Saturday, 18 October 2014

Cape Verde – Volcanic Islands in the East Atlantic

We reached the Cape Verde Islands around lunchtime at the 17th of October. Palm trees greeted us again as we expected it after we left Las Palmas two days ago. The sun was burning and the thermometer showed temperatures around 30°C in the shadow and in the water as well, but we are on an explorer ship and we were just ready to explore the city of Mindelo - one of the largest cities on the Cape Verde - laying on São Vicente.

The Cape Verde Islands are a volcanic Archipelago in the NE Atlantic, app. 570 km west of Senegal. Ten larger, nine of them inhabited, and several small islands are divided in the islands over and under the wind (NE Trade). The archipelago was formed over a hot spot, a huge magma chamber and the oldest islands are Sal, Boa Vista and Maio in the east. São Vicente belongs to the younger islands with a nice mountain landscape.

As Cape Verde has no original inhabitant we have no exact knowledge about the pre-colonial time. It looks like that the islands have been known as “Gorgaden” by the very early navigators and that the Arabs sailed for salt to Sal, one of the easterly islands.

The first documented circumnavigation of the islands has been done by the Portuguese navigator Antonio Fernandes. 1460 the Genovese Antonio da Noli discovered the islands and named them Ilhas do Cabo Verde. Cape Verde became a Portuguese colony as da Noli discovered the islands in the name of the Portuguese “Henry the Navigator” (Infante Dom Henrique de Avis, Duke of Viseu). Da Noli founded the first European tropical city, Cidade Velha (Cidade de Ribeira Grande) on Santiago. During 1500 and 1620 Cape Verde became a very important “transfer site” for slaves. That’s the reason why we could see so many dark skinned people living on the islands. The islands got later on an importance for the English salt trade and for its coal harbors but pestilences, aridity and hunger crises set an end to the economic importance of the islands. After a longer independence fight against Portugal the islands got their Autonomy at the 5th of July 1975.

Mindelo, the capital of São Vicente has been always very important for its natural deep water harbor. In historical time it was famous for its coal bunker, today the harbor is more well-known for the tourism as also bigger cruise liners can be safely docked at a modern pier.

We docked at this pier also and started our city excursion as soon as the ship had been cleared in. Even it was very hot we enjoyed our walk through the town. Full of new and very deep impressions we came back on board. Look at the pictures and you can take at least a little bit part of our experiences.

As we stayed overnight in the harbor we had the evening and the next morning to learn the city by ourselves. There was even time for a beach visit before we left Cape Verde for our next destination of Salvador da Bahia in Brazil.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Sea days are just wonderful

Our first days on board MS FRAM have been two sea days – and that has been just the best for everybody after travelling from all over the world to Las Palmas the day before. Guests from 10 different nations got the time now to feel comfortable on board and to find new friends with same interests perhaps. We have been more than lucky that these first sea days turned out more than perfect. The weather has been beautiful, the blue sky covered with white clouds, temperatures during the day between 25 – 30 degree Celsius, a light breeze and even nice temperatures in the evening so that we could sit on the open decks even it becomes already dark quite early.

All guests came into the special “ship rhythm” quite fast. Breakfast, lunch, a nice afternoon tea time and the dinner give the day a structure. There was lots of time for relaxing, but we had also our first lectures during the mornings, we had to rescue a storm petrel - perhaps a Madeiran Storm Petrel - we found on deck 5, we spotted Spotted Dolphins and some of us saw even the huge blow of any whale.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Let´s go south again

Our trip from Las Palmas on the Canary Islands to Buenos Aires in Argentina started today. The weather was beautiful; branches of  green Palm trees were waving smoothly in a light breeze. We will see no trees or other vegetation during the next days. Our view will go from horizon to horizon until we will reach the Cape Verde Islands on the 17th of October. There we expect Palm trees - hopefully under a clear blue sky - again.



The day in Las Palmas was quite a busy day. Passengers from our last European cruise left the ship during the morning hours. The new incoming guests for the Transatlantic Voyage had their check-in in the afternoon.  The pier was busy with huge trucks bringing food and lots of other stuff we will need during the next weeks before we reach Buenos Aires. A small tank ship was going alongside FRAM as we had to bunker the fuel for our trip over the Atlantic. It needed quite a while until our tanks were really filled up with the so called “marine gasoil”.

Just before we left the harbor all passengers had to participate in the mandatory safety drill, no problem in this warm weather, it was just wonderful to be on the open deck.

After first nice dinner our Captain Arild Hårvik invited us to a heartily welcome into the Panorama Lounge. 

As it has been a long travel day for all guests most passengers went to bed early. Let´s see what the following days at sea will bring.

Saturday, 11 October 2014


Our last port of call before arriving at our final destination of Las Palmas, Canary Islands, is Porto, Portugal, which we reached today. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, next to Lisbon, but the centre had a small-town feel about it. To reach Porto, we had to sail across the often ferocious Bay of Biscay, but on our crossing, seas were relatively calm.

The air in Porto when we arrived this morning was delightfully mild. We are after all at 41° north. The weather remained fine all day as many of us went on a city tour, river cruise and port wine tasting (more on this below). Yes, Port wine got its name from Porto, which in Portuguese simply means “port” in English.  The port in Porto is small so the Fram docked at Leixões a little to the north.

Porto itself is a sprawling city with a very “Latin” feel. Despite being an early member of the EU, Portugal seems to have retained its very special culture, with strong connections to fish and the sea.

Wonderful salted sardines being grilled on the street
The bustling Porto train station. Note the beautiful
tiled walls

Cruise along the River Douro
Port is a wine loved the world over. It is classed as a fortified wine because of its high alcohol content. It is made only in the Douro Valley area of Portugal. To make it they start the wine fermenting but stop the fermentation early by adding 70% wine alcohol, which kills the yeast and fortifies the wine up to about 20% alcohol. By doing this some of the grape sugars have not been converted to alcohol, which gives the wine it’s natural sweetness. The conditions along the Douro River in Porto itself are perfect for cellaring or maturing the wine, and we had a chance to visit a few of the old cellars in the city. The smell alone when entering the cellars is intoxicating!

We left Porto in the late afternoon and headed south along the west coast of Portugal and for the Canary Islands. We will take on a lot of passengers there, and then continue south and west across the Atlantic, finally arriving at Buenos Aires, Argentina, to start our Antarctic season on 1 November. Follow along on this blog to find out what adventures the Fram and her passengers will experience over the next three weeks.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Celtic France

Yesterday we passed by the Channel Islands of Alderney, Guernsey, Herm and Sark but due to storm-force wind conditions, we could not land in St. Peter Port, Guernsey. As a result though, our passengers had a taste of what expedition cruising is all about! 

The winds continued overnight and made for a bumpy sleep.  Again, our passengers experienced “expedition cruising” at its best!

By early morning it was clear that either the winds had calmed down or we were in sheltered waters. This was a nice relief. The calmness in fact was a result of us entering the estuary that contains Brest, our next port of call.

Brest is the largest city in Brittany or en français- Bretagne. The name gives away a clue- Brittany was inhabited by Celts and then celtic Britons moved to this western outpost in France to escape the Anglo-Saxon hoards after the Romans left Britain (as did the Welsh and Cornish when they moved to their respective, current lands). So Brittany is a Celtic enclave in a Latin country.  The Brittany language shares similarities with the extinct Cornish language and the very much alive Welsh. It was interesting to see many street signs in Brest, written in French and the Brittany language. A sad program to quash the Celtic culture in Brittany was mounted by the French in former times, but it was totally unsuccessful in killing the language and culture.

Place de al Liberté
Brest's modern tram
People have lived in Brittany and Brest for 1000s of years and the city is old- the Romans were there 2000 years ago. However, you would never know it’s age by looking at it. During the occupation in WWII, the Germans built an important submarine base there, which attracted the interests of the Allies, which eventually bombed the city to oblivion. Very few old buildings exist. One, the castle-like “Chateau” was too strong to be destroyed, although the Allies attempted it.

Two interesting excursions were offered today. Your faithful blogger was lucky enough to accompany the “Panoramic Tour of Brest and the Mythical Coast”.  Here are some images from the tour to give you a flavour of what we did and what we saw.

The lovely harbour of Portsall at low tide 
The ruins of Saint Mathieu Abbey 

The anchor from the famous Amoco Cadiz. The oil tanker ran aground near
Portsall on the Brittany coastline on 16 March 1978, spilling a vast amount of
oil into the sea. Much of this oil found its way to the Brittany shores.