20 Jan 2014 - Windy days and social nights

After weeks of being spoiled by sunshine, we have now apparently entered the windy part of season. As I write, the wind is blowing around 50 knots in the bay and the Union flag is flying straight as an arrow.  The barograph in the ionospherics room is my new favourite artefact – instead of checking the weather report on the radio or internet, as I would at home, here I watch the little squiggly line plunge on the graph paper as a new low pressure system moves in, anticipating the rise that means it will get sunny once again.

We've had a real mix this week, with several ship-free days and afternoons. Other days we've had a new yacht arriving every hour, prompting our friend Bryce from Podorange, who was last here in December, to name Port Lockroy as the new fashionable spot in Antarctica. When he arrived on Monday, in addition to Pelagic, we had the Sarah Vorwerk and Xplore in the bay, with more yachts to arrive shortly after.The salmon madras party

Monday also brought an unexpected but welcome radio call from the ship Corinthian, asking if they could visit that evening. Corinthian had a special passenger on board – Christian Brown, media and public relations consultant for the Trust. Full of energy, Christian took the first zodiac over and leapt straight into scrubbing guano off of rocks. When the other passengers arrived, he installed himself behind the counter in the shop, where he enthusiastically welcomed visitors and rang up purchases. So that Christian could get the true "living history" experience, Ruth reprised her Salmon Madras from the 1950s cookbook Fit for a Fid, which Christian enjoyed with Andrew and Helen.

Meanwhile, Sarah, Jane, and Kristy accepted a gracious invitation for a more contemporary dinner at the Captain’s table on board Corinthian. We were very glad for the opportunity to spend time with our friends John Frick, long-time Antarctic expedition leader, and Trevor Potts, who recreated Shackleton’s journey in the James Caird in the early 1990s, both of whom were on their final trip of the season. Many thanks to Corinthian for their always elegant hospitality, and of course to Christian for all his hard work and company.

The same strong winds that sent waves plunging over GoudierChristian's zodiac as he left us on Monday evening continued into Tuesday morning. We were grateful that Captain Lief of NG Explorer anchors practically on Goudier Island, which made our own zodiac ride out to the ship a short one. As always, it was lovely to have a chat with passengers and First Mate Piers Alvarez over breakfast. We had an extra surprise during the visit from the ship's Hotel Manager, Patrick, who has been taking good care of us all season – a tray of freshly cooked spaghetti Bolognese and baguettes for our lunch! It was a thoughtful gift, and one that we appreciated very much after a cold morning in Bransfield House.

Speaking of gifts, we were also very happy to receive a care package from our neighbours at Vernadsky Station, including a bottle of their famous homemade vodka and a photo of their team, posing in tee-shirts out in the snow. Sarah prepared a return care package, complete with Lockroy beanies and our own team photo, which Brice graciously offered to deliver. Vernasky crew, if you are reading this, know that your photo now graces the walls of the Nissen Hut here at Lockroy.

Startling news on the penguin front came late that afternoonPenguin needs a wash, after we conducted the second full island count. Sarah’s calculations showed that we have about a quarter fewer nests on Goudier Island, compared to the count we did on 10th December. We were cheered, however, by the fact that pretty much all the nests have chicks now. We can hear their tiny peeping wherever we go, and they are maturing quickly. The new little ones look sort of flat to me – as Sarah says, they take about a week to “inflate.” While the tiny ones are still snuggled into the brood patches, the older chicks, like Innocent, are now nearly half the size of their parents, crowding the nests with grey fluffy bodies.

We indulged in a good chat about penguin chicks that night, with an invitation to supper on Pelagic with Andrew, Ruth, and Skip. Special evenings like that make Goudier feel more like a neighbourhood, and less like a remote rock in the middle of the Antarctic. And a rock it truly is. The recent winds and driving rain had finally washed away the snow to reveal most of Goudier's guano-filled stone pathways. Even the penguins, never the cleanest of birds, reached new heights of filth. So we welcomed a snow storm on our ship-free Wednesday, which brought a crunchy layer of clean white to cover up all the poop.

We had a welcome surprise that morning, as the yacht Elinca radioed to say they had arrived. The last time we saw Elinca was on Christmas Eve, and they were the first vessel to make it in for a visit in after our long stretch of ice in December. Their arrival then hailed the end of the ice, so we hoped their second visit would also bring good weather tidings. "Weather" or not it did (yes, I know, awful pun), first mate Claire invited the team over for an early celebration of Scotland's Burns Night.

Kristy, Jane, and Ruth quickly composed the requisite team toast, modelled on the traditional "Ode to a Haggis." Following its poetic opener, "Fair fa' your orange beakie face, Great chieftan o' the penguin race," "Ode to a Gentoo" included such lines as "On land, you waddle in your tuxedo, Underwater, you fly like a torpedo," and was warmly received by the Elinca crew. We all wore our Lockroy tartan scarves and Scottish skipper James wore his kilt. Helen, who hails from Scotland, was especially glad for the meal, although we all enjoyed the fine haggis, fresh vegetables, and cranachan--a Scottish dessert made with cream, oats, and raspberries, though ours had a pineapple substitute, owing to the scarcity of fresh raspberries in Antarctica. Thank you once again, Elinca, for the dinner and wonderful company. Bon voyage on the rest of your yearlong journey!

Happily, Elinca's good weather charm held true, and we woke up the next day to gorgeous sunny skies and a whisper of breeze. With another ship-free day, we had just settled down to various tasks around the island, when a minor drama knocked on our door – literally! The handle on the door leading to the mudroom, and the front entrance to the Nissen Hut, failed entirely and Helen and I were trapped (apart, of course, from the back door). Helen valiantly struggled to free us for more than an hour and after much tinkering, succeeded at last. She then removed the catch mechanism so that we don't repeat the adventure and, after brief consideration, also removed the catch from the door to the loo, as getting trapped in that room might be less fun . . .

Following our mini-drama, several new yachts sailed into the bay, and we welcomed passengers from Commitment and Fraternidade. At the same time, we restocked the shop with tee-shirts to spare, in anticipation of a visit from Delphin – our biggest ship, whose 350 passengers make up the daily island limit.Frocks and Crocs

We welcomed Delphin the next day and were grateful to Expedition Leader Klemens Putz for refilling our water jerry cans after days without a resupply. After a lovely visit, we prepared for a special evening here in the Nissen Hut: with Skip's imminent departure home to South Africa, we threw him a going-away party. All the current population of Goudier Island attended. With few special meals that don't involve wearing a boatsuit, we seized the opportunity to wear our dresses, although some of us elected to keep our base thermal layers, and everyone wore Crocs. Unlike so many events at Lockroy, it felt just like a normal evening, such as we'd have at home: easy conversation and good food with friends, although the sunshine pouring in the windows at 10pm was a little different to be sure . . .

After two refreshing days of calm weather, we were ready for the howling winds as we prepared for a visit from Silver Explorer. Their passengers had quite wild zodiac rides to the island, some of them arriving speckled with sea spray. Afterwards, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves with Bon voyage Skipan evening free of social events – the first such night in nine days. We enjoyed a lovely meal prepared by Jane, a nice chat, and no one was at all surprised that the migration to bed began at 9pm . . .

The final day of the week came with a fresh breeze to ripple the dark waters of the bay and anticipation of the arrival of Fram – always a welcome ship that supports us in countless ways. Today, Fram's arrival also meant change in the neighbourhood: the ship brought back Dave Roberts to skipper Pelagic, and took away Skip. It was a busy visit of hellos and goodbyes. And now that Fram has departed, the island is ours once again. The delicious scent of fresh vegetables cooking means it's time pretty soon for our dinner . . . so till next week, take care all and Happy Burns Night.