Letter from Lockroy - 18 November 2008
It is Sunday afternoon at Port Lockroy, and whilst the folks at home might be taking an afternoon walk or enjoying a peaceful post-lunch moment or two, the team is busy about the base. Judith has a Father Christmas apron on and is baking a surprise for pudding tonight, Laura is scribbling frantically regarding some artefact or another, and Rick is shovelling snow outside the old generator shed. This year Bransfield House has seen a lot of snow around the building, which we have been trying to clear as soon as possible. Although snow insulates the building, it is also not good for the humidity inside the base. At present much of the rocks are covered in nice, clean white snow, but with the austral summer this will melt off. We even had a few penguins trying to nest on the roof thanks to the snowdrifts when we arrived!
It has been a steady start to the season since our arrival at Goudier Island aboard National Geographic Endeavour a week ago. We have welcomed visitors from Akademik Sergey Vavilov, HMS Endurance, Antarctic Dream, and just this morning from the sailing yacht Australis. We were delighted to receive a radio call on 13 November from HMS Endurance, to arrange a visit by the icebreaker to Port Lockroy, since they were in the area. Captain Gavin Pritchard and Chief Surveyor Keith Pullan were greeted by our Base Leader Rick Atkinson, and received a tour around 'Base A', before further Royal Navy personnel from HMS Endurance arrived by motorlaunch at the 'Chains Landing'. We were very privileged to enjoy the company of the Royal Navy, and it was fantastic to hear their words of encouragement and find out more about their lives at sea and work patrolling the Antarctic waters. This was also a useful occasion for Rick to meet HMS Endurance Operations Manager, Adam Northover, and Lieutenant Commander Nick Lucocq, to discuss the plan for installing the replacement Nissen Hut next season; a major project. Later that day we were invited back to HMS Endurance for dinner, and were fortunate enough to receive a tour and presentation by the Operations Manager. Captain Gavin Pritchard also presented Port Lockroy with a fantastic signed aerial picture of the vessel at work in the Southern Oceans. Many of the Royal Navy personnel were fascinated to learn about how we live and work at Port Lockroy, and so we thought we might share a glimpse into our everyday lives here down on the Antarctic Peninsula during the summer season...
The team (of four this season; Rick, Judith, Laura and Nikki) occupy the bunk room, towards the rear of Bransfield House. This is the old work room which was converted into living quarters in 1952, and was home for up to 9 men. Compact but cosy, this is where we sleep, cook, eat and generally spend free time when not making the most of the stunning surroundings outside. We have a small propane gas fire in the bunkroom, and sleep on the old wooden slatted bunks, just as they did in days gone by; however we are pleased to also have thermarest mattresses, as well as the traditional sheepskin rugs (courtesy of Edinburgh Woollen Mill) and polar sleeping bags on top. All food is shipped down by cruise ship from the UK, together with other provisions, such as cleaning and maintenance equipment. Jeldwen is kindly donating a new window for the new generator room/shop, and the stove has been generously gifted by Topstak Chimneys in Cardiff. Most of the provisions, together with stock for the gift shop (invaluable for raising funds for the Trust) is arriving with us on 24 November; meanwhile there are plenty of supplies from the previous season. Although the Port Lockroy team is 'on the ground' at the base, Rachel and Tudor Morgan, together with Rick, play a crucial role in making arrangements for operations from the UK - no small job! Helen Annan, who was at Port Lockroy last season (07-08) also helped out with packing boxes and buying groceries. We are of course also indebted to the support of our Chairman, Philippa Foster Back, together with the other Trustees. Kind gifts of provisions are often donated by visiting vessels, and from time to time we are invited on board to dine with guests and the expedition teams, and are only too happy to share our enthusiasm for the great white continent. Eight jerry cans are filled up with water from passing vessels at every opportunity, and we boil water on our small stove for washing up and general cleaning.
Passing cruise ships also kindly let us on board to shower(every few days if we are lucky), and this is also how we manage our laundry. Life is simple, much as it was when the base was operational in the 40s and 50s, but very good! Our few concessions to modernity include ipods, a laptop, and a selection of photographic equipment! The base is powered by a small Honda petrol generator, that charges 12 volt batteries. These are housed in the old generator shed, which is also where Rick keeps his tools and workshop equipment, essential for the upkeep of Bransfield House. The old 'dark room' doubles up as a fridge for perishable food, as it is always cool. In 1958 the new generator room was added to 'Base A', which is now where we have our gift shop; the room is lovely and airy thanks to the many windows and stunning views out to Damoy Point - we can watch visitors arriving from the 'Chains Landing'. One of the original generators still stands in the middle of the room and is a source of fascination for many guests. Other artefacts such as packing crates from other historic bases, and a fantastic 'British Crown Land' sign are displayed alongside merchandise in the shop. Funds generated by the shop are key to supporting the UKAHT and keeping Port Lockroy open. Thanks to our remote location, we are able to happily avoid television and the internet, although we do have an Iridium satellite telephone, and can dial up to receive emails. This is fast becoming a popular way to communicate with vessels, although we still also use the HF and VHF radio. Life at Port Lockroy seems a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the western world; every morning we wake up to a hot drink, courtesy of our Base Leader, and the beauty of Antarctica. With the cruise ships now starting to arrive, it is going to be a very busy season! At present, the gentoos are busily building their nests out of pebbles and mating. We have spotted a few eggs being incubated by the parents, and it won't be too long before the first chicks hatch - we can't wait!
The Port Lockroy team