Happy New Year and New Decade from all at Port Lockroy!
Following our kayaking festivities, we prepared to welcome the New Year and a New Decade with the arrival of 2020. Sparkling wine had been kindly gifted and was waiting ready, work and chores had been completed for the night, year and decade, all that was required was for the Port Lockroy staff to stay awake until the stroke of midnight. We managed to fight off fatigue long enough to make it to midnight ... UK time (9pm in Port Lockroy). By the time the New Year was arriving to our tiny island on the Antarctic Peninsula, everyone was fast asleep and tucked up in bed.
The year 2020 holds specific significance for us at Port Lockroy, as well at the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and the continent as a whole. It marks the 200th Anniversary of the sighting of Antarctica, with both Bellinghausen and Bransfield claiming to see the final continent within 3 days of one another. The latter, Edward Bransfield, has more significance to Port Lockroy as it is he whom Bransfield house was named after during Operation Tabarin and is the main building on Goudier island that we invite guests into. This discovery 200 years ago was the catalyst for the exploitation of the wealth of natural resources within the Antarctic and Southern Ocean, specifically seals and whales. In the years that followed further exploration of the continent lead to the ‘Heroic Age’ of Antarctic exploration beginning in 1895, culminating in a race to the pole between Scott and Amundsen. On 1st December 1959 the Antarctic treaty was signed which was designed to preserve the Antarctic continent for peaceful and scientific use. In the coming year, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust will play host to numerous events throughout the United Kingdom celebrating and showcasing the Antarctic and is rich and vibrant history.
During to the festive period, there has been a short hiatus in us receiving a weather forecast from our offices but as with many things at Port Lockroy, there is always a solution. We sit on the sofa shouting out ‘weather predictions’ to be written on our chart for the coming days.
“Friday - Sunny, 2 ⁰C, with whales moving from left to right”
“Saturday – Penguins and snow”
“Sunday - Sunshine and seals”
Little did Weather Lady Lauren realise how accurate her predictions would be. On Friday, we did indeed have a beautiful, fresh sunny day with a pod of Humpback whales moving northward through the Neumayer Channel (from left to right as is seen from the island). On Saturday, aside from the 16 vessels we have played host to this week, we have also welcomed a number of Chinstrap and an Adelie penguin, meaning having all 3 species of brushtail penguin on the island at once. Both the Adelie and Chinstrap are smaller than the Gentoo species that have made Port Lockroy their home for the season. These visitors are announced by their completely different trumpeting call which is swiftly followed by a Port Lockroy version of Where’s Wally to try and locate it amongst the hundreds of gentoos. The most difficult part is, having found the exotic visitor, trying to explain its location.
“Can you see the penguin to the left of the boat shed?”
“Yes that one”
“No not that one! Try your other left. That one, beside the rock”
“Nope that’s not a rock! That’s a seal”
Sometimes only one person gets to see the other penguin species...
Today (Sunday), in the morning we have had a Weddell seal floating past the island and around the bay on an ice floe. However, contrary to the forecast we’ve had unpredicted stereotypically British summer weather (cold, rainy and windy) although it has dried up. Now, just to wait for the sunshine. If it does come to fruition we may have to continue with our ‘accurate’ forecasting method.
Something that has formed a consistent part of our routine on base is a member of our team going onboard a visiting ship to deliver a briefing to guests. These range from 5 – 10 minute briefings that may be being simultaneously translated into various languages to a 30 minute briefing exploring the wealth of history that Base A has to offer. Despite all of us working with the same resources we all approach the same task differently; hence everyone's briefing will be slightly different. This may be depending on their favourite item or story from the museum, whether it be the confusing complexity of the ionosonde, the (possible) calculated cockup with the rum order (300 gallons instead of 30 gallons) or the careful craftsmanship of the reversed ship in a bottle, built by ‘Chippy’ Ashton. Excluding these variations the majority and key points are the same. Who we are, what we do, who we represent, how long we are here. Despite and as a result of this, it has allowed us to begin to play Briefing Bingo, to see who has made the most comprehensive briefing to the guests. If none of our ‘Top Questions’ are asked to any Port Lockroy member throughout the entity of the visit; you win, if not – better luck next time.
The top questions (and their answers) we are asked during visits that would forgo victory are:
• How long are you here for? - “We are here for four months – November to March.”
• All female team? - “No we are 3 females and 1 male. Kit gave your briefing ...”
• Are you scientists? - “We are here on behalf on the UKAHT and we manage and run the museum, post office and shop. We do do a small amount of science through monitoring of penguin numbers and feed these figures back to The British Antarctic Survey but we are not scientists today”
• What do you do in your spare time? - ‘Involuntary chuckle’ “Did you send a post card? We hand cancel all of the post, so far we have sent over 170 kg of post containing 30,000 postcards, amongst various other tasks and duties so we don’t really have a lot of spare time.”
A question that we are often asked but whose answer sometimes changes depending on mood or circumstance is “what do you miss most?” It is difficult to answer for other people, but we are all active at home; walking, running, sailing so these pastimes are missed. Something that we have not missed and I have been fortunate enough to introduce to the team is Irish Wheaten Bread. It brings a warm sense of home to a place that, geographically, couldn’t be much further from it. The smell as you walk in the front door of the Nissan, drowning out the ‘eau de guano’ that all of us Port Lockroy members have inadvertently acquired, instantly takes me back to the wee local bakery.
No one, as of yet, has come close to winning Briefing Bingo.