Sunday, March 06, 2016

Port Lockroy

[Kyle]During lunch, Expedition left Neko Harbour and entered the narrow Neumayer channel. In the two and a half hour journey, the weather went through several cycles from almost completely overcast with a little bit of snow to almost completely clear. The wind funneled down the channel, accelerating to 30kts or so in the narrow parts. Even though it was right around freezing, that wind had a bite that made it difficult to stand in the full force of it for more than a couple of minutes at a time. Most of us who stayed outside were huddled behind the superstructure on the lee side of the ship. It was too clear and beautiful to be able to stand the idea of being inside. The huge snow covered mountains were so close and so dramatic. Spindrift was being blown off the tops and mixing with covering clouds that were being shredded by turbulence.

Underway and enjoying the views

As we approached our next anchorage at Weincke and Goudier islands, the wind was still howling and it was hard to imagine Expedition was going to be able to do anything other than keep going as we waved. There was just a slight widening of the channel there and that turned out to be enough to slow the wind dramatically as it expanded to fill the extra space. The waves refracted around the point in the same way, reducing their size. The ship dropped anchor in a little oasis of calm while the wind and sea just behind were roiling.

We boarded the zodiacs, which again were dividing groups in half and then alternating between islands. Maryanne and I first arrived Goudier island, home to a LOT of Gentoos and the former British base turned museum of Port Lockroy. Back in the day when everybody was busy trying to plant their flags in this part or that of the continent, the British established Port Lockroy as an attempt to establish sovereignty. Just to add extra legitimacy to their claim, they opened the Royal Mail’s southernmost post office at the station. Port Lockroy is still staffed for part of the year and they still accept post even after they have left, provided you don’t mind it taking your letter the good part of a year to get anywhere. One of their former staff, Gerard Baker, who subsequently spent many summers and winters in Antarctica, is now the resident Antartctic expert and general Action Man on Expedition’s highly impressive staff.

The "Penguin Post Office"

Port Lockroy’s current staff had gone for the season, so the base exists as a museum operated on the honor system. Most of it shows how it looked in the mid 1950s, shortly after it was established. If I like a hill to climb, my curious wife loves a museum. Maryanne was thrilled to find one way down here.

Evidence of past whaling

After Goudier, we were shuttled over to Weincke island. Weincke was formerly a refuge for whalers and now is home to a nesting colony of Blue-eyed Shags, the penguin’s closest relatives that can fly. On the beach are two well-preserved Humpback skeletons for our examination. It’s an impressive thing to see individual bones that are bigger than we are.

Blue-eyed Shags

Back aboard Expedition, the staff had something a little different planned. Instead of the usual posh dinner in the dining room, we had a posh barbecue out on the back deck. The view of Port Lockroy in the orange light of the setting sun was amazing. It was still really cold, though, so we all ate in our full outdoor gear including the parkas. Some were even trying to manage a knife and fork with mittens. The crew did an amazing job of pretending they weren’t cold while managing to keep all of the food hot. Except, of course, for the ice cream. (They were really pushing the ice cream.) It was fine just sittin’ there on the table.

BBQ in any latitude?

After the barbeque, we were all happy to retreat to the nice, warm lounge for the evening briefing. I had been inside for all of three minutes when I noticed they were making cocktails using glacier ice they had picked up at Neko. That’s how you sell a drink! It actually felt warm in my hand.

After laying out our likely plan for the next day, they finally got around to announcing the winners of the whale/iceberg/convergence zone contests from two days earlier. Maryanne’s iceberg guess was really close to when we arrived in the Aitcho islands, so I was about 80% sure she was going to win – Maryanne had snuck a look at the others' guesses and she was even more confident the prize was hers. When they announced the winner as “MARIANNE …. SENN”, she managed to avoid jumping up and taking a great big bow after the second word. The other Marianne on the boat, (if we remember correctly) was from Switzerland and they had already made each others’ acquaintance – but who’d have thought that Maryanne would have lost so closely to Marianne! . We were both way off on the whale. When it came time for the convergence prize, they called my name – first and last! Woo, hoo! We had won a bottle of champagne after all! We happily shared it with our Scottish friends. The ACZ is not marked on any of the ship’s charts, but I was pretty sure I knew where it should be. My visits to look at the bridge’s chartplotter and a little math gave me better than a random guess.

Best guesses make for the best prizes

We usually skipped the after dinner movie in favor of some much needed sleep, but the movie that night was the BBC documentary Penguin Post Office. It was about, oh, that thing right over there out the window! It’s a good thing we shared out the champagne, otherwise we would have been asleep five minutes in.

Good visibility, cloudy - Wind: Variable to none; Sea: Calm; Air Temp: 6°C

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

Your photos are incredible. I read these accounts and enjoy the photos, only to be speechless at the end. Early on, you surely ran out of superlatives and found yourselves just saying Wow all the time. That's how it feels reading your blog!
Did yiu send me a post card from Antarctica?