When we left you last we were safely onboard Hurtigruten’s MS Fram whose staff, crew and passengers greeted us warmly and were keen to hear about our journey and where exactly we were trying to get too. We got within sight of Goudier Island, the small rocky outcrop that would be our home for the Antarctic summer, however, there was still a significant band of ice separating the ship from the shore. With optimism and determination, two zodiacs were launched to see if it was possible to find a way through, but the ice was just too thick, and with the passengers watching, waving and willing us on we had to return to the ship. We were, however, able to land at Damoy, just around the corner and another site managed and maintained by UKAHT. The Conservation Team wrote about the hut in their blog so I will not go into details here but it did afford us a chance to walk up to the ridge that was used as a skiway for British Antarctic Survey flights further south between 1975 and 1993. Looking down on our tiny island and the iconic black, white and red buildings, still encased in ice brought mixed emotions.
Sadly MS Fram, as MS Ocean Endeavour before them now had to head north and the Drake so we put out our thumbs again and began looking for another ride. The vessels who have been helping us are members of IAATO. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators was formed in 1991 with a mission to advocate and promote the practice of safe, environmentally responsible private-sector travel to Antarctica. Members work together collaboratively for the future protection of Antarctica. The Antarctic is a difficult place for many to comprehend, managed through the Antarctic Treaty's unique global partnership that has governed Antarctica for more than half a century and put all territorial claims on hold. The entire continent is declared a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.
The sense of community down here at the end of the earth is strong and the support UKAHT receive from these IAATO vessels is a testament to this. Our Cambridge office was busy contacting tour operators to see if they could find space for us. The logistics of organising anything in the Antarctic are rarely straightforward, and often complex and time-consuming. To find us additional berths on a ship, not once but twice in the space of a few days took an immense effort and we are incredibly grateful for all the support and long hours put in by Lauren, our Operations Manager.
All the work culminated in a rather epic day on November 15th, a 3 am zodiac transfer in choppy seas and the cover of darkness from one Hurtigruten vessel, MS Fram to another MS Midnatsol. Unbelievably we spent less than a day on the MS Midnatsol and late that night they managed to navigate a path through the ice, land us at Port Lockroy and help dig us into the Nissen hut. Many thanks to all the Hurtigruten staff involved on both ships. We crawled into bed in the early hours, the last 4 days had been a blur, we had packed, unpacked, changed ships, got dressed, then undressed, changed cabins, added layers of clothing on, took them off, moved bags, met and chatted to a few hundred guests and had our last ship meal several nights in a row! I feel sure the story of this journey will live long in the memory.
Our first week was also a challenge, have you ever been in an escape room? It has kind of felt like that all week! Having been unoccupied since March when last year’s team left, our power and communications systems took some encouragement and initiative to set-up, warm up and function as they should. Declan, our Operations Assistant in Cambridge provided unrelenting support and we were also in contact with our IT specialist Jonathan Selby in Ushuaia and even a satellite phone call to Scott Base with Al Fastier of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust who helped to install the new solar system last season.
I mentioned we squeezed ashore, and the ice shifted enough to allow our first ship to visit, G-Adventure’s MS Expedition, who had kindly picked up and carried our stamp stock from the Falklands Post Office. Despite the fact we were not fully set-up we managed to run a pop-up shop and sell postcards and stamps for cash and the visitors were incredibly excited and grateful to see us and the museum. We asked the MS Expedition to fill 10 of our 20-litre jerry cans with drinking water and we are very grateful they did as we have been iced in since then! The week has been filled with getting the Nissen hut (our living space) and the museum, shop, post office ready for the season.
Today marks a change in the wind direction, we have had strong winds from the northeast, blowing much of the ice out of the bay, aside from several large icebergs, no doubt grounded, that hopefully will keep us company for a while. The challenge has been to stand out and record the wind speed on a little hand-held anemometer, as I write gusts of 65.9km/hr have just been recorded! We are hoping that tomorrow we might finally get our first full ship visit, not sure what they will make of us though as we haven’t showered for a week!
I would like to acknowledge the new Port Lockroy team, many ask how they got this job and what we look for in our team. The flexibility, resilience and optimism they showed in the 14 days it took us to get from Cambridge to Port Lockroy was truly impressive and fills me with confidence for the season ahead. As many of you know we get several hundred applications every year culminating in a 2-day selection for the shortlisted final 12. This week the team have suggested some new tasks for the selection process, so get training; how long would you be comfortable standing outside in sub-zero temperatures waiting for a satellite signal? how many methods could you come up with to defrost a frozen padlock? how much icy water could you soak up with a sponge? What do you think?