Letter from Lockroy - January 2004

Letter From Lockroy - January 2004

 As the year opens, we thought it time for an update of the goings-on at Port Lockroy.

The season is now in full swing and in between ships visits we are finding plenty to do around the base. Since the last update, we've done a lot and many people have passed through - people from all walks of life, all nationalities and races - and all with different stories to tell. It's great meeting so many different people from varied backgrounds and it makes our day if we can send them on their way with smiles on their faces! From native American Indians to British ex-pats, from Australian cattle ranchers to senior ministers from a kingdom in the Middle East, we've had them all at Port Lockroy!!

Pete reminds us that "anything can happen at PL..." and it usually does! Part of the fun is not knowing what we will be waking up to the following morning. Will there be a ship or yacht in the bay? Will any penguin chicks have hatched?

We found the base in excellent condition after the winter but there is still plenty of work to do on it. Rick is our "maintenance department" but we all muck-in and help when required. In 2 days of glorious, sunny hot (?!?) weather we managed to clean and repair the entire roof of the base and it was all looking shiny, black and new. However it wasn't long until the sheathbills christened each panel by leaving us small "presents" all over! Inevitably the roof is not now looking as shiny and new as before but at least that is one major job out of the way.

Rick has also made great progress on stripping and repairing the windows on the northeast corner of the base. The winter winds had made a good job of blasting the paintwork and taking it back to bare wood in places. However they are now looking great with a new coat of gloss.

There is quite a lot more snow here than last year so the penguin breeding is a bit late (but more on that later). We have managed to dig out the chains landing and that has proved successful. As rocks appear through the melting snow and things ablate out the island is slowly transforming from almost featureless snow dome to rocky penguin heaven! During the day a constant stream of melt water trickles it's way from under the ice and down to the sea. It won't be long now until all the snow has gone.

The Post Office and shop are doing a good trade and people are happy to support this self-funding project. Many give donations when they learn of the charitable nature of the Antarctic Heritage Trust and are keen to see this (and other historic sites) preserved.

We've sent lots of mail to a total of 80 different countries so far - an indication of the truly international nature of the Antarctic. Cancelling mail does take time though and it's a good job to save for a cold, windy day when we can sit in the warmth of the bunkroom! This is what we did a few days ago when it was horizontal snow outside. As Pete and I cracked on with this, Rick laid the new protective lino in the lounge. It was a tricky job as the type of lino and the low temperature made it a bit stiff to work with. Anyway we got a couple of Tilley Lamps going and it soon warmed up enough to ease the job along - and stop Rick from getting too cold!!

The penguins are doing well here and they all look quite fat. All the signs point to there being a lot of krill in the area - fat penguins, pairs spending a long time at the nest site together and reports of piles of regurgitated krill at the other colonies. Pete saw one particularly fat penguin regurgitate its meal on the rocks near the boatshed.

Although there appears to be plenty of food, the snow cover has delayed breeding in comparison to last year. On 17th December Rick and I managed to do a full island count of nests - recording 726 in total - about 8% down on last year. However over 85% of nests have a 2 egg clutch. We expect chicks any day now and I was over at Jougla Point yesterday to do the nest count (which is slightly up on last year) when I noticed 2 nests already have chicks. Also 4 out of the 33 blue-eyed shag nests have chicks too. As a result it seems the skuas have stepped up their patrols - looking for a quick snack! Fingers crossed for gentoo chicks soon - and plenty of them!!

We've also recorded the variety of other wildlife - crabeater and weddell seals are spotted regularly. We had a female elephant seal by the boatshed the other day and the first sighting of a leopard seal off Jougla Point. We have also seen chinstrap penguins on several occasions and a lone adelie late one evening looking rather lost and out of place.

Minke whales have been spotted fairly often and although we have heard reports from cruise ships of humpbacks and orcas, we have yet to see any closely.

Christmas day we has our first ship landing at 0700 - I bet we were the only Post Office open in the world!! We had 2 other ships that day and were invited on board to do a talk and to have a meal, which made it a fun, busy, tiring, and rather unusual Christmas day. Since then things have been slightly less hectic - I won't say "back to normal" as there isn't really a "normal" day here! We've had a couple of yacht visits recently which have been really good fun. We were given a huge box of bananas by one of the ships as a Christmas gift but as we won't eat them all we managed to trade some with a yacht for a couple of pairs of rubber gloves - both parties happy that this was a fair swap!!

Well, the season moves on and we are now well settled in to life here at Base A. We all feel privileged to live and work in a little piece of Antarctic history. It's a great feeling knowing that we are contributing to the upkeep of this site and seeing the happy tourists on their Antarctic adventure makes it all the more worthwhile. We look forward to 2004 with eager anticipation. What will January have in store for us? I'll write again in a month and let you know!

All the best,

Dave Wattam, Pete Milner, Rick Atkinson