Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Base Great Gray Day


Since we departed from Port Lockroy the weather changed to a gray, rainy and misty sky, which did not change through the day.  We had some early morning lectures while in transit and we reached King George Island for the medical evacuation about mid morning.

Photo: Anke Timmerberg

Photo: Anke Timmerberg

Photo: Anke Timmerberg


In the afternoon we went to shore and visited the different bases around Maxwell bay, the Chilean base of Eduardo Frei that is close together with Escudero from Chile and Teniente Marsh from the Chilean Airforce, that owns and run the airfield located in King George Island.  Also next door is Bellingshausen a Russian station in the South Shetland Islands.  While waiting for the weather to clear up and to have a response as when the plane will arrive to pick up the passenger that required a more detailed medical attention. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

An exceptional day at Cuverville and Lockroy




Fram from Cuverville Island
photo by Anke Timmerberg

We awoke and enjoyed breakfast as the Fram motored through the scenic and windy Gerlache Strait. As we arrived at Cuverville Island we could see a new-fallen layer of snow covering the beach and the hill-sides. The wind decreased and the sun broke through the clouds, in a word our landing was perfect. The gentoo penguin colonies were active and most of the birds that were born early this summer have now lost their down and are full-sized. They now enter the water to feed on their own. There were two other notable occurrences to report: Firstly we sighted a very rare all-white gentoo chick.


All white Gentoo chick
Photo by Anke Timmerberg

Secondly we saw some recently hatched chicks. Our ornithologists told us these chicks and the other very young penguins that we saw will not survive. There is not enough time before the winter sea-ice forms for these birds to loose their down and grow to the nearly adult size that they must reach to take open water and feed themselves. Such is mother nature.




After lunch we headed through scenic Neumeyer Channel on our way to our afternoon landing at Port Lockroy. By now the sky was overcast but there was no wind and the landing was smooth. The area around Port Lockroy was explored by the members of the first French Antarctic Expedition. The expedition leader was Jean Baptiste Charcot and he named the site for a French politician who helped him obtain funding for the expedition. During WWII the British occupied the site and built several buildings. The purpose of this base was to look for enemy shipping in the region. After the war the buildings were used as a base for geologic and biologic field parties and for atmospheric research. Early research and mapping was done by the members of the Falkland Island Dependency Survey and later the research was carried on by the British Antarctic Survey. As a research base Port Lockroy closed in 1962 and was not restored and re-opened as a museum until 1996. In 2006 the base facilities plus museum, post office and store functions were turned over to the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. The Trust is uses the profit margin funds from the sale of books, stamps and clothing to maintain or restore Antarctic historic sites. Today we did our part in the museum store to support this good cause.
On our way from the museum and store to the landing site we were able to watch a leopard seal dine in a gentoo penguin.



Leopard seal eating penquin off Port Lockroy
photo by Anke Timmerberg
In the course of dinner there was an announcement from the Captain and the Expedition Leader. We have a medical emergency onboard. As a result we are now underway northward to the Chilean Base on King George Island. From the March-Frei Base the patient can be air-med-evacuated to Punta Arenas.




Monday, 27 February 2012

We are there, in Antarctica.....the land of dreams.

What a day: Now we are officially in Antarctica, and all this although we did not suffer very much. Hard to believe, but really, the crossing of the Drake Passage was smooth as fresh snow, we neither felt the bump of crossing the Antarctic Convergence and under extraordinary good conditions we made our first landing in the tiny, but beautiful Half Moon Island. This is our first day in Antarctica and we have experienced so many things, have seen so many different animals and our senses were filled with new smells, sounds, and views. It has been an unforgettable day and this is only the entrance to this vast continent. We have learned that the South Shetland Islands are something different than the Antarctic mainland. It is hard to believe that there can be something more spectacular that we have seen so far. But the more we know about Antarctica, the more amazed we are. It is a mesmerizing feeling to be here, it is like being in a dream and we know that there is so much more to discover.



We would like to share some of the images we have seen with you and here is a small sample of some of the days views: Please, tell us if you would also like to come with us next time. We promise you we will enjoy this place and leave it untouched and undisturbed, so next time, you come to visit Antarctica you can have the same pleasure as we have.

Some of our friends, the penguins are beginning to migrate to northerly latitudes in the ocean and we hope, they will find their way back to this rookeries next season. Until that time, we will preserve this memories in this short report and this few pictures which will be with us for the rest of the time.




Now we have to go to rest, because the excitement of tomorrows program looks also very promising and we will need all of our energy for the day ahead.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Drake Lake!!


Incredibly calm waters - is this really the Drake?!
Photo © Annke Timmerberg
There are two forms of experiencing the Drake: either the Drake-Lake or the Drake-Shake. Today, the smooth version gives us the opportunity to obtain our sea legs in a nice, gradual manner. Not like other trips where passengers need to cope with waves and rolling straight away! 
The bad side of such amazingly calm waters is that our biologists struggled with their birding workshop on deck: no objects of interest showed up at all!

No birds...
Photo © Annke Timmerberg
The reason is that the birds of this region use dynamic soaring as means of locomotion. They need wind in order to glide effortlessly through the air. If there is no wind, they have to flap their wings and that consumes a lot of energy. In this case, they tend to rather rest on the water and wait for the wind to pick up again.

However, there are 8 more sea days to come. There are good chances we will go through rougher weather (almost certain I would say!) and this also means there will be many more opportunities to watch the beautiful albatrosses!
 
In lack of birds... a theoretical photo-workshop


...and finally the ONE bird - a black-browed albatross!!
Photo © Annke Timmerberg



Saturday, 25 February 2012

Day 1 of a 19 Day Grand Adventure


Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Photo © Annke Timmerberg

It was a beautiful fresh day when our plane landed on the tarmac at the small airport in Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego.  As we stepped out of the airport to the waiting motor coaches we could see beautiful snow-covered mountains.  It was obvious that it had snowed overnight in the higher elevations surrounding the southernmost city in the world.  February 24 and winter was already knocking on the door of Ushuaia and yet the 1st official day of autumn is still nearly a month away.
Photo © Annke Timmerberg
The snow seemed an appropriate beginning for a journey that is going to take us to Antarctica, South Georgia, The Falkland Islands and then Buenos Aires.  This is the last trip of the season to Antarctica for Fram.  Indeed it is the last trip in the southern hemisphere.  
For those of us that live and work onboard Fram we are excited.  It is an exciting way to end the season and it means that new destinations are just ahead! 
For the Expedition Team, South Georgia is always a place that gets us revved up.  The wildlife and the scenery blow the doors off just about anywhere else.
And then there are the Falkland Islands. Warmer, greener landscapes, different species of wildlife.  Flowers!  After a season of rocks and ice it is so refreshing to see flowers and green grass and to hear song birds once again.


Mandatory safety drill before leaving the pier.
Photo © Annke Timmerberg
It is 21:30 and our voyage is well underway.  We are comfortably ensconced in our cabins.  We all have spiffy new blue jackets.  We have opened our cruise accounts and registered our info with the ship’s doctor.  We took part in a mandatory safety drill before we left the pier.  We have had a delicious buffet dinner and then we all joined the Captain for a welcome cocktail on deck seven in the Observation Lounge.  We have had a busy afternoon since joining Fram but now we can relax.
We are sailing westward in the Beagle Channel on our way to the southern Atlantic Ocean and then Drake Passage.  The skies are overcast but the sea is very calm.  There is a light breeze blowing of ten knots.  We have ideal conditions.  There should be a gentle ocean swell to rock us to sleep.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Extra added attractions!

Overnight the ocean swells increased and by breakfast time the Fram was rolling gently in swells up to 7m or 22ft in height. The swells and wind were coming from behind the ship and served to push us northward as we motored across the northern half of the Drake Passage.

Diego Ramirez Island
Photo by Anke Timmerberg
  The first major benefit of our speedier passage was that Captain Andreasson was able to steer the Fram on a close approach to the island named in honor of Diego Ramirez. Ramirez was the navigator on the 1618 to 1619 Spanish expedition that was sent to map the coastline and seafloor off southern South America. The island is a large rookery that contains Black-browed and Grey-headed albatrosses plus Giant Petrels and Cormorants. The penguin “family” is well represented by macaroni and rock-hopper penguins.
  
Cape Horn
Photo by Anke Timmerberg

Our good fortune continued as in the early evening we passed by Cape Horn. This fabled cape was first rounded by the Dutch captains Schouten and LeMaire in 1616. The original name was Kaap Hoorn as Hoorn was the home city of one of the captains. The name was modified over the years and the cape itself became the major landmark of accomplishment for ocean going sailors. Those who rounded Cape Horn were entitled to wear a single gold earring.

With Cape Horn in the background we all gathered in the Observation Lounge where the Captain led us in a farewell salute and wishes for a safe journey homeward. This was followed by the charity auction of the Captains master chart of our voyage showing the ships track and our landing spots. The winning bid was by a man whose grandfather and his grandfather were both sea captains. Both of these old seafarers never rounded Cape Horn but now their grandson and great-grandson has rounded Cape Horn and has the chart to prove it and to pass on to his children. 

As the evening sun on the Cape was obscured by rain showers we continued eastward toward the entrance to Beagle Channel and at 0200 we will pick up our Argentine pilot who will insure that we are at the dock in Ushuaia in time for tomorrow’s tours and our flight to Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

EDUCATION DAY ON A SMOOTH DRAKE

Today education was for everyone on the vessel: meaning lectures for passengers and drills for the crew.  A regular fire drill was this morning which was educational for some and for others just to keep up and not to forget the require actions in case of an emergency.

Photo by:Anke Timmerberg


Passengers had the option to attend to many lectures either in German or English the subjects varied from seabirds, history, geology to adventure. We had the luck to have on board Amir Klink a Brazilian sailor that had done many sailing trips cross the world, many times into Antarctica, including at least twice overwintering and circumnavigating the white continent, even rowing trip from Africa to Brazil


Photo by: Anke Timmerberg

Sleeping? Eating? Who cares?!

Our day was once more fully packed with excitement! Here the chronology in order not to forget anything:

07.00: Famous Lemaire Channel

8.45-12.30: Ice cruising in polar cirkle boats at the southern end of the Lemaire Channel

13.00: Lemaire Channel again (return journey)

15.20: Paradise Harbour
16.00: Errera Channel

17.15-20.30: Landing at Danko Island

21.15-21.45: Whale watching in the Gerlache Strait

All this in incredibly calm and cloudless weather, with fantastic reflections at the water surface and amazing light.

Do you remember, 2 days ago we had snow and storm. But this is Antarctica – always good for surprises. Showing today her amazing majesty and beauty - from the sunny side!




Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Neko-unrestricted visibility & Port Lockroy-shopping

Neko harbor rokery
Photo by Anke Timmerberg 
During our visit to Neko Harbour the visibility was unrestricted. From the granite knoll above the landing site we had clear and unlimited visibility for 360°. The Fram looked relatively small from our rocky vantage point and in the far distance we could see Mt. Francais (2700m or 9,000ft) on Anvers Island. Sounds drifted up our way from the squabbling of the gentoo penguins below and the glacier to our right grinding and cracking as avalanches and calving took place.

Gentoo parent and chicks
Photo by Anke Timmerberg
The gentoo rookery was an active place with 100’s of nearly full size chicks clamoring for more food. Clusters of skua gulls loitered near the rookery waiting for the opportunity to isolate one of the chicks.



Port Lockroy rookery - occupants
Photo by Anke Timmerberg
The perfect weather conditions continued as we motored through Paradise Harbour on our way to Port Lockroy. The site of Port Lockroy was explored in 1904 by the first French Antarctic Expedition led by Jean Baptiste Charcot. He named the site for a French politician who helped obtain funding for the expedition. The site and the adjacent islands have had an interesting history: first whalers used the locale for flensing their catch, then later during WWII the British built several building and established a base to monitor enemy shipping in the region. After the war the buildings were used for geologic and biologic field studies and atmospheric research by the members of the Falkland Island Dependency Survey, later re-named the British Antarctic Survey. The Port Lockroy site closed in 1962 and was not restored and re-opened as a museum until 1996. At present the facilities are operated and managed by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. The Trust is responsible for the restoration and maintenance of Antarctic historic sites. Funds for his purpose are generated by the profit margin realized from the sale of books, clothing and stamps sold in the Museum store. We did our part for future restorations and we tried to stay out if the way of the gentoo chicks clamoring over the rocks in search of any parent who might have food for them.
Port Lockroy boathouse in the foreground
Photo by Anke Timmerberg

Monday, 20 February 2012

DECEPTION NOT DECEPTIVE


We enter the Caldera at about 7:00 hrs and headed towards Stancomb Cove. The morning sky was gray, light snow was falling throughout most of the morning landing. Some brave people went for a swim, not me – anyway snow and occasional soft rain was the tune of most of the day until the afternoon when a radical and spectacular weather change occurred sunny and warm.   

The afternoon landing was Whalers Bay, the site for a former whaling station and an Antarctic Base. The ground was covered with new fallen snow at our arrival. Some went for a hike and others remained around the landing site exploring the ruins of the base and the station. As the day progressed the day became nicer and nicer.  
Photo: Anke Timmerberg

Photo: Anke Timmerberg

Sunday, 19 February 2012

True Antarctic Experience

In Antarctica, we always need to be prepared. Prepared to whatever the weather has prepared for us. And today, that was snow and wind!

Outside temperature: –4°C.
Felt temperature (which includes the chill factor of the wind): -17°C!


Of course that did not affect our spirit! As we all know, there is no bad weather, but only the wrong clothing. Dressed up with several layers, off we went to visit the Argentinean station Esperanza in the Antarctic Sound.


The base was founded in 1952 and 8 children were born here between 1978 and 1980. Today, no more pregnant women are sent down, but they do send families with children of all ages. We had the opportunity to see their school, the chapel, the “Casino”, a small museum and also the remains of the hut built by 3 members of the Nordenskj√∂ld expedition in 1902/03.

Later, we tried another landing at Brown Bluff. However, the wind had picked up to a Beaufort 9 (later in the evening even to a Beaufort 11) and made a safe operation impossible. Instead, we did ship cruising through fantastic scenery, sailing with MS Fram as far south as the entrance of the Weddell Sea.

Yes, we missed a landing, but was the sight of spectacular tabular icebergs (the largest 1,5 km long!) perhaps not much better?




Saturday, 18 February 2012

Smooth motoring to Half Moon Island





Chinstrap Rookery
Copyright Anke Timmerberg

Our good fortune continued as the Fram motored along in nearly flat seas. On our way southward, we attended the required briefings where we learned the regulations established by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). Most importantly we need to remember to stay 5 meters or 15 feet distant from our new friends.




Chinstrap Penguin
Copyright Anke Timmerberg

Excitement increased in the afternoon as we were fitted for our boots and prepared for our first landing at Half Moon Island. Our first polarCirkle boat ride to shore was a new experience for us but soon we will be old hands at leaving the Fram and riding ashore and getting in and out of the polarCirkle boats. The landing at Half Moon Island was in smooth waters and the Expedition Leader briefed us as to our time ashore and directed us to the pathways that had been set out by the Expedition staff.



Up the hill from the landing site and we were in a very active colony of Chinstrap penguins. It seemed as though 100’s of molting chicks were wandering about clamoring for their parents to return and feed them. Some of us walked over the ridge to the other side of the island were we were met by 40 to 50 fur seals, more Chinstrap penguins and a few Adelie penguins. Skua gulls, Snowy sheathbills and the occasional Antarctic tern circled the penguin rookeries. Overall today was a much better day than yesterday for the bird-watchers among us.



Fur Seal
Copyright Anke Timmerberg


Friday, 17 February 2012

SMOOTH DRAKE

WE DID AN ATTEMPT TO DO SOME BIRDING BUT............


WATER WAS HERE
AND WATER WAS THERE
BUT BIRDS WERE NOWHERE


Photo Copyright AnkeTimmerberg



A CALM DAY AT SEA — A DAY TO BE ON DECK ENJOYING THE LOVELY TOUCH OF THE SUN -- SEVERAL LECTURES WERE OFFERED ON DIFFERENT SUBJECTS RANGING FROM THE BIOLOGY OF THE DIFFERENT CREATURES THAT LIVE IN ANTARCTICA TO GEOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL OCCURRENCES ON THE WHITE CONTINENT.

Photo copyright: Anke Timmerberg




Thursday, 16 February 2012

Fin del mundo? – Not yet for us!

Ushuaia claims to be the southernmost city in the world (Puerto Williams in Chile is considered a village) and it is only natural, that the city is swamped with all type of souvenirs saying “Fin del Mundo” – “End of Earth”.
But are we really at the end of the earth here? For many people, yes! Ushuaia is the southernmost point that probably most of its visitors ever reach in their entire lives, the farthest that they ever travel.
But not us! We are more ambitious, we are heading even further.

Antarctica is our very destination. The only continent without civilization, without any settlements, without traffic, without cinemas and far away from the next supermarket.
And of course, heading towards Antarctica involves lots of expectations. Sofia from Sweden for example is very enthusiastic about beautiful landscapes and wild nature. Like most of our passengers, Marlies and Ellen from Germany are dreaming of penguins and icebergs. Brazilians Federico and Fernanda choose Antarctica because of the cold temperatures that they don’t have in their tropical home, while Akki from the Netherlands is looking forward to experiencing the unique colours and the silence. What about you?

207 passengers, 207 different reasons for coming on this voyage. And now, as the ship slowly moves through the Beagle Channel, we sail towards a place that perhaps deserves indeed to be called the end of the earth.


 Photos Copyright Anke Timmerberg




Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Last day, Long-lasting memories


Crossing the Drake Passage
photos by Lisa Andersson

We had a bouncy ride northbound across the Drake Passage and in the offshore waters as we approached southern South America. Through the night and during the day, the winds were generally from the west-north-west and blowing between 16 and 20 meters per second or 38 to 46 miles per hour. On the Beaufort scale this is number 8, gale strength. Those of us at breakfast watched the graceful gliding of Wandering Albatrosses and Black-browed Albatrosses.

In the early evening the Fram transited the continental rise and we were in the shallower waters of the South American continental shelf. Here the ocean waves were a bit steeper and closer together but soon all this was behind us as the Fram entered the protected passage east of Navarino Island. Soon we will enter the Beagle Channel and pick up our Argentine pilot. The pilot is expected to board at 0200 or 2pm on the 15th and we will then proceed to the pier in Ushuaia.

On the Fram today we had eight lectures, four in English and four in German. The topics ranged from the geo-politics of Antarctica, to Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean with its seals, cormorants and krill.
Just before dinner we all gathered in the Panorama Lounge for a farewell salute led by Captain Andreassen. The ships officers, plus the Expedition Staff were joined by many of the crew members. Among the crew members were the polarCirkel boat drivers, the housekeeping staff and of course the galley crew, many of whom we never see. All did their part and more to make this an unforgettable trip.
The ships auction followed the farewell salute. This is a charity event and the funds raised by auctioning the items are divided among several worthwhile organizations among them the South Georgia Heritage Trust and the Save the Albatross Foundation. The last item auctioned was the Captains master chart of our voyage. The winning bidder took home a permanent reminder of our outstanding trip to Antarctica and our crossing of the Antarctic Circle.

The top bidders with their extra item
photo by Lisa Andersson







Monday, 13 February 2012

Calm Drake allows for bridge visits, lectures and waffles



The notorious Drake has so far been kind to us on this (northbound) passage across the southern latitudes, sometimes referred to as the Screaming Sixties and the Furious Fifties. Numerous Cape Petrels are playing just above our bow wave, and the whales are still saluting us with their occasional blows on both sides of the vessel. This evening, albatrosses appeared around the ship again, they accompanied us as we comfortably sat to contamplate the ocean while thinking of our nearly finished adventure once again.

Our Safety Officer, Jann Olav Hansen, showing the most important machine

This full but quiet day at sea, with no landings, gave Captain Rune the opportunity to receive visitors at the bridge of the «Fram» and show off his high tech German-made electronics and demonstrate the modern steering of this rudder-less vessel. He explained how the two main propellers could be turned 360 degrees in an instant and take the «Fram» in any direction he wanted, providing high maneuverability among the many icebergs that we have negotiated on this trip. However, Rune maintains that the most important piece of equipment on the «Fram» is the coffee machine on the bridge.


The Expedition Team offered a number of lectures today in English, German and Scandinavian, with topics ranging from Wandering Albatrosses and Ernest Shackleton's incredible expeditions, to Antarctic politics as well as Darwin's legacy. In the Panorama Lounge, Elmer made a large stacks of waffles that he offered to his guests with jam, whipped cream, and Norwegian brown goat cheese. After the many landings and hikes in Antarctica, we gladly accepted the extra tasty calories.

Elmer preparing the most tasty waffles on deck 7