Letter from Lockroy - 21st December 2008

Letter from Lockroy - The Longest Day (in the Southern Hemisphere) 21st December 2008

It is remarkable to think that we're already around six weeks into the season at Port Lockroy; it certainly is getting busy with two ship visits a day! It is so lovely to see the smiley faces as passengers wander up from either the 'chains' or 'boatshed' landings. We can only wholeheartedly agree with them at how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. Each ship that comes in to see us has its own special character, formed by the actual vessel itself and the friendly and professional expedition teams onboard. Rick of course knows many of the Captains and crew, guides and lecturers already from past seasons, whilst Jude, Laura and Nikki are getting to grips with the names and faces of the different folk that regularly stop by, and who are fast becoming firm friends.

With larger ships, such as the Fram (up to around 200 passengers) visitors are divided into several manageable groups that come ashore (one after another), and Bransfield House is then busy with cameras clicking and the happy chatter of people discovering the wonders that our little island has to offer. We work on a strict basis of a maximum 35 visitors in the house at any one time, and a maximum of 60 passengers total on the island (as per the Antarctic Treaty Guidelines). Although the base personnel here speak different languages, the expedition teams are often on hand to help with translations, or as in the case with Kristof from the Fram, to step in occasionally behind the counter in the shop! He is especially good at promoting 'the best maps in the whole of Antarctica' - who are we to argue?! With the smaller vessels such as Professor Multanovskiy (around 50 passengers), or even with the yachts, visits are usually more leisurely. We can then enjoy the luxury of more time to stop and chat with visitors about our life in Antarctica, and learn about each other's backgrounds. Just last night we welcomed a small group from the yacht Northanger for a lovely dinner party (of sorts) here at Lockroy. We managed to seat 12 people in the lounge, which is where many a merry evening has been spent both before and after the restoration of Bransfield House! In turn, the yachts have been some of our best customers in the gift shop, and with all profits from our little outfit going to the upkeep of not just Port Lockroy, but other historic sites on the Antarctic peninsula. Many people come to the Peninsula as part of a longer South American tour, and it is wonderful to hear their stories of their travels far and wide. Having spent the best part of last year travelling from top to toe of the Americas, Laura has been comparing notes with people from Angel Falls through to Zapallar!

Laura, Jude, Rick and Nikki  Rick Atkinson 

We are always delighted to receive dinner invitations from the visiting vessels, and just this week we had a great time at BBQs onboard Polar Star and Ocean Nova. Its a great chance to relax with the passengers (especially if the base has been extremely busy during their visit) and chat with the expedition teams, whilst also chomping on some very delicious ribs and other mouthwatering fare! Polar Star however seem to be prone to playing 'snowball the zodiac' when its time for us to leave; this is also a game enjoyed by the National Geographic Endeavour, much to Team PL's chagrin!!! Revenge will be sweet one day... We are waiting for a lovely sunny evening to break out the pisco sour - a very potent South American drink which is traditional on a balmy summer night down at Port Lockroy. Diana from the Grigoriy Mikheev is our secret supplier, and we are all eager to crack open a bottle and kick back our heels on the veranda now that the snow has melted back from the building. Hopefully it won't be too long before the austral summer weather arrives! We receive weather reports (amongst other handy info and tips) from former Base Leader Alan Carroll, however it seems that the sun is only destined to make an appearance on a weekly basis - please send us news of good weather soon, Alan!
Jude has been kept busy with the constant stream of postcards and letters that tumble out of the red postbox. Each piece of mail has to be laid out, stamped/cancelled by hand and then left to dry, before being bundled up into the postbag, ready for the next ship to Stanley. Recently we were able to send a couple of postbags out with the Professor Multanovsky; - they will deliver the bags to the head post office at Stanley in the Falkland Islands when they call in. The bags are then loaded onto the twice-weekly RAF flight to Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where they then go into the UK postal system! The whole process should take between 2-6 weeks. Friends and family back home are also able to send items to us here in Antarctica via much the same method - the post is sent 'care-of' Stanley Post Office, and is picked up by ships who call into the Falkland Islands and then are scheduled to come into Port Lockroy. We have stashed away a good number of Christmas parcels and cards thanks to a delivery of post by the Aleksey Maryshev (brought into the base by a cheery Postman from Sheffield no less, who is on holiday down here) - it is fantastic to receive news from home in the 'snail mail'! We also have a few advent calendars sent by friends and family up by our bunks, and take it in turns to open the doors - number 24 will be next before you know it!

Jude and the post box

Our cosy bunkroom has seen a good scrub-out; Rick rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in with a big bowl of soapy suds and now everything is sparkling - from the floor to the ceiling! We will most likely wait for dryer weather before we tackle the larger maintenance projects such as painting the windowsills and fixing the new window in the shop (kindly donated by Jeld-wen). Believe it or not, we are still experiencing snowy and very windy weather. Overnight the wind has picked up again and has been whistling down the stove pipe, reminding us of the raw and powerful outside elements of Antarctica! There is still no sign of any penguin chicks as yet - and we note that the first arrivals were spotted on 24 December last year, so we can't be far off! The penguin nests are faring a little better now, and in particular we are relieved to see that they are out of the water down by the boatshed in particular. This season we have sadly seen a number of nests abandoned by various gentoo pairs. The skuas have however not gone hungry - in the past few days they have killed two sheathbills on separate occasions down by the boatshed; we must accept that this is all part of the (sometimes grizzly) struggle for survival in Antarctica. The sheathbill pairs who nest under and around Bransfield House have been busy mating and no doubt will have their chicks around Christmas-time. Earlier this week, when the Orlova was visiting, a leopard seal put on quite a show by an iceberg in front of the boatshed, diving on and off of the ice and wriggling and twisting around as if it was scratching an itch! We bet that there were some very happy photographers after that energetic display!

Receiving mail 

We have enjoyed some lovely calm evenings dotted throughout the weeks however, and it is wonderful to take time out to wander down to the water's edge and sit gazing across to the Neumayer and Peltier Channels. The waters surrounding the island are crystal-clear, and when the waves aren't rolling in quite so vigorously, we can see the penguins swiftly cutting through the water, as fast as torpedoes! The blue-eyed shags on Jougla Point now have some very adorable and hungry chicks, and we watch the parents flying past Goudier Island with beaks full of seaweed and bellies full of food for their young. Jougla Point is a popular landing site in combination with Port Lockroy, and is part of Wiencke Island that lies just across from us. We have all made a visit over there at various points this season (thanks to various zodiac drivers kindly offering a shuttle service - we have no boat here at Port Lockroy!). The relics of the area's bloody whaling past are clear to see as soon as you step ashore - the shallows are littered with enormous whale bones and other remains jut up out of the snow and ice onshore - it is humbling to touch these skeletons and consider the slaughter that took place in years gone by at this beautiful spot. Jougla is also a popular haul-out spot for seals, and at the moment a very curious juvenile 'ellie' (female elephant seal) has decided to spend time there, together with a few dozing Weddell seals. Brandon and Michael from Ocean Nova performed a heroic rescue earlier this week at Jougla Point - they had spotted a gentoo with a long length of old fishing line tightly wrapped around its leg, and as a result its poor foot had swollen to twice its normal size. Thanks to some deft yet kind handling the poor gentoo was saved and tottered away in a bit of a daze. With the festive season fast approaching the decorations are well and truly out at Port Lockroy - we have wrapped tinsel around the beams in the bunkroom and in the shop, and a couple of the little lacy white snowflakes that we sell in the shop have been 'liberated' to decorate the windows at the front door. Rick has been spotted hanging around under the mistletoe, in anticipation of a festive peck on the cheek! The mince pies will soon be in the oven no doubt! Nikki has been tackling the challenge of having just one temperature to bake with, and despite this has managed to rustle up some sweet treats and a couple of loaves of bread.

Decorating the shop in preparation for X'mas  Laura 

We have worked out how to compress photographs on the computer so hope that you enjoy looking at a few on this blog (thanks to Tudor and Rachel back in the UK!). As you can see, we are all keeping happy and healthy and busy! It is a breath of fresh air for us to be away from the hustle and bustle of the run-up to Christmas - we are enjoying the company of the gentoos and the friendly ship visits. The ice and wildlife here is just awe-inspiring, and thanks to the daylight is light almost all night and never really gets dark; very different from the pitch-black December evenings in the UK, which seems so far away! Our very best wishes to everyone at home and the supporters of the UKAHT and Port Lockroy who are spread far and wide - we hope that the festive season for you is becoming filled with lots of treats and a glass or two of mulled wine!