28 Jan 2014 - Antarctic camaraderie

Another week of friends coming and going at Port Lockroy and a growing feeling, at this busiest time of the season, that everyone who comes to Antarctica, no matter where they are from or why they came, is in this thing together.  We have all forged new friendships, sometimes during a single chat in the museum or out in the sunshine; we have seen yachts swap crew, equipment and expertise at the mere mention of a need; and we have all been overwhelmed by the true generosity of spirit among staff, passengers and crew who have made our simple life here very rich indeed.new recruit abe scrubbing rocks

Today, for example, everyone is bustling around the Nissen hut as we clear up after lunch, cheerfully swapping jobs within the normal rota. Even one of the yacht passengers, Abe, who came over to mail a postcard, is carrying up buckets of water from the sea and scrubbing rocks, helping us to get everything ready for a ship visit. The wind howls like mad, making for a brisk afternoon to round out what has been a very busy, blustery week.

We started out Monday with a visit from our dear friends on Sea Spirit, who arrived when the wind was gusting up to 50 knots. I had the luxury of a long briefing and Q&A with passengers as we waited for the winds to die down, which they eventually did to a manageable 30 knots. After the visit, as she has all season, expedition leader (EL) Cheli Larsen had us on board for dinner, complete with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot to share with us and assistant expedition leader Pam, as it was Cheli and Pam’s last trip of the season. We rounded the night off with a rather unusual party, as we were joined on Sea Spirit by the expedition staff from Ocean Nova. Both ELs, Cheli and Ben, are from New Zealand, and down here that is reason enough for two ships to go out of their way to bring staff together for an evening of merriment.

Argentinian navyCamaraderie of a different, but equally lovely sort, arrived the next morning in the shape of Aviso Castillo, the Argentinian naval ship that patrols the area in partnership with the Chilean Navy, with both countries monitoring pollution and other tourist impacts. While Chile, Argentina, and Great Britain all claim the Antarctic Peninsula as their territory, and the respective governments take those claims quite seriously, under the Antarctic Treaty these claims are set aside.  And the reality of life in Antarctica is quite different. The Argentinian Navy happily mailed postcards home with stamps bearing the image of the Queen, and after posing together for a photo under the Union flag, they left us with bottles of Malbec and the promise of fresh Argentinian beef upon their return. As news from our home countries so often turns around conflict and strife, it’s truly remarkable to live in a place where the norm is openness and generosity, and strangers are never strange for long. Could that Antarctica serve as a model for the rest of the world?

More "local" guests have also brought us good cheer, including Florence Kuyper, who served as Port Lockroy base leader last season. Florence now works on the yacht Australis, Base leaders Helen and Florencewhich sailed into the bay early this week. After reading about Florence in last year's blogs and hearing so much about her, we were all looking forward to meeting her on Tuesday afternoon. Florence seems as happy to be back as we are to have her here, and we hope that Port Lockroy will always be like home. Certainly it has been a pleasure to have her popping in and out to post packages or have a cup of tea in the Nissen hut, along with Australis passengers and crew. Tuesday also was one of our biggest days for wildlife yet, as I spotted a whale spout in the bay, Sarah saw three crabeater seals at the chains landing, and Helen found an aphid crawling in her salad: the first live insect we've seen since November!

In addition to a busy bay, with Hans Hansson and Vaihere in port as well as Australis and Pelagic, Wednesday brought us no less than three ships: Ocean Diamond, who brought 179 gracious passengers plus the charming penguin-ologist Tom Hart, to visit us and inspect his cameras for the last time this season.  We had a quick team favourite lunch of fried Spam and eggs, expertly whipped up by Jane. We then went straight back out to welcome Hanseatic, and then Corinthian.

The busy week continued with two more yacht visits, Necton and Kotick II, which Sarah graciously agreed to host while Jane, Helen, and I ate a hasty lunch, followed by a visit from National Geographic Explorer. Former Base Leader Rick Atkinson spent time trying to repair our broken gramophone, sadly to no avail. We have enjoyed so much music from the old machine this season, and will miss the sounds of Mexican Madness, Tango Americano, and Great Balls of Fire floating down the hallway. . . but thank you, Rick, for all your efforts.  We were grateful as always to Nat Geo for laundry and a huge box of fresh vegetables from Patrick, and to EL Bud Lehnhausen for an invitation on board for dinner.

The week rounded up with an early start on Friday, scrubbing rocks and ramps out in the morning breeze in preparation for a visit with Le Boreal, whose passengers came into Bransfield House lightly dusted by flakes of snow. Le Boreal was followed closely by Bremen, whose good-humoured passengers were very happy to squeeze in a final landing with us before the ship sped off to meet its pilot in the Beagle Channel. The weekend has passed in a virtual blur of visits: Delphin, our largest ship, on Saturday morning, followed by the yacht Endurance, and, just as the team sat down to dinner, a radio call announcing the arrival of the Chilean Navy. The evening visit made a nice naval bookend to the week, but was followed by an equally welcome early night to bed.

And now Sunday is here again. Though each day is almost comically long, time itself goes by in a flash, and it is difficult to believe that yet another week has come to a close. After a day spent collectively cooking, counting cash, cancelling mail, and crushing cardboard boxes, we are all looking forward to an afternoon with the ship Expedition. As always, life at Port Lockroy is very full, incredibly fulfilling, and made special by each and every person who visits us here.

Take care till next week,