Saturday, 21 November 2015

Names can be deceiving!

So after a great surprise yesterday when we cruised in the vicinity of Point Lookout on Elephant Island, today, we visited Penguin Island off the south coast of King George Island in the South Shetlands. This was our first proper landing of the cruise and what a landing it was! But first, the name Penguin Island is somewhat misleading in that, yes there are penguins breeding- Chinstraps- but not so many, and there is SO much more to see there. The island is an Antarctic oasis with meadows covered in Antarctic Hairgrass and several species of birds breeding, including the skittish Southern Giant Petrel.

When we arrived at the landing site we were confronted with a wall of ice and snow from the previous winter. We did not let that stop us and the stair-masters Stian and Johannes set to building what has to be the VERY BEST set of ice-stairs ever made in Antarctica.

Where there are penguins, there are skuas! These are Brown Skuas, which mainly nest on sub-Antarctic islands but can be found on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula as well. Here a pair is shown eating a fish one of them has just freshly caught just off the beach.

Through the whole landing this magnificent arched iceberg showed off in front of us!

And to add to to the drama, these amazing lenticular cloud formations were a backdrop to our ship, the MV Fram.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Elephant Island

We are back in the Antarctic again! The crossing of the Drake Passage, which can be quite dreadful in bad weather, was a pure “Drake Lake”, with only minor waves. The first island and land to spot was the famous Elephant Island, the north-eastern most of the South Shetland Islands. It was here that 22 men of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ‘The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition’ had to spend 4.5 months. The expedition never reached the continent of Antarctica. Their ship, the Endurance, got stuck in the sea ice of the Weddel Sea and was crushed. After a long journey on the sea ice, and later open sea, the hauled their life boats ashore Elephant Island. In their strongest life boat, Shackleton and two of his strongest men sailed to South Georgia, while the remaining men lived under the two remaining life boats, hoping that their expedition leader would return.

Relatively good weather conditions allowed the Fram to visit ‘Point Wild’ and see the place where Shackleton’s men lived for ourselves, although the swells were too big to go ashore.

After we had sailed around Elephant Island, we found calmer waters. At Point Lookout, it turned out to be a fantastic evening. We made a cruise under illuminating lenticular clouds, while enjoying the glaciers, ice bergs and first penguins of the trip. A marvellous start!

Thursday, 19 November 2015


USH is how we refer to Ushuaia and Ushuaia is where Fram is today. This most southerly city in the world conjures up so many impressions, especially for your faithful blogger who has been coming here for 20 years. Ushuaia has has developed so much in those 20 years, most thanks to the Antarctic cruise industry which uses the port as a base of operations for the peninsula. Argentina also encourages nationals to move to the city with tax breaks and subsidies on commodities like fuel oil.

USH lies on the famous and beautiful Beagle Channel, named after HMS Beagle charted the area in the early 1800s. The channel is spectacular with snow-capped and tree-clad mountains on both the Chilean and Argentinean sides.

As we sailed out of USH east down the Beagle Channel, the light played with the surrounding landscape, providing a fitting farewell to Fram.

Sunday, 15 November 2015


It is not often this early in the Antarctic summer season that you are able to navigate through the Lemaire Channel, then farther south to Petermann Island. The winter sea ice is usually heavy and the Lemaire is often blocked with smaller icebergs. Despite the dire warnings of heavy sea ice this Antarctic season, we found almost none and we could easily reach Petermann Island in the morning.
Picture by Johannes C. Apon
In a fresh breeze we landed on a snow bank to the right of our normal landing in Port Circumcision, and then explored the amazing island. At first the light was grey and flat but then the sun came out and made for wonderful views of the mainland on the other side of the Penola Strait.

Mount Scott stood proudly as a backdrop to Petermann. In the foreground are penguins, but therein lies a story. Twenty years ago the common species on Petermann was the Adelie but over the intervening period, they have declined and Gentoos have increased. It appears that there is little direct competition between the two, rather, the trends are related to differing reactions to climate change. The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed more than any place on Earth over the last 50 years and this has meant less sea ice. Since krill rely on sea ice as a grazing habitat, they have declined on the peninsula. Adelies are krill specialists and have suffered with lower breeding success and insufficient recruitment to replace natural mortality in the adults. Thus the colony at Petermann has declined. Gentoos on the other hand can tolerate warmer conditions and are more flexible in the feeding habits. Their breeding success has been good and recruitment high. Their populations have been increasing on the peninsula and their distribution is moving south. Petermann is the most southerly breeding station for Gentoos in Antarctica so far but they are marching south!

A beautiful penguin feather lay on the snow at Petermann. The small things are interesting too!
Breeding with the penguins along the cliff edge were Blue-eyed Shags.
Part of the now small Adelie Penguin colony at Petermann
Gentoos doing what they do best at this time of year!
Amazing skies at the end of our landing!
A constant feature of our landing was the Gentoo Penguins returning from a feeding trip in large flocks. Then walking up onto the island and to their breeding locations. Why are the white penguins walking towards us, and the black ones walking away?!!!!

So this was our last landing in Antarctica and we are now headed across the Drake Passage to Ushuaia and then home. But we still have a couple of days to see more wildlife before we go ashore!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

We have landed on the Antarctica continent!

A big day for our guests! Today, we made our first landing on the continent of Antarctica. Setting foot on the mainland means a lot! However, being here so early in the season, ice can constitute a real challenge. Fortunately, as we have been so many times this trip, the weather and ice conditions were just perfect. MS Fram anchored at Andvord Bay and the Expedition Team made everything in order to land at Neko Harbour, named after a Scottish whaling vessel from the early 1900s.
Picture by Johannes C. Apon

On shore, we were able to visit a few Gentoo penguin rookeries. It is extremely fascinating to see how the penguins have made so-called ‘highways’ for commuting between their colonies and the sea. On the hills down to the sea, they often just slide on their bellies. And after a successful fishing trip, they jump up from the water as acrobats and land on shore. Some fantastic jewels of glacier fronts formed the backdrop of this landing. The guests were given the opportunity to hike up to a view point and watch out over the bay, surrounded by blue ice and penguin rookeries, while the MS Fram down below looked minuscule in this majestic scenery.

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

It didn’t stop there today. The Fram continued through the beautiful Errara Channel, where snowcapped glaciers pump huge amounts of enormous icebergs into the sea. Our ship had to zigzag to avoid them. Going ashore our second landing site, Cuverville Island, was also a little challenge, but our skilled crew got us safely around the icebergs.

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Cuverville Island is identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports a breeding colony of about 6,500 pairs of Gentoo penguins, the largest for this species on the Antarctic Peninsula. The surrounding scenery of looming mountains, coated with a thick layer of glacial ice, contributes to the forgetfulness of it all.

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Friday, 13 November 2015

little island in Antarctica

So after three days in the Scotia Sea, we arrived at our final goal- Antarctica! To be specific, at about 11:00am today we sighted King George Island at the northeast corner of the South Shetlands Archipelago. After two quite rough days at sea with Beaufort 8-9 winds and seas, it was very comforting to sight land! And, although indeed we were seeing land, most of it was covered in a thick layer of glacial ice and snow.

After several hours of cruising down the southeast coast of the South Shetland Islands we turned to the starboard and entered the McFarlane Strait between Greenwich and Livingston Islands. From there we sailed to our first Antarctic landing of Half Moon Island. The conditions were ideal for the landing with calm conditions and nice light. There was a small swell at the beach, and together with the chucks of ice, these made the landing a bit more challenging than normal.

Excitement filled the air as we came ashore and started to really experience Antarctica. Almost the whole island was covered in a thick layer of ice and snow from the last winter. As we approached the black dots on the ice above the landing site we realized that they were Chinstrap Penguins. The breeding season was just getting going and much courtship was going on. Snowy Sheathbills ran around the colony eating anything they could find.

Our snowshoers were able to travel over the covering of snow with ease, and really see a lot of the island and its surroundings. And our kayakers explored the whole offshore area. Our first landing was a huge success and put smiles on everyone's faces and it was a great start to the last segment of our expedition cruise.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Our first icebergs!

Our next stretch to the South Shetlands, crossing the Scotia Sea, gave us two quiet days to 'digest' all those impressions from our hectic, but spectacular time on South Georgia. When we say 'quiet', this doesn't mean the sea is quiet. On the contrary: Scotia Sea gave us 25 meter per second winds, which whipped the ocean's waves up to eight meters high. It is a good thing the MS Fram has fantastic stabilizers: they really reduce the movement of the ship. 

Today, we crossed latitude 60 degrees, and are now approaching the Antarctic Peninsula. The captain and officers are doing a fantastic job on the bridge navigating around the icebergs that float around. The icebergs come in all different shapes and sizes and have been fascinating our guests today, whether they were relaxing in the panorama lounge, or brave enough to withstand the weather elements, taking pictures on our outside deck (it is about 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) outside).

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


After a great but cloudy day yesterday, we awoke to bright sunshine as we arrived to Maiviken (May Cove). There we dropped off our intrepid hikers who were to make their way up and over from Maiviken to Grytviken. The hike was spectacular with sun and little wind and an added bonus was the sighting of the endemic South Georgia Pipit at the beginning of the hike.

Image by Verena Meraldi
Image by Verena Meraldi
Image by Verena Meraldi
After the massive rat eradication program that just finished on South Georgia, the pipits are coming back. Rats eat the eggs and chicks of the pipits and many of the smaller seabirds breeding on the island. Although the eradication program has been completed, you can still contribute to the funding shortfall by going to the South Georgia Heritage Trust website:

Yesterday we visited the whaling station at Strømness, which was off-limits to us because of asbestos risk and because the buildings are very unstable. Today in Gryviken we were able to actually walk through the remains of the Norwegian whaling station there. A few years ago the South Georgia government and the South Georgia Heritage Trust cleaned up the station of hazards with the result that access is now possible. By the way, a 'gryt' is a try pot (from Norwegian): a cauldron used to boil the seal blubber in the early days of Antarctic exploitation. To 'try-out' is render the oil our of the blubber. 'Vik' is a bay in Norwegian. 

Here you can see various tanks and generators in the whaling station and in the distance, the old church dating from 1913.

The chains used to pull the dead whales up the flensing plan lie in a pile.

A Wandering Albatross mount peers out the window of the Carr Maritime Gallery towards the Fram anchored offshore. The gallery is part of the museum at Gryviken.

An Antarctic Tern hunting for food need our landing site.

Some beautiful lenticular clouds developed of the mountains near Gryviken as we left.

And like our Falklands tour, South Georgia has just whizzed by- time has a different meaning in these places. Now we will spend a couple of days sailing in the Scotia Sea south and west to the Antarctic Peninsula. 


Today, we reached the stunning island of South-Georgia. It took us two days to sail from the Falklands, and we were blessed with calm seas. On our way, we saw the interesting “Shag Rocks”, named after the great number of Shag birds that nest on these desolated rocks in the middle of the ocean.

Some of us got up early to watch the sunrise at approx. 4.30 am. Although South-Georgia is known for its changing weather, we were lucky again and could see the sun rise above the sharp mountain peaks, some rising more than 2,000 meters above the sea. Since we are still early in the season, practically all mountains were still covered in snow.

On our first landing of the day, we visited Fortuna Bay, were we could see a king penguin colony with chicks, fur seals and enormous elephant seals.

23 of our guests signed up for our Shackleton hike and followed the famous English polar explorer’s footsteps from Fortuna Bay to the former whaling station of Strømnes. While Fram left Fortuna Bay, the hiking group ascended out of the valley, through the snow. It really felt like an expedition! The views on the valley and the surrounding mountain walls, Strømnes below, and the bay and sea at the horizon, while Fram appeared again around the corner, were just stunning.

Reunited in Strømnes, all passengers had the opportunity to walk around and enjoy Strømnes, where fur seals and elephant seals were sleeping and loudly snoring on the beach.