08 Dec - Port Lockroy and Rothera
RRS James Clark Ross Diary
Noon Position: 66° 35.0 S, 71° 50.9 W)
Distance Travelled since Grimsby: 14685.0 Nautical Miles
Air temperature @ Noon today: 0.4°C
Sea temperature @ Noon today : -0.1°C
Weather: Poor, NNE, 2, 982.8 mb
Cracking tales from Rothera
This week is what steaming around in the Antarctic is all about. Icebergs, whales, penguins, blue skies, ice breaking, bases, albatross, fly-pasts, seals, skiing and snow boarding (sounds like a jolly! Ed). We have been very lucky this week with the ice conditions and made good time through the pack on the way down the Antarctic Peninsula. Weeks like this are the reason why I wanted to come down to Antarctica.
We started the week loaded down with cargo and FIDs heading for Port Lockroy. The Drake Passage (allegedly the roughest bit of sea in the world) was very mild with a light swell but a few of the FIDs suffered a bit and couldn't enjoy the wonderful display of albatross that we were privileged to see. Around 15 light-mantled sooty albatross appeared out of the mist and effortlessly cruised around the ship for a few hours. The wind was light and so they were using the updrafts coming off the ship for flying on. It meant that they gracefully glided past the bridge wings and posed for photographs in the evening light. It is impossible to capture on film the elegance of these huge birds as they swoop over the wave crests then rise and soar past the ship in a mesmeric display of aerobatics. The poor little cape pigeons try and keep up with their neighbours but quickly get left behind. Sooty albatross are relatively uncommon and are losing large numbers to long-line fishing so we were very lucky to see them.
First call this week was Port Lockroy. On Tuesday morning we arrived early on a stunning day after a passage through the small islands on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The base has been closed over the winter and we were putting 3 FIDs ashore to open up the base. They will stay there for the summer season to maintain the base, perform some science work and also entertain the 10,000 or so tourists who visit the base each year!! Port Lockroy is an Antarctic Heritage Site and, being in a particularly beautiful and accessible spot, the many tourist ships that visit this part of the world go in to show everyone what it used to be like in the 'good old days'. Three inflatables ferried the cargo ashore from where it was carried up to the base. The old wooden base is surrounded by a gentoo penguin colony and so we had to be careful where we put our feet down; it gave the place an aroma that was certainly anything but pleasant. At the moment the penguins are incubating eggs on little piles of rocks. Once the cargo was all safely stowed away and those lucky enough to go ashore had a quick look round we zoomed back to the JCR, looking magnificent with the mountains behind, and waved goodbye to the base. They were not going to be alone for very long as the first cruise ship was due in that afternoon!
Above: Clockwise from top left: View of Port Lockroy, launching the inflatable from the JCR, Pecker driving a boat, main hut at Port Lockroy, unloading cargo, in the old kitchen, gentoo penguins, hut at Lockroy with JCR in the background. Click the images to enlarge them.
Following our brief call into Port Lockroy we kept heading south and onwards through the ice to Rothera. Everyone was a bit worried about the state of the ice. The Captain was concerned it might be too thick and it would take a long time to get to Rothera. The FIDs were worried it might be too thin as they all wanted to be 'Antarctic heroes' and get stuck in the ice. Also a sweepstake was run to guess our eventual arrival time and date into Rothera so we were all secretly praying for our own estimated time so we could retire on our winnings! (You wish - Ed). However despite all the discussions the ice floes were mainly light and we could keep up good progress through the pack. A favourable easterly wind was blowing the pack out to sea, easing the pressure and allowing the JCR to push through. It was beautiful weather as we sailed along with the peninsula visible to our port side most of the way providing spectacular views. The calm provided by the pack ice gave some time for a bit of exercise whilst watching the icebergs float by (and top up the remains of the Montevideo tan - Ed). The bridge computer started to tell us that the 'sun will never set' and we began to enjoy 24 hour daylight with the sun just dipping down to the horizon before rising again. It is very easy to stay up far too late when it never goes dark outside!
Above: Left to right - sunrise (or sunset?!), the JCR and getting some exercise on deck. Click the images to enlarge them.
Rothera 1st call
Above: Left to right - a twin otter gives us a fly-by, the Dash-7 coming into land and the Captain says "Hi!" Click the images to enlarge them.
It was great to be welcomed in a such a way. Finding fast ice in the bay beside Rothera we returned the favour by giving an ice breaking demonstration to the watching base as we cracked our way up to the jetty and slowly cleared it of ice. Once we had nudged all the ice out of the way with the bow and had tied up it was Thursday morning. All the FIDs were again press-ganged into helping to unlash all the cargo on deck and lift it off the ship to the awaiting collection of Tonka toys that drive around the base. It reminded me of a scene from Mad Max! It was a beautiful day and we watched the Dash-7 nipping past the bow to land several times. Friday was another full day of cargo and No 2 hold was finally cleared during a blizzard.
Above: Left to right - cargo work, new bits for the Bonner Lab rebuild and an almost empty hold. Click the images to enlarge them.
We discharged 2000m³ (700 tons) of cargo and 450m³ (400 tons) of fuel and with only a small amount of cargo from No1 hold left the base laid on an evening of skiing for the crew. 8 of the crew were given a lift up to the ski slope about 4 km away from Rothera in a Snocat or dragged behind a skidoo for an evening of snow boarding, sledging and skiing. The prize for best skier must go to Kevin Holmes. Having never skied before, Kev would cheerfully launch himself from the top of the slope and somehow get down to the bottom, usually on one ski. The man knows no fear! It was great fun and nice to be off the ship for a few hours. Thanks to all GA's who gave us such a good night.
By Saturday morning we had finally discharged everything and said our goodbyes all the FIDs. Most are only staying for the summer season to help with the rebuilding of the Bonner lab but some are down here for 2½ years. Good luck to them all especially our resident chippy, Matt, who has been with us since we picked him up from Bird Island.
Rothera is certainly an amazing place and we were sad to leave. We will be back there again shortly with more cargo but we all need a rest after several very long and hectic days (and that's just the ships camera! - Ed). Phew.
Thankyou this week: to all the FIDs who gave great help with the cargo and the Rothera GAs for a evening of skiing.
Coming up next week: Stanley and more cargo.
PS....due to such a busy week the concluding part of the James Clark Ross mini biography will be published next week.
PPS....the term FIDs is an old term for BAS employees derived from the title 'Falkland Islands Dependency Survey', the old incarnation of BAS. It generally denotes any one onboard employed by BAS but not a member of the ships crew. Sorry for any confusion.