Letter from Lockroy - February 2005

Letter From Lockroy - February 2005

 Hello there!
 I guess it's quite a while since I last wrote, partly because it's quite a while since we had a ship taking mail out for us! Here at Port Lockroy we've been as busy as ever and have had 79 ship visits so far this season (our 80th was supposed to be this afternoon but strong winds and large swells prevented her landing).

A few weeks ago we had a major rearranging session - all the coal in the workshop was moved to the old coal bunker cupboard whic freed up a lot of space in the workshop (the old generator shed). This meant that a pile of artefacts in the shop/post office/new generator shed could be relocated in the workshop, leaving more room in the new generator shed for tourists to write postcards. All this work we managed to fit in during a day with three ship visits. Over the past three weeks there has been quite a bit of indoor work done, as the weather has been worse than usual - wet and windy most of the time. Obviously, outside work such as painting is not an option in these conditions so Matt has concentrated on indoor projects such as making a new shelf for the bunkroom, installing a pot rack, putting ventilation slots in the bunkroom windows and laying lino in the ionospherics room. Over the past few days, Matt and I have been cutting, measuring, adjusting and glueing lino in place whenever there has been a ship-free couple of hours. We're almost done now, just a few panels in the ionospherics room and a small area of the bunkroom to finish off.


Midnight on January 31st marked a big moment in the philatelic world - last use of the old Port Lockroy postal cancel and first use of the new cancel (on 1st February). In fact the last day of January was, for us, a major postal day all round. There were three ships in the bay during the day, although only one (Clipper Adventurer) was small enough (in terms of passenger numbers) to land. In total, we received over 5000 postcards that day - 2000 of which needed stamps (so our tongues were kept busy...!) and all of which required a postal cancel. No automation here - all our mail is hand-cancelled before it leaves us. Admittedly, it took a few days to relieve the backlog of mail but we are now firmly up to date. The third ship to arrive on 31st January brought some philatelic mail - i.e. mail from collectors. Some of this required use of the old cancel and as it didn't arrive until 9pm, Matt and I were up well into the night processing it before the magic hour of midnight. The ship (Saga Rose) also brought us some mail from friends and family back home as well as a package containing much needed carpentry tools for Matt.

This month's interesting visitors to Port Lockroy have included Peter Wordie and his daughter Philippa. Peter is the son of James Wordie who was a scientist on Shackleton's Endurance expedition and later a pioneering force in the Discovery expeditions and early British Antarctic science. Wordie House in the Argentine Islands (the original Base F, later Faraday, then later still Vernadsky) was named after James Wordie and Peter and Philippa were hoping to reach it but were unfortunately thwarted by ice conditions. Also visiting us has been the Chilean Navy in their ship Oscar Viel. They paid us an evening visit when about 50 of their crew came ashore. They were very interested in the old generators, electrical and radio equipment here. Cruise ship Lubov Orlova brought with her Amanda Lynnes who spent the 2002-2003 season here at Port Lockroy with Dave Burkitt and our very own Pete Milner. Pete was very much looking forward to Amanda'a return and the two of them performed an excellent double act with Pete showing his photographic slides of Lockroy and beyond in the ship's bar/lounge area. Also on the Orlova was ex-FID John Killingbeck (for whom Killingbeck Island near Rothera is named) who must be one of the nicest men in the world, and a party from the French Alps who serenaded us on the Alpenhorn - a weird but strangely appropriate sound.

Another visitor this month was BAS legend Stuart Lawrence, formerly Master on the BAS ships Bransfield and Ernest Shackleton, now Ice Master on the cruise ship Saga Rose. Saga Rose also brought us an extra base member, Rachel Morgan. Rachel, now with the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and an ex-Rothera winterer and was staying with us for a week to see how the operation is run. The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust is a not-for-profit organisation which funds the running of Port Lockroy (through sales in the shop and Post Office) and over the next couple of years is due to completely take over from BAS the logistics of manning and running the station. Rachel was great fun to have on base and as well as asking questions about the operation and suggesting some good ideas, she helped with maintenance, cleaning, shop sales and cooking. We were all sorry to see her go at the end of the week but since she had left her husband Tudor looking after their two small children we really couldn't keep her here!

The day after Rachel left we were saying goodbye again, this time to members of the yacht party < i>. They have been camping in nearby Dorian Bay since the end of December and have been regular visitors to Port Lockroy as well as flying overhead in a paramotor from time to time. From now until the end of the season, it's just the three of us, plus around 1500 penguins!

Our great big penguin family is growing up fast and the older chicks are beginning to moult their down and gain their adult plumage. In a few days it will be time for another whole island census, this time made more tricky by the fact that they are not confined to their nests but grouping together in creches. They all sleep for much of the day and look like floppy beanbags draped over a rock, Matt's pile of wood, the bootbrush, a sledge or whatever they find most comfortable at the time. A revelation to me was how great sheathbill chicks are. I have raved on about sheathbills before, but their chicks are also very cool. To start with they are small brown balls of fuzz closely guarded by both parents who will peck at your boots if you get too close. The chicks themselves freeze at any sign of an intruder, a smart move as they are well camouflaged. Very quickly, the chicks start to acquire their white adult feathers and venture out from the next to peck at bits of unpleasantness (their normal food). At Port Lockroy we have two sets of chicks - Liz and Phil who live under the generator shed and Pete, Matt and Sue who live under the boatshed. All are growing up before our eyes. The inclement weather has meant that we haven't been so observant of the wildlife as previously, but minke whales, weddell and leopard seals have all been spotted over the last few weeks.

Living in an unheated hut with thousands of visitors from all over the world, we can be susceptible to coughs, colds and other viruses. One visiting ship had a particularly virulent "diarrhoea and vomiting" virus which, due to vigilant handwashing and disinfection, we managed to escape completely. However, we weren't so lucky with a bad cold virus which Matt and Pete managed to pick up - Pete needed an afternoon in his bunk when the effects were at their worst. I'm not sure whether my medical skills were much use (I made him a Lemsip!) but everyone is now on the road to recovery here.

Well, that's us about up to date. The last few days have seen very strong winds all over the northern Antarctic peninsula and up in the Drake Passage and many cruise ships have had to alter their schedules. We have had two ships here which were unable to launch their boats due to strong winds and large swells. It's also rained a lot and at the moment we feel a bit like children trapped indoors on a rainy day - hopefully the sun will come out soon and we'll be allowed out to play!

As always, love and best wishes to everyone back home.

Bye for now,

Sue Dowling