British doctor quits job to run post office in Antarctica

October 8, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

An intrepid British doctor is taking a career break to run the world’s most remote post office – in ANTARCTICA.

Dr Helen Joannidi, 33, is moving to the remote outpost for five months to run the Port Lockroy Post Office, which has no central heating, running water or electricity.

She will work on remote Goudier Island during the Antarctic summer – where average day-time temperatures are minus 12 degrees C.

It is the southernmost post office in the world but needs to be manned full-time in peak season as tourists flock to send postcards and letters.

The clinical psychologist will live in a tiny WWII wooden Nissen hut where the isolated region goes days on end without the sun going down.

Despite only having penguins and tourists as company, Helen – who decided to volunteer after visiting the site as a tourist in 2008 – insists the role is the ”job of a lifetime”.

Single Helen, from Totterdown, Bristol, said: ”I spent a few months travelling in South America.

”While I was in Tierra Del Fuego, I discovered that it was possible to jump on a ship and spend 10 days cruising around Antarctica – it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss, so I leapt at the chance.

”I fell in love with Port Lockroy as soon as I arrived, and I asked the people working there how they managed to get such a great gig.

”They explained that they were all volunteers, so as soon as I got home I put pen to paper and volunteered my services.”

The post office originally opened in 1944 as a war-time operation to monitor shipping routes and lay claim to the remote outcrop.

It ran until 1967, when it no longer became viable and it remain closed until a grant meant it could be reopened and restored in 1996.

Since then, hundreds of volunteers have stepped forward to man the post office, which handles around 80,000 items of mail over the five-month summer season.

Mail is franked by hand before being ferried on a cruise ship and flown on a military flight into Britain – a process that can take up to eight weeks.

Goudier Island receives around 15,000 visitors every year and is a popular stop-off from tourists visiting the southern tip of South America.

The one-acre island has 1,500 penguins and part of Helen’s role will be to monitor their behaviour until she returns home in April next year.

Helen, who has been working for North Bristol NHS Trust under a fixed contract which has now ended, said: ”There can be a ship in every day at the height of the season.

”In fact one of the extra responsibilities I have agreed to take on during my time there is to monitor the penguin colonies as part of an ongoing research project to see if their numbers are being affected by the tourist numbers.

”You can’t really go outside for any length of time – apart from it being freezing, we don’t want to scare the penguins and prevent them from mating.”

Helen is one of four volunteers who will staff the post office during the summer.

They were whittled down from hundreds of applicants to just six who were invited to interview in Wales in May.

Assessors quizzed the hopefuls on their ability handle the isolated lifestyle and willingness to get along with others living in such close quarters.

The selected four then spent a week getting to know one-another on a camping trip in Wales in August.

Helen will be living with, Hannele Luukkainen, from Finland, German Ylva Grams and fellow Brit Nicola Rickett.

The basic wooden hut has no heating, running water or electricity and inhabitants must rely on passing cruise ships to wash and shower, which also transport food and water to the island.

She added: ”We’ve already discussed possible ways of coping with living in such close quarters for five months.

”We have made an agreement that we should voice any concerns or irritations about each others’ behaviour as soon as they become apparent – not wait until they develop into a real problem.

”It will be quite an experience to spend so long in such a remote place. I’m sure I will miss family and friends, especially over Christmas, but I’m not worried about it.

”In a sense, I was more remote when I was trekking through jungles during my travels in South America.

”At least in Port Lockroy there will be new people mooring up almost every day.”

The base is run by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust – a charity arm of the British Antarctic Survey, which is devoted to maintaining buildings of historical importance in and around the world’s least populated continent.

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