Hello. Usually my place is in the office in Cambridge, however this season I was sent to Port Lockroy to look at things down at the ‘coal face’.
The trip south started in style on board the Lindblad-National Geographic Explorer. The ship’s crew and expedition team were incredibly helpful and generous. They even agreed to fly a flag which said ‘Hello’, as part of an art installation for the Antarctic In Sight programme. On arrival in the bay, the Port Lockroy team had clearly gotten the message - and flew an ‘Hello’ flag of their own out the windows of Bransfield House! I was slightly gutted I actually had to depart the ship upon arrival at Goudier Island. After kindly taking our waste stores away I waved goodbye to the expedition team and met my new hosts for the next two weeks: the famous five - Lucy, Lauren, Heidi, Vicky, Kit...and Doug the stuffed dog!
The team decided to ease me into life gently at Port Lockroy by showing me where to empty the infamous bucket and then putting me behind the till in the shop. The following day I entered the Aladdin’s cave of the Antarctic, the post-Tabarin Tardis: the boatshed. The team and I (minus Doug as he cannot be trusted around penguins) spent the next few days painting this building, as well as giving it an all round good clean. The boatshed has always been the Cinderella of Goudier Island and it was good to give it some TLC. The team worked very hard painting the boatshed as evidenced by the two layers of bitumen Lauren applied to her face during the process. A strange method of exfoliation but I hear it's all the craze. Lauren even managed to get some paint on the boatshed itself. The boatshed was a mini project over a few days with everyone working there at some point. Heidi even visited the boatshed, if only to lock me in before a ship visit! Heidi has been a font of knowledge this season, and her previous experience at Port Lockroy is evident in all of her sage-like advice including: ‘if you see a sheathbill, you cannot see the stars’.
On Tuesday the island was invaded by the British Antarctic Survey onboard a landing craft more akin to storming the beaches of Normandy. After kindly taking a load of our stores north to Stanley they even gave us a whirlwind tour of the RRS James Clark Ross. During the week I also got to experience the fabled ‘onboard shop’ on the Hurtigruten ship, Midnatsol. The ship’s crew were very kind to allow us all to take a shower. After we showered, we came back to our room and the aroma of guano. It turns out rather ironically, that after you wash yourself you realise how much you actually smell. I would describe the smell as like leaving a block of cheese in an old pair of socks behind the radiator. It's quite distinctive. During this visit I got to see Lucy (with Doug), on stage, with a headset giving a presentation to the ship’s guests. She gave a rousing performance and I would encourage her to take her talk on the national circuit. It was actually really good and the guests were wowed by Lucy’s tale of the daily struggles of the Port Lockroy famous five.
Food has been interesting since I got here to say the least. Lauren made porridge with the consistency of wallpaper paste. Vicky made a curry hot enough to melt the sun, whilst Lucy very cleverly outsourced her cooking duties to the Midnatsol, who were kind enough to feed us whilst onboard. Meanwhile, my turn at cooking was an unmitigated disaster. Whilst the end product was palatable the destruction to the kitchen I left behind in my wake took half an hour and the involvement of most of the team to rectify. I must say though, Kit’s brownies were to die for!
Port Lockroy is also home to a resident population of gentoo penguins, a population I tried my best to get acquainted with. During my wanderings around the island I found a young chick still in its nest. When I spoke to Vicky, the wildlife monitor, she very cruelly informed me that as the chick was born so late in the season it would most certainly not survive. I informed her that she was in fact incorrect as I had high hopes this little one would be perfectly fine. It is quite brutal seeing the hard life the penguins face. From harsh weather conditions, to predation by leopard seals, this is the reason the team does their best to minimise any disturbance to our furry little friends, either by themselves or by visitors to the site. The team briefs visitors, preferably before they land, and mark out areas where they can walk in order to protect the penguins as much as possible. The team takes their roles as custodians not only of the building, but of the wildlife very seriously and it is something they clearly enjoy.
All in all, my time down on the tiny island of Port Lockroy has given me a new appreciation for the efforts of our team on site and all of the hard work they have done this year. Ultimately, their contribution is not only ensuring the preservation of Port Lockroy for future generations, but the preservation of all the sites UKAHT manages on the peninsula. Without this merry band there would be no UKAHT. It is, as Penny - our good friend and colleague back in UKAHT's Cambridge office - would say, ‘gravy’!