Port Lockroy blog 4: A day in the life of a Port Lockroy base leader

Ever wondered what an Antarctic base leader really does? Bridie Martin-West provides a window into her wintry world.

Port Lockroy blog 4: A day in the life of a Port Lockroy base leader

Ever wondered what an Antarctic base leader really does? Bridie Martin-West provides a window into her wintry world.

Port Lockroy blog 4: A day in the life of a Port Lockroy base leader


Ever wondered what an Antarctic base leader really does? Bridie Martin-West provides a window into her wintry world.

For our UKAHT interviews, we all had to give a five-minute presentation on any subject we chose. I chose to give a talk on “a day in the life of a London midwife”. The subject left some members of my audience shocked and others laughing nervously. However, there must have been some comparisons to be drawn between the two roles, as much to my surprise, I was appointed to the role of Port Lockroy base leader. 

Now, having been on Goudier Island on the Antarctic Peninsula for just under a month, I think it’s time to do the same!

A day in the life of a Port Lockroy base leader

07:00: I wake up under two duvets, holding my lukewarm hot water bottle. It’s extremely dark in our shared bunkroom; the almost constant daylight is kept out by thick blankets over the windows. It’s very hard to get out of bed into the 3°C room! I hear the penguins trumpeting and calling to each other outside; they’ve been up since three, fishing for their daily krill catch. 

Bridie and her team (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

07:30: Breakfast means porridge. Again! Daily duties are shared out but even though it’s a different person cooking each day, we are all too blurry-eyed in the morning to do anything more creative than porridge! Every day I send a Proof of Life at Port Lockroy (POLAPL) email to UKAHT Operations as evidence that we are still alive at the bottom of the world! 

08:20: A mad dash into the many layers we wear when going outside – these protect us from the blisteringly cold Antarctic weather and more importantly, the penguin guano! Everything takes so much longer in Antarctica than at home so you have to allow for much more time for simple tasks. 

08:30: We sledge empty water jerry cans (we don’t have running water on Port Lockroy so rely entirely on passing ships for our freshwater) and the many boxes of shop stock down to the water’s edge – we’re taking the shop and post office onboard ships this year to reduce footfall on our small football pitch-sized island. We are met by a zodiac (an inflatable speedboat) from today’s visiting cruise ship on the shoreline and we pile all our stuff into the boat. We then take the world’s most stunning commute to work, admiring the ever-changing scenery; glaciers, icebergs and porpoising penguins: all overlooked by Mount Luigi and the Seven Sisters (our now familiar breathtaking mountain range). 

Jerome pulling a sledge to a zodiac (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

09:00-12:00: We are welcomed onto the ship. We are still getting used to living in a world of extremes; entering luxury cruise ships after travelling from our very basic island life! We go through biosecurity and then give a presentation to guests about the history of Port Lockroy and our lives on the island. People always love to hear that we don’t have a flushing toilet! Our small gift shop is then set up and whilst it is running, we take it in turns to quickly shower (no running water = no showers on base so we grab the chance to get clean on ships when we can). 

Shabs and Jerome running an on-board shop (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

13:00: Back to Port Lockroy for a quick lunch. Soup and crackers are the go-to meal. I check emails in my tiny office (a desk in the main living quarters) and liaise with ships about their visits. I’ve gone from using a bleep system in a hospital to using a VHF radio and much to my team’s delight, I’m making many radio mistakes and have quickly learnt that ‘over and out’ is a fictional radio signoff and I sound completely foolish when I say it. It’s my job to make sure we’ve got enough gas to keep warm, that our medical supplies are in order and that my team are feeling physically and mentally robust. Whilst the work is never-ending, we are having the time of our lives and can’t believe we’re getting to live and work in Antarctica and spend much of each day laughing. We’re all wondering when the madness will kick in!

The team en route to a cruise ship (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

14:00-18:00: An afternoon ship visit means that I stay on the island to welcome guests to the Port Lockroy Museum, Bransfield House. It’s a time capsule from the 1940s-60s and visitors are always amazed that the history has been preserved so well. There is a bar in Bransfield House for the scientists who lived there and it is often commented by visitors that we should have a bar in our present-day living accommodation! I always agree with them! 

18:30: Before dinner, I like to walk around the island spotting Weddell Seals, humpback whales and giant petrels. I have been very surprised at how vibrant life is here – we regularly spot sea urchins, starfish and purple jellyfish-like creatures with electrical currents lighting up their bodies.

Bridie on Goudier Island (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

19:30: Dinner time! If Shabs is cooking then a meal of Fray Bentos (a pie in a tin), or if it’s Jerome then wild mushroom, tarragon, broad beans and white wine risotto with a dessert of flambéed pineapple! 

21:00: With the daylight never leaving us, it’s my job to enforce rules about finishing work and tasks. UKAHT work slowly turns into journal writing and sending postcards to friends and family back home. If it’s movie night, we all snuggle onto the sofa or if it’s games night, we all get louder and louder as we’re a very competitive group! 

Movie night at Port Lockroy (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

23:00: Bedtime! The water for the hot water bottles is heated up. Whilst this is happening and after I’ve brushed my teeth, I like to open the front door one last time before going to bed. I look out at the penguin colony, the otherworldly landscape and the moon in the glowing sky and I am so thankful I am here at Port Lockroy.

– Bridie Martin-West, base leader, Port Lockroy

Support our work Protect Antarctica's heritage

Every membership and donation we receive helps our expert teams deliver vital conservation work across the heritage sites that we preserve. Without your support, sites of great importance in Antarctica's history could quickly deteriorate, taking with them historic artefacts, tales of scientific advancement and human endeavour that inform how we, as a global community, view and value Antarctica today. With your help, we can continue to conserve this special continent to ensure its protection for years to come.

Donate now

Become a member

Follow a unique colony at the end of the world

The gentoos of Port Lockroy are perhaps some of the most famous penguins in the world! The colony made their home with us on Goudier Island over 30 years ago and we have been studying and contributing to their protection ever since. Inquisitive, fluffy and funny, we love sharing their activity with everyone around the world.

Buy now Buy now as gift Renew your adoption