Port Lockroy Blog - 22nd January 2012


View of the boatshed from Bransfield House  Plenty of snowfall this week

We've had an excellent and hectic week at Port Lockroy, with lots of visits peppered with much building work and wildlife. Autumn feels like it's coming early here, with several unseasonal snowfalls this week, and colder temperatures - around 4 degrees during the day.

Anja, still on her visit to Port Lockroy, stayed busy helping us enthusiastically with post, painting, moving waste and serving behind the counter in the shop. We reluctantly gave her back to Fram on Tuesday, and will miss her humour and hard work! Thanks to Jonathan Selby, the IT expert of all Antarctica, we now have a wind turbine on the back deck, and webcam mounted on the anemometer tower, and we waved him off to build networks anew last Sunday. The Nissen batteries are now charged by both wind and solar power and we are watching our energy use closely.

We were also very happy to welcome Paul Stansfield from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He stayed with us for 2 days, and we soon had him hard at work painting and moving waste wood. He is down on the Peninsula for several weeks informally meeting many of the different nations and operations here. We also met Robert Burton who has written our books both on the history of the British Antarctic Territory and Port Lockroy, and our display posters in the museum.  Hearing his first hand experiences from the old days was really interesting.

We've had lots of good wildlife encounters. Ylva and Cat were heading out on one very early morning zodiac ride for a talk on board a ship, when a large leopard seal decided to eyeball them from about 3ft away. It swam right under the boat, following for several minutes, but decided in the end it didn't fancy either of them for breakfast and rolled away. Our other close seal moment was with a Weddell seal which we suddenly noticed relaxing right outside the back deck of the Nissen hut - which is really quite a long way up from the sea.

We did our 2nd whole-island penguin count on Tuesday, gathering the numbers of chicks in nests. We have 726 chicks on the island, and 487 nests. Our many penguin chicks are starting to stretch their legs for the first time out of their rock nests. The teenage phase is difficult, as any parent knows, and when the 2 chicks wander off in opposite directions, the parent is torn between which to protect from the skuas and sheathbills. We can hear the chicks' voices breaking, from a high peeping to a slightly surprised deeper cawing, and see them start to imitate their parents by trying to pick up little rocks and hiss at sheathbills.  We also saw insect life on Goudier Island - called Collembola - which are each about 1mm long. They were floating on the surface of some puddles. A visiting Chilean tick scientist tells us they like to live in the moisture underneath rocks, eating organic matter.

Weddell seal sleeping outside the Nissen Collembola insects spotted in the rockpools

Michael, Ylva and Anja finished the roof of the old generator shed and heads, which now has new timbers and black metal cladding. The sun came out for one rare afternoon so we all grabbed the nearest paintbrush and did as much as we could of the red, white and black around Bransfield House. The workshop has come on leaps and bounds this week, with Kath, Anja, Paul, Claire and Ylva all working on sanding and painting. The cement mixer behind the workshop has been moved down into the Boatshed and the back walls above the workbench are now white-painted with many of the old tools on display. Lots of expedition staff that have been visiting Port Lockroy for years are very excited by this new part of the museum. We also moved the coal box and put the contents inside the Bransfield House coal cupboard.

Finishing touches to workshop roof              Kath and Claire tidying up outside the workshop

It's been a record week in the Post Office, as we cancelled over 2,000 pieces of mail in 4 days. They are all now steaming north towards the Falkland Islands on board the cruise ship Bremen and will hopefully make the military flight back to the UK within the next fortnight. Cat has also processed some lovely philatelic mail that collectors send down, with very old British Antarctic Territory stamps on. Our recently arrived new First Day Covers and stamps, featuring photographs from the BBC Frozen Planet series, are proving very popular with visitors, especially as they feature all the wildlife we see locally at Port Lockroy.

Cancelling philatellic mail with old British Antarctic Territory stamps

Our most anticipated visit was from HMS Protector, who are down here supporting BAS scientists, helping us remove some our more unusual waste from Port Lockroy, and surveying - with their impressive modern underwater mapping equipment. The first Antarctic HMS Protector was down here from 1955 to 1967, and it is exciting to see this new ship on its first trip south. We were picked up in one of their fast boats, given helmets, and climbed on board. We were welcomed by the Captain and officers, had dinner and a shower, and were amazed to briefly glimpse our first bits of live television since leaving the UK at the start of November. Up on the bridge, Captain Sparkes presented the UKAHT with a fantastic painting of the new ship, and also a plaque commemorating their visit. We had a tour of the very high-tech bridge, watched the younger crew members piping the white ensign down at nominal sunset. The crew will help remove our waste wood, metal and rubble from recent maintenance works, which our team has been preparing. They will also visit the museum, which was first built in 1944 as part of the naval Operation Tabarin.

HMS Protector at anchor Captain Sparkes presents Ylva with a plaque commemorating their visit

And of course Tuesday 17th January saw the 100th anniversary of Captain Scott's arrival at the South Pole. We celebrated his achievement at dinner, reading out some lesser-known things about his journey, such as how they used a piece of string to operate the camera with which they took the famous, haunting photo of the team of 5 that reached the Pole, and how the negatives lay in the snow at their final camp, for 8 months. A Great Scott Watermelon Crumble cooked by Cat, complete with union flag, rounded off the meal. Many of our visitors talked about the centenary and had had lectures about it on their ships. The stories of the Heroic Age explorers are what inspired many of us to come down here, for work or holidays, and thanks to all those that opened up the continent in the early days, we felt very lucky to be in Antarctica on the anniversary.


A snowy Cat in immersion suit waiting to be collected by zodiac