Sunday 12th January - Plans are made to be broken
As Skip prepared to take Pelagic back across the Drake to Ushuaia with his and Andrew's families, reports of dire weather came in. The families need to be back in their respective home countries (Graham-Browns in UK and Novaks in South Africa) next week so the potential 5-or-more-day delay to leave the Peninsula was a problem. Skip kept across all the weather reports and eventually made the call to try and get the families onto a larger ship that could cross in any condition (virtually). Luckily, the ship Fram was heading straight back to Ushuaia from Port Lockroy and had rooms available. The families left as planned (sort of) on the 10th and will be back on terra firma tomorrow. We have heard word from Skip's wife Elena that all are doing well and are approaching Cape Horn as I type. Phew.
No Problem Pelagic
This brought about the question of what to do with Pelagic. To ease pressure in the Nissen Hut on Goudier Island (and to save Skip crossing the Drake alone - more than capable of this but still not something one would choose to do unplanned), Pelagic is remaining here at Port Lockroy. I have moved back on board, so now I have my own bunk which I don't have to pack up each morning (luxury!), and Andrew and I have more space to sort and use our kit. We are staying here with Skip for the time being. Dave and Bertie will return to join us and relieve Skip in due course.
Right across the island, hatching is still taking place. Andrew and I spent yesterday watching and waiting for a chick to emerge from a 5cm hole in the egg. Watching bits of shell come away and a tiny beak poke through to yawn in its new world was incredible. Of course, we only get privileged glimpses into this behaviour as the parent is all too keen to protect the new hatchling from the elements and dangers that surround it. After much patience, the evening drew on and we had to abandon filming for the day. Of course by this morning, the chick had fully hatched! As we settled to film our new star, a slightly different weather front moved in...
I have mentioned before my dislike of rain in the Antarctic. I now have another precipitation type to add to this list, which isn't all that dissimilar - wet snow. As it comes out of the sky it gives the appearance of snow but quickly turns to sleet, giving everything a dousing of what is essentially rain. This affects filming as a) the penguins do less, hunkering down to protect eggs and chicks and b) the lens gets covered in water droplets rendering anything that is filmed unusable. Unfortunately, the whole of today has been dismal with continuous wet snow. Still, it has given Andrew and I chance to relocate our logging station to the yacht and catch up with the material we have already got in the can.
Before dinner (pasta cooked by Andrew), I took a bit of time to hang out with the penguins on Goudier. Drenched and barely able to see through the driving wet snow (see above), I actually enjoyed bird-watching in weather not unlike that I might be experiencing at home. As one of the penguins I was watching stood up to reveal its healthy chick underneath, I spotted that its second chick had perished. Heartbreakingly, the parent still tended to this chick, tucking it into the brood pouch as best as could be managed. The healthy sibling fed and huddled into its dead brood-mate. Tearfully, I had to return to the yacht. It is distressing to observe such events but unfortunately, it is something I will have to get used to in the coming weeks - particularly if the weather doesn't improve. It sounds harsh but it is often easier to witness these things through the lens of a camera, where you are somewhat separated. We shall of course attempt to film even such tragedies when we come across them. And I will attempt to man up, emotionally separating myself from my beloved Gentoos in order to be able to witness such behaviours for the scientific events they are.