09 January 2017

Climbing the Rigging

Often when visitors come ashore they ask how many ships we see in one day, the answer is that on average we see two, but this week had our busiest day yet when welcomed a large motor yacht, two small sailing yachts, and two large passengers ships.  Vessels of many shapes and sizes visit Port Lockroy. Perhaps one of the most unusual and atmospheric is the tall ship the Bark Europa. Watching the ship sail into the bay is like stepping back into history to when heroic explorers were navigating Antarctic waters for the first time. We were thrilled to be invited on board this week when Bark Europa paid a visit. Lucy and Hannelore were first in line to have the chance to climb the rigging. As well as scaling new heights, we’ve reached a milestone this week: we’re exactly half way through our island adventure. Having lived and worked here for eight weeks we’re now reaching the peak of the summer season.

The weather is unusually warm we’re often working outside without our outer layers. The snow is rapidly melting creating streams of flowing water and we frequently hear the thunder of avalanches and the glaciers calving into the sea followed by large pieces of newly calved blue glacier ice floating into the bay. But when the sun goes down it’s a different story: this week the overnight temperatures have dropped so low that the sea in the sheltered areas of the bay have frozen over on more than one occasion. 

The cold night temperatures create some hazards for us and for visitors: in the morning there can be invisible black ice on the rocks and the soft snow paths become hard and super slick. The risk of slipping is high. Before the first visitors arrive we have to chip away the slick ice and cover the paths with rough snow to provide some traction. We also keep wooden steps and walkways clean as they can quickly become slippery with greasy guano. This week, to make moving in and out of building safer, we had to replace part of the wooden step into the boatshed and make repairs to the wooden rungs on the ramp into the museum which had started to come loose.

Our lives and work are almost entirely spent on tiny Goudier Island, but occasionally we get to venture out to see other historic landmarks. Thanks to the knowledgeable team of Linblad National Geographic Explorer we visited the neighbouring island of ‘Boogie’ this week to see first-hand historic graffiti dating back to the days when the whalers operated in the area. Clearly carved into the rock are the words ‘B.W. Larvik .1911.’. It is said that in the early whaling days the whalers didn’t have to leave the bay area to secure their catch for the day as the waters were teaming with whales. Over a twelve-year period over 3,000 whales were processed at Port Lockroy and took twenty short years for the whale population to be depleted to such an extent that whaling was no longer profitable. This history makes it all the more poignant that this week we had the thrill of seeing Humpback Whales swimming in the bay just 50 metres from the shore.

Unexpected wildlife sightings are one of the joys of living here, whether it’s a whale in the bay; a visiting Chinstrap Penguin; a sleepy Leopard Seal snoozing on an ice floe; a circling Southern Giant Petrel; or the occasional glimpses we catch of the fascinating underwater world of Antarctic marine life. A couple of weeks ago we spotted a colourful jellyfish and we’ve often seen giant isopods. These encounters connect us with the heritage and history of the site: in 1944 under the leadership of Lieutenant Commander James Marr, when Operation Tabarin established Base A at Port Lockroy, marine biology was one of the first programs of scientific investigation. The largest jellyfish they recorded measured 1 meter.

Seeing the wildlife is one of the great privileges of living at Port Lockroy and witnessing the life cycle of the gentoo penguins is so special. Readers and penguin lovers may be interested to hear that our week concluded with a count of the whole island’s chick population: we can report that to date we have 484 nests, 152 eggs and 703 chicks on the island. As the penguins are so popular with visitors, the gentoo life-cycle features on a new stamp collection which we sell in the Port Lockroy Post Office along with collectable stamps featuring the six historic huts that are looked after by UKAHT. It’s not surprising that people enjoy taking away a souvenir that depicts the wildlife that they’ve seen and the places that they’ve visited on their once in a lifetime trip.



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