Thursday, 20 November 2014

Leaving the Map

Imagine a globe on your desk. Then try to find Ushuaia. Little hint: It’s on the bottom of the sphere, just before the brass cap...
You have to have a globe, maps usually don’t do the trick, as our destination is so far  out that the projection leaves the cold continent as a white smear, impolitely disfiguring the most amazing place in the world - Antarctica.
So extreme is this destination that you have to travel something between 24 and 36 hours, just to get to the departure point of our journey, which is at the same time the southernmost city in the world. Not really a short trip…

But there are perks galore: Surrounded by ragged sharp mountains, Ushuaia is nestled beautifully in a large bowl near the very “End of the World”, which is also the motto of the place and to be found on every other Tee-shirt.
And then there is the food! If you like meat you have come to the right place. Just try one of those typical Parilla places, where there artfully roast all kinds of delicacies over an open coal fire. A feast not to be missed.
And here, smack in the middle of it, lies our brave FRAM, waiting for our excited guests to arrive, who are coming from no less than 18 nations all over the globe. They all are embarking on an adventurous journey into the Mighty White, the last true wilderness on the planet. So, spirits are high, camera batteries get charged, binoculars cleaned, cabins are moved in, the ship gets thoroughly inspected.
The mandatory drill takes place a little after time, so at 6:30 pm we cast the lines and head out for the notorious Drake passage.
A memorable voyage to you all, is the key message of Captain Rune Andreassen, during his welcome speech the same evening.
Well, we couldn’t agree more!
And here’s a little reverence to our lovely Frieda which only she and Captain Arild will fully understand. Why else should someone appear dressed up as a whiskey barrel…?! But, dear reader, we will solve this mystery a little later during the voyage. Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Reflections from Jakob

This is Jakob, one of our trainees on board the Fram. As usual we ask our trainees to write an edition of the blog and as mentioned the other day, your faithful bloggers are thrilled when they accept (do they REALLY have a choice?!!!).


We are now in the notorious Drake Passage after 17 days on board. All the way from Buenos Aires to Antarctica, via Falkland Islands and South Georgia. It’s been an amazing voyage with tons of wildlife, all types of weather and breathtaking scenery. I’m very happy be in a place with 20 hours of sunlight compared with 4 months of darkness, and be close to harmless penguins instead of giant polar bears.

From my home in Svalbard to Antarctica is about as far away as I can get. This is my second time as a trainee in the expedition team, but my first time in Antarctica, actually my first time in the southern hemisphere. I had a lot of fun learning and thinking about the fundamental differences in the south of the planet. Just the fact that the sun moves in the opposite direction when it’s going down, the stars are different and my compass doesn’t work.

This is truly the realm of the great explorers. I have walked in the footsteps of Shackleton in South Georgia, spent a night tenting in Antarctica, just like Amundsen. Kayaking in Neko Harbour was the best, with penguins and icebergs all around. I'm looking forward to one more voyage down south.

(Eds. note- we are now heading for Ushuaia and the end of this fantastic cruise). It all starts again tomorrow with another trip so keep following the blog!)

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Home away from home

The most popular landing in Antarctica, if you consider shear number of ships and visitors is the British Base in Port Lockroy. And it's no wonder why this is so. Built on the minuscule Goudier Island in Port Lockroy, the landing offers amazing scenery, wildlife, and an old British base. Base "A" as it is called, was brought back to life by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust in 1996, after being abandoned sometime before.


In the base building can be found a museum detailing the work that went on at the base, a well stocked shop, and what must be the most remote, official British Post Office! A delightful team of UKAHT staff live in a newly constructed Nissan hut, which they obviously consider their home away from home, as they will spend the entire 5 month summer on the island. Those who occupied the base and lived in what is now the museum section of the main building must have thought the same way. 

Your faithful blogger sat quietly in the lounge for a while and contemplated what it would have been like to sit by there coal stove, drinking a nice dram of whisky, gramophone playing some 1940s or 50s hit in the background, your friends slapping cards down on the nearby table in a competitive game of cribbage, and the smell of pipe tobacco smoke wafting in the air. Those were the days! And it was not hard to conjure up these thoughts because the museum is so well presented for us today.





Wildlife on Goudier Island mainly consists of breeding Gentoo Penguins, with the perfunctory Snowy Sheathbills running around getting into all sorts of trouble.







The penguins are a relatively new arrival and were not breeding on the island when the base was built in the early 1940s. Gentoos are increasing on the Antarctic Peninsula, while Adélie Penguins are decreasing- both a likely result of climate change. On-going monitoring of the penguin colony has shown that visitors and the general human activity around the base do not affect breeding success. Rather, the amount of winter snow fall does, with larger amounts (more frequent these days), causing delayed breeding and poorer success. The first egg in the colony had been laid yesterday.

Some of us were lucky enough to go on a guided snowshoe hike before visiting the base. The hike wended up snow hills to the ridge above the spot where others of us camped the previous night. From there, the views down on to Goudier Island really placed in perspective the whole location. Note that the inner part of Port Lockroy was still frozen so Goudier Island looks like it is joined to Wiencke Island. Others explored the area in our Polarcirkel boats and got to experience the place from sea-level.





Some practical aspects of running a shop in Antarctica were realised today as well. Fram had taken on stock for this season in Stanley (Falklands) and some of us spent a part of the morning unloading boxes of t-shirts, books, fleeces and all the other items you see on the shelves.




After leaving Port Lockroy we sailed south to the entrance of the famous Lemaire Channel to see if it was possible to navigate through to the other end. As we approached it was pretty clear that sea ice was blocking the entrance. Nevertheless our captain expertly slid the ship through the ice so that we could take a close look.


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Antarctica – the coldest and most windswept continent? Not for us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Today was the day of the Gentoo Penguin. We had time enough to visit two different colonies, one in Neko Harbor on the Antarctic mainland and later on one in Cuverville. The weather has been amazing, or was it unbelievable nice, or magnificent, glorious, outstanding or superb? That what we experienced on this day we cannot describe with words. We got different possibilities to enjoy this day. We were hiking, cruising or sitting in front of the penguins to observe the nature - and everything under a clear blue sky, with no wind and a very intense sunshine. Even pictures will give you only a little impression of our experiences of the day – we hope you enjoy them! 












 



 

Some passengers could not get enough nature feeling during the day. They choose their chance for camping in Antarctica. There could not be better conditions for such an unique camping experience.


Friday, 14 November 2014

Fram Symphony

Our cruise has reached the finale of the Fram Symphony, composed by Nature and conducted by our captain. The score has been building to a crescendo for the past two days as we approached Antarctica. Yes, technically we were in Antarctica when we crossed the Antarctic Convergence, sailing southeast to South Georgia, but not until today did we cast our eyes on the beautiful land of Antarctica itself. As we sailed by King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, we could really see what the fuss was all about- mountain peaks covered in marshmallow ice, icebergs of all sorts in the water, with penguins swimming by and seabirds following the ship.

Our goal today was to reach Half Moon Island, a small island nestled between Livingston and Greenwich Islands, in the appropriately named Half Moon Bay.  We did so in the early afternoon and proceeded to have an extremely memorable landing there. Through the afternoon the skies around the island were ominous and grey but for us, a hole in the cloud allowed the sun to shine from beginning to end. The wind blew and it was cold but all this did was remind us where we were. Our own patch of sunlight played on the mountains of Livingston Island, which formed the best backdrop you could imagine to the breeding birds and seals on Half Moon.



The wildlife highlights were of course the Chinstrap Penguins, at this stage still sitting on snow and waiting for the time they have solid rock below their feet and they can commence breeding. We were also lucky enough to see Mr. or Mrs. Macaroni Penguin, which has been coming to Half Moon for several years, but to our knowledge has never found a mate. Lolling on the ice in several places were Weddell Seals.






We had two special activities during the landing- Polarcirkel boat cruising and snowshoeing. Both were very well subscribed. Snow-shoers landed to one side of the Camara Base, an Argentine science station. They then walked along the shoreline and up to the top of a small mountain, from which they had fantastic views of the whole area.


The cruisers were treated to an abundance of icebergs and seals of several different species. A herd of Crabeater Seals swam by the flotilla of small boats. In several places, Weddell Seals slept, seemingly oblivious to their wonderful surroundings. And the icing on the cake was a Leopard Seal at the end of the cruise!

Everyone, including those of us who have visited Half Moon Island many times, will never forget this day.


The finale to our symphony will continue for the next two days as we delve deeper into the icy Antarctic Peninsula and really see what we and the Fram are made of.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Some thoughts from Elin

This is Elin, one of our trainees on board the Fram. We usually ask our trainees to write an edition of the blog and your faithful bloggers are thrilled when they accept (do they have a choice?!!!).




..............................

We have now been onboard Fram for 13 fantastic days and have had landings in the Falkland Islands and in South Georgia. Very soon we are doing our first landings in Antarctica. It is an amazingly long distance from my home in Norway and I feel very privileged to be here.

I am a trainee in the expedition team and this is my first trip with Fram. I have an education in nature conservation and have some experience in kayak guiding. So far the trip has been very educational, with a lot of interesting lectures while having sea days and many knowledgeable people to tell what we see on shore both historical, geographical and wildlife. My main reason to come here was the wildlife. I have seen many documentaries from Antarctica and the islands nearby, and the scenery and wildlife are so beautiful. The fact is that it is even more beautiful in real life. Our days in South Georgia were a little bit foggy, but when leaving we could see these steep mountains dressed with snow.



My first meeting with penguins was very special for me. At New Island in Falklands we visited a colony of rockhopper penguins. It was so nice to sit and watch them just a few meters away, how they were bounding and making nests without noticing all the people watching. They were not disturbed by us at all, as long as we kept some meters distance. One penguin approached me and almost walked on my shoe to get its stone for the nest. And that applies to most wildlife down here, they are not afraid of people and some birds and seals are so curious, like these king penguins at Fortuna Bay.



What I was most amazed was the size of the male elephant seals. I knew they were big, but in real life they are huge! They can have a length up to 4,5 meters and weigh around 4000kg! You do not want to argue with them! When kayaking in Grytviken (South Georgia) we met them in the sea and one came up to look at the other guide Ralf  just a meter away from him. I was a little bit nervous, but he just watched for a while and swam away.

Before I came here, I had heard a lot of what the intense whaling had done to the whale stocks and almost made some species instinct. Introduced species from the whaling period are still doing a lot of damage to the fragile wildlife. Rats in South Georgia made some parts of the islands free from certain birds because they eat the eggs and chicks. In Falkland you have gorse, planted by people living there earlier. It is a beautiful bush with yellow flowers, which smell wonderful. So I can really understand why they wanted to take them with them. Now gorse had spread to large areas and by that excluding the native vegetation. So to avoid taking seeds, bacterial, virus on shore everybody have to clean their equipment properly. That warms the heart of a conservation biologist.