Port Lockroy…Our Last Shore Landing

Port Lockroy…Our Last Shore Landing

Port Lockroy, Jougla Point.

Lat: 64° 49’ S, Long: 63° 30’ W

Wind: 13 Knt NE, Temp: 1° C (9 AM)

Our day began with a visit from Hannah, who is spending this austral (Southern Hemisphere) summer at the historic British Station of Port Lockroy.  An all-female crew of four is currently at Port Lockroy, and although this isn’t the first time there’s been an all-female staff, it certainly was great timing for our Homeward Bound expedition of women in science.  The mix of the four women is quite interesting.  Hannah is a dentist who quit her job to spend this time in Antarctica.  Adele, current (and last year’s) base leader is an artist and photographer and has spent time in both the Arctic and Antarctica.  Lucy has worked for the British government, been a sled dog guide, and has worked in Canada and New Zealand.  Laura has been guiding people on adventures in Scotland and has a Master’s Degree as a librarian. They all bring such unique skills to Port Lockroy.  Hannah mentioned that they have great camaraderie and are enjoying their time together. Each one of these women demonstrates solid leadership skills and teamwork.  You have to step into those shoes to work in such a remote place like Port Lockroy.

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My little geobears (geography bears…they’ve been to Antarctica before…see “Bears On Ice” as one of the tabs on The Science Roadshow tool bar at the top) traveled with me today…Oz Gold, Berkley, and Brownie.

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This natural harbor has a long history of exploration and whaling, beginning in around 1873 when a steamship came looking for whales.  It wasn’t until 1911 that is became a whaling station, where (in a 12-year span) it was estimated that 3,000 whales were processed.  Whaling continued here until 1931.

From 1944-1946 Operation Tabarin took place as a secret base here during World War II.  Evidently the name Tabarin came from a nightclub in Paris.  The British wanted to keep their claim on Antarctica.

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Early scientific studies were to collect geological and biological samples and test the idea that lichens could be used as emergency fuel.  In 1946 the station was turned over to what is now the British Antarctic Survey.  They continued research which expanded to meteorology and atmospheric science.  When scientists needed to go farther afield than the immediate base to survey and map the area, they used sledges (sleds for carrying supplies) and man hauled…they pulled the sleds themselves.

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The women here now do not even have a boat, but they are visited by up to three ships a day, which adds up.  It is estimated that between 50,000-80,000 people visit this region each year.  That’s a huge human footprint.  The sales in the gift shop go toward restoration and upkeep for the historic buildings at Port Lockroy.  It had gone into a state of complete disrepair in the early 1960’s when research had finished in this region.  In 1994 the British Antarctic Survey checked out the buildings here and found the condition to be quite poor. Two years later four men restored the base to the 1950’s condition, and everything became protected under the United Kingdom Heritage Trust.  The base re-opened in 1997 as a stop for tourist ships, just like ours!

Besides their duties in the gift shop, the women share the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and general maintenance, writing statistics (temperature, wind speed/direction, precipitation) in a diary, keeping track of artifacts for the Scott Polar Institute, as well as painting and other tasks to keep the base in great shape.  Their days are long and busy.  Science work includes a wildlife study of the Gentoo penguin colony on the island. Nests are monitored, nesting pairs and chicks are counted, and they also keep track of the number of eggs.  As of last week, they had counted 540 pairs and 900 eggs!  Wow!  I hope skuas aren’t too successful in grabbing those eggs!  Hannah reminded us that this island belongs to the penguins…it is their home, and not ours.  A safe distance between us and the “residents” should always be a priority. The Gentoos are nesting everywhere, including right under the main building on station.

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Some Antarctic sheathbills were sharing the station with the Gentoos.

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Years ago when this station was in use, there were no colonies of penguins nearby.  Certain species of penguins are migrating further south in the Antarctic Peninsula, which could be because of climate change and to follow the krill.  That is their main source of food.

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Port Lockroy has no running water…so no showers, and there are no laundry facilities or flush toilets. Not deluxe accommodations, but warm, comfortable and with a spectacular view.  They do have electricity, use some solar power, and can use satellite communication to send short emails and call with a satellite phone, although I’m sure they don’t get to use that phone too often because of the expense.  Notice the solar panels on the hut below.

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Ships that stop here for resupply also bring letters from home and take letters to be mailed.  Their little post office was a HUGE hit with all of us from Homeward Bound today.  I know I mailed 25 postcards, but others had written out hundreds.  I am sure that over 1,000 postcards from our ship were stamped and mailed today.

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One of the crew members from our ship had over 250 postcards to mail from people who had been on the ship so far this season.  This was the first time the MV Ushuaia had stopped at Port Lockroy, so the mail had accumulated.  Crazy!

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This is the main building that houses the gift shop, museum, and post office box.

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The following photos are all from the museum. I love seeing what the history of a place is, especially here in Antarctica.  You’ll notice food, a kitchen, communications equipment, items of clothing, beds, outdoor equipment, and even a globe.  You know, after you’ve been to Antarctica you never look at a globe the same again.  Being at the bottom of the world is pretty special. 

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Here’s a recipe for you…seal brains!  It actually says it’s a delicious meal.  Yikes!  “Make sure the brains are free from clots of blood” sounds pretty scary to me!

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These supplies remind me of the tins of food and biscuits in Robert Scott’s and Ernest Shackleton’s historic huts on the Ross Sea side of Antarctica.  When I’ve visited these huts in the past, I’m always amazed at how these things are preserved in the cold and dry climate of Antarctica.

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The old communications room…

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An area just down the hall from the kitchen was used as a sleeping/bunk room…

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Lots of old clothing was on display…

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I loved this idea for a spin-off game similar to Monopoly.  Evidently it was based on Fido…maybe it had to do with dogs from the station?!

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This equipment and the tools below are from the whaling era.

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I loved seeing this old reel-to-reel tape recorder, and also the globe.

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Check out this old issue of “Woman’s Realm.”  I’d say a woman’s realm has changed considerably from the late 1950’s when this was published!!  Just think about the 4 amazing women running Port Lockroy and the 76 AMAZING women in science who are a part of Homeward Bound!  And, how about our incredible HB women faculty members…Fabian, Kit, Jules, Mary-Anne, and Justine?  Monika, our ship’s expedition leader is also a fabulous example of the modern realm of women!  Yes, we knit, we wear lipstick (as that cover below suggests) but we also lead in a myriad of scientific areas, we take on roles previously reserved only for men, and we ROCK it!  The Homeward Bound vision is focused on (among other things) elevating the role of women in science and leadership.  Being with this cadre of women has surely shown us all that we need to and CAN lead with courage to inspire others to make a difference for this planet we call home.

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It was time to head back outdoors and jump back in a zodiac for a short ride to the bay behind the station.  What a beautiful spot…check out the views!

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It’s like that mountain was a fancy iced dessert with a cherry on top.  Mountains dominated our view in every direction.  360 degrees of magnificent scenery!

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Obviously we weren’t the only ones enjoying this spot today!  Hundreds of Gentoos were nesting everywhere, cormorants (Antarctic shags) were spotted, and of course there were Weddell seals lounging on the snow.  This would be our last opportunity to see penguins and seals on land/snow, other than on icebergs.  This last landing was really nostalgic for me.  When or would I ever set foot in Antarctica again?  So many thoughts swirled in my head…I just kept gazing and taking it all in.

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The MV Ushuaia was anchored in the bay…waiting for our return at lunch time.

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Whale bones were barely visible…sticking up in the snow.  Imagine how many bones are the bottom of the bay.  Thank goodness these animals and others in the Southern Ocean are protect now.

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Time for one more shout out to the University of Illinois, my Alma Mater.

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As he waddled away from me this little guy was a reminder that soon we will be sailing away from Antarctica and back to Argentina.

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Looking at the penguin tracks in the snow, it reminded me of my own “tracks” on this continent in the four times I’ve been to Antarctica.  It also reminds me of something my good friend, Ron, always says “Walk softly on the Earth.”  That’s something for all of us to remember, every single day.  What is our impact on the Earth?  How can we reduce our footprint (not just literally, but in terms of what we buy, energy use, emissions, and in countless other aspects of our life)?

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Everyone was a bit melancholy today, thinking that our Antarctic sojourn is coming to a close.  People were reluctant to head back to the ship, taking those last photos on land, doing the last polar plunges, watching penguins in their natural habitat, imprinting the memory of this amazing place in our minds…forever.

I’m sorry the volume on the Go Pro videos isn’t louder, but with the camera in its waterproof protective case, hooked onto the hand-held device, it isn’t easy to take videos…and I’m certainly no pro, but I’ve tried to capture just a bit for you (and for me).

When I returned to the MV Ushuaia, I went to the bow of the ship by myself.  Not only did I make some time for videos with my Go Pro and digital cameras, but I just stood there…high up on the little eagle’s nest observation area on the bow, and spent some quiet time alone.  Antarctica is incredible.  This world is incredible.  We have such a responsibility to protect and conserve this planet.  I sensed this so strongly as I felt on top of the world up there on the bow.  Okay, I know I’m at the bottom of the world…you know what I mean.

Tonight we head north to the Drake Passage.  Time to reflect on what this journey has meant, being part of Homeward Bound and all that it encompassed for the past 18 days.  Two more days at sea…I’ll be back with more pictures and stories tomorrow.

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