27 December 2013 | 64 49.2'S:063 29'W, Port Lockroy
Well, Elena did arrive, just in time for cocktails on Christmas Eve! The cruise ship Ushuaia was the first ship into Port Lockroy just as the ice was on the way out, hopefully for the last time. Finally united, I could breathe a sigh of relief as the burden on child care can now fall on the mother . . . . as it was in the old days and should be now. Well, I have to confess to doing pretty well; their nails were cut, Lara had her second shower in two weeks, but I failed on Luca Ð must be a boy thing. Elena spent part of Christmas day reworking the kids clothing and equipment Ð a veritable chaos in the port side cabin and it was then revealed we were missing a sock here, a slipper there; some beanies had worked themselves into the bilge, etc. But as Luca frustratingly said, "We had a system before she arrived!" And we did Ð a boys own (Lara included). I am heartily glad she is here, as I can now concentrate even more time on kayak trips, Zodiac tours (Luca chief driver) going up the mountain for sledding and preparing to camp out Ð the fun bits.
The cruise ships and other yachts have now started to arrive in earnest. Almost every day there is a ship visit in the morning and another in the evening. The girls at the museum and gift ship are now flat out and the relaxed days we spent with them are a thing of the past I'm afraid. Yesterday, our crew were invited on board the National Geographic Explorer, a Lindblad ship and arguably the premier polar ship of the genre. Captain Leif Skog, who has gathered an incredible amount of information that does not yet appear on the hydrographic charts, put the bow of the ship 30 meters from the rocks at Port Lockroy Ð most ships anchor a kilometer offshore. On the bridge, he explained his technique of dropping his anchor in deep water, putting the chain on the bottom, then overriding the chain and gently motoring against the cable tension with an bridge officer steering keeping the ship straight. He knows exactly here he can do this with 3D images of the bottom on an array o f computer screens Ð all marked �"not for navigation!' He explained this is a much safer way to keep a ship on station in this envrionment, and also more safe for the landings as the Zodiac trips are consequently shorter. Fascinating! On the kids side, Lara, Luca, Amy and Daisy all had ice cream in the �"caf' on board - a highlight of the tour for them!
The Gentoo chicks are expected to hatch around New Year's Day, a bit late due to the heavy snowfall on shore, which limited their nesting opportunities. Andrew, the film maker, is poised and ready to go, spending most of his time behind a camera concentrating on a few nest sites. �"Blue Chip' wildlife film making is all about patience, sitting there for hours, days and sometimes weeks and months on end, waiting for key moments to unfold. Very unlike the alligator, croc, snake wrestling variety of films that proliferate on the television today.
Lara's and Luca's penguin study is going well and takes up an hour a day monitoring two specific sites. Lara has four penguins in front of the base, all named after her best friends in Cape Town Ð Luca has gone for volume with 17 Gentoos, some perched precariously close to a cliff edge above the sea. He has named them all and both he and Lara are keeping track of the number of eggs - Gentoos usually lay two - only visible during parent change overs, and coming up will be the number of predations by Skuas and Sheathbills and eventually the number of chicks who survive. This will be the emotional part and I hope we survive it without too many tears . . . .
Yesterday Elena, Lara, Luca and I put on our climbing harnesses, motored around in the Zodiac to Damoy Point and climbed up a steep slope across a few bridged crevasses to gain the shoulder above the old British Antarctic Survey refuge at Dorian Cove. Lara and Luca sledded down spectacularly, I skied and Elena step plodded in deep snow - we only have one pair of skis. The refuge is now a historic monument, as it was a transit point for BAS personnel that were dropped by ship and later - sometimes months later due to bad weather - flown down in Twin Otters to the deep field logistic base of Rothera in Marguerite Bay. In 1988, on my first expedition with Pelagic, the base at Port Lockroy was an ugly ruin, so we spent all our time based in Dorian Cove, using the tidy refuge as a base for our filming and climbing activities. It is always very nostalgic pushing open that door with the big steel clasp catch, sitting down at the kitchen table surrounded by primus stoves, galle y gear, provisions Ð circa 1950's Ð with memorabilia on the walls . . . . .and at once there come the memories, from a far simpler time; no communications, no Antarctic permits, total flexibility, no family baggage, etc. . . . . .
It's cloudy and windy today. Filming down below is the theme for the kid's channel, but I am chomping on the bit to get outside and check the progress on the Blue Eyed Shag chicks at Jougla Point.