Thursday 29 September 2011

Isles of Scilly

It is written Scilly but pronounced "silly". To avoid offending the residents say the Isles of Scilly never the Scilly Isles.

28 miles west-south-west of Land's End, Perfect weather greeted passengers landing from tenders onto the quay at Hugh Town, St. Mary's. The Duchy of Cornwall has held the title of these islands since 1337, though only 5 of 56 are inhabited.

 Although the largest island, St. Mary’s is less than three miles across at its widest part and only 10 miles around its coastline. The sand on some beaches is so fine that at one time it was exported and used to dry ink, that is before blotting paper was invented.
With Fram anchored between islands, barbeque lunch on deck 7 was surrounded by a stunning backdrop.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Second largest harbour in the world?

For centuries Cobh harbour has been an assembly point for naval fleets, readying for action. Thus the town thrived. Even more business came with it's role as a point departure for mass numbers of emigrants from Ireland from the mid nineteenth century on. Later again, it was an embarkation point for the first luxury liners crossing the Atlantic.

Locally they claim to be second only in size to Sydney -this may be contested - but it is certainly a fine natural harbour. The attractive town is located on the southern edge of the largest of several islands, the skyline dominated by the outline of St. Colman's cathedral.

Titanic set off on her fatal voyage from Cobh. It would have been possible for her to be in the harbour but the race to get her cargo of mail across the Atlantic as soon as possible meant that she was anchored outside for a rapid getaway. Passengers and post bags were tendered out to her.

Those walking with guides on the Titanic Trail around the town, heard many stories about of Cobh's personalities, visitors and its connection with naval matters. Finishing at Jack Doyles pub, hot Irish coffees were particularly welcome after thick fog and Irish mizzle all morning. (For those who are not familiar, Irish coffee is a mix of coffee and whiskey with a float of cream on top).

As we prepared to depart southern Ireland, local tenor Ryan Morgan put colour into a grey day with a solo performance in the Qilak Lounge. Fram was the last ship bringing visitors to Cobh this year, so she sent off by the Brass Band playing on the quayside as we sailed.

In Dublin's fair city, where the maid's are so pretty .....

The statue of Molly Malone set between Grafton Street and Trinity College features in any tour of Dublin centre. But at this time of year no one could have expected the beautiful weather conditions of today.

Passengers also scattered in different directions out of the city taking in the coastal scenery, and the gardens of the Powerscourt Estate, considered the finest in Ireland. Though still standing, some years ago a huge fire reduced the house to a shadow of its former self, but that loss is forgotten in the glory of the grounds.

Bernie's whiskies tonight were from the Bruichladdich which produces Islay's mildest. The distillery was mothballed between 1991 and 2000, then re-opened under the leadership of the most famous master distiller in Scotland - Jim McEwan.

Monday 26 September 2011

Scotland - Isles to Mainland, then on to Northern Ireland

Again apologies, for a slow blog. If you, like this author, love to view the pictures as much as the text, please revisit these pages. Photographs will be uploaded as soon as possible.

A day on the Isle of Lewis, the largest of the Western Isles, brought us alternate bright sun and rain, with a magnificent rainbow over Stornoway as we departed.

Lews Castle was a feature of the view from Fram's mooring. Set back from the harbour front, the layout and planting of the massive grounds in the 19th century cost more than the construction of the building itself. Quantities of soil were important to enable the planting of trees, and those now magnificent specimens and their successors are to this day the only trees on the island.

Excursions explored the moorlands, peat bogs and lochs as well as crossing the 'border' to the Isle of Harris. Hand weaving of Harris Tweed was demonstrated, and there were visits to the Standing Stones at Callanish, the Black House Museum and the 2,000 year old dry stone fortified tower called Carloway Broch.

Nicknamed 'Gateway to the Isles' our next port was Oban, a sheltered harbour on the mainland offering many ferry services. Autumn colours were on show on scenic drives that were admittedly hampered by constant rain, but there were plenty of indoor sights to enjoy - the Duke of Argyll's residence at Inveraray, local pubs and continuing the whisky theme of this voyage - the Oban Distillery, one of the smallest producers.

Post dinner whisky tastings continued with three different samples from the same Glenfarclas Distillery. Established in 1836 and still family owned and run Bernie used their productions to demonstrate the differences in taste caused by ageing and alcohol content.

Moving south and with a piper's welcome, Belfast today brought us to the contrast of a bustling major city. Old blends with new architecture, shops, cafes, museums, and promenades. However, just minutes along the road the Antrim coastal scenery and Dunluce Castle beckoned. Walking, hopping, jumping along the UNESCO world heritage site of Giant's Causeway was the goal for many. This 6km stretch of extraordinary geological formations represents volcanic activity from 50-60 million years ago. 40,000 or so polygonal columns of basalt in perfect horizontal sections form a pavement out to sea. Thus rise the legends of giants striding their way to Scotland.


Dear followers of FRAM's adventures,
we are currently experiencing trouble with our satellite equipment which had been replaced in Bergen. Apparently the configuration is a little trickier than the experts thought it to be.
We will continue with our online expedition diary as soon as the problems are fixed. Thank you for your patience!

Sunday 25 September 2011

Heading for the UK

We are under way again.

Bergen welcomed those arriving in the city for embarkation on Thursday with miserable heavy rain. Fortunately its true charm was revealed with sun lighting the hillsides shortly before departure.

After a slightly lumpy sea on their first night, yesterday was a day for passengers to relax, do puzzles, write postcards, and attend lectures given by the Expedition Team.

All this before an "Introduction into the World of whisky" from visiting Lecturer Bernie McGee. Witty banter accompanied instruction on getting the best out of a taste of whisky. Samples of different Malt's were tasted by all. Comparisons illustrated between South Scotland's Auchentoshan 11-year old light apertif, Speyside's sophisticated and complex 12-year old Mortlach and finally a smoky, peat monster was the description the Isle of Islay's "As we get it"

Thursday 22 September 2011

An empty ship is a busy ship

Bergen, the city which is said to be the most buzzing, the most historical - and the rainiest town in Norway. After three days in port, everybody clearly confirms that Bergen is fully living up to this reputation. However, there is no way not to like it. We all wish to spend more time. 
But, alas, we are not on holiday. There is a million things to be done, not a single department on the vessel remains untouched. Starting from bottom to top: The engine get's maintained and double-checked, the car deck is a maze of pallets, boxes and mysterious objects that we receive, big and small from luggage labels over jackets, spare parts up to entire Polar Cirkel Boats. There is a mountain of new cabin mattresses arriving, replacing the previous ones. Light bulbs get changed, the elevators overhauled, legions of external cleaning staff is dealing with every single corner in cabins, corridors, restaurant and lounge, even the leather of all the armchairs gets a brandnew finish. While FRAM takes in huge amounts of fuel and food, her outside gets the same thorough treatment.
Invisible for most is the complete renewal of some electronic and computer systems, many specialists are spending the whole days in front of their makeshift laboratory, in order to equip FRAM with a new and faster internet connection, telephone system and much more.
Certainly the crowning piece is the new satellite antenna, big as a lifeboat, that is carefully put on top of our ship, on a tailor-made steel mount that could carry a truck. And behold - we have internet! 
So, now we are waiting for arriving staff members - and our new guests. Tonight we will sail out for Scotland.
The story continues...

Sunday 18 September 2011

A Perfect Ending

Sunset in Nordfjordeid

Olden and Nordfjordeid
It was a beautiful sunny morning as we sailed into Nordfjord.  At 106km long it is the sixth longest fjord in Norway.  Our first stop was in the town of Olden. The population (2009) of Olden is approximately 480. 
Two bus loads of happy people departed the pier at 08:30 to visit Briksdal Glacier. Briksdal glacier is a part of the Jostedal glacier icefield, which is the largest glacier on the European mainland.  It is located about 25 kilometres (16 mi) south of Olden, at the end of the Oldedalen valley.
People had the option of hiking three kilometres from the parking lot or they could take “Troll cars” – which are sort of like Norwegian golf carts.  The hike to the glacier is really great along forested paths with beautiful waterfalls along the route.
Waterfall on hike to Briksdal Glacier
In the afternoon we cruised deeper into the fjord and at 16:30 dropped anchor outside of Nordfjordeid.  People were free to wander about the very pretty community on their own.  The Nordfjordeid Sunday flea market was still in full swing and we were invited to the local church for a performance by the choir.
Back on the ship we were treated to a barbeque on Deck seven.  It was a perfect way to end the cruise.  As we sat on the stern enjoying delicious food and great company, the sunset keep getting more and more dramatic as the sun sank below the horizon.
Briksdal Glacier

Our superb bbq!!!


Ålesund and Geiranger

The view of Ålesund from Aksla mountain.
We had an early start today in Ålesund, the Venice of Norway.  Weather-wise it was our nicest day so far.  We had brilliant sunshine all day.
Ålesund is one of my favourite cities in Norway.  The water front area is beautiful and on a day like today it was great to just wander the streets and admire the  Art Nouveau architecture for which Ålesund is famous. 
One of the many splendid views on the long hike.
A lot of people went on a bus tour from Ålesund to our next port of call, Geiranger, where they met the ship again. Everyone had good things to say about the all-day tour. And why wouldn’t they?  They had perfect weather and some of the most amazing scenery in all of Norway.  Many people went on a walking tour of Ålesund while still others took a trip to the islands of Giske and Godøy which featured an old stone church built in 1150 and a beautiful old lighthouse.
Fram at anchor in Geiranger
We left Ålesund at 11:00 and arrived in Geiranger at 15:30.  That 4.50 hours of sailing was through some of the most spectacular scenery of our entire voyage! Geiranger is a Unesco World Heritage Site.  It is breath taking.  The small town is perched on the side of a well forested fjord that rises steeply from the sea.  Waterfalls cascade down the mountain. The leaves are just beginning to change colour as cool autumn takes a grip on the land.  There is fresh snow covering the mountain tops.
Sea kayakers returning to Geiranger.
Our day in Geiranger was sheer pleasure.  It seemed a Norwegian paradise.  Our timing was perfect.  It was a beautiful day and the tourist season is almost over.  Geiranger is one of the main tourist attractions in all of Norway. In peak season this stunningly beautiful community receives thousands of visitors daily. 
I was envious of those that took the opportunity to go sea kayaking.  The conditions could not have been better.


We are in Central Norway.  We had spectacular scenic cruising throughout the morning as we weaved our way through many narrow passages between countless islands in beautiful Stokksund.  At times the shore seemed no more than 30 or 40 metres from the ship.  The scenery here is more rural than rugged Norwegian Fjord frontier.  There is more agriculture evident now as we ply our way further south.  We see fields where the crops have been harvested and where cows are grazing.  

Not only was the scenic cruising really good in the morning but we also had the option of attending several lectures.  At 09:45 Tessa Van Dries told us all about everyone's favourite celestial light phenomena, the aurora.    At the same time Steffen Biersack gave  a lecture in German about the principles of navigation.  At 11:00 Andrew Wenzel gave an interesting talk entitled, Demons From Hell - Killer Whales. At the same time Ralf Westphal gave a fascinating talk in German about Haudegen, the last German Arctic weather station in the 2nd world war.
At 13:00 we dropped anchor just outside the charming small city of Brekstad.  It was a beautiful day.  A light breeze was blowing and the sun was shining through large gaps in the cloud cover.  The Brekstad Hotel and community cultural centre was open for us.  Inside there two different galleries for us to explore including a great exhibit featuring the famous Norwegian artist Hannah Ryggen.  The hotel offered us Aquavit to sample and a variety of Norwegian foods.  There was also lots of opportunity to explore the community on our own.
Several people went on a bicycle excursion along the shore line while others went on a motor coach tour of the area which culminated at Austrått Manor.
At 18:45 the last Polar Cirkel boat was back at the ship and Fram weighed anchor.
In the evening we were entertained by the crew singing some classical popular songs in the Observation Lounge.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Alstahaug and Vega

The Expedition Team at Alstahaug
(Photo © Joe Decker)
We are now south of the Arctic Circle.  We passed that significant point of latitude at 05:00 this morning.  Most of us were sleeping rather soundly.  About three hours later we arrived at Alstahaug a borough of approximately 7500 people spread over 917 islands and islets.  The landscape has changed from the high, craggy fjords of Raftsundet to many low lying islands.  
Inside the church in Alstahaug where Petter Daas the poet parson
worked.  (Photo © Joe Decker)
There isn't a pier for Fram in Alstahaug which meant of course that we would use the trusty Polar Cirkel boats to tender everyone in.  A light rain was falling when we arrived and continued on and off throughout the landing.  The stop here featured an old church which we could visit and the Petter Dass museum.
The church is one of only seven Northern Norwegian medieval churches that been preserved.  The church's initial construction was in the year 1200.  the oldest parts of the church are built in the Romanesque style with soapstone.
The Petter Daas museum in Alstahaug (Photo © Joe Decker)
Petter Daas was the parson poet that lived and worked in Alstahug from 1689 until his death in 1707. The museum was not open  but the building itself was a marvellous piece of architecture and the installation of the building quite a feat of engineering. 
The bucolic setting was very peaceful. Sheep grazed in a nearby field.  Glaucous Gulls soared along the sea side and Hooded Crows called back and forth.   One felt restful just being there.  It was easy to see where the great poet got some of his inspiration.
In the afternoon we stopped at the small community of Vega.  A light rain was falling as we rode the Polar Cirkel boats to a pier in a small marina.  Many people went on a motor coach tour to learn about the unique relationship between the Eider Ducks and generations of fishermen/farmers.  Over the last 1500 years the local people have harvested eider down.
There are 6500 islands in the Vega Archipelago.  These islands have a relaxing beauty that is quite different from the dramatic fjords we experienced earlier in the voyage.  Vega itself is a sleepy little community.  If you didn't choose to go on one of the local excursions there was a pleasant walk which led through the marina around the community and back to the pier again.   
At 20:00 we lifted anchor and once again turned our bow to the south.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Trollfjord, Solvaer and Henningsvaer

Fram, and Polar Cirkel boats with Captain Andreasson in Trollfjord
This morning we wove through the picturesque narrow Raftsund Strait.  You could feel Fram leaning into the turns of the tight passage.  At 08:30 we arrived very near the entrance to Trollfjord.  There waiting for us in his own small boat was one of the Captains of Fram, Rune Andreasson! 30 lucky passengers had booked an excursion aboard our very own Polar Cirkel boats and Captain Andreasson was going to lead our small Norwegian Armada into Trollfjord and then on a long tour ending in the port of Solvaer.The mouth of the Trollfjord where it joins Raftsund Strait is a mere 100 meters wide and at its widest point is only 800 meters. The mountains surrounding Trollfjord are 600 to 1100 metres high and the fjord itself is 72 metres at its deepest point.
Needless to say it is spectacular.  To make it even more exciting two very large White-tailed Sea-eagles were soaring around inside the fjord.  We got some really good looks at these magnificent birds of prey.  White-tailed Sea-eagles are closely related to Bald Eagles.  They are the fourth largest eagle in the world. The largest population of these majestic birds is along the coast of Norway.  There are approximately 10,000 pairs in the world.
Rainbow in Trollfjord
As Fram exited Trollfjord back into Raftsund the Polar Cirkel boats went on their own route to Solvaer.  A shallower route that Fram wouldn’t be able to follow.  About two hours later at noon, Fram and the Polar Cirkel boats rejoined at the pier in Solvaer.  No matter whether you went on Fram or in the Polar Cirkel boats it was one of the more spectacular sections of scenic cruising in the world. 
Fantastic scenery on the way to Solvaer
Fram spent the afternoon in Solvaer but there was a shuttle available throughout the afternoon to the picturesque community of Henningsvaer.  It is one of the larger fishing villages in the Lofoten Isands and a very busy tourist attraction in the peak summer months.  We were able to take a stroll through the attractive town, visit a coffee shop or stop in one of the gift shops that were still open.
At 20:15 we left the pier of Solvaer.  After a summer of 24 hours of daylight 7 days/week it was strange for it to be so dark.  But maybe, if the clouds parted just a little we would get a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

All Day In Tromsø

View of Tromsø from Storsteinen Mountain
It was warm today.  At mid-day you could comfortably explore the streets of Tromsø without a jacket.  It was partially cloudy but when it is partially cloudy it means that it is also partially sunny. The people of Tromsø told us that this was definitely not the norm for this time of year.   
There are trees.  Lots of trees. The trees are changing colour in Norway.  It is only eight days until the first day of autumn. We are experiencing darkness now. As I write this it is 20:30 and it is really dark.  All of these marvellous things are a product of moving further south and changing seasons.  In many ways Norway reminds me of Canada and today I had a slight pang of homesickness. The leaves at home would also be beginning to change.
Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø
We were in Tromsø all day - 09:00 until 19:00 which meant there was time to go on one of the excursions on offer and to explore beautiful Tromsø on your own.  Many people went on the motor coach tour. The tour wound through the city and eventually brought us to a cable car.  The cable car whisked us up to the top of Storsteinen Mountain, 420 metres above sea level where we had a wonderful panoramic view over the city and the surrounding waterways and mountains.  We also visited the very stylish Arctic Cathedral which was built in 1965.  Other people chose to go on a Sami Culture adventure or a walking tour of the city which ended at the famous Mack Brewery - the northernmost brewery in the world.
Pipe organ in the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø
Beautiful day in Tromsø
Today we had the rare treat of being in port, side by side (or actually end to end) with one of Hurtigruten's other ships, the MS Midnatsol.  She is quite a bit larger than Fram but with a very quick glance she looks similar as the colour scheme is the same but... 
Now we are heading down the beautiful coast of Norway.  Our next destination the famous Lofoten Islands!

Monday 12 September 2011

Nordkapp and Honningsvåg

Southward bound. We enjoyed some really fantastic scenic cruising on our way to Nordkapp and Honningsvåg this morning. At 12:00 we cruised slowly by Nordkapp. The impressive cliffs rise to 307 metres (1,007 ft).  Nordkapp is often referred to as the northernmost point of Europe however there is some disagreement over that.
Nordkapp (Photo © Andrew Wenzel).
There were many birds still nesting along the cliffs including a large colony of Gannets.
The scenic cruising got better and better as we sailed through narrow passages between islands.  Green hills and mountains rose up on both sides of Fram.
We arrived in Honningsvåg at 15:30.  Even though we were still very far north, we could feel that the air was appreciably warmer. When we first arrived it was raining fairly hard but it wasn’t the cold rain we had experienced on Bjornoya and it certainly wasn’t enough to keep us from enjoying the beautiful town of Honningsvåg.  It is really a picturesque community and like practically all of Norway, extremely well kept.  One never finds so much as a gummer wrapper out of place.
Cliffs beneath Nordkapp (Photo © Joe Decker).
Lots of people had booked an excursion to Nordkapp and others went for a king crab feast.  By all reports everyone enjoyed both immensely!
Those people that had not booked an excursion explored Honningsvåg on their own.
At 17:46 Fram had to leave the dock for just over an hour to take on more fuel.  Once that was accomplished we went alongside the pier and picked up all those that hadn’t made it back to the ship yet.
Honningsvåg harbour (Photo © Joe Decker)
When we departed the pier for the last time 19:15we were involved in a series of drills dealing with medivac procedures by helicopter.  It was quite interesting to watch and comforting to know that on Fram, safety is always priority number one and that nothing is left to chance.

Sunday 11 September 2011


“The 12th of June in the morning,  wee saw a white beare, which wee rowed after with our boate, thinking to cast a rope about her necke; but when wee were neare her, shee was so great that wee durst not doe it.”  Willem Barents’ journal entry from his 1596 voyage.

Bjornøya revealed through the mist (Photo © Joe Decker).
We had many miles to cover through the night and all of the morning before reaching the southernmost part  of Svalbard, the island of Bjornoya.  As usual, sea time meant lecture time!  Both lecture halls were kept busy from 09:30 until noon.
At approximately 11:00 we had our first glimpses of the rugged beauty of Bjornoya.
We were again experiencing heavy sea fog. The craggy coastline was revealed a little at a time through gaps in the mist.  It looked bleak, inaccessible and relatively barren.  Perfect for another Arctic adventure!
Fram at anchor at Bjornøya (Photo © Joe Decker).
We had experienced a very favourable current throughout the night.  Our arrival here was a full two hours earlier than expected. We cruised down to the south end of the island where we found a very sheltered and scenic bay within which to drop anchor.  At 13:30 the Expedition Team headed to shore to prepare the landing site.  Even on this isolated island there was a chance of encountering Polar Bears.  While the risk of running into a bear here in the summer time was far less than further north in Svalbard it was better to be safe than sorry.
It took about ten minutes in the Polar Cirkel boats to reach a beautiful and very sheltered gravel beach.  Just up from the landing site were some historical artifacts left behind by whalers.
Bjornøya (Photo © Joe Decker).
There were still Fulmars at nest sites along the cliffs but most of the sea birds had already headed out to sea.  They were fun to watch as they skimmed down low just above the cliff tops.
We had a really large area we were free to explore.  For those that wanted a little more exercise there was a long uphill climb to an excellent view point.
Despite the constant, cold rain that was falling, everyone had a big smile on their face.  There were still a few wildflowers in bloom and a surprising number of mushrooms.
Coastline of Bjornøya (Photo © Andrew Wenzel).
At the end of an hour and a half we were getting pretty soggy.  We returned to the cozy confines of Fram where we could enjoy warm up in the sauna, the jacuzzi or perhaps with a hot toddy in the Observation Lounge.