Letter from Lockroy - March 2006
Many apologies for the delay in sending this last letter but we’ve all been enjoying a few weeks holiday after what was an extremely busy season. Of course I could have written it whilst aboard the Ernest Shackleton but we had rough seas and I preferred to be in a horizontal position. Then I could have then written it whilst tied up at Rothera but there was far too much to do and see and people to meet and fur seals to be chased by.
So what happened in the last month? Shortly after the last letter we celebrated Graham’s 39th birthday. Now I had been sneaky and warned the Multanovskiy that on their next visit we would be celebrating so they invited us onboard for dinner and had a cake ready. As it happened the ship had been chartered by a Japanese group and as is their culture they love to give gifts so Graham was inundated with presents including a beautiful handstitched bag, fans, noodles and crackers.
As the season drew to an end, ships were saying their final farewells and our schedule became less hectic. We had only 1 ship in the last 10 days so it was all hands on deck to get the maintenance done, which mostly involved painting, and lots of it. We finished off the outside walls and windows so the building was in good condition to withstand the harsh winter weather. I spent many happy hours stripping, scraping and painting the hallway and Graham and Rick gave the new-look shop a fresh coat of paint.
Top tip – Penguins and Sheathbills love to help in all maintenance jobs.
As I said we now have a new-look shop. After much deliberation we let Graham loose with a large hammer and crow bar in the shop. After much banging and bashing the desk is now half the size and has been swung round 90 degrees giving us some much needed space.
The final customers of the year were from the ship Ushuaia on the 24th March. It only seemed fitting that we crack open the champagne with the expedition staff once the final customer had left. The expedition staff on this ship and many others had been to visit every 10-20 days throughout the season and we had become very good friends with many of them. Special thanks goes to Bernice our temporary employee of the day who helped in the shop whilst we each in turn went out to the ship for a well needed shower, it had been 10 days!!
So with the last cruise ship in the area gone, would the BAS ship RRS Ernest Shackleton come for us, or were we there for the winter?!?! Unplanned wintering did crop up in conversation but with a huge archive of 1950s food and coal we knew we’d be warm and well fed.
People often asked us about living at Lockroy and are very curious as to what we eat and drink, and where do we get our water. Well the food comes in with us in the form of tins and dry food. We have all now become firm favourites of tinned stew and Fray-Bentos pies but thankfully our fresh potatoes lasted until the second last week and we only had tinned potatoes for 4 meals!! Luckily the cruise ship staff and visiting yachts have been very good to us and we were never short of fresh fruit or vegetables. In fact for a two week spell we had to have apples every night for pudding just to get through the supplies. When the base first opened they collected water from the snow banks on the island but since then the Gentoo penguin colony has been formed so the snow is now covered in guano and feathers. So instead we collect ice that has fallen off the glaciers around the bay and floats onto our shore. Ice collection was a favourite morning activity for Graham and me, armed with an ice axe and a bucket we’d go looking for the best ice of the day, the highly compressed old ice that crackles and pops in your gin and tonic.
But of course the RRS Ernest Shackleton did come for us on the 27th March. It seemed nature was working against us when we awoke to find high winds, a low tide, and icebergs blocking the landing point. Thankfully the Captain and crew had us onboard within a few hours for a well needed shower. Many thanks to the crew for helping with the cargo in tricky conditions. Once we’d cleaned ourselves it was straight to the laundry to wash everything we owned to try and get rid of the smell of the penguin guano. I can still smell it now on my rucksack but it’s a nice reminder, although I don’t think my family think the same. We then sailed to Rothera to deliver cargo for the winter and to pick up the summer staff before returning to the Falkland Islands for our flights home.
I already miss all our penguin friends but as we were getting ready to leave so were our chicks. After a few days playing in rock pools they would venture into the shallow areas before finally heading out to deep water to practise their porpoising and to catch their own food, it must taste better than the regurgitated stuff!!
Our favourite wildlife observation of the year has to be that Gentoo chicks love Orange! There is no point turning up in camouflage to see these birds, the brighter the better.
There was one wildlife visitor that took us by surprise and that was a large Jellyfish that we found in a tidal pool. Luckily Graham was of course armed with a carpenter’s tape measure and we could estimate its head measured 470mm across.
There are certainly things we’ll miss and won’t miss about life at Lockroy. First, I won’t miss cancelling 3000 postcards per week.
Rick will miss his favourite brush, used daily in the battle to keep the path clear of Guano.
Graham will miss Marilyn the shop door pinup. She is featured as a must see in the Lonely Plant guide to Antarctica.
We will all miss life at Lockroy but were all happy to get home to family and friends.
Thank you for reading our letters and taking an interest in Port Lockroy.
Mairi, Graham and Rick