(at) the end of the world - 23 December 2012

The intensity of our days is massive. What we experienced this morning seems like last week, let alone what happened 3 days ago. This week felt very intense, probably also by the contrast of things we do.

Bark EuropaWe have had seven full days with non-stop ship visits. We do our best to tune in to every individual ship and to the people on it since we know this is most certainly the only time in their life that they call at Port Lockroy. Amongst the ships this week a couple stood out for me. Personally, I was very much looking forward to the quick visit of the James Clark Ross, the British research vessel. She represents for me Antarctica and Science and has always felt like an unreachable mountain peak.  And now, as if by magic, this peak was calling me on the VHF radio on channel 16... Yes, even impossible things can become possible! That same evening we all had yet another unforgettable moment watching the Bark Europa sail in.  For those who don’t know; it’s a 56 mtr, 3 mast tall ship with 30 sails, built in 1911 in the Netherlands (although usually rather unpatriotic, I did feel proud…I have to admit) and the only traditional sailing ship currently operating on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The rusty chainsWe were braving the biting wind at ‘the chains landing’, a huge rock
with immense rusty chains wrapped around them. These chains were left here by the whalers who used Port Lockroy as a safe haven for flensing the killed whales. The exact spot we were sitting at being of such historic value triggered the imagination and even more so when we saw Europa’s 3 masts slowly appear from the Peltier Channel. Lieutenant Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery of the Royal Belgian Navy, led the first ever scientific expedition to Antarctica  on the `Belgica’.  This refitted  33 mtr 3 mast sailing vessel visited Port Lockroy in 1898 but de Gerlache didn’t name the bay.  Currently a replica of the Belgica is being built in Boom, near Antwerp, Belgium. Who knows, maybe she will sail to Port Lockroy once finished?!












Later, in 1904, Jean-Baptiste Charcot visited ‘our’ bay to do some repairs on his 32 mtr 3 masted schooner “ Francais”. He decided to go give the bay a name; Port (Edouard) Lockroy, after the French minister who secured funding for his expedition. The island we live on was also named by him: Goudier Island, after his chief engineer. So, as you can tell by now, our life at Port Lockroy is infused with history as a christmas pudding is steeped with alcohol (wishful thinking...). The era of the whalers is visibly present on the island, and every day more so since snow is rapidly melting. The museum is very much a time capsule that brings you back to the fifties and the early years of (British) science and exploration in Antarctica. And this week, with the Bark Europa in the bay, I simply can’t avoid feeling connected to the ships that came here first at the turning of the 19th century and the people who discovered this magnificent place.  A strong feeling this was, past and present connected.

BenHaving said that, work continued.  We went on with the tasks on our job list. We had another first this week: we did our 1st  out of 3  total island count for the scientific penguin study (see Flo’s blog last week). We counted the number of nests and eggs in it.  An important job, and, as far as I’m concerned, all involving penguins is pleasant, apart from their smell perhaps. They are the most funny, clumsy, stupid, laborious and gregarious birds you can imagine. We work very much like the men on base in the fifties, with a rota system: you’re on cook, on gash (waste), on diary or on cleaning.  Time must be flying since I have the feeling that I’m un-proportionally often on cook.  In the fifties they had 3 meals a day: breakfast, 2 course lunch and a 3 course dinner. In the morning they had so called Smoko, a coffee break with biscuits or cake, and before going to bed they had cocoa, again with biscuits. Meals were and are important: both physically and for general morale.  As for us, we all cook like our lives depend on it. 










Kath enjoys the beautiful weather on midsummer's day 

Ships generously give us some fresh fruit and more recently we got a delivery of wine and G&T ingredients! Life is still simple on base, but it seems opportune now to say that it is a total misconception that we “do without” here.

Friday the 21st called for a special celebration: midsummers day and, as some predicted, the end of the world. With all elements for a commemorative party present on base, we solemnly and happily toasted to the end of the world speaking the memorable words: here’s to paradise, to Port Lockroy!

Merry Christmas to all you readers and especially to our families and friends back home!