Friday, 20 February 2015

Down the Gullet and why not?

Our morning was spent exploring the ice conditions in the area known as the Gullet. If this narrow passage is passable it would allow the FRAM to motor northward along the east side of Anvers Island. However if ice is blocking the channel the FRAM will have to reverse its heading and proceed south then west then north around the western- outside coast of Adelaide Island. The first route is not only shorter, but saves diesel fuel and provided spectacular scenery. 
The weather conditions were not cooperative. At breakfast time the FRAM were headed north into the Gulllet. We were facing strong winds, ground fog and a nearly solid barrier of floating seaice with bergy-bits. The radar showed the ice conditions to the north to be the same. The captain took all these factors into account and at about 9:20am he reached the decision to turn the FRAM’s heading from northward to southward. This means we will have to follow “Plan B” and go around the southern end of Adelaide Island, then pass along the western side of the Island on our northbound transit.    
And why not land? On our southbound transit we pass by Pourquoi Pas Island and ‘why not’ as the name of the island translates from the French - land there. We did land there in a small bay that was well protected from the swells. On shore a significant number of male fur seals were lounging about. Pourquoi Pas Island provided us with different type of landing spot and a close up of the fur seals.
In the late afternoon we had a “swell landing” at Jenny Island. From offshore we spied several Elephant Seals lounging on the rocks and as we had not seen this species of seals before we decided to do a short landing at Jenny Island. The landing beach has significant swells and the surging Polarcirkle boats needed four or more Expedition Staff to steady the boats as we landed. There was a steep climb up the cobble beach face to a relatively level stretch were we could walk and then photograph the Elephant Seals. During our landing adventures the seals did nothing but lounge around and barely opened an eye or two.
Now to round the southern margin of Adelaide Island and head northward.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Down in the sunny south

Our morning started as we skirted the south end of Adelaide Island and headed east for our landing at Stonington Island. Stonington Island is the site of two now abandoned bases. In 1939 “EAST BASE” was established by the US naval officer Richard Byrd. The US Antarctic Service used the base until 1941. After WWII the buildings were re-occupied by the Finn Ronne Expedition in 1946 to 1947. The buildings were partially restored in 1990-1991 and attached photos show the present condition of these buildings, suggesting it is time for a bit of restoration of the restoration.

Stonington Island also is the site of British “BASE E”. This base was established in 1955 and operated until 1975. As can be seen in the attached photos, the condition of the buildings at this base again suggest that the time is ripe for a restoration.

Meteorology was an important program at both bases. In addition both bases had dog teams and carried out extensive topographic mapping and geologic studies of the adjacent areas of the continent. At the time the bases were operational a glacier front extended from the mainland across water to Stonington Island. This enabled the drivers to have long runs to exercise the dog teams and to have a starting “highway” for the exploration surveys of the continent. Today one would have to load the dogs and equipment into boats and cross from the island to the mainland. The connecting glacier front from the mainland has melted and retreated and now Stonington Island is truly an island with no above water connection to the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula.
 Our afternoon landing was at Horseshoe Island. Here we found British “BASE Y” this site operated as a major research facility from 1955 to 1960. Though abandoned after 1960  it has been restored and preserved by the Antarctic Heritage Trust. The interior with its original radio equipment, food supplies and magazines is a complete time capsule of the late 1950’s. Outside the view was spectacular in all directions. The rocky knoll close to the base hut provided a crystal clear view, in all directions, of the nearby and distant mountains. The sun shone brightly all the time we were onshore. And if 6 people stood in a circle and everyone looked in a different direction, every person had an unforgettable view. It is an understatement to say that the views did not fit inside a camera.
There were innumerable icebergs both in our landing site bay and outside in the channels. Close-up views of these bergs and the high peaks forming the backdrop were enjoyed by our kayakers and Polarcirkle boat cruisers.
In closing, today has to be one of the most unforgettable days of this trip and a lifetime!             


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Our Transit Southward

The FRAM spent the morning heading south and soon after we crossed the Antarctic Circle King Neptune appeared as we had entered the southern reaches of his Kingdom. He was not pleased with our unexpected entry into his Kingdom but he was willing to be forgiving IF those who had not entered this part of his realm before – became his subjects by being initiated with a dousing of cold water. Many of us were initiated and now we are pleased that our new King is happy and will let us continue south with fair winds and following seas.

Soon after the initiation we arrived near Detaille Island. A scouting expedition went ashore and returned with the news that a safe shore landing was not possible. So instead Karin the expedition leader turned the page to plan 2. We would all be able to go cruising in our Polarcirkle boats among the many grounded icebergs that are nearby. The cruising trips were often different as some followed whales, others photographed castle-like icebergs and some saw several seal lounging on pieces of old sea-ice.

As the day closed we began our journey south toward Stonington Island and Horseshoe Island.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Neko and Lockroy

It was an early morning start for some of us as we went over to the Leith Island campsite to help those who over-nighted in the tents to pack their gear and return to the FRAM. By shortly after 8am we were on our way to Neko Harbour.

Neko Harbor was glorious. We had an easy landing with bright blue skies and a warm sunny day. Two days ago at Deception Island it was grim with rain,sleet and strong winds. Today the weather was just the opposite. The great weather allowed us to hold a “full boat” of activities. In addition into our landing at the Gentoo Penguin colony and the hike up to the overlook point, today we also had a kayak cruise as 20 passengers and 2 staff had an easy paddle across the bay. The paddle back to the pick-up point was more challenging and the rapidly falling tide carried long streams of floating ice across the kayakers route. This days photos speak for themselves. 
From Neko Harbor we motored through Neumeyer Channel to Post Lockroy. During our visit to this museum plus shop and post office the weather changed from clear and sunny to overcast and windy with occasional rain and sleet. This did not slow down our touring of the museum and our shopping and writing and mailing cards. The store at Port Lockroy always seems to have quality goodies to purchase ranging from stuffed toy penguins to excellent maps and books.
While some of us were in the restored building others went kayaking around Goudier Island where Port Lockroy is located. The event of the kayak trip was the leopard seal that was extra curious and several times raised its head out of the water near the kayaks to take a look at the paddlers. 

The day drew to a close as we made our evening transit through Lemaire Channel.  

Monday, 16 February 2015

Cuverville Noveau

Strong winds caused the Expedition Leader, Karin, to modify our morning landing at Cuverville Island. Our expected landing site had strong onshore winds and the shoreline was too choppy for a landing. Instead we circled the Island and we were able to land at a more protected location.
The most striking feature of this landing site was the green snow. From our botanist Rudolph we learned that this tiny green algae belongs to a group called ‘snowalgae’ and the nutrients for its survival are provided by the penguin guano from the nearby colony. Also nearby there was a large amount of water running out from the glacier front and onto the beach.

To climb up to the level of the Gentoo rookery the Expedition Team cut a staircase into the snow and ice. This enabled us to walk over the frost fractured rocks and guano goo to view the Gentoo Penguin colony. Cuverville Island is perhaps the largest penguin colony we will visit and interestingly most of the penguins we saw were not adults but were very hungry chicks who pestered the few passing adults for food.  

The Argentinian “Base Brown” was our afternoon visit. The 10 Argentinians in residence were welcoming and we hope they enjoyed our visit as much as did. While there were not many penguins around the Base we enjoyed ourselves by sliding down the slope of the hill behind the base. On leaving we carried away the knowledge that because Base Brown is on the mainland, we had visited the continent of Antarctica.

Our day closed with dropping 21 campers who will be spending the night, or as dark as it gets, in tents on Leith Island.   

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A day to remember at Deception

By 8am we were approaching the entrance to Deception Island, but the entrance Neptunes Bellows, was shrouded in fog. As we motored closer the fog and haze cleared a bit and we had a safe transit into the caldera. The bridge officers kept the FRAM’s starboard (right) side near the northern cliff face and we avoided the middle of the channel, where Raven Rock waits for careless Captains. We anchored off the abandoned Norwegian whaling station near the small dry-dock that was used to lift out of the water the smaller support boats for the whaling operations.

Going ashore from the FRAM we had our first taste of today’s Deception weather. Wet and windy were the words for this landing as we had constant horizontal rain throughout our time ashore. In past years we have had cloudy and foggy weather at Port Foster but rain we had today is memorable as it was the most rainfall several of the staff had ever seen to fall and soak Earths driest-desert continent. The rain and wind did not stop six passengers from going for very short swims.

During lunch the FRAM headed eastward to Telefon Bay. The wind did not drop but the rain stopped and the skies cleared a bit. The Telefon Bay site is a relatively recent volcanic cinder ash cone surrounded by loose deposits of volcanic material ranging in size from boulders down to sand sized fragments. The only animals on the beach were a couple of fur seals. This was a rare penguin free landing.
We cleared Neptunes Bellows with no problems and headed south for tomorrows landings.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Glorious then gusty

Brown Bluff was our morning landing and it was picture perfect. The tall brown volcanic rock cliffs were clear sunny. Offshore there were dozens of icebergs and bergy-bits and along the shoreline there were Gentoo penguins and swarms of young Adelie Penguins. The young penguins still had bits and pieces of their down mixed among their newer water-proof feathers. They were exploring the beach front but most were too apprehensive to go into the water for their first swim and attempt at getting their own food.

Also along the beach boulders and rubble there were Fur Seals, Adelie Penguins, Skuas, Kelp Gulls and Giant Petrels.Notable on the beach are 2 large boulders of volcanic tuff, these are called ventifacts and have large planar facets as their original surfaces have been sand-blasted by the winds that often occur at this peninsula at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Looking back at our perfect weather landing at Brown Bluff one person said “It looks just like the Hurtigruten brochures!” and it did. 

During lunch we headed eastward for Paulet Island. It is an understatement to say the winds increased. They did not just increase they turned up the velocities to hurricane levels, more than 35m/s or 75mph. Clearly a landing at Paulet was not to be today. The Captain carefully re-ballasted the FRAM and we turned and headed for tomorrows landings at Deception Island.