Port Lockroy is a designated Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty. Base A was established on Goudier Island, within the harbour of Port Lockroy, in 1944 and was the first permanent British base in Antarctica. It closed in 1962 and fell into disrepair until it was renovated in 1996. Since 2006 the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust have run the base as a living museum. The Trust use the funds generated from the museum shop and post office to fund their restoration work at Port Lockroy and other sites around the Antarctic Peninsula.
UKAHT send a team every summer season, who have a number of responsibilities to carry out. We welcomed cruise ship and yacht visitors to the site. We carried out maintenance on the historic buildings, conducted an artefact survey on some items in the museum, feeding our findings back to the Scot Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge, and finally we had to count the penguins. There is a resident gentoo penguin colony on Goudier Island and UKAHT have been involved in a longitudinal study to monitor any effects of tourism on the breeding success of the penguins. This study helps inform the best way to manage tourism on the island to ensure the least disruption to the birds.
Although counting the eggs and chicks was probably a favourite job for us all we had many other daily chores which were necessary for living in such an environment. Our accommodation was in a Nissen hut, restored on the site of one of the original buildings. This was very comfortable. We had a wind turbine and solar panels for power with a gas heater for when we felt the cold. Being there in the Antarctic summer meant that the temperatures varied from about -10 to 10 degrees C, although the wind could cause it to feel colder. We had email provision through satellite phone but could only receive text, no pictures or social media. We also had no running water. We were supplied with drinking water from visiting ships and were able to use the ship facilities to have a shower. On the occasions when surrounding ice meant that ships were unable to reach the island, we had to be very frugal with our water supplies and occasionally collected the glacier ice to supplement our water -and of course no showers! Each day we shared a rota of tasks – cook, clean, base diary and “gash”. As cook you could stretch your imagination for uses of the various tinned and dried goods we had. Cleaning involved keeping living quarters free from penguin guano and generally tidy. In the base diary we recorded the weather, any notable wildlife sightings and the activities of the day. “Gash” was the duty of emptying our waste every day, not the most pleasant task but the scenery made it more enjoyable!
All in all, it was a wonderful experience! Living on a tiny island, approximately the size of a football field, for 4 months with only 3 other women was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. We were fortunate to become close friends and a tight team. The Antarctic scenery was constantly a delight, as was the opportunity to witness the gentoos build their nests, lay their eggs and watch as the chicks hatched and gradually fledged.
Coming back to civilisation was a bit of a shock – lots of people and smells other than penguin guano!
Since returning I’ve been trying to hatch plans of what my next big adventure might be. I’ll keep my eye on Explorers Connect again. I would love to make it to the Arctic and until that happens, I’m planning on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2018 so hopefully training for that will keep me occupied for a while.