A Day In The Life Of… A Port Lockroy Field Operations Coordinator

31 October 2022
No Comments
A Day In The Life Of, Antarctica, Q&A

Port Lockroy is based on Goudier Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. Since 1966 the site has been open to visitors during the Antarctic summer (November to March) and is now managed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, which runs the site as a ‘living museum’ with a popular gift shop. All profits from the shop go towards the renovation of other historic sites in Antarctica. Port Lockroy is also the world’s most southerly public post house – affectionately known as the Penguin Post Office.

We spoke to Field Operations Coordinator Vicky Inglis for her thoughts on living and working there.

Vicky enjoying mountainous terrain © UKAHT
Vicky enjoying mountainous terrain © UKAHT

How does a typical day play out for you? 

We’ll get up around 7 am, to the sound of the day’s duty cook heating water for tea and coffee. Breakfast is usually something like muesli or homemade bread and jam, maybe porridge if it’s looking like a cold or wet day. The Base Leader will check for any new emails sent overnight and we’ll go over the plan for the day, and who’s due to be visiting. Port Lockroy time is 3 hours behind the UK, so there’s often something new from the Cambridge office to look at.

We might also get a first call on the VHF radio from the vessel approaching the island. The Base Leader will work out the details of the visit with the Expedition Leader onboard the ship, while the rest of the team gets to work preparing the island for visitors. Early in the season, this means checking the snow around the landing site to make sure it’s safe for visitors and marking out penguin highways, so they don’t get disturbed on their way between the water and their nests.

Later, once the snow melts away, we scrub the rocks outside the museum clean of guano, so it doesn’t get walked into the building on visitors’ boots. Preserving the fabric of the heritage buildings and the artifacts inside is a real challenge in the extreme environment of Antarctica.

We might take a break by the landing site if the weather is fine, and look out for whales in the Neumayer Channel, or just enjoy the view of mountains and glaciers that surround Port Lockroy. But there are always other jobs still to be done before the end of the day.

The UKAT team on duty © UKAHT
The UKAHT team on duty © UKAHT

What are your favourite animals you encounter there?

It’s an incredible privilege to get such a close glimpse into the lives of the penguin colony and other wildlife. The penguin chicks seem fascinated by our scrubbing brushes and the footbath and can get under our feet as they try to peck, poke, slap, and splash around. It’s very difficult to keep the recommended 5-metre distance once the chicks have reached the creching stage, but they are wild creatures and though they are habituated to our presence, we don’t look after them or treat them like pets.

Penguins playing near the office © UKAHT
Penguins playing near the office © UKAHT

Is there a focus on sustainability in your base?

We’re in the process of moving to 100% solar power to meet our needs at Port Lockroy, so the generators will eventually just be an emergency backup. We also get our freshwater supply replenished from the ship’s watermaker for showers or a chance to do a load of laundry.

What should an intrepid tourist expect on their visit?

The Expedition team from the ship are usually old hands at visiting Port Lockroy, and know how to manage the experience for their guests, allowing us to share stories of our experiences living in Antarctica, the history of Base A, and of course, the penguins. We make a lot of friends through the season, including many old members of the UKAHT Antarctic team. The visitors come ashore, rotating through the historic building on Goudier Island, with perhaps a visit to Jougla Point or a cruise in a zodiac, and time passes quickly. It’s not long before we’re waving them off to have lunch back on the ship.

Port Lockroy's Penguins © UKAHT
Port Lockroy’s Penguins © UKAHT

What advice would you give travelers coming to explore Port Lockroy? 

I think the best advice for travelers to Antarctica, is to try to experience things slowly. Don’t be in a rush to tick off all the experiences on offer or cram your time with doing things. Spend time just being there in the moment, noticing the sounds and smells as well as the sights, watching the movement of the wind and the light across the landscape, and looking beyond the big, noisy attention-grabbing things (penguins!) to notice the small details.

Orcas swimming in the waters near the port
Orcas swimming in the waters near the port

Can you tell us about the postal service side of operations?

Before the Expedition team depart, the Postmaster might have a few sacks of post to hand over. The team will hand cancel around 80,000 items of mail during the season, mostly postcards, but sometimes letters, birthday cards, small packages of gifts, and one brave couple even dropped their wedding invitations in the red postbox. After sorting and packaging, the mailbags are sealed and sent on a ship heading to Stanley in the Falkland Islands, where they are sorted again, and sent by military flight to the UK, to be dispatched to destinations all around the world.

Stamp duty in the postal sorting office © UKAHT
Stamp duty in the postal sorting office © UKAH

What stands out for you having spent extended periods living there?

Despite being busy, there’s always little moments when we can stop and really appreciate our surroundings. The team gets to experience the changes in the place as the season progresses, more than the snapshot views most visitors get of Antarctica; changes in snow cover, revealing the blue ice of glaciers, the change in prevailing weather, the start of long, white nights followed by the returning twilight then starry skies.

Sunset over the port © UKAH
Sunset over the port © UKAH

And the life of our penguin colony, which are just building nests and reaffirming pair bonds as we arrive, then go on to lay eggs and raise chicks, which grow almost before our eyes, before starting to take to the water at the end of the season. We witness their struggle for survival against predatory birds like sheathbills, skuas, and giant petrels, and the lurking presence of leopard seals in the water around the island.

Sleds and the local inhabitants © UKAHT

The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust is a charity and they need your help more than ever. Even a small donation can help them continue their work, so please donate here.

Ready to start planning your incredible Antarctica expedition cruise?

Simply complete our enquiry form to get in touch, or call our Polar Specialists on 0203 196 1000.

Share It:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.