Port Lockroy, Wiencke Island, 64°49´S 63°29´W

 

British Crown Land

18.-22.2. 2009

 

Antarcic penninsula between Danco cost and Anvers Island has many narrow channels and corners that it may resamble a city plan. Of course not a boring square plan but something like a labyrinth of streets in Prague or Lisabon. In this case, driving instructions from Palmer to Port Lockroy would be simple. Follow Bismarc, take the first - Neumayer - left and than turn right at the first corner and you will see it. Watch the bergy bits, they do not the rules of the road. Simple indeed, but entering Neumayer channel I had to check my position because it looked like cul-de-suc. Passing the corner I have not seen anything like houses or anchorage. It was getting dark. (It is quite common that after long time on the ocean, I do not bother about time, being late everywhere). The high mountains all around are becoming less friendly as the sunshine diseappears - first from the shores, later from the hills. When only the tops remained bright I did not feel good. It was not frightening because there is no immediate danger but it was not pleasant. Being lost and too little in a big cold and unfriendly world . These moments cannot last long with a GPS and a good chart. A house at Port Lockroy was just hidden behind a big iceberg floating in my way. When I dropped anchor it was dark.

 

Bransfield House on a small Goudier Island

Gentoo penguins are not the only inhabitants, but it looked that way at first.

 

 

I had an unexpected welcome when I went ahore next morning. Penguins all around the house. The sun was shining, beautifull day, but nobody around. It seemed that the penquins themselves hoisted the Union Jack on the flagpole. I opened the door and went in. Several rooms, something like a museum but empty. I did not know that in the last room, its four inhabitants looked at each other and thought "what kind of a ghost is it comming that early". So I met the crew of Port Lockroy, a former scientific station (and a military base in the wartime) which has changed a bit with the years and which can be described as a place where penguins and people live under one flag. Enjoying some tasty ginger bisquits I met Nikki who made them and also takes care about a souvenier shop here, Jude who was the first Antarctic postmaster I have ever seen (although in Europe does something entirely different), Laura who is a traveller but in her spare time takes care about a local museum and Rick who is somebody I do not know how to introduce properly but in the old days he would be certainly called a Base Leader.He is in charge of restoration and running Port Lockroy as a fund raising activity for other historical sites around the continent.

 

Waiting for visitors at Chains landing.

Visitors from cruiseships are comming in Zodiacs to this place - Chains landing. Whaling ships were tied here not to be blown away in the old days.

 

 

 

My first immpression of Port Lockroy as a lonely place lost among high icy mountains was about to change. A first cruiser arrived next afternoon, two more a day after. Three more small boats anchored in the well protected bay and the crew of Port Lockroy became busy. A visitors are comming in Zodiacs, walking around the museum, buying souveniers, sending postcards, landing at islands nearby. As Jude explained to me, there is so many tourist ships that they need to coordinate their schedules to avoid meeting each other in surrounding waters. It would destroy a remote place illusion for people on board. It might be a crushing fact for somebody who is sailing two months in a small yacht to come here to a "wilderness". But is it really that bad? I spent many days in icy channels without meeting a soul and if the ships have a good guides the environmental impact can not be that bad. If all theese people stayed home watching TV instead of visiting Antarctic it would be probably more catastrophic for our planet. I mean it.

 

Judith with the cruiser schedule for January.

Cruisers follow this schedule not to meet each other too much. A timetable for the wilderness.

 

 

 

What makes this place special? The gentoo penguins and the crew of Port Lockroy are in a certain way part of the show, exibits in the museum. Getting there you have to watch your steps to avoid penguins, later you walk through restored rooms of the original station (built in 1944). There is a room with scientific equipment - unmistakable Beastie, a big machine used to study radiovawe reflections from ionosphere, there is a bar with a cute ancient cast iron stove. A turtle relief in cast iron saying "slow but shure combustion". Radioroom, kitchen with original supplies, everything making a perfect postwar atmosphere. But you can see it is a museum. Suddenly you see the last room: a kettle is calling for tea, beds were just made up and somebody is washing dishes after lunch. Equipment is more modern but the life is not that different from like it was when the station was new. Of course people are asking how it is like to live just with basic things, four people in one room for whole season. The door in this only inhabited room is usually open but it has a rope across to keep some privacy. Looking from there only two beds can be seen. But there is four people?! It is a puzzleing fact for some visitors. "Yes, thats right, we do share them". I was wondering if anybody was allowed to leave without explaining that it was a joke and where the other beds are.

 

 

 
    Radioroom in the Bransfield house            A stove top  

 

Things too old to use but so pleasant to see!


 

I will not deny a forgivable ammount of envy - look at Rick, living here with the three charming ladies around him. (Of course there is the Beastie too, but she is in another room and she had been cut off power long ago, not making trouble, fires and interfering with BBC radio programmes anymore.). To talk more seriously now I must say that I understand the conservational work they are doing in the Antarctic. I saw wooden signs "British crown land" the carved letters nearly gone with time. It makes sense to me that somebody wants to save them, not to let anyone to burn them in the stove or just let them vanish with time. I would even help in such efforts which is a bit surprizing even for myself because I was never a friend of any of the empires, colonies or national claims anywhere. The thing is that I see Port Lockroy not a part of a territorial game but an effort to save some interesting history. Of course it is patriotic but in such a way that it can not bother anyone else. (Czechs do not have to hurry. No wooden signposts anywhere and the border stones of pre-war Czechoslovakia are still in perfect condition in todays western part of Ukraine. We did not get that far but we used better material.:-)

 

Antarctic tartan

The tartan is nice but it is cold here. What about whiskey?

 

Painting the walls of the station (Bransfield house) with a black tar paint I was closely watched by pinguins and even more closely by sheathbills. (These white birds can be seen walking in the penguin colonies eating everything what people would not touch. According to my guidebook they are ugly but every guidebook contains some nonsense). I noticed that they were observing my work all the time with a thoughtfull look suggesting that they know about it more than I do but did not want to say anything not to make me feel bad. (Painting is not a typical activity for Port Lockroy visitors but I had a withdrawal syndrom - I was missing the steelboat maintenance, my own epoxy paints does not want to dry in cold weather, no work in the boat possible). Looking at the white birds and the snow white penguin bellies I had an idea how to attract even more visitors. Have you heard about a dalmatian penguin? No? Why don´t you go to Port Lockroy? (Do not panik. Just an IDEA) I am not the only crazy one as I discovered with a big relief a week later. (In Wordie house, there is a proof that somebody had similar idea).

 

Guiness in Bransfield house (Argentine Islands)

 

There is one more thing I can not forget. I had a great time at Port Lockroy. Nice memories are not the only thing I left with. I noticed a special attention I could enjoy and I appreciate it. I am asking myself how it is possible. So many attractive visitors comming every day ... and a solitary sailor in unwashed clothes with a terrible accent, drinking tea as if it was a beer! Thanks to each of you. If you have too many visiting sailors next year, let me know. I will write something else here.

 

Waterbirds

 

 

Natírání na Port Lockroy


Na Port Lockroy domek natřu
aspoň mám co na práci
dřív než pikslu barvy zavřu
lezou do ní tučňáci

Se svým věčným kejháním se 
pod nohama motají 
nepomohou, kývají se 
jenom na mě koukají 


Břicha mají krásně bílý
černá barva zbyla mi
pro tučňáky dalmatýny
kdo by šetřil skvrnami

Turista i ornitolog
rádi se sem vydají
co uvidí na Port Lockroy
nikde jinde nemají


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