23 January 2017

Sunsets and Storms!

We’re a little over nine weeks into our Port Lockroy experience and in some ways we have settled into the new routine for our daily lives, as Hannelore described last week. However, despite our growing familiarity with our new home, we are still struck by new experiences and changes as the season progresses.

This week has had quite a few ‘firsts’ to offer us. On Monday it was Hannelore’s first Antarctic birthday and we celebrated in style. We were fortunate enough to have a scheduled rest day but Hannelore’s Birthday Wish was to paint Bransfield House! Another wall of the museum was successfully painted with bitumen and weather-proofed for the season to come. A Birthday Polar Plunge was also on the agenda and this became a first for Adele, who despite having spent a season here last year, had never before tested her Antarctic swimming abilities. The plunging and Birthday celebrations were rounded off with a snack and warming dram at the landing site while we enjoyed watching the crab eater seals hauled out on the ice floes.

Another new experience for us this week was lunching on a visiting yacht. We receive generous invitations on board ships for dinner, but our daily schedule is usually too busy to allow for a lunchtime treat.

This week however, our timetable allowed and we enjoyed an Argentinian BBQ prepared by a yachting group - a welcome feast.

Our week culminated in another first, when our nearest neighbours, The Chilean team based at Yelcho on Doumer Island, treated us to a surprise visit on Sunday. We had had some limited contact with Yelcho since the season started so it was nice to finally meet the voices on the other side of the radio. Adele and Hannelore had a gift ready for them - a commemorative stamp featuring the Chilean steamer Yelcho, which had rescued Shackleton's Imperial Transantarctic Expedition men from Elephant Island. An exciting way to end our week!

As we are based here during Antarctic summertime, the weather is perhaps milder than many people may expect. On average we’ve been experiencing temperatures in the region of  -4 degrees C to +5 degrees C, however during the sunny hours in the middle of the day we are all sure we’ve reached the heady heights of +8 to +10 degrees C! The beginning of this week in particular, gifted us with some stunning weather. We enjoyed bright blue skies and sparkling sunshine. The sun can be very bright and magnified by the remaining snow, so we have all become well used to permanently wearing sunglasses and factor 50 sunscreen - perhaps not what you’d instinctively pack for a stay in Antarctica, but essentials nevertheless.

Another side effect of the glorious weather is that we’ve been revelling in wonderful sunsets. Despite being surrounded by white snow, grey rock and blue/grey sea, the sunsets can yield the most amazing selection of colours, and we’ve been treated to purples, oranges and pinks that really make us appreciate our beautiful surroundings. A special phenomenon - a sunshine halo or parhelion was witnessed by a few of the team on Friday and Adele even managed to capture a few shots. It is said that parhelions herald a change in the weather and this was certainly to be the case!

Despite these days of beautiful weather we have also been reminded of our vulnerability to the elements. Thursday evening saw a brisk wind start up and one that was to stay with us for a few days - a gentle reminder that nature is in charge down here. The wind brought with it some snow, and our rocky little island was once again blanketed in white for a while.

The wind really played havoc with our Saturday schedule and prevented our morning ship visit. Lucy had been successfully picked up to give an on board briefing. During her presentation however, the conditions worsened and plans had to be adjusted. The ship cancelled their landing but still had Lucy! We were keen to have our team member returned and we all enjoyed watching Lucy’s mini adventure as she bounced around on an exhilarating and bumpy zodiac ride back to Goudier Island. The wind continued to gust and did not abate until well into the evening. Our afternoon ship visit was delayed, but an eventual drop in the wind allowed us to welcome guests ashore for an evening landing, although still a slightly blustery one!

We’ve experienced a few other reminders of mother nature over this last week. We have all become very fond of the growing gentoo penguin chicks.

We were very excited therefore, when Lucy announced she’d spied a nest with triplets! As far as we’re aware it is an unusual phenomenon for a gentoo to have three thriving chicks. Our familiarity with the nests means we do notice when a chick disappears! It’s not just gentoos that share our rock, but skuas and sheathbills also, and they too have nests to build and young to raise. It’s a real wildlife documentary experience to see the gentoo chicks become prey to an opportunistic sheathbill or a sharp eyed and persistent skua. However, as fond as we are of our gentoo neighbours, we cannot intervene and it’s hard not to be impressed by the swooping skuas as they scope out their next meal.

In addition to the nature surrounding us, we’ve also been immersing ourselves further into the history of Port Lockroy this week, by continuing our artefact condition survey in Bransfield House. This was a task I particularly enjoyed as I had chosen to survey some artefacts from the lounge, which included assessing the condition of a variety of gramophone records. Playing the records on the gramophone really spurred the imagination, and it was impossible not to try and picture how the evenings may have been spent in Bransfield House lounge, with the men enjoying their favourite tunes and perhaps partaking of a whisky or gin from the bar.

We’ve made good progress with the artefact survey this week and each of us has enjoyed becoming more familiar with certain rooms in the museum and the treasures they hold. The lounge, ionospherics room, kitchen and bunk room have all had items examined and we are almost half way through our designated list. We hope to find more time, in between our busy ship visit schedule, to finish off assessing the remaining items.

All in all it’s been a busy and varied week, as usual, but with a few new experiences thrown in, just to keep us on our toes and remind us how special Antarctica really is!




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