Letter from Lockroy - 10th February 2009

Letter From Lockroy - 10 February 2009

What an exciting few weeks we've been having here at Port Lockroy. At the beginning of the season Rick duly promised his 'delightful assistants' (as he refers to us in his shipboard talks) a fair few opportunities to head out and explore the area around Goudier Island, and he has stayed true to his word! Here at Port Lockroy we are fairly isolated on the island, as we do not have a boat or kayaks, so are always pleased to accept an offer of a quick whizz around in the zodiacs if the ships are not in a rush to head out of the area. Thanks to a little bit of free time in between ship visits, maintenance work and our usual chores, we have been out and about on a couple of special occasions, and been able to take in this spectacular white continent.

With the calmer weather and the lack of severe sea ice we have seen a good number of yachts and smaller vessels here at Lockroy over the past fortnight. These vessels are often either privately owned, or chartered to groups of individuals. It was great to see Stephen from M/Y Xplore down here at the end of January, enjoying another day of absolutely glorious sunshine. We had a good visit with his really friendly bunch of passengers (a very multi-lingual group!) and the girls were thrilled when Stephen offered for us to join Xplore in sailing the Peltier Channel that afternoon (none of the team had been further south than Goudier Island up to that point). What an absolute treat for us to be onboard such a beautiful yacht, cutting through incredibly still and reflective waters of the Peltier, with a feeling of being so close to the water, just taking it all in whilst chatting up on deck. Visibility was so clear that we could see right down to the start of the Lemaire Channel - so near yet so far! Around 4 1/2 miles down the channel, Stephen knew of a little anchorage with great views, alongside a gentoo penguin colony up on the rocks. The intention was to land at Doumer Island (which flanks the Peltier Channel), for a pleasant hike across to the old Chilean base, Yelcho. We all relished stretching our legs for a good long walk through the snow, and had a good look around Yelcho. The base is currently unoccupied, and is in a fair state of disrepair, however it was absolutely fascinating to have a peek inside. Jude, Laura & Nikki were impressed to see that there had once been a working shower, and individual bedrooms with bunks, as well as a second-level in the main house and a now ramshackle jetty outside for offloading supplies. It must have been wonderful to live there back in its heyday. There was a small gentoo penguin colony in front of the base, with far fewer chicks than back at home. There was quite a swell coming in, and we sat on the rocks just relaxing and chatting in the afternoon sun. After a hectic few days back at base with lots of ship visits, it was just what the doctor ordered. As we headed back to Xplore for a delicious dinner, the mountains were highlighted in the most beautiful shade of rose-pink by the sinking sun. A big thank you to Stephen, who brought us safely home in his dinghy. What an amazing sunset behind the Lemaire, and it was wonderful to navigate through the ice in the shadow of the Fief Range, the sight of the looming Wall Range welcoming us back to base.

Sailing down the Peltier on the yacht Xplore
Maintenance work here at Base 'A' has been progressing extremely well this season. All the windows are now repaired and repainted so that they will survive another harsh winter down here in the Antarctic. Rick took delivery of a lovely new window from Jeld-wen at the beginning of the season, and finally had time, penguins out of the way, and fair weather so that it could be fitted into the shop. The original existing window at the far right hand corner of the shop (standing at the doorway) was completely rotten and in desperate need of replacing, and so that was a very good job done! Rick made a new frame, and the new window fitted in perfectly. A big thank you to Jeld-wen for their continuing support of Port Lockroy!
Jude and Nikki had the pleasure of joining the team onboard Prince Albert II cruising down the Lemaire in early February. The vessel's Expedition Leader, Ignacio, took the opportunity of a stunning dusk to head down the channel after a visit to Port Lockroy. It was a real treat for us to dine with the team onboard, mingle with the guests and enjoy a truly wonderful evening, with the stark grey mountains set aglow on our journey south. The following morning we enjoyed a fantastic cruise around some gigantic sculpted icebergs at Pleneau, and our resident wildlife-spotter Jude picked out a crabeater seal on a smaller berg - sleepily relaxing in the warmth of the morning sun. Passengers were relaxing in the on-deck jacuzzis and enjoying hamburgers and champagne (!) as we cruised the Lemaire northbound in the sunshine and under bright blue skies. Jude and Nikki helped the team in treading and setting out flags for a path in the snow at Dorian Bay. Again, it was great to stretch our legs (and realise how we've been enjoying our food a little too much back at Lockroy!) on the hike up to the top of the ridge at Damoy Point. Looking down on Goudier Island we spotted a yacht visiting Laura and Rick on the base, and saw Rick up a ladder in his orange Dickies overalls continuing his work on the windows! Captain Peter and Ignacio joined us for a quick cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit back on the veranda at Bransfield House - a big thank you to Prince Albert II for a truly lovely sortie!
Rick and Laura have also been on an adventure! Just a few days ago the vessel Hanse Explorer kindly agreed to take them down to Wordie House, close to the Ukranian base Vernadsky (formerly the British Faraday station). Their mission was to take detailed measurements on Wordie House, which is in need of some attention; the roof in particular is leaking and the UKAHT is eager to begin repairs. Rick and Laura dashed around the base in the short time that they had there to take notes, and then returned to Port Lockroy the same evening - a lightening but interesting visit! Jude stepped into the breach and gave talks to the ships in Rick's absence, with Nikki answering questions from curious passengers.
On the wildlife front, we have been watching as the gentoo chicks have been becoming more bold and curious in their human neighbours! Like everyone at home in the UK, we have had some snow these past few weeks (although not the ten inches that we've heard tell of in the South of England!). The chicks have been adorable in their attempts to catch the falling snow; gazing up at the sky in wonderment!

Chick at the door!
Little do they know that they will have plenty of snowflakes to chase in their lives! We have awoken most colder mornings to find a gaggle of chicks lying on their bellies on the ramp, making the most of a comfy wooden mattress, which we suppose is warmer than the rocks! Laura and Jude counted 645 chicks on the island (both in the control area and where passengers are allowed to wander) - a good number and around the same figure as last year. One nesting pair even managed to raise three chicks - impressive but unusual! At this time of year the nests are now almost empty, bar a few late chicks that have hatched around a week ago - we hope that they will manage to fledge in time before the winter sets in! Clusters of chicks have formed creches on the path up to the house and also down by the boatshed. Most now have their distinct white 'bonnet' clearly visible, as it is their heads which moult first, followed by their backs and the tips of their wings. They look a little like half-shorn sheep with their adult waterproof coats appearing rapidly from beneath their down! We think that we have recognised Jude's favourite chick, 'Das Fussball', as he/she is almost completely free of fluff! Gentoos are members of the brush-tailed species of penguins, and the chicks now have their characteristic stiff bottom feathers developing. They are still portly and round and run after their parents in the steeple-chase for food! In this pursuit for regurgitated meals, the snowy sheathbills have been hanging around and on occasion knocking the chicks out of theway, so that the food falls on the rocks and they can hoover it up!

Sadly we have noticed a few more chicks falling prey to skuas, and have also had a visit from a Giant Petrel, feasting on the remains of an unlucky chick. Up close, it is amazing how these magnificent and very large brown and white dappled birds look so pre-historic.

We continue to witness very loud and impressive ice falls from the Harbour glacier beneath Jabet's Peak, and the ice cliff opposite the boatshed. Jude even managed to capture one such spectacular crash on her little camcorder! Thanks to some strong winds we have had ice sporadically blowing in and out of the bay, with some large icebergs drifting in from the Neumayer and Peltier Channels - Port Lockroy has been able to offer its own added bonus of an iceberg cruise to passing vessels!
Since our last diary entry here we have been graced with the presence of Miss China, who took part in a photo shoot at Jougla Point. Arriving onboard the Fram, she drew considerable attention in her flowing red (and strapless!) evening dress. Of course it was only reasonable for Rick to have his photo taken with her outside Bransfield House - his grin reached from ear to ear and lasted well into the next day! Other bizarre happenings at Lockroy include a karaoke-singing session with Expedition Leader John onboard Corinthian II. Who would have guessed that Captain Adam could give Elvis a run for his money! Rick, Jude and Nikki were good sports and attempted ABBA's 'Dancing Queen' to a supportive applause. We should note here that we have never seen Laura move so fast - she was notably absent from the performance - one second she was leaning against a pillar, and the next couldn't be seen for dust! The next karaoke session will no doubt include a solo performance by Miss Ling... tut!

With around three weeks until Port Lockroy closes again for the season, we are all dragging our heels thinking about returning home, although of course we look forward to reuniting with friends and family. Sadly we have already bid farewell to some of our friends on vessels that are at the end of their sailing season. The nights are already drawing in, and we have dug out the head-torches that we had put away after the beginning of the season, in order to read before bedtime. It is strange to have to put the light on in the bunkroom in the evening, after enjoying such long hours of daylight throughout November and January. We still have a busy few weeks ahead, with stocktaking, further archiving, continued report writing and lots more ship visits on the cards. Time has flown by already these past few months, and we will be sure to make the most of the days here at Port Lockroy before 3 March 2009 arrives too soon!

From all the Port Lockroy Team