Monday, 14 January 2013

Hope Springs Eternal in Hope Bay

Our first scheduled stop was at Esperanza in Hope Bay. Esperanza is Spanish for hope.

“Hope” in Hope Bay.  As we approached the Argentine base at 08:00 the sea ice became increasingly dense.   In the distance we could see the base, a sprinkling of orange buildings more than two nautical miles away.  Those two miles might as well have been two hundred miles for all the difference it would make to us.  The ice was too thick for Fram to venture any further.   Truly there was no hope for Hope in Hope Bay. It had been an adventure to weave our way through the ice to arrive at this juncture.  It seemed that not only would we miss out on Esperanza but our second planned landing at Brown Bluff would be out of the question.  Even though Fram has an ice-strengthened hull it would take a ship with a much higher ice rating than ours to make it through to Brown Bluff.  If there was only an ice-breaker in the area. We could follow an ice breaker to...  almost anywhere.  Oh wait!  There’s one!!  

The HMS Protector was lying at anchor just a few hundred metres away.  Formerly a Norwegian vessel, the Protector was now in the service of the British navy.  On board the Protector there were representative from the International Association of Antarctic Tour operators (IAATO) as well as representatives from the Antarctic Treaty.  They were here to review the landing sites used by IAATO members.  As good fortune would have it, they were planning on going to Brown Bluff too.  They kindly offered us the opportunity to follow in their wake through the ice.  They would then escort us safely out of the dense ice again when our landing operations were complete.
What safer passage than with a British navy ice-breaker.  Whoop-ee!
Our journey through the sea ice to Brown Bluff was unforgettable, however, would there be an opening in the ice for our diminutive Polar Cirkel boats to make it to shore.
At 16:00 the Expedition Team launched a scout boat.  It didn’t look good, but what you couldn’t see from the ship was that the ice cover actually opened up as you approached shore!  Soon passenger laden Polar Cirkel boats were zipping from the ship to shore.
Once on shore we had many options to explore.  Part of the Expedition team were guiding glacier walks on one end of the site while at the opposite end the rest of the team were spread out to facilitate our visit to a Gentoo and an Adelie penguin colony.
The sun was shining.  The scenery was truly magnificent.  Brown Bluffs and blue sky towered above us.  There was barely a breath of wind.  Soon everyone was pealing off layers of clothing. It seemed too hot to be Antarctica but the scenery belied the warm temperatures.  High on the glacier the Expedition Team took advantage of the good weather to build a snow man.

What started out as a hopeless situation in Hope Bay ended as a really unique and great adventure.  It was the first time Fram had ever had the opportunity to venture into such heavy ice.  When would we ever again have such a safe and guaranteed escort?  Probably never.

(Tout nos passagers francais aimeraient passer le bonjour à Christine et toute l’equipe au Bureau à Paris!)