It’s been a very different week to the one we envisaged at the time of the last blog. We were excited about the prospect of a visit from HMS Protector and prepared for a busy week of ship visits, but the wind and weather have had other ideas. The ice has intervened time and time again, and as a result we have been cracking on through the worklists, carrying out various maintenance tasks around the base. On Monday and Tuesday Kristy and Sarah made great progress with Elizabeth Taylor in the bunkroom, uncovering rather more of her than we bargained for as she turned out to be rather scantily clad! Jane and Helen sanded and oiled all the old tools in the workshop, finding it interesting having a closer look at them than there had previously been time for. With plenty of sunshine forecast we unpacked our Dickies overalls for the first time and started the labour-intensive job of giving Bransfield House its annual bitumen coat. Reluctant at first to get paint on our bright new outerwear we got over the fear with Jane’s great slogan ‘They’re not Dickies til they’re dirty!
We also spent a day spring-cleaning Bransfield House, scrubbing the floors, dusting the shelves and polishing windows. Kristy was gratified to see in the visitors’ book that it had been noted in the comments that the base was ‘tidy’. Until it was pointed out that the visitor had been Welsh and tidy didn’t literally mean tidy!
In wildlife news we are closely monitoring the number of penguin nests with eggs in the Screen Colony – and reached the magic 95% of nests occupied on Friday. This triggers a whole island count in 4 days’ time so that we can start our penguin breeding annual study. We have also carried out our first Beach Clean and found nothing that had come from marine origins, except our first visiting Adelie penguin of the season.
HMS Protector made a return trip on Tuesday, and reached us late in the evening. Great to see them in the bay and we were hopeful that they would manage a successful landing the following day. The weather played ball for once and the ice stayed in the distance and at 8.30am the first party came ashore with our stores. We are hugely grateful to all those on board and those who helped to carry the plywood and boxes of cuddly penguins to their storage locations. Helen had been trying without success to fix the VHF aerial, and two engineers, Tony and Jamie, came over to the Nissen Hut equipped with a bag of tools and plenty of expertise to see if there was anything they could do. We got the soldering iron out and fired up the generator and … success! We received our first communication from a ship in Paradise Harbour 30 miles away not long afterwards. Many thanks! A shore party were going to camp at Dorian Bay that evening and offered us a lift round to open up Damoy Hut as we had not managed to get there yet this season. Sarah and Helen took advantage of the lift while Jane and Kristy manned the shop back at base. It was a real pleasure to see Damoy Hut in such good condition, we took the shutters off and had a sweep round inside.
For once we were not disappointed to have no ship in for the rest of the day because it meant we were able to accept an offer to have a tour of HMS Protector – and a hot shower and dinner! Wonderful! We had a really special evening on board and can’t thank everyone enough for their kindness and hospitality.
Another highlight of the week was a visit by National Geographic Explorer on Friday. It was a treat to go on board for breakfast and to give our pre-landing briefing to the passengers. Kristy was happy to have the chance to communicate to fellow Americans in her native language and a very friendly and relaxed landing followed with the passengers loving the museum. We were also pleased to have the chance to meet some of our neighbours from Palmer Station, the US Base on Anvers Island. NG Explorer had rescued 5 members of staff who had been waiting 5 weeks to leave, and they had brought us a care package of food from their chef, Francis. Including home-made bread and cookies, we had a great lunch after already having had a superb breakfast. It’s amazing how good food lifts the spirits. Another culinary high point of the week came when it was Ruth’s turn to cook. She decided that our 1957 Antarctic Cookbook ‘Fit for a FID’ would be her inspiration, and after ruling out Seal Brain Fritters and Shag Roulade settled on Salmon Madras. We had in stock all the ingredients specified in the recipe and it was very tasty, some might say surprisingly so.
We were hoping that the visit by NG Explorer would be the beginning of normality and more ships would follow. But overnight there were strong southwesterlies and the following morning the bay was full of ice again. We saw Silver Explorer in the distance passing through the Neumayer Channel at about 6.30 am, but it was clear they would be unable to get to us. We have had 13 ship visits cancelled so far, and there is no sign of change at the moment.
We are settling into our routine of work, much like when the base was occupied in the early days and no visitors were even expected. We are now collecting brash ice for water, and becoming inventive with our meals, although we still have some fresh vegetables thanks to a generous gift by NG Explorer. We are all aware that we are more reliant than ever on each other for safety and companionship, and the team spirit is strong.
8 Dec 2013