to light. It is an ongoing task to try and keep the guano from being walked into the house - we are kept busy scrubbing floors and washing down the path outside to make things as pleasant as possible within the building. The Nissen Hut site has now also appeared from underneath the blanket of white, and we are all very excited at the prospect of its reconstruction to provide living quarters next season - the site is just perfect - with breathtaking views to the Feif Range, and far away from any gentoo nests.

Thanks to the lovely warm and sunny weather that we have been enjoying since Christmas, the team has been busy working on various maintenance projects around the base. Following a few afternoons on the roof with paintbrush and pot of bitumen in hand, we now have the entire roof painted for another season, and are turning our attention to sanding, treating and painting the external woodwork of the house, including window frames and facia boards. There is still much maintenance work to be done before March, and we have a couple of days scheduled in the itinerary this January for such projects. Please tell us that there is sunshine and fine weather on the way, Alan!

 We have enjoyed the company of a few yachts and smaller motor vessels in recent days - including the Santa Maria Australis, Hanseatic Explorer, and the Sara Vorwerk. Our back bay provides an excellent natural shelter for such sailing vessels, and we are always pleased to welcome these hardy polar sailors onto base!

As is tradition at Port Lockroy, a warm summer evening is a good excuse to break out the pisco sour, and we enjoyed a very relaxed and beautiful sunny 'pisco' evening recently. Ocean Nova had just left us after another very enjoyable visit, and we all had a good natter and set the world to rights sitting down at the chains landing, glass in hand and just enjoying the scenery and each other's company.

Pisco sour on the rocks!
The waters around the island are still incredibly clear - the green plankton bloom, that Rick says is usual of the austral summer, has only just started to show in the waters round the island. The gentoos were putting on a real show for us - porpoising out of the sparkling water and zooming around like rockets beneath the surface. They are indeed seabirds and are most at home in the ocean, although we do sincerely appreciate the huge amount of enjoyment they give us from their comical and often clumsy movements on land! Out in the bay amongst the small ice bergs and brash ice humpback whales were spouting streams of spray that caught the evening light in a most spectacular way. It was a truly special evening.

We now have some very 'portly' gentoo chicks spilling out from underneath their parents' bellies, as well as some very young chicks and also one or two nests still with eggs. Some nests have both a chick and an egg; we believe that most of the remaining eggs are unlikely to hatch now, as they have been pushed away from the warmth and protection of the adults.
Chances are that they will make a tasty meal for a snowy sheathbill or skua. The chicks are very much ensconced in their nests still, and we anticipate seeing them start to wander away from the watchful eye of the adults in the next day or so. We have had reports from one or two of the expedition teams of a chick or two being taken by skuas, whilst we have been welcoming visitors to the base, however in comparison with previous years the chicks seem to be faring well against predators. Jude regularly visits a nest by the front of the boatshed; the chick there has been named 'das Fussball' - it is now almost three-quarters of the size of the adults, and being a single chick is receiving a huge amount of food! Poor Jude had a comedy moment when she fell square on her bottom in the guano on one of her evening visits down to the 'fussball' - luckily no damage was done! A pair of sheathbills (one bird with a ringed leg, which has lived here for at least ten years), has made a nest underneath the veranda near to the porch of the house, and we look forward to catching sight of the chicks, which we understand will be, quite plainly, incredibly ugly!

Besides bird life, we have enjoyed some fantastic sightings of whales out in the Peltier Channel, spotted from the island. A pair of humpbacks, which we suspect to be the same mother and younger adult, have been regularly spotted out by Boogie Island, just off of Goudier Island and towards the Neumayer Channel. We have often caught sight of them whilst glancing out of the front of the shop, or have heard their blows when working outside. Lucky passengers from the Aleksey Maryshev were treated to a zodiac cruise with the whales whilst the ship was anchored here at Port Lockroy, which must have been magical. Ocean Nova's kayakers, led by Andy and Dan, also encountered what we believe to be the same pair of humpbacks whilst kayaking towards Port Lockroy from the Peltier Channel. From speaking to an almost speechless Andy after the experience, it seems that one of the whales was within ten feet of him, and gave him quite a fright by the enormous size of it, right up close to his kayak.

Bill's Island is more often than not frequented by the odd Weddell seal or two, and today was no exception - a large adult snoring softly on the remaining snow bank, and lifting a sleepy eye in the sunshine. Nikki actually almost walked into another adult, that was cleverly disguised as a rock on the water line around the other side of the island. Rick assures us that he counted 46 nesting gentoo pairs over there on one of his afternoon sorties.

One of our favourite things, when we have the time, is to clamber over towards Bill's Island and delve into the pools around the rocks - we have found the tiniest shoals of fish (and what we are sure was a very juvenile bottom-dwelling Antarctic codfish - of the notothenioidei family - today), together with starfish and a few anenomes, as well as colourful burgundy and cream streamers of seaweed. Thunder Bay has been living up to its name, with lots of echoes of falling ice from the cliffs, and smaller bergs and ribbons of ice floating out into the channels. We are carefully watching with anticipation the various ice cliffs that loom up opposite the house - thanks to the shallow water between us however, we don't have any major concerns about large waves reaching the island. The calm waters of late have been like glass, and mirror the scenery beautifully. What a wonderful place to spend the austral summer months!
From all the Port Lockroy Team