'Base A': Port Lockroy

Steve Powell
Mon 17 Jan 2011 15:24

We have spent the last couple of nights in Thunder Bay, just off Goudier Island the site of the historic ‘Base A’, Port Lockroy. (Pronounced : Lo-ckroy). This base was established in 1944 by a Secret British Military expedition, code named Operation Tabarin,  to monitor German movements in the Antarctic and provided weather information. They established a number of small bases all around the Antarctic Peninsula.

After the war the base was used by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey for weather research and the important early studies of the Ionosphere. The base closed in 1962 and fell into disrepair.

In 1994 the site was identified as a key Antarctic Historical site and restoration began in 1996. Since then the restoration work has continued by volunteers who come out and spend the whole summer season on this tiny island.

‘Base A’,  on Goudier Island, Port Lockroy.

This year there is a team of four glamorous young ladies lead by a blonde from Surrey, called Nicky. (Yes, we managed to find some glamour in the middle of the Antarctic!!) They arrived on site in November and their first job was to dig the huts out of the snow which was a full meter above the roof!! Tough ladies. They spend the summer clearing snow, monitoring the Penguin population, restoring the buildings, and welcoming visitors to the wonderful museum that they have created here. Their only support is visiting Expedition Ships and passing yachts, they don’t even have a small rib to run around in, they are literally trapped on this small island for 5 months. Idyllic on a sunny day like this, but you can imagine it’s not always like this and must be quite harsh at times.

The Penguins wonder all over the Base, creating little footpaths as they go. You can never tire of watching Penguins, they are hilarious, and very, very cute.

UHURU in Thunder Bay. The name comes from the noise of crashing ice constantly falling from the Glazier. And yes it does make the noise of thunder, most of the night.

The Base Museum is a fascinating insight into an era where ‘men were men’ and survived horrific conditions, with two jars of Marmite and a pair of woolly mittens. It has been lovely restored in all it’s details and many of the artefacts have been donated by the families of the original occupants. All the rooms have been layout exactly as they were back in the late 40’s, and the kitchen featured all your old favourites from tins of Corned Beef to Camp Coffee and Marmite. All of it original, dug out from the old store hut and preserved in the cold.

But one of the most intriguing recent discoveries has been paintings of glamorous pin ups of the era hidden underneath a coat of paint. These were only discovered last year when the covering paint started to peal.

Diana Dores can be instantly recognised on the left, not sure who the glamour Queen on the right is, but I am sure she kept the occupant of this bunk warm at night!
Many of these paintings were painted on doors which were used as shutters during the winter. Local legend has it that on seeing these paintings outside the huts Argentinean Fisherman assumed it was a British Brothel in the middle of Antarctica. Resourceful lot the Brits!!

It is believed that they were painted over by the artist as he left the Base, to avoid embarrassment to the following team. Political Correctness in it’s earliest form.

Well we had everyone over for drinks on Saturday night, to help celebrate Mike and Chris’s achievement, including some guys from a Brazilian yacht anchored close by. We got lots of interesting local insights and had a very unexpected, and enjoyable evening, finishing sometime in the early hours. But as it is pretty much daylight all-night nobody was really sure what time it finished, the only indicator was the size of the hangovers the next morning, or was it afternoon?.

Before we left we had the obligatory ‘Expedition UHURU’ Team photo with Mont Luigi in the background and Buzz decided to help the girls by digging several tons of ice and snow off the main path for them. “I need the exercise” was his excuse.

Found farewells from Base A: Port Lockroy. L-R: Ylva, Buzz, Hen, Nicky and Hanele.

Sorry, Kirsty but Buzz was kidnapped and held to ransom, the girls said he was much too useful digging snow and no matter how hard we tried we could not get them to let him go. Mind you Buzz wasn’t resisting that hard, the thought of being stranded on an ice bound rock digging snow with four young helpers seemed to appeal.  He said you’d understand!! :-)

However, the ransom demand is 10 new members of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, if any of you out there want to know more about this great effort, please do research it some more, they really are doing a great job in preserving our Heritage. www.ukaht.org  And if, like me, you believe it’s worth preserving, and you want Buzz back, please join the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Those of you that do please let me know so I can recover Buzz in a timely fashion and bring him home to Kirsty & Jasper.

Well we are off again heading South towards Lemaire Channel, AKA Kodak Alley. Will let you know how it all goes.

Do help release Buzz, he’s innocent, honest.

Luv to all

Steve and the remaining crew.

17th January 2011