Sunday, 21 December 2014

Preparation day

All great adventures start out with important preparations, the same is of course true for our voyage. Today our dear guests have all got their matching blue jackets and proper shoes for all the challenging conditions we might meet further south.



The great sea around us has been almost totally flat with the sun shining from blue skies. Around the ship the Albatross calmly glides on the wind and we even had Dolphins alongside the ship for a while.


Tomorrow we have a big day so now its time to relax in the Sky lounge and listen to our great musicians beautiful music.





Friday, 19 December 2014

The start to a new adventure

Today we started off in a new adventure: we set sail towards the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic continent! At about 16.00 the first passengers arrived on MV Fram. It was busy like in a bee house on all the check-in desks: cruise accounts were opened, luggage distributed to cabins, cruise cards handed out, additional excursions were booked and yeah well, everyone just “settled in” onboard the ship, with which we will sail into 2015!

And before we left Ushuaia all of us had to attend a mandatory safety briefing. So the General Alarm set off and we dressed warm and got outside on deck 5 to our muster station to follow the briefing.
After a very nice dinner buffet in the board restaurant (we hope everyone tasted the fantastic brownies for dessert…), it was time for the Captains Welcome cocktail! We got to know the officers, our international expedition team, and last but not least, learned some useful information about our own cosy cabins. And full of expectations and excitement we fell into our beds – a very good night everyone!


Thursday, 18 December 2014

The end is the beginning

As we approach the southern tip of South America, on our way to Ushuaia, our outstanding cruise is coming to an end. There is a general feeling of both elation and sadness as we pack and prepare for our flights home tomorrow. Although this is the end, it is a beginning as well. Visiting the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica is a life-changing experience. This perhaps sounds cliché but IT REALLY IS LIFE-CHANGING! You could say after you have done what we have done, tomorrow is the beginning of the rest of your life.

One other point your faithful blogger should mention is the weather on this and the previous two trips. Never, have we witnessed such calm conditions for such a long period. It made our crossings of the Scotia Sea and Drake Passage much easier and more pleasant, and almost all our landings were achievable.

If we talk about highlights for the trip, for your faithful blogger it has to be the landing at St. Andrews Bay in South Georgia. Please refer to a previous blog to gain an impression of what I mean. The viewpoint from the 50m hill we climbed, of about hundreds of thousands of King Penguins was truly awesome (in the real sense of this oft miss-used word). Other aspects of the location such as the scenery, rivers lined with moulting King Penguins, and the Elephant Seals on the beach really added to our experience. The South Georgia Heritage Trust is mounting the final phase of its South Georgia rat eradication program and St. Andrews will be treated. If you want to contribute financially to this effort please have a look at their website: www.sght.org.

Tomorrow we will be in Ushuaia and will gain an eager set of new passengers who will stay with us over Christmas. Most, maybe all don't know that their lives will too be changed by the end! And how could they (?) for no description, television program, book, or image can every really do justice to this place. 


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Base A and our southernmost point

During operation Tabarin in 1941, the British set up a base here to keep an eye on enemy shipping and destroy old fuel dumps. Base A on Goudier Island (maybe more known as Port Lockroy) has become on off the most visited place in Antarctica, and today it was our turn.
Calm weather and sunny skies welcomed us to this historical place, which took us back to the 40´s and 50´s.










Here´s also a museum, kept much as it was in the 50´s, as well as a post office and a souvenir shop, so there was history, shopping and mailing postcards on todays “to do list”. In addition to all this, we had Gentoo penguins, Snowy Sheathbills and cormorants to greet us as well. After a couple of very interesting hours, it was time to leave and we said goodbye to the helpful and cheerful staff that stays here during the Antarctic summer.








We continued towards the strikingly beautiful Lemaire Channel, which was first sighted by German whaler Eduard Dallman in 1873. This eleven kilometre-long and 1.6 kilometre-wide channel was full of ice floes and burgy bits, so the traverse through went in a slow and easy pace. Many of us went out on deck to photograph and enjoy the stunning scenery of the steep cliffs and glaciers around us.





                                     





The second landing for today would be our last and most southerly point of our expedition, Petermann Island at 65°10´5 S / 064°07´6 W. It is perhaps more famous for its 1909 resident Jean-Baptist Charcot, who wintered here in a tiny cove which he named Port Circumcision.
Here we had Adélie penguins, imperial cormorants (blue-eyed shags) and the world’s southernmost Gentoo penguin colony and it was all there for us to enjoy. When afternoon became evening, it was time to leave and the captain pointed his ship towards Ushuaia, Argentina.











Later in the evening we all joined in the Panorama Lounge for the famous M/S Fram Crewshow, which was absolutely fabulous. 





Monday, 15 December 2014

A busy day at Cuverville and Almirante Brown

Monday was a very successful day. Cuverville offered us the perfect conditions for a beautiful landing and activities around the island. The Expedition Team went ashore in the morning to prepare the routes that led passengers to several viewing points with stunning views over (amongst others) “Iceberg Alley”. On the way, people were able to see several Gentoo penguin rookeries. They were particularly active, building nests to incubate and walking back and forth to the water to take a bath. It's very entertaining to watch and one could do this for hours. One of the paths led to the top of a big hill where people were able to go down a snow slide. Our Chinese passengers were by far the best at doing this!
The conditions were also perfect for kayaking. Our Expedition team members Tessa and TJ took our passengers on a beautiful trip around the area and were therefore able to see remote parts of the island and icebergs from a unique perspective. An other activity passengers could join were the polar circle boat cruises that took them on a jaw dropping 2 hour tour of the area with our team member and bird-expert John. This very eventful morning was definitely one of the best experiences we had on the cruise and everybody went back on board with a smile from ear to ear.







In the afternoon, we were able to visit the Argentinian Almirante Brown Station on the Antarctic continent in Paradise Harbour. Gentoo penguins were once again present and activities like boat cruising were available. Those joining the cruises were able to see Cormorants nesting on the cliffs. Right next to the base is a very steep peak that passengers were able to climb to get amazing views over the bay and the surrounding glaciers and snow-covered mountain tops. Since the snow sliding was such a success in the morning, Expedition Team trainee Tom was in charge of making a slide for everyone to come down once they made it to the top of the hill. Many brave passengers and crew members dared to tackle the wild descent and several went for a second or third time! Once everybody was back on board, we continued sailing towards Damoy Point where 18 lucky passengers camped outside on the snow near the penguins. They all carried their own equipment and belongings to a flat area where they set up their camp and got their tents ready. After a nice hike around the island with the beautiful midnight sun, it was time to go to bed. A unique experience, according to those who got to spend the night in the pristine nature of Antarctica! Except for the campers, we had three very lucky passengers. A couple from Germany and one other passenger were enjoying the views outside when suddenly they spotted an Emperor Penguin swimming amongst the ice! Even though we guaranty penguins on this cruise, a swimming Emperor Penguin in the Antarctic Peninsula remains a rare sight. These are the largest of all penguins and mainly have their colonies in places rarely visited by cruises/expeditions.  One of the three passengers managed to take a picture of the penguin that you can see down below. All credit for the picture goes to Kristina Klug and we thank her for letting us put it on the blog!





Picture by Kristina klug


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Up and down the slopes

The weather was a bit grey, cloudy and it snowed, it looked almost “mystical”, when MS Fram passed through the narrow opening called Neptune’s Bellows at Deception Island. 
We made our landing at Whalers Bay, once the southernmost Whaling station in the world. The hikers were set on land, and set off towards the other side of the caldera. The slope was steep, but the slide down on the other side towards Baily Head was worth the exhaustion. 


A natural amphitheater packed with ten-thousands of Chinstrap Penguins was awaiting us, what an amazing view. After a break and a stroll between the colonies, we headed back up again. 
It was hard to find our path back in the snowdrift, but we reached the other side all well, and some of us might got a little bit of a taste of an Antarctic explorer’s life. The rest of us wasn’t bored neither, there was lots to see at Whalers’s Bay: the remains of the Norwegian whaling operations, the stunning view through Neptune’s Window and even the Hangar, where the first Antarctic flight took place! And last but not least: the brave Antarctic swimmers! Some fearless passengers jumped into the icy waters from Deception Island and went for a polar plunge.



In the afternoon we had a little rest before we arrived at Mikkelsen Harbor, a small rocky islet located in the Palmer Archipelago. And what a small but fine place: the views on all directions were – once more – stunning. 
We were surrounded by huge glacier fronts and the evening sun made beautiful horizons over the Gentoo rookeries. It was a coming and going on the penguin highways up and down the slope. On the landing side the Weddell seals had a rest on the snow and it was a very peaceful ending of the day. 


Saturday, 13 December 2014

The many dimensions of Antarctica

This three-part expedition cruise we are on has reached the final “episode”- Antarctica. It took three days of sailing to get us here from South Georgia, although we did stop by Elephant Island  yesterday afternoon. That broke up the crossing nicely (see yesterday’s blog).

Overnight we sailed southwest to the South Shetland Islands and made our first landing in Antarctica at Arctowski Station on King George Island. In this small microcosm, we could see the many facets or dimensions of Antarctica from the plants and animals to the human element- the research that is going on here every day of the year.

The area around Arktowski is an Antarctic oasis. It is unusually green and lush.


Both species of Antarctic higher plants can be seen there as well as snow algae, terrestrial algae, mosses and lichens of various species. Whale bones encrusted with lichens lay around the beach.



About 5000 pairs of Adélie Penguins breed up on the hill behind the cove, in what is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA). Scientists at the station are monitoring the colony annually. Nearby Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins breed if you are lucky, like we were, you can see all three species in one place.


Many varied artefacts, both animate and inanimate, were strewn over the beach.




Inside the station scientists from several countries welcomed us with hot tea and biscuits and discussed the work they are doing.

Over lunch and most of the afternoon, we cruised down to Half Moon Island, our second destination for the day. Regular Fram blog readers will be quite familiar with this small island nestled between Livingston and Greenwich Islands. A sizable Chinstrap Penguin colony calls Half Moon its home, as does a variety of other seabird species including Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Antarctic Tern. The Chinstraps were fully into incubation and chicks should not be too far behind!



Antarctica Terns were very active all though our stay, displaying, mobbing skuas and sheathbills, and fighting amongst themselves. As the landing went into the evening, we were treated with several Wilson's Storm-Petrels coming out of their crevices for the night.





In the middle of one of the Chinstrap colonies, stands “Mac” our lonely Macaroni Penguin, who we have been seeing in the same place for several years. We don’t know if Mac is a boy or girl but we do know (s)he is in breeding condition because we have seen a brood patch on a previous trip (note the small slit at the base of Mac's belly). On this trip we also saw Mac making the "ecstatic" display, advertising its nest. We are all hopeful that a mate is eventually found!