Letter From Lockroy - January 07
It has been nearly two months since we last wrote and Jo, who was about to arrive, is now about to leave, to be replaced by Gerard. The time seems to just fly when at Lockroy. Last year we were amazed how busy it had become; this year is even more hectic. We had 25 ships visit in November and 41 in December. If you consider we didn't arrive until the 13th December last year and then no ships could land here for about a week due to sea ice blocking the bay, this is a considerably improved start to the season. We have now completed and improved the layout of the shop which allows more customers in at a time and means that we are able to display more merchandise more effectively.
This combined with charming sales personnel has increased shop sales considerably. There is still some room for improvement with the items for sale in the shop but we are working on this and have some good ideas. Stamp sales have increased remarkably. We have already sold more stamps this year than we did all season last year. Not only has there been an increase in the number of ships visiting Lockroy this year - all the ships are full to capacity. This has meant we have needed to manage the landings even more carefully than ever to minimise the impact on the penguins and the buildings. There are some interesting issues to grapple with: visitor numbers to Port Lockroy and to the Peninsula altogether.
Birthdays seem to be one of the themes of this season at Lockroy. It was Jo's birthday just after she arrived. One of her presents was a sledging trip round the island. Rick was treated to a candle lit dinner in the lounge for his birthday in November. We had Alan Carroll staying with us for nearly three weeks. This was a most successful venture. Alan was base leader at Lockroy from 1954 to 1957 and has been very influential in the restoration of Lockroy in recent years. Alan returned to Lockroy exactly 52 years to the day since he first landed on 27th November 1954. He fitted in well with all the proceedings and parted freely with a huge amount of knowledge to anyone interested. Tasks achieved while he was here included installing low voltage lighting into the radio room and bunk room, sorting out the radio room and kitchen and bringing up to date the inventory in these rooms. Alan also sorted through the items saved from the clean up of the old Danco Island Base and installed some of them in Bransfield house. Alan also polished up the copper water tank in the kitchen.
It was Alan's birthday while he was here and we celebrated it out on the Bark Europa, a three masted sailing vessel that was at anchor here at the time. Alan felt obliged to take on the responsibility for eating chocolate biscuits while he was here to save the rest of us from getting fat. Talking about getting fat. There has been a real risk of putting on weight with Jo's home cooking. Scones and apple pies to die for, to say nothing of the bread and butter pudding! In an attempt to combat middle aged spread we have formed the Lockroy running club. There are only two members at present as Sally prefers the self restraint option when it comes to food and the safer walking option when it comes to exercise. Jo and I can be spotted running round the shore of the island at low tide, stumbling from rock to rock in our fetching running outfits comprising of long johns and T-shirts.
As well as coping with the day to day running of Lockroy we have managed to do a considerable amount of the maintenance work required. The roof has now been painted and about half of the windows on Bransfield house have been repaired and painted. The girls underwent some intensive sledge repair training from Rick and now between us we have restored one of the older sledges on the rack. Another maintenance job undertaken has been the installation of some non slip strips on the entrance ramp which were provided by the 3M company. These seem to be a great success. Waste management takes up a considerable amount of our time. All our
cardboard waste, plastic, tins and metal, are taken out by the cruise ships for disposal in Ushuaia. It is quite remarkable how much rubbish even a little base like ours creates. Thank you to Quark for providing this unglamourous service.
The subject on everyone’s lips in the Antarctic at the moment is global warming. Whatever the conclusions, we are seeing much evidence of warmer temperatures here at Lockroy. The snow cover on the island when we arrived at the start of November was minimal and it all melted away earlier than ever. There was no fast ice in the back bay this year and hardly any sea ice anywhere on the northern peninsular by November.
There are many more skuas and sheath bills on the island this year all taking penguin eggs and chicks. We are around 150 nest down on last year now. This is almost entirely down to skua predation. It may also be due to some heavy periods of rain that we have already experienced. The first penguin chicks hatched around 14th December. Those lucky enough to avoid skua predation seem to be growing fast and there appears to be plenty of food for them this year. The unsettled weather is probably also working in their favour, there have been relatively few excessively warm days so far. It is hot weather that creates the most stressful conditions for the chicks.
Although it is the height of summer at Lockroy, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are still an important occasion. Jo is particularly fond of Christmas and brought with her a Thornton’s Chocolate advent calendar. Christmas cake and pudding were brought out for inspection on the 17th December not to be eaten until the 25th!Christmas Eve was shared with the passengers and staff of one of the cruise ship. After enjoying a splendid meal with them on board they all came ashore late in the evening for mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas Carols and dancing to music from the old gramaphone in the lounge. Somehow socks full of Christmas presents found their way to the foot of our bunks on Christmas morning and more presents were found under our fibre optic Christmas tree. We had two ships visit during the day. Unfortunately the third ship of the day that was due to visit in the evening was unable to land due to wild, windy conditions.
New Year’s Eve was enjoyed with Greg and Keri on their Yacht Northanger that was at anchor in the back bay. The weather was exceptionally fine that evening as we sat out on deck and enjoyed the stunning scenery of Port Lockroy's surroundings. There were three yachts in the bay that evening and everyone from the yachts came ashore to take in the New Year. Other highlights of the season so far include an afternoon cruise up to Paradise Bay on one of the cruise ships just after the New Year, and a visit from the enthusiastic Students on Ice program (sixty young students mostly from North America).
Having our mid season hair cut in one of the many hairdressing saloons that come floating by was definitely another. The three of us sitting on the beach watching the penguins come home after a hard day’s fishing is still the best. This experience is positively enhanced if the sun is setting, the wind is calm and there is another bottle of pisco to hand.
One of many, many amusing moments of this season has been our attempts at modelling the clothing given to us by Tog24. This was only surpassed by Rick's attempt to look cool while posing on a sheepskin on a rock to provide a picture for the Edinburgh Woollen Mill which provided us with sheepskins for our bunks.
So another phase of this season comes to a close. We will all be sad when Jo departs but look forward Gerard's arrival as this season at Lockroy unfolds. So with two extremely busy months ahead of us we are very optimistic about the outcome for the first year that UKAHT have been running Lockroy. We have lots of ideas on how to improve things still further and trust we will be able to continue to bring Bransfield house back to life.
Rick, Sally and Jo, and Alan