Letter from Lockroy - November 20th 2009

Letter from Lockroy - 20th November 2009

 Our journey along the Neumayer Channel on November 10th was spectacular.  The sky was vivid blue and the grandiose ice shelve walls on either sides of the channel were breathtaking.  The closer we got to our destination the more excited we became, as we were finally going to see our new home with our naked eyes.  We rounded one more bend and then there she was, Port Lockroy.  You could just make out the cute red windows against the black walls and roof.  To the left next to the water's edge was the boat shed, and all over the island were hundreds of penguins.  Luckily for us, this year there wasn't any snow on the roof to dig.  Last year the team had to dig their way into the front door!  We landed and had to say good bye to the fantastic team aboard the National Geographic Explorer.  We slowly made our way up through the snow and lots of penguins (which ignored us), past the boat shed and to the front door. We opened the door and walked through to the bunk room which will be our home for the next four months.  Although part of the museum, this is where we will sleep, eat and cook. After a cup of tea we went to explore the island, which doesn't take long as it is so tiny!  It really is beautiful here, and photos just do not do the island justice.  I was a little worried about being cold during the night, however we have been provided with not one but two thermarests, and two sleeping bags with a liner.  Along with a double layer of chocolate fish merino thermals, a hat and woolly socks it's pretty warm.  Waking up was surreal as you could hear the penguins making their vocal calls to each other (which sound strangely not to dissimilar to donkeys braying), and not to be outdone, the sheath bills were busy tap dancing on the roof.  Breakfast consists of porridge which really warms you up.  I prefer mine the traditional way with a little salt, however I suspect that I might fall into bad habits over the next few months and experiment with jam and other energy boosting delights. 

                                                      First view of Port Lockroy!

Even though we had a couple of days before our first ship visit we had a lot of work to do.  However first of all we raised the Union Flag.  We then had to dig a path round the building and dig an entrance to the back door/ workshop.  We had to dig steps in the snow and then clear snow off the rocks down at the chains landing for the passengers (and ourselves) to be able to disembark safely from the zodiac boats when coming ashore.  The penguins completely ignored us and continued their frenzied stone gathering to make their nests.  They are really sneaky and will take any opportunity to steal stones from their neighbour's nests (which are just pecking distance apart).  You can witness some pretty good fights and chases.  They are far more interesting than watching TV that's for sure!  Continuing the digging theme, we also had to dig a stairway into the snow on the other side of the island so that we can dispose of 'grey water' safely under the guidelines of our permit. We  also spent a day getting to grips with the museum artefacts and re-stocking the shop and post office, generally familiarising ourselves with the new season's merchandise and prices. 

Claire and Eleanor raise the flag   First egg! 

On November 13th our first ship, Antarctic Dream, arrived and who should come visit the shop but two women we had shared a hostel with in Ushuaia.  Hi Franzie and Tina and Happy Travels!  It was great to see them again and welcome them into our new home.  The shop and post office were very busy and it was great to start making money for the Antarctic Heritage Trust.  One of the crew came back ashore with a bag of apples for us, so later Tudor made us a mouth watering apple crumble.  Yum....

 Later that afternoon the National Geographic Explorer returned and the captain navigated the ship into the fast ice that had formed in front of the island.  It was lovely being re-united with the crew and passengers that we had travelled with, and the afternoon sped by really quickly.  This was also the day that we saw our first penguin egg.  It's amazing how far advanced in their breeding cycle the Gentoos are here at Port Lockroy compared to the other Gentoo colonies we visited on our journey here.  When the N G Explorer left, the captain did an incredible three point turn in the 100m ship and off they disappeared into the wilderness. 

The following day we had a surprise visit from a yacht called 'The Spirit of Sydney'.  The crew were a lovely bunch of people from varying backgrounds and invited us over for dinner.  They had some delicious food with them, including some fantastic varieties of cheese.  Because we were still waiting for our cargo to arrive we have been eating last season’s tinned food.  The short zodiac ride back was interesting as it involved deliberately driving into a small iceberg and pushing it away from the back of the yacht.  As Eleanor and I did not know this was going to happen we were both initially shocked when we drove into it (sound effects censored)!!    The Spirit of Sydney crew were literally our SOS crew as they helped us unload all our cargo (around 350 boxes) onto pallets outside the boat shed that came with the ship 'Fram'.  Thank you so much Hurtigruten and the crew of Fram for once again transporting our cargo, and thank you again Spirit of Sydney!!!  It was a really hectic day as due to Fram's schedule they coincided unloading the cargo with a busy passenger landing.  Eleanor and I were in the Post Office and shop so missed the initial cargo unloading, however spent the whole following day moving all the boxes from the crates outside the boat shed into the boat shed (which I am convinced is Dr Who's tardis). 

Tudor and Eleanor moving the cargo With some help from our friends 

The ships have all been great and Tudor, Eleanor and myself had a fantastic outdoor BBQ (and our first shower!) on the Lyubov Orlova.  It was during the BBQ that we found we were sitting next to a descendant of James Weddell (of the Weddell Sea, Weddell Ice Shelf and Weddell Sea)!  Clelia II invited us on board for another shower and some incredible fine dinning.  It was so strange turning up in our full immersion suits (that we are still getting used to squeezing into) and walking through the marble floored reception area where chandeliers would not look out of place.  Talk about chalk and cheese!  After drinks in the lounge it was back on with the immersion suits and back on the zodiacs to be dropped off home.  I was concerned that we would really feel the cold back on base compared to the roasting heat of the cruise ships, however with all our layers, most of the time it's fine.  We also have a propane heater that goes on in the bunk room for a couple of hours in the evening to take the 'chill off'.

                                                        The immersion suits!

It was an early start the next morning as Prof Molchanov arrived and after a quick bowl of porridge and a cup of coffee it was on with the immersion suits to give the passengers a pre-island briefing on the ship and then back to base. It has been a crazy first week and there is just not the space to include everything that has happened.  I will however add that we have already had a very special visit from not one but two young elephant seal bulls.  They just lie there during the day making the odd loud belching noise, and although one has now left, the other has remained throughout a couple of ship visits.  We have had some fantastic weather which Tudor keeps saying is one in a million, and BAS apparently calls a 'dingle day'.  So bring on the dingles!  We are looking forward to the arrival of Anna and Rachel later this month to complete our team.  It is certainly a different pace of life here at Lockroy, and as our friends on the Explorer would say...'We're having a blast!'.