Letter from Lockroy - December 26th 2010

Letter from Lockroy  - 26 December 2010

 It is very easy here to temporarily forget that it is Christmas, as we have almost 24 hrs of daylight and not the usual cosy darkness associated with the festive season. Therefore, to remind ourselves, we took Christmas decorations out from the boatshed last Sunday. The Nissen hut and the shop in Bransfield House got decorated: the old generator received a lovely new Christmassy look and Marilyn at the back of the shop door is now wearing a tinsel necklace.  We have also been listening to Christmas music all week long, have baked mince pies and eaten holiday goodies received from ships, including a delicious box made of chocolate and filled with handmade truffles from Dave and Gray on board Polar Pioneer.  We are very grateful as always for the generosity of the visiting expedition ships. The atmosphere at Port Lockroy is currently very festive indeed.

 A couple of days before Christmas we put out a little Christmas tree in the corner of our living room in the Nissen hut, and miraculously, little presents started to appear under it when no-one was looking.  Father Christmas and his little helpers from Lapland must have popped over for a quick holiday in the South!

                                                       The team at X'mas

 This week has also seen several other highlights. On Tuesday, Hannele’s friend Eva from Helsinki visited us on Polar Pioneer.  Being so far away from home (and from anywhere else) it is an extremely rare but wonderful occasion to receive friends at Port Lockroy. Eva had a tour of the base and a nice cup of tea with us in the Nissen hut, and Hannele was excited to receive chocolate and liquorice from Finland. Luckily, the latter Finnish delicacy was not that highly appreciated by other team members, so Hannele was able to have it all to herself (it didn’t last very long).

 On Wednesday, 22 December, it was Midsummer’s Day. We were blessed with a beautifully sunny, warm and calm day and took the opportunity to carry out a whole island penguin egg count.  The previous evening we had spotted the first penguin chick on the island, in a nest by one of the pillars and behind the boatshed, which was an exciting moment for the whole team. Further discoveries were made during the egg count: one penguin in the control colony (where visitors are not permitted) had two newly born chicks. Three penguins were spotted each with 3 eggs in their nests which is quite unusual. Altogether, 627 penguin nests were counted on Goudier Island.

Gentoo with two chicks!              Weddell seal near Bills island 

 After the egg count we took the first walk over to Bill’s Island as the tide was very low and the weather so calm. Three Weddell seals were peacefully sleeping on the snowy slopes at the shore, one in particular snoring quite loudly. Another seal, a young Weddell, came ashore and to our wonderful surprise, hauled itself up right in front of us when we were quietly standing still. What an effort to flop over the rocks and all the way up the hill! We were very lucky to have witnessed that moment. Another interesting wildlife observation took place earlier this week when the team saw a skua in action at the penguin colony behind Bransfield House. It knocked the penguin off its nest, took the egg before you even noticed and flew away with it. The skuas are majestic looking birds – large and powerful - and almost look like grey fighter planes against the white background.

 A less exciting moment this week took place one morning when we realised that we might be running out of porridge oats. Unless there is a box very well hidden somewhere in the boatshed it looks like we are currently on our last oat bag. That means we will have to start a heavy rationing policy on porridge with immediate effect.  Cue many glum faces at the breakfast table… Luckily, however, several ships have kindly asked if we need anything from Ushuaia when they are coming over next, so oats will be on the top of the list as we all love our daily morning porridge. We have plenty of other cereals but this year porridge has been the breakfast of choice, hence its premature consumption.

 As the weather has been quite bad on a couple of days this week, the whole team including Michael and Liesl has also had a chance to work in the museum together, conserving artefacts with guidance from Hen, our museum assistant. We painted fire buckets, window sills and wiring, organised a display for the darkroom, and Michael and Liesl carried out some electrical works. Bransfield House got three brand new windows, too - one in the kitchen and two in the bunkroom. A huge thank you to Jeld-Wen, who are so generous with providing the windows to the Trust. We were also excited to learn more about the film star paintings in the bunkroom (that continue to be a centre of attention for tourists). They were painted by Evan Watson, a Diesel Mechanic at Port Lockroy, in 1960. The pictures were apparently painted over the same year before the team left the base.

Finally, the snow has slowly but steadily been melting at Port Lockroy, exposing rock on the island little by little, but we were lucky to have a guaranteed White Christmas here. We celebrated Christmas with phone calls to families, a morning visit by Plancius, followed by a delicious lunch on board Ushuaia (many thanks to the Captain and Expedition Leader Sebastian). Next National Geographic Explorer arrived in the back bay and Expedition Leader Bud and the Captain kindly invited us on board for a traditional Christmas dinner. Finally, at the end of a busy and memorable Christmas day we joined Michael and Liesl in a late evening opening of presents over a glass of mulled wine back in the Nissen hut.

                                                 Hen, Nikki, Hannele and Ylva with Mt. Luigi in background

The whole Port Lockroy team - Nikki, Ylva, Hen, Hannele, Liesl and Michael - wish all our diary readers, friends and families a very Merry Christmas and a lovely festive season.