Letter from Lockroy - November 14th 2010

The season starts at Port Lockroy - 14 November 2010

 Our first diary entry from Port Lockroy for the 2010-11 season!  We are absolutely delighted to report that all members of the team are now on base, as of 12 November.  With staff arriving on three different ships (the Ushuaia, Expedition and Antarctic Dream), various landings at Aitcho, Neko Harbour, Paradise Bay and Cuverville were a real treat enroute to base, where we will be spending the next four or so months. Tudor, Michael and Nikki arrived late evening on Saturday 6 November 2010, having enjoyed a speedy trip south (thanks to Captain Jorge) with the Ushuaia.  Expedition Leader Sebastian, together with Geologist Guide Dany and a crew member set foot on Goudier Island at approx. 2130, to a LOT of snow!  We had been somewhat prepared for this, thanks to the fascinating pictures from Flavio onboard Yacht Paratii II, who has overwintered at Dorian Bay; normally we have no idea what to expect. The huge amounts of snow are in stark contrast to the same time last year, when Tudor took just ten short minutes to clear the front door and veranda.  Just before midnight, following some swift shovelling, we had accessed Bransfield House, the boat shed and also the Nissen hut.  Anna, Eleanor, Claire and Rachel had left everything in perfect order when they left in March 2010, which was much appreciated! We are thinking of them as we settle into life at Lockroy, and Nikki, who was here in 2008-9 season, is remembering the good times had with Rick, Jude and Laura.

Bransfield House deep in snow

In the first week here at Port Lockroy it has continued to snow; almost a foot has settled since we arrived here!  The Nissen Hut on arrival - no sign of the door!There is a 6ft wind tail west of boat shed, 5ft to the east.  The north side of the reconstructed Nissen hut is buried up to the windows, and on the east and west sides up to the apex. At Bransfield House the science room, lounge, bunk room, kitchen and workshop were as good as totally buried; it was even necessary to dig a ramp down to the front door! The Chains landing has at least 8ft of snow on top of it, therefore so far this season all ship visits have used the boat shed landing site. It will be a long time before we see any rock, much to the chagrin of the poor penguins. The vast majority of gentoos are waiting, and have not yet attempted to start nesting. We have not even seen much mating; just a handful of optimistic birds are starting to collect pebbles, slowly creating a dip in the snow where their nests should be.  What a change from last November!  Undoubtedly the Nissen hut has had an effect on drift patterns but it is evident that Port Lockroy has seen a really heavy snow winter and no sea ice.

 Besides setting to work with shovels, Tudor, Michael and Nikki quickly started work on the bunk room at Michael discovered the first of the hidden paintingsBransfield House, firstly moving all contents over to the Nissen hut, then removing any temporary modern alterations, sanding and scraping off the flaking paint, ready for a new lick of colour.  To our amazement, we have uncovered a ‘bevy of beauties’ on the walls and cupboards of the bunkroom, which we believe may have been painted over just before the base was abandoned.  Michael luckily spotted a pair of red lips as he was scraping, and with some careful further investigations, a blonde bombshell appeared.  We were even more astounded to find that further murals had been painted on the walls either side of the stove’s flu, on the back of the bunk room door, on the dividing wall (bunk side) between what was the kitchen space and bunks, on the front of the kitchen cupboard (which stood under the left window), and on either side of the cupboard on the outside wall.  All three of us were practically jumping up and down in excitement!  We have decided to leave these panels as they are at the moment (with the pictures mostly covered up), as we continue to paint in the bunk room, in order to protect the ‘artwork’.  Luckily the covering paint has not keyed onto the old paint and they will be brilliant as part of the museum.

Monday 8 November was an eventful day indeed, as after supper we heard a tapping at the Nissen hut door, which we put down to some heavy-beaked sheathbills. Then, to our delight, Michael opened the door with a friendly ‘hola!’, to eventually recognise his wife, Liesl, and fellow team member Ylva. Michael was redeemed by the fact that it was rather dark and we had not been expecting them until the next day. It was great to see them both earlier than expected, and to have another couple of pairs of hands to help out.  Michael and Liesl are carpenters/conservators for UKAHT and will complete works on the Nissen hut and Bransfield House, before moving on to Damoy Refuge and Wordie House. In early 2011 work will start on Detaille, where they will be joined by Anna and Dave, making for a team of four who are dedicated to making the building secure and watertight, with artefacts noted. There is a very exciting and full season ahead! 

Already Michael and Liesl have almost finished decorating the Bunk room (repainting, taking up the linoleum floor, boarding then relaying it), improvements on storage shelving down at the boat shed.  This is in addition to general works around the base and clearing items from the workshop, as we hope to set this up as a more visitor-friendly space. Tudor has located a hole in the roof in the corridor by the shop/bathroom, which has left drifting snow in the attic (now cleared); Michael and Liesl will give their prompt attention to repairing what we suspect is a few cracks in the felt. It has been absolutely brilliant having them here, and we have all enjoyed hearing about their experiences at McMurdo, Bird Island, Rothera, the South Pole and plenty of other Antarctic locations.

It is great to see the flag flying once again outside Base ‘A’. Fortunately the top of the post was just showing above the snow so we did not have to dig that out at least, nor climb it!  Priority has been to dig out the windows to allow light into the buildings, and although there is much snow on the roof still (there was around a 4ft covering around the back of building, so gentoos had wandered up there), we have made a good start on this (if only it would stop snowing!).  Weather since arrival has been snow, some rain and plenty of strong winds, and just a few rare glimpses of blue sky and sunshine to tease us.  A couple of days ago we witnessed a stunning sunset with spindrift whirling off the top of the surrounding peaks. The weather has provided a challenge for visiting passengers. Thus far we have been delighted to welcome friendly faces (the team having travelled south with) the Ushuaia, Expedition and Antarctic Dream. Their kindness in inviting us on board for dinner and showers, as well as providing provisions to start us off for the season has been much appreciated (we have been feasting on a leg of lamb, giant-sized sliced bread, a crate of fruit and veg, excellent red wine, cheese, eggs and milk – brilliant!).

 Yesterday, Amyr Klink (who had sailed south with us onboard Ushuaia) together with Flavio, stopped by, and it was good to talk with them over coffee and a wonderfully warm loaf of bread. They managed to get Paratii II off the rocks at Dorian Bay in 36 hours!  They will now head north to the Falkland Islands.  We look forward to seeing them again in a few months.

Antarctic Dream delivered Hen and Hannele to us yesterday, the final two members of our Port Lockroy 2010-11 team, who got straight to work behind the counter in the Shop/Post Office and talking to visitors in the other rooms of our ‘living museum’.  A Chilean TV crew with Celine Cousteau was also onboard; filming for a series on Chile’s coastline, which will be shown in Chile in March next year, and is hoped will also be distributed to other countries.  Hen and Hannele provided an excellent human-interest side to the wonders of Antarctica, and had been closely followed on their journey south by a camera and boom!  It was brilliant to see Expedition Leader Pablo and his smiley team again, and we jumped on board last night for a lovely dinner and showers. The Iridium satellite connection is set up in the Nissen hut, with VHF handheld radios charged by our small petrol generator. The communications proper will be set up when the new power kit arrives. We are now busy preparing for our cargo to arrive with Hurtigruten’s Fram, which is scheduled for 16 November. With 8 tonnes (22 cubic metres) of stock, provisions and building material to arrive and be distributed between the boat shed, main house and Nissen hut, it will be a busy day.  We are very much looking forward to welcoming Expedition Leader Karin and her team, Fram’s passengers, and Trustee Donald Lamont, who we understand is proving very handy on board with English and German lectures!  But in the meantime we have a couple of, as always, very full days ahead in preparation for the cargo.

Tudor was very proud to finally see the Nissen hut in place, after months of planning which necessitated thinking on his feet and a few grey hairs!  Clearly Rick, Joe and Graham worked very hard on getting it up and running incredibly quickly before the end of last season. It is already very evident that the much-improved accommodation will make a real difference to life here. Base Leader Nikki, who was on base for the 2008/9 season, is very impressed with the comfortable temperature and low humidity in the Nissen hut compared to the bunk room at Bransfield House, which is thanks to the triple-glazed windows provided by Jeldwen, and the efficient Topstak stove.  She can hardly believe that there is separate sleeping area with proper beds and mattresses – what a change to be lovely and warm at night

The four-burner cooker has made cooking so much easier (especially as currently we are seven people on base, until Tudor departs on 22 November and Michael and Liesl move on in a month or so to work on the other bases).  With the window in the kitchen area looking out over Jougla Point and to the Fief range, when the weather clears, it will be a real pleasure to stand and clean the dishes!  There is still some way to go with fitting out the interior of the Nissen; Michael and Liesl’s long task list includes laying the floor and installing the kitchen as well as the combustible toilet; works planned to be completed over the 2010-11 season will no doubt make a remarkable improvement to life at Port Lockroy.  We are mindful of the need to continue with maintenance of Bransfield House, which will be easier now that the team have moved out of the bunk room. Conservation is a crucial key task of the team being here for the four or so months during the austral summer, and it never ceases to amaze us all at how this charming building survives the harsh Antarctic winters.

 Nikki, Hannele, Hen, Ylva