Letter from Lockroy - March 2009

End of season letter from Lockroy - 12th March 09

Finally, an end of season entry for the Port Lockroy Diaries - our sincere apologies for the delay. It is true to say that life back home gets in the way sometimes, compared to the relative simplicities of living on our lovely little island! Bransfield House certainly has felt like home from the moment we arrived in early November at the bright red front door, half buried in a snowdrift, to the time we stepped onto the last zodiac in early March, at the Chains Landing. We have many fond memories of our fantastic four months on the ice, and I think it's safe to say that we all very much miss being on base - Port Lockroy seems a world away now that we are all back in the UK and enjoying the spring sunshine and green landscapes of the South of England and Scotland!

Over a month has passed since expedition Leader Woody, and his team picked us up and carried us back to civilisation onboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov. We were blessed with another glorious sunny and dry day, and even managed to open the base for the Vavilov's passengers in the hours immediately before our departure, thanks to an effective schedule of packing and cleaning in the days leading up to 3 March. Typically, in the midst of a thorough scrub-out of the base the day before, we spotted a vessel out in the Neumayer Channel, and soon recognised it to be the Argentine Naval vessel. We passed a very enjoyable hour with our visitors, who were fascinated by our gentoo chicks in particular. A suggestion of a wry smile came across Rick's face as he introduced his 'assistants' to the visitors, who clearly did not expect to see three ladies at a British base!

We are very grateful to the whole team onboard Vavilov for their invaluable help in closing down the base for the winter, particularly as we had our hands full in the shop and post office during those final hours. Their help was invaluable; which included hauling the dog sledges back into the protection of the boatshed, moving heavy kitbags, and collecting our final batch of refuse for safe removal to Ushuaia. We really enjoyed the company of Vavilov's passengers and team, and were delighted to join in on landings at Cuverville Island, Neko Harbour and Almirante Brown on the return journey. The refuge hut at Neko Harbour has well and truly been destroyed by the powerful storm that swept through at the end of February; it was remarkable to compare the scene with on our photographs our visit there back in early November, on our way south with the NG Endeavour. We are indebted to Quark Expeditions and Peregrine Adventures for transporting the team back to Ushuaia - thank you! We do hope that everyone onboard enjoyed the 'Long Hot Summer at Lockroy' slideshow presentation that Jude and Rick put together!

We expect by now that the snow, ice and darkness will be creeping into Goudier Island, and that the chicks will have fledged out into the depths of the southern ocean. The gentoo population continues to strengthen at Port Lockroy, with 643 nests at the beginning of the season, and 665 chicks counted as at 1st February. Skua predation seemed to be have been fairly low again this season, compared with previous years when the chicks were not so lucky. Several nests had rather young chicks at the time that we left; notably one directly beneath the flagpole (fantastic for visitors, as they could enjoy watching the babies from the safety of the veranda, at a good distance). We do so hope that they have managed to grow strong enough in time to avoid the beady eyes of the skuas, and have found safety in the scattered creches of the older chicks. Sadly, we witnessed a number of occasions where leopard seals had caught the younger penguins just as they were finding their 'water wings', which seemed to occur towards Woogie Island (further out towards the Neumayer Channel). Throughout the season the leopard seals provided a spectacle for passengers on zodiac cruises, lazing sleepily on icebergs that had floated into the bay. Often they would swim around the zodiacs as they were coming into the Chains landing; raising their head and shoulders out of the water and providing amazing photographic opportunities.

The team enjoyed some absolutely stunning sunny days from Christmas onwards at Port Lockroy, with bright blue skies and calm seas. What a remarkable change from the beginning of the season, when a considerable number of ship visits sadly had to be cancelled or abandoned, due to high winds from the south west blowing straight into the bay. The stormy seas made for some truly wild waves at both the Chains and Boatshed landings. Despite this slow start to the austral summer, the team welcomed 14,686 visitors onto the base, inside of just four months, with 147 ship visits, and 42 yacht visits (slightly down on the previous season). All the funds that we raised through donations, the gift shop and contributions to the post office go directly to the conservation of Port Lockroy and the other historic buildings on the Peninsula. It has been a successful season indeed; with all necessary maintenance work to Bransfield House completed, and inspections carried out at both Detaille and Wordie House. Many thanks to everyone for their generosity which is invaluable to keeping Britain's Antarctic Heritage alive.

After a few days adjusting in Ushuaia, with compulsory coffee and croissants at the excellent Ramos Generales cafe (definitely to be recommended!) Laura, Jude and Nikki bid a sad adieu to their trusty Base Leader. Rick took to the seas again, this time navigating the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn, with his friends on the yacht Philos (and was apparently seasick for the first time in his life - surely not!). Laura, Jude and Nikki spent a few days exploring Buenos Aires, soaking up the vibrant street life and revelling in the warm weather. Laura then set off to Plata del Mar for some sand and sunshine and a few more weeks exploring South America. All are now back in the UK (for a short while, anyway!) and are looking forward to the debrief at the end of April with Rachel and Tudor in Wales.

It certainly has been the most incredible four months for the 2008-9 team - some truly memorable and wonderful experiences that will stay with us always - we are grateful to have had the chance to live and work at this amazing location. Aside from the gentoos and wildlife that live at Lockroy, and the stunning setting that the island occupies, it is the people who make this place so special - Rachel and Tudor and the team behind the scenes in the UK, the hard-working and generous expedition staff and crews of the vessels and yachts, and the passengers who have a thirst for polar knowledge and a drive to witness this great white continent (whilst also treading carefully and treating Antarctica with the utmost respect). These are the people who make it all possible. All these ingredients combine to make Port Lockroy what it is today - a living and breathing piece of Antarctic history, and a special place for so many people.

Rick, Jude, Laura and Nikki