Sunday January 28th, 2001

Location

Port Lockroy

Latitude

64.49S

Longitude

63.29W

Wind

Very light and variable

Sea

Calm

Air temp

16 deg C

Sea temp

Minus 1 deg C

Barometer

980 mbs and falling


0800 hrs: As the sun peeped over the snow behind us this morning, it shone on an ice-covered anchorage. The sea here froze overnight – only a few millimetres, but ice nonetheless. The surface of the seawater in the deck bucket is hard. The decks have been icy in the night but are now warming with the day. The saloon was chilly when I rose at 5am at the request of watch-keeper Janot, concerned at a rising wind. But with the sunshine streaming through the double windows, and the wind back to a light breeze, it is now very nice indeed. A suitable temperature and surroundings for a relaxed breakfast as we plan the day.

The generator was started about an hour ago for tea for Ollie and me, but it also provides power for the water maker, the battery chargers, the galley, and for warming the oil of the main diesel engines. Even when at anchor we run the main engines every day to make sure they are warmed and ready – “just in case”. There have been a few occasions when we have needed a quick start-up because of rapidly changing weather or ice conditions. Yesterday we left Paradise Harbour earlier than expected due to a large berg bearing down on us in the current. It definitely had right of way! We didn’t have much warning, so to have faith in the engines is paramount.

1200 hrs: The cruise ship Marco Polo pulled into the harbour an hour ago, with 400 passengers onboard. Don and I went ashore to look at the whalebones and the young penguins when the Marc Polo team came in – with red traffic cones and some plastic chairs. The cones were set up to make sure that the visitors stay “on the path” and don’t stray in amongst the penguin nests. All very efficient and in line with what should be done with such large numbers at a time.

The young gentoo penguins were relaxing in the sunshine – and believe me, they can really relax. Spread-eagled out, face down on the shingle or rocks, their big feet spread, their wings spread. Fast asleep with seemingly not a care in the world.

We counted 25 young in a “crèche” being looked after by 8 adults. Neither the adults nor the chicks were the slightest bit concerned about our presence.

Ken and Jim from the British base on the island came to dinner onboard Seamaster last night. One of their jobs is to keep a check on visitor influence on the penguins. So half of their island is open to visitors, and half is closed (as a control). They told us that over the past 4 years there had been no noticeable difference in behaviour between the visited and the unvisited penguins. Mind you, the gentoos seem a very relaxed bird anyway.

They won’t be relaxing soon though. The young are developing fast and in a few weeks will go into the water for the first time. For some it will be their last. It will be a leopard-seal feast, when the sea turns red. The seals will be building up their own reserves for the coming winter by eating as many penguins as possible…