The end of season is fast approaching and even though our best efforts to block it from our minds the reality of it is starting to set in. When the limited time we have left in Antarctica was first mentioned in the beginning of February the denial was so strong that we gave the end of the season a codename, much like Operation Tabarin, so we could talk about it more light-heartedly. If anybody has heard us talking about Barbara Collins coming for a visit soon I can reveal that we are not expecting a visit from a lady dressed in leopard print, but the sad and unavoidable moment when we have to close the base and leave our fluffy little friends behind.
Closing down Port Lockroy and preparing it for the harsh Antarctic winter is no small task as a lot of time and planning goes into it. Many of the tasks like deep cleaning the Nissen hut, storing artefacts from the museum and taking down the antennas that are used for radio communication need to wait for the last days of the season, but some of the tasks have already been started. One of the most time consuming tasks we have to do every season is the end of season inventories. We have to count all consumable items on base at the end of the season so that the operations team in Cambridge know what needs to be sent down for next season. This includes things like stationery, food, paint and cleaning supplies.
Often the UKAHT operations team in Cambridge prepares for the next season solely with these inventories and feedback from the Port Lockroy team. This year however we were lucky to welcome in UKAHT’s operations assistant Declan Kelly to experience Lockroy life first hand. Declan arrived two days ago on board the National Geographic Explorer, giving up the luxury of the expedition ship for the more basic base life. In the short time he has been here he has already experienced the joys of scrubbing penguin guano off the rocks, creating five star culinary delights from our basic provisions and listening to the snowy sheathbills having a dance party on the Nissen hut roof at 3am. Hearing about life on base and actually experiencing it for yourself are two very different things, and I’m sure you will be hearing more about Declan’s experience soon.
The approaching end of season doesn’t only mean inventories and other base closure tasks but also goodbyes. Many of the ships and expedition teams that have visited us regularly in the past three and a half months are now visiting us one last time. The people we meet here form a big part of our experience in Antarctica and we couldn’t do what we do here without help from the many different ships that visit us. We have never been short on offers for showers, laundry and fresh water and the ship’s hotel staff have kept us well stocked on fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes when the weather and time has allowed we have received invitations to go on board for dinner. These invitations are always exciting for the whole team but most of all for the person who is the chef that day. It doesn’t only save you from cooking for everyone but also means you have no dishes to do, as the chef always has to clean up after themselves. A trick that really makes you consider the amount of pots and pans you want to use while cooking! I was the lucky one on Saturday when we were first provided with a hot lunch from the National Geographic Explorer and then received an invitation from Greg Mortimer, Aurora Expeditions, to join them for a BBQ after their visit. The weather gods have not been kind to us this season with constant rain and strong winds, but we were finally treated to a gorgeous evening with calm sea and sunshine. During dinner we also had a chance to catch up with Florence, a previous Port Lockroy team member, who works as part of the expedition team. Sharing Lockroy stories with people who have lived in the base never gets old. As it turns out, time goes on and procedures are changed and improved but some things at Lockroy always stay the same. It’s one of these ‘If you know, you know’ kind of things.
Usually the evening visits on the ships just include dinner, but sometimes you get offers that are just too good to miss. This time we got a tour of the ship that went through the sauna, and it was decided that the first team sauna of the season was in order. Three things were noticed very fast: Irish are not made for the heat, you are never unprepared for a sauna, and by endurance we sauna.
The team has been in the base over 100 days now and the short time we have left has made us realise these are the last days we have to take in our surroundings and appreciate where we are. Our last rest day of the season was last week and as there was no rush to get up in the morning, we took the opportunity the night before to stay awake and go stargazing after midnight. The approaching winter means darker nights and if you are lucky enough to get a clear night there’s no better place for stargazing than Antarctica. One of the visiting sailing yachts also offered to take the team to Jougla Point, which by boat is only a minute away but so much farther when you have no access to a boat. The short visit allowed us to stretch our legs properly for the first time in months and offered a completely new perspective of Goudier Island to many of us. We have less than two weeks to go now which means Barbara will be knocking on our door in no time.