Letter from Lockroy - December 2003

Letter from Lockroy - 08 December 2003

Hello from Base A, Port Lockroy! The Project this year is led by Pete Milner with Rick Atkinson and myself, Dave Wattam, Pete spent the austral summer here last year and Rick was part of the team that helped restore the hut here at Port Lockroy, in 1996.

We left the UK less than 3 weeks ago, but it somehow seems much longer. We spent a week in Stanley, Falkland Islands which gave us a good change to prepare our stamps etc for the Post Office and source some fuel. We were also able to buy some last minute "goodies" from the supermarket in town, and we had time to take a walk around some of the peaks made famous by the conflict of 1982. The names are so familiar and to actually be standing next to the memorial on the summit of Tumbledown was a rather strange feeling - a very atmospheric place.

We left Stanley on RRS James Clark Ross accompanied by Rothera-bound people (some of whom will be spending two and a half years there) and scientists from BAS.

The voyage started out quite rough and several people took to their bed, but the sea became more and more calm and the rest of the journey South continued in a remarkably peaceful sea!

The science progressed and soon icebergs began to appear. We were making good time and Captain Elliot was kind enough to take the ship into Deception Island as we were passing to allow everyone a really good view of the old British Base B on a gorgeous, sunny day.

But it was Base A we had come for and so, at 0400 the following morning we awoke and were up on the Monkey Island for passage through the Newmayer Channel. It was a cold morning with a steady breeze but as the sun's rays crept over the mountains to warm the eager group of photographers, it really made the early start worthwhile.

By 0700, we were anchored off Goudier Island, Port Lockroy. The cargo tender was landed and loaded. Following a quick breakfast we went ashore with a group of willing helpers. Pete went straight up to the hut to set up our radio to establish comms with Rothera whilst Rick and I coordinated the unloading of cargo and the storing of boxes in the boat shed.

Once all the cargo was safely stowed away, the tender returned to the ship and brought the remaining people ashore to allow them to look around this historic site.

All too soon though, it was time for the JCR to depart and continue on its way to Rothera. As the ship's whistle blew we waved goodbye to our companions of the last 2 weeks and it was just the 3 of us. Oh, and several hundred penguins!!

Work began almost immediately. As we were expecting a ship to turn up at any moment, we tried to get the shop and post office stocked up with as much as possible. The base was in excellent condition - dry and weather-tight, which meant we could begin to settle in immediately. The building really has stood up well to the Antarctic winter and is a tribute to those who have worked so here in the past. For Rick particularly, it was a strange feeling being back here for the first time in 7 years.

Having squared all out kit away, Rick cooked up a hearty meal before we turned to our bunks for a good night's sleep in this, our home for the next 3 months.

We awoke early the next morning (although not as early as the previous day!) feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Again, we half expected a ship to arrive anytime but none did and we were able to work through the day continuing with our unpacking. We made a start on digging out a landing site in a 10foot bank of snow near the shore, Rick got out his tools and began working on preparing the windows for painting and I conducted the initial count of penguins' eggs/nests.

I'm happy to report that there appears to be lots of plump, healthy penguins here and that laying is well underway - approximately 88% completed. The season seems to be slightly later than last year but several nests have a double egg clutch and I saw one nest with proud to be boasting an impressive 3!!

We did have one lot of visitors today. Five Brazilians arrived on S/Y Paratii II. They anchored off the island and 2 of them, Amyr and Toco, came ashore to say hello. This gave us an excellent opportunity to test our new kettle, which, I'm pleased to say works very well indeed! They plan to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent before returning home to Brazil.

Sunday came and went without incidents and without cruise ships again which was great as it allowed us to complete preparations for our impending visitors. All the penguins here are gentoos, although we did see 3 chinstraps and one adelie on the island, although they will only be passing through.

We were up early again the following morning as the cruise ship Polar Star was due in at 0700. Carrying 60 passengers, she's a good looking ship painted in the ubiquitous red and white. A zodiac was sent from the ship to pick us up. We donned our immersion suits for the ride out to the ship dodging icebergs and small "bergy hits" on the way out. Onboard we briefed the excited passengers about our work here, the history and the importance of conducting the penguin study. We were then taken back ashore and a very quick 3 hours ensued of showing the passengers around the base and allowing them to post cards and letters home in the famous Port Lockroy post box.

Although we've only been here a few days we have quickly settled into life on base. The routine cleaning and cooking is shared and we all go about our jobs as if we've been here for weeks.

Port Lockroy is set in a stunning location and the fantastic weather we have experienced so far has made it even more spectacular. I've got a feeling that our 3 months here is going to pass all too quickly but for now, I'm determined to enjoy every moment of my time in our "little summer cottage by the sea".

More next month...

Dave Wattam, Pete Milner, Rick Atkinson