Monday 28 February 2011

Glaciers, penguins, stations…in one day!

We are on an expedition cruise and this means that not always everything can be carried out as previously scheduled. This is exactly what happened this morning. At our planned landing site the swell was too heavy and a safe landing was not possible.

But there is always a plan B and in our case it turned out to be fabulous. The FRAM just continued its way south and we managed to go ashore in beautiful Neko Harbor a small bay surrounded by impressive glaciers. Neko is a continental landing and now we have all been on Antarctica as such! Here we could walk up a snowy hill towards a very scenic viewpoint or we could simply stay with the hundreds of gentoo penguins scattered along the shoreline. Curious chicks approached some of us to have a closer look at these funny big blue penguins!

In the afternoon we visited the Chilean station Gonzalez Videla, with its small museum and souvenir shop. We could also climb up a little tower on the roof of the main building. And of course there were more penguins all over the place! The Chilean base commander told us that they counted more than 3,500 chicks this season.
Snow algae produce beautiful green and red colours

The day concluded with the FRAM cruising through Paradise Bay, again in dramatic light conditions (incredible, how many shades of grey there are!) and as darkness fell, we could see another station, the Argentinean Almirante Brown.

Our first glimpse of Antarctica

Yes, we made it! Tonight we crossed the famous convergence which separates the Antarctic ecosystem from the rest of the world. Now we are in Antarctic waters.

Just before lunch we first spotted land in the distance: the South Shetland Islands. And another thing that caught our attention: were the many rafts of penguins jumping in the water!

Our ship sailed through the Nelson Strait towards Livingston Island. Our destination was the tiny little Halfmoon Island where our first landing took place. Luckily, the landing site was sheltered from the strong wind and the swell was calm today.

Despite the rain we were very excited about setting foot on Antarctic terrain and exploring the area. Interesting rock formations are one of the main features of the place, together with the abundant wildlife. Two species of penguins (gentoo and chinstrap), snowy sheathbills, skuas, kelp gulls, Wilson’s storm petrels, fur seals and elephant seals – all on our first day!

Now it is getting dark outside, but as the daylight fades we can watch a beautiful sunset and the dramatic clouds that are very typical of this area.

Sunday 27 February 2011

Smooth Sailing

Early birds were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise
During the night it was a bit bumpy, but by breakfast time the FRAM was riding smoothly with following seas in bright sunlight. In the morning and afternoon we attended introductory lectures on Antarctica, its climate and ice conditions. In the afternoon our German speaking passengers received their IAATO briefing addressing proper behavior and boat safety procedures for our upcoming landings in Antarctica.

IAATO stands for International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators. All members commit to follow common guidelines in order to preserve the pristine wildlife and nature of this unspoiled place. For example minimum distances of 5 meters must be kept when observing penguins and boots must be washed and disinfected before each landing.

On deck in the morning and later in the evening our photographer Simon showed us how to take advantage of the features built into our cameras. We should now be able to take action photos of the birds gliding alongside the FRAM as we head south.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Welcome on board!

Today, our new passengers had a hard time to reach Ushuaia. This was due to a strike and all flights were delayed. Therefore, everybody arrived later than scheduled on the ship. However, most of the guests were quite relaxed, and despite the trouble came on board maybe a little tired but in high spirits and good mood.

Many of them even did the excursion to the beautiful Tierra del Fuego National Park before embarking and had the opportunity to enjoy the Southern Beech forests typical of this area.

As usual, once on board, cruise accounts were opened and jackets picked up before everybody went to have dinner in the restaurant.

We had the mandatory safety drill and straight afterwards a short welcome from our captain Arild HÃ¥rvik who introduced his team and then Anja Erdmann, our expedition leader introduced the members of the expedition staff.

Now FRAM is heading east in the Beagle Channel and most passengers are heading for their beds and a well-deserved good sleep.

Friday 25 February 2011

Our voyage is coming to an end…

One more last sea day! It turned out to be a smooth ride again… and now we are in the Beagle Channel, not far away from Ushuaia, where it all started, 12 days before.

Our captain had one last surprise for us: as we were good in time, he deviated the ship from its course and brought FRAM close to Cape Horn. The Chilean authorities even gave us permission to go as close as 4 nautical miles from the famous cape! A strong wind accompanied us on this careful approach – exactly as we would expect in this place.

In the afternoon, we gathered in the Observation Lounge where the expedition team wanted to check if we learned something at all during our trip. The final exam took place in form of a quiz, and two very strict judges (see photos) made sure that everything went correct! Excellent results showed that indeed all passengers go home with a sound knowledge on Antarctica. And congratulations to boat group number 4, the final winner of this great challenge!

We had the Captain’s Farewell Dinner in the evening, with speeches, the classical Baked Alaska and a good-bye of the MV Fram choir. The captain once more pointed out that a successful trip can only be achieved through good team work and because there are many ever-busy crew members behind the scenes.

Rona, Clarice, Marilyn and Rowena
from reception

For some of them, like the reception girls, these last days of a trip are always the most challenging – all bills have to be prepared and in parallel work for the next cruise also needs to be done.

We all on board MV FRAM hope you have enjoyed this trip with us down to Marguerite Bay and hope to see you soon again on board with us!

Dolphins saying good-bye in the Beagle Channel

Thursday 24 February 2011

Drake Lake or Drake Shake…

…that is always the question whenever we start our crossing! This time everything and everybody was prepared for the full storm – however, in the morning, we were surprised by a fairly smooth sea!! So at least the first half of the feared passage could be done in a rather pleasant way and certainly nobody will complain about this change of weather – on the contrary, we are all delighted!

We had time to once more re-live our experiences in Antarctica and/or to enhance our knowledge about this fascinating place. Either by just sitting and dreaming in the comfortable chairs of the Observation Lounge, by sorting out photos on the laptop, by reading books on the subject or by simply attending one of the interesting lectures.  And of course, at the end of the day, Karsten, our photographer showed a selection of his best pictures.

Francis and Erman - our barmen (but they are also good in making delicious waffles!)

In fact it is a good thing to have a few days of relax and digest before returning to our routine lives back at home. The contrast would be too immense if we had to go straight – so after all, at least the Drake LAKE is very welcome!
And today we had the rescheduled question round!

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Hurricane in the Antarctic Sound

Excitement never stops on this trip.
Today it was the wind that really thrilled us. When Anja made the morning announcement, it was still at 7m/s. But rapidly it increased and the sea was full with white horses. Of course a landing was not possible in these conditions. Instead, FRAM went directly past Brown Bluff towards the Weddell Sea and the eastern exit of the Antarctic Sound. The landscape (or should we say “sea”scape?) was beautiful: the blue sea with white caps, blue sky and sunshine and the ship surrounded by big icebergs, including tabular icebergs.

The wind came from behind, so we could stand in the bow and enjoy this fascinating scenery. Later, the wind increased to a Beaufort 12 and as the ship turned, everyone sought refuge in the inside.

We are now leaving this magic continent Antarctica behind us. It has been a unique and unforgettable experience, every day different and full with new impressions.

The ship is rolling and moving as we sail towards the Drake Passage. As most of the passengers are in their cabins this evening, the planned question round with the captain, hotel manager and chief engineer was postponed.

Monday 21 February 2011

Wow Wow Wow!

What an incredible day!!!
The Port Lockroy girls

It was not a promising start as we had wind, fog and rain in the early morning – but this is Antarctica and the weather changed quickly! Soon, the clouds lifted and we enjoyed beautiful sunny weather the rest of the day.

Our first and only stop was in Port Lockroy – a small and nicely preserved museum with post office and shopping mall. Well, the mall is of course of limited size – but it contains an amazing variety of articles related to Antarctica. Not only the typical souvenirs (T-shirts, stickers, postcards), but also very interesting books (including a cooking book which tells you how to prepare a penguin) and excellent maps.

 Fram meeting Le Boreal in
Wilhelmina Bay
Afterwards, the FRAM sailed through the spectacular Neumayer Channel and in contrast to our first passage, on this passage we could see and truly appreciate the massive glaciers and snowy mountains around us.

Our afternoon destination was Wilhelmina Bay, which according to our expedition staff is the perfect place for whale watching. And it was!!! Orcas, humpback whales, minke whales… surfaced all around the ship! Sometimes we did not even know if to look out at port- or at starboard side, as there were so many animals everywhere!

The fantastic day was concluded with the charity auction of the master chart and then the very entertaining crew show! It is a great show as our crew demonstrated their hidden skills and many of them spend a great deal of their free time rehearsing for our pleasure.

Good morning sunshine!

When we woke up this morning a blue sky and bright sunshine were waiting for us. What a day!!!

Our first landing took place at the Ukrainian station Vernadsky, formerly British and called “Faraday” then. We were allowed to have a look around the inside and outside of the base and saw the different research offices, the radio station, the hospital and the fitness room. Many passengers said: “oh – here I also would like to stay for some time”. But certainly it was not because the fitness room is so well equipped but most surely because of the wonderful bar that we found upstairs! Nicely decorated with bras of different sizes (we wonder who the owner of the XXXXXXXXL one was!) and with an apparently never ending stock of delicious self-made vodka, it seems indeed the place to be in winter time!

In the afternoon, we went ashore on another great landing site: Petermann Island. Surrounded by fantastic scenery, we once more could entertain ourselves with observing penguin behavior. Many fluffy gentoo chicks were around and also some blue-eyed cormorants, young ones and adults. On the other side of the island the view to the iceberg alley was stunning.
With this photo we greet the Indian Hill Elementary School in Cincinatti doing a project on Antarctica!

But the day was not over yet: in the evening FRAM passed the Lemaire channel again – this time in beautiful light and nice weather conditions!

And now, before we definitely can go to bed, there is the famous ice and fruit carving happening in the Observation Lounge. Our very talented crew shows to the speechless audience how they make the most amazing figures out of a block of ice or with a couple of fruits and vegetables.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Penguin Cacophony

The morning was filled with yet another set of interesting lectures. Then, after lunch, we reached the afternoon destination: the Fish Islands. They are a small archipelago of rocky little islands whose more appropriate name should actually be the “Penguin Islands” as they are covered with breeding Adelies. Now, the chicks are almost grown-up, but still – they keep begging for food whenever they can. So when we reached the shoreline, we were not only welcomed by the already familiar penguin perfume, but also by a quite intensive penguin noise. Returning adults calling for their offspring and offspring responding enthusiastically (sometimes even to the wrong parents – but these are normally not very amused about it!).

On the island opposite to our landing spot was another colony of black and white birds. But funny enough – some of these penguins spread out their wings and lifted themselves into the air! It was indeed a rookery of cormorants. Before returning to the ship we had the opportunity to approach these fascinating birds with our polar circle boats. And once more we also got a little iceberg tour which filled our camera chips with another hundreds of photos of bizarre forms, shapes and intensive blue colors.

The day concluded in the Observation Lounge with FRAM’s famous Fashion Show. Officers, Expedition Staff and also some passengers came on the catwalk to present our shop’s collection of jackets, T-shirts, sweaters and even swimming suits (for the next polar plunge maybe?).

Friday 18 February 2011

Bay Day!

We are now in Marguerite Bay where we spent all day. Early in the morning we reached the southernmost point of our voyage: 68°15’S. Close by we then had our first landing – at stunning Stonington!

As the glacier retreat revealed that there is no connection with the mainland, we know in our times that Stonington is an island. But in former years this place was used as a base to go up to the Antarctic plateau. We can still see and visit the remains of the old American and British stations here.

There was no wind and a mild temperature of 5°C – many of the passengers thought that these were the perfect conditions for a polar plunge! First the thought then the action: we had 23 swimmers who actually dived into the icy waters close to the beach! Congratulations!!!

After lunch FRAM headed back northwards towards our next destination, Horseshoe Island. Again we had the opportunity to walk through an old station from the fifties – now maintained by the Antarctic Heritage Trust of the UK. Tudor Morgan, the Trust’s Operations Manager, whom we had picked up from Port Lockroy a few days before, was very happy that he had the opportunity to do some measurements at this rarely visited place.

In the evening the expedition staff gathered in the observation lounge for a question & answer round with the passengers. Many interesting topics were discussed: penguins, ice, geology… and even the Greenlandic inspiration of the interior design of FRAM was explained!

Thursday 17 February 2011

South of the Polar Circle

We made it! We crossed the polar circle at 10.15 this morning. And for those who do not believe us: have a look at the picture – the photographic evidence clearly shows the ship passing this magic line!

That means we entered someone’s very own kingdom today – Neptune’s kingdom! In person, King Neptune, together with our captain, welcomed us at the bow of the FRAM. And for the brave ones among us he had a special surprise: the polar baptism (ice cubes down our neck)!

According to our schedule, we arrived at Detaille Island during lunch time where we had planned an afternoon landing. However, strong winds made it impossible to go ashore. We could see the big swells and breaking waves crashing against the islands shoreline.

That is when plan B was activated. It consisted in sailing further south towards the famous Gullet Channel. Once a sheltered place was found close to the entrance, our expedition leader announced the alternative program: ice cruising in the polar circle boats!

It was still foggy and overcast, but this is exactly the light you need in order to be able to see the beautiful different shades of blue in the ice. In addition there was the dramatic effect of the light on the sky, the water and the entire scenery. Our Polarcirkle boats turned out to be small icebreakers which pushed their way in between brash ice and among icebergs. Crabeater seals could be seen from a close distance and snow petrels accompanied us in the air. It was a truly overwhelming, breathtaking experience that most of us will never forget!

And now: Antarctic Peninsula!

Another day packed with excitement and new experiences!

When we woke up this morning, our ship had already reached the Antarctic Peninsula and we found ourselves surrounded by beautiful icebergs in all shapes and different shades of white and light blue. Most of them stranded in the shallow bay in front of Cuverville Island, our first landing for today.

As soon as we set foot on the island, we were greeted by hundreds of gentoo penguins with their characteristic call (some say it resembles the cry of a donkey!). Over 4000 pairs come together during this time of year to lay their eggs and raise their chicks. They are spread in different small rookeries and we had the chance to visit several of them.

Unfortunately, there had been much more snow than usual this season, meaning that the penguins started extremely late with the breeding process. We could observe different ages of offspring: there were the tiny newborns, the small fluffy ones who still needs protection from their parents and bigger ones already in Kindergarten.

So much to see! We could watch adults feeding their young, parents changing their duty on the nest, skua-penguin interactions and snowy sheathbills trying to steal the regurgitated krill meals from the penguin chicks.

After the landing, we went with Fram through the scenic Errera Channel and later into Paradise Bay. There we had our afternoon landing: on the continent itself!

We came ashore at the Argentinean station Almirante Brown, where more gentoos were waiting. However, the main attraction of this landing was to go up a 288ft (ca 90m) high hill and then slide back down on the snow. Much laughter and screaming was heard from the sliders (and those watching, too)!

Now we are continuing our voyage down south. MV Fram went through another scenic channel: the Neumayer, and later we plan to go through the famous Lemaire.

The weather has been snowy and foggy all day, but we know that this is Antarctica and even the grey colors, together with the ice and snow, create a very special atmosphere.