20 February 2017

Coming to an end...

After 17 days on the island I get the privilege of writing what will probably be the penultimate blog post of the Port Lockroy season and what a 17 days it’s been.  I recently started as Operations Officer back at head office in Cambridge and, after a whole two days in the office, was on a plane heading south. Adele, Laura, Lucy and Hannelore had been here and settled into their work and routines for 3 months and then I arrived and set up camp on the sofa bed with a notepad in my pocket and lots to learn.

In my limited time here my overwhelming observation is how hard the team work and how friendly they are to every visitor that comes to Port Lockroy even though they’ve seen over 15,000 so far this season.  The work that goes on behind the scenes here is huge and I’m sure most of the visitors, like any well organised visitor attraction, have no idea.

This last week has been even busier than usual with the end of season so imminent. We had 8 different ships and 6 yachts visiting, we completed the inventories and stock takes, ticked off some of the last maintenance tasks, had some challenging weather conditions and are all trying to get our heads round the fact that the clock is ticking and the season is almost over. The penguin chicks are all in the later stages of moulting and are starting to take brief, cautious dips in the sea. They all saw their first snow a few days ago and it was hilarious watching them. They got so excited! They were running around flapping their flippers trying to catch the snowflakes in their beaks. The two skua chicks from the adjacent Bills Island that were only fluffballs a couple of weeks ago are now juveniles and cruising around on the wind as it streams over the island. The 6 sheathbill chicks that have been brought up in safety under the buildings by caring parents are starting to gain confidence and come out into the open to say hello to the world and all the daily spectators. A few fur seals have arrived in the bay – 13 seen on Boogie island on Friday – and two were being boisterous on the rocks by the boatshed yesterday evening, keeping us entertained for ages.  This evening we had a brief glimpse of a leopard seal playing with a gentoo, thrashing it around and throwing it into the air.

The island is less than two hundred metres long yet there is so much going on that it keeps you captured all day long. It’s easy, however, to get engulfed into the busy daily work life on the island and sometimes you have to take a few moments to appreciate where we are and how privileged we are to be able to live and work in such an amazing and entertaining place with such an eclectic mix of wildlife and meet such a massive range of people.

So, a few highlights for the week. The Spanish navy landed on Monday in a highly organised fashion to stop in and have a look round the museum. On Friday the teams from four yachts arrived at the same time making the landing by the boatshed look like a mini zodiac park. The winds on Friday came, unusually, from the west meaning the swell picked up and the waves were crashing on the usual landing making it difficult to land visitors from Le Soleal. We had to use the landing site by the boatshed which worked well.

National Geographic Explorer were happy to support our request on Tuesday to remove some items from base. It wasn’t waste as usual, but a few items for our mobile team store in Stanley ready for works on Horseshoe and Stonington next season. A cement mixer and wheelbarrow were among the mix and we are very grateful for the ship’s crew to be so helpful with such a strange request and unusual cargo.

On Friday evening we went on board the Hurtigruten ship Midnatsol to run an on-board post office and shop, give three presentations and then were invited to have a delicious dinner and stay for the night. Three of us took them up on the offer of a bed and shower whilst the other two went back in the rain and unloaded the kit back to base. I think I know who got the short straw there! Midnatsol then very generously offered to support us to close Damoy hut yesterday – a local historic site and monument that the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust are responsible for that is a short zodiac ride away. The youngest historic monument we manage, it was only built in 1975 and is a blast from the recent past. To ‘close’ the hut we basically do an inspection, take a set of images of everything and then place shutters on the windows, clean up and hopefully it will all be there in great condition in November when it’s opened again.

Most importantly the last mail bags went out this week – any post from the last two ships won’t get into the system until November!

Tomorrow I leave the island on Le Lyrial and two days later the rest of the team close and leave on Akademic Ioffe. You’ll notice how reliant on the support of IAATO vessels that we are and are all extremely grateful for all their ongoing support. It will be an extremely busy few days for the team and I feel a little sad I’m not here to the end. I know they’ll do a great job as they have with everything else and I also know they will have mixed emotions as they board the Zodiac and leave the island for the last time this season. Bon voyage to all! 



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