Letter from Lockroy - January 4th 2010

Letter from Lockroy - 4th January 2010

 We can hardly believe it's 2010 already and the season is half-way through. 'Out with the old and in with the new' doesn't really apply when you live in a historic monument(!) but with the new year and a new decade have come new faces, new visitors, new ships and new stories. We've also loved welcoming back familiar faces and old friends, including authors Bob Burton and Olle Carlsson and an old member of British Base 'E'. 

We've also been doing a spot of spring cleaning (which again seems strange as we head into the austral autumn!) tidying up the boatshed, shovelling snow to try and level the Nissen Hut pallets and sorting out shop stock and post office supplies. There are always jobs to be done on base and  every year Bransfield House needs to be weather-proofed to protect it against the coming winter winds. On the first dry day this week we donned our Dickies overalls and began by painting the roof. With dramatic clouds surrounding the stunning Fief mountain range and skuas soaring overhead, it was the most scenic manual labour any of us had ever done!

Anna and Eleanor painting the roof
We'll finish painting the rest of the building when the chicks have left the nests, but with eggs hatching by the dozen it'll be a few weeks yet. The chicks never cease to amuse and amaze: Uno, our first chick, is now half the size of his mother, and Dora and her new sister Aurora are the apple of everyone's eye. We're still keeping an eye on the chronology colony, waiting for the moment when egg hatching there hits 95% and at this point we'll carry out a full island count to establish the breeding success.

 We've also been outside beachcombing, taking advantage of the few dry days. This year, for the first time, the Lockroy team is recording any man-made items found along the shore. Old chains and other artefacts from the early whaling days are not being counted, but so far we are pleased to report that almost nothing has been washed ashore. We undertake the exercise once a month and always at low tide which almost doubles the size of the island. This allows us to stretch our legs a little further than usual and explore parts of Goudier we don't usually get a chance to see. With only small patches of snow now remaining, we were able to admire the vivid green mosses and bright orange lichens which adorn the higher rocks, and the pink-trimmed seaweed in the rock pools by the shore.

 Our outside activities allowed us several sightings of a Southern Giant Petrel this week – a great excitement and the first sightings of the season. A beautiful mottled-grey bird, the Southern Giant Petrel is not dissimilar in appearance to an albatross, and was spotted circling the island and disappearing down the Peltier Channel. We've seen it several times since, each time marvelling at its graceful flight around the bay, the distinctive salt-drop on the end of its beak.

 As the Petrel disappeared, the Molchanov came into view, kindly inviting us on board for much mirth and merriment on New Year's Eve! It was a wonderful evening, full of laughter and fantastic food and drink, and  there was Russian, Greek and Scottish dancing on deck before celebrating midnight with champagne in the bar. In the early hours of the morning, Expedition Leader Rolf Stange kindly gave us a wonderful zodiac ride home, taking us right up to the glacier face to touch millenia-old ice as minke whales swam in the waters nearby – a beautiful, contemplative and humbling way to welcome in the new year.

                Celebrating New Year's Eve! Rachel with her birthday cake and letters from home

 On 2 January it was Rachel's birthday and as luck would have it a sack of post arrived from Stanley with cards and letters for the birthday girl! We had a birthday tea with cake, candles and presents in the kitchen (many thanks to Phil Wickens and James Cresswell on Ocean Nova for their help with this secret operation!), and in the evening we were fortunate enough to have the beautiful tallship Bark Europa anchored in the back bay. Bark Europa gave Rachel a birthday dinner to remember: a zodiac cruise with mulled wine followed by birthday cake, singing, presents and Beagle beer in the bar couldn't have been a more perfect ending to a perfect day.

And if it sounds like we've simply been wining and dining, rest assured we've been flat out with yacht visits, ship visits and sweeping and scrubbing galore. We've had Minerva, Vista Mar, Hanseatic, Antarctic Dream, Polar Pioneer, Ushuaia and Corinthian II to name but a few and we look forward to seeing both friends and passengers on board every ship each time. In particular this week was Forrest Mars (of Mars Bar fame and a generous supporter of the AHT) whose beautiful yacht Dione Sky was admired by every visitor to the bay. We were lucky enough to be invited on board Dione Sky for dinner and hot showers and were spoilt rotten with a case of chocolate to accompany us home.

 The chocolate was enjoyed on a quiet evening this week, as we gathered round the fire to eat the last of the Christmas food. We dug out a DVD of 'Groundhog Day' (a suitable Lockroy favourite!) and after a cold snap in the weather the evening was all the more enjoyable. Even on busy evenings we've had great fun playing 'Bananagrams' after dinner, the totally-addictive letter game kindly sent South by Eleanor's Aunt and Uncle! It's safe to say we are indeed now all totally addicted(!) and crys of “just one more game!” have led to into the wee small hours before we all crash into bed, physically and lexicographically exhausted. We were also delighted to receive a package from Judith Black (2008-9 Lockroy team) in the post with all the right ingredients for a girly night-in (magazine, DVD and sweets). We look forward to a break in the ship schedule to really enjoy it and think of all the girls from last season – thank you Jude!

 So from last season to this season the fun and laughter continues. As does the work to keep the base alive. We love hearing stories from visitors who have a connection to Base 'A', and are enjoying building a collection of stories of our own. Later this month we'll be welcoming Rick, Joe and Graham to the island as the build team for the Nissen Hut reconstruction which will provide much-needed accommodation for those who come next year. But the life and history of Bransfield House is palpable everywhere in the building, and we feel a real affinity with the old boys of the base who, just like us, came to discover new things and experience the timeless beauty of the Great White South: Antarctica, the 'last continent', the final frontier, which now has four new Antarctic addicts who I have no doubt will all be drawn back, time and time again.