Saturday, January 2, 2010

Port Lockroy and a tumble...

Thursday 10 December, Port Lockroy

Yesterday evening we sailed around to Port Lockroy, enjoying a lovely sunset on the way up from Peterman Island and arriving at Port Lockroy at around midnight. We arrived on a special day for the base as it was the first time it was to be “manned” by a female team.

The base is a British one but was originally discovered by the French explorer Charcot, and named after a French politician Lockroy. The British established a base here in 1944 – Base A – as part of military operations in the Second World War. Following the end of the war, it was converted into a scientific base and was particularly well-known for its research into the ionosphere, especially towards the end of the 1950s.

At the end of the 1960s it was closed due to economic reasons and the transfer of scientific work to other British bases in Antarctica. However, that was not to the end of the story as in 1996 it was reopened and now acts primarily as a tourist stop-over with some monitoring of the local penguin population. This monitoring is aimed at ascertaining the impact of tourism: to do this they allow visitors only on one part of the island and thus compare the impact on our favourite friends! Apparently results show a slightly positive impact on the penguins because it deters some of their few predators, notably the skua birds which go after penguin chicks.

The main role of the base, nonetheless, appears to be one of welcoming visitors, providing a postal service and offering a range of merchandise in the well-stocked shop! We landed in the morning, again in a snow-storm, and were greeted by a seal hanging out on the path leading up to the base!

The base crew explained it was the first time the seal had come so far up the path and we had to be careful moving around him. It was something of a surreal experience seeing a seal practically on the base doorstep! Indeed, penguins crowd around the base, outnumbering the human presence massively! Once inside, we bought gifts in the shop and sent postcards! Or in my case, bought stamps in the hope of sending postcards – more on this later! The base also has a small museum detailing the history of the scientific expedition, and including the equipment which was used to measure the ionosphere in the 1950s.

The four base crew – all women – spend the Southern summer at the base, carrying out the penguin monitoring and looking after the tourists. They were very hospitable and were invited to dinner on the boat – a surprise to come in so many ways!

In the afternoon, we visited a surrounding island and did some hiking so we could have a proper vista of the base. It was an enjoyable afternoon and one which concluded with one of our biggest snowball fights to date.

Departing the shore in the final zodiac, we feared that our companions back on Europa would be preparing a revenge and so we prepared dozens of snowballs for a counterattack. But, to our surprise, all was quiet on Europa and instead of revenge preparations, the permanent crew had been setting up a deck BBQ – much to our great surprise! This still didn’t stop us letting fly with a snow blitz!

And so to the deck BBQ and what was to be a major turning point for me in the trip! The setting was fabulous, even towards midnight the sky was bright and the surrounding bay looked beautifully calm as we enjoyed lots of food, wine and dancing.

And here was my downfall, dancing on the deck I took a tumble, falling badly on my backside and hip. Struggling to get up, it was clear that something was not right and quickly Ship’s Doctor Lia was by my side checking me out. Helped by the crew, I gingerly moved into the deck house and then later down to my bunk. Little did I know that I wouldn’t leave it for the next seven days...

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