Friday 30 November 2012

Heading South

This time the Drake Passage likes us to go southward. Just a bit of old swell is gently moving the ship and every now and then a single wave top turns white. That is how we wished it to be. Best conditions to start with our ‘onboard university’.

The lectures about Southern Ocean seabirds (John), Marine life in Antarctic waters (Rudolph), Antarctic cycles of ice and water and life (Verena) and geology (Bob and Andreas) found great interest. And of course the lecture about the original FRAM (Tessa) as well. Some got a big load of fresh air when they were out on deck 7 for bird watching with Simon and Therese.

The last set of lectures in the late afternoon about Antarctic Natural History (John) and a live-narrated documentary about the most extreme expedition carried out in the Antarctic (Andreas) had just finished when the bridge informed us that we just crossed the Antarctic Convergence. Within short time the water temperature has dropped from 5.5 degree Celsius to 1.3 degree Celsius. Welcome to Antarctica!

Thursday 29 November 2012


Fram found its place in the midst of the slightly crowded harbour of Ushuaia early in the morning. After the last passenger group had left the ship for some local sightseeing tours and further travelling the ship’s crew did the tremendous job again to tidy up the whole ship within just a few hours.

They are all used to these routines but seeing it from a visitor’s perspective you would probably turn a bit dizzy trying to keep an overview of all the activities in every corner of the ship. Bed linen and towels are moved out of the roughly 130 cabins, new supplies arrive at the ship and are stowed away, all public areas are cleaned as well all cabins, fuel is delivered to the ship, cabins are prepared for the new passengers, luggage arrives and is immediately checked and distributed to the cabins. Crew and staff members rush around and as always, right on the spot, everything is ready when the first bus arrives with new passengers.  
Check in, medical information, hand out of expedition jackets, everywhere a smile and assistance for the new guests. And after the mandatory safety drill we left at 18:30 for a new Antarctic Adventure. Closely observed by the Dolphin Gulls in the harbor.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

The calm after the storm!

Following a few crazy days of action (the storm) we witnessed at first hand the beauty as well as the harshness of Antarctica it was time to head north. The motion of the ocean was not as stomach churning as the way south – well at least it did not create ‘ghost ship Fram’ which meant we could all enjoy life on board.

Lectures from our some of our onboard expedition team as well as guest lectures filled our days. Sea conditions allowed us all to visit the Bridge and see the inner workings of ship operation including the all-important coffee machine. The Captain not to be outdone by the ‘chop’ or rubber stamps showed us his personal collection and these were put to good use.

Safety and security are paramount on any ship but especially one operating in such remote places. This weeks exercise drill simulated a security breach leading to an evacuation of the ship. Through exercise all the crew are well drilled and prepared for hopefully all eventualities.

Now as we approach the Beagle channel our round trip is almost complete. We have seen it all. What a trip Hao Hao.

Monday 26 November 2012

Is it, was it a Deception?

It was bit of a surprise when we woke up this morning to grey skies and strong winds. Is this what Antarctica is really like? Were the past few days just a dream or just the Antarctic deceiving us?

We arrived as planned at Deception Island the active volcano on the western end of the South Shetland Islands. We went through the incredible narrow entrance to caldera ‘Neptunes Bellows’ which can give way to the calm protected waters of Whalers bay. This morning this was not the case, the Captain tried to anchor but the conditions did not allow the anchor to hold. So plan B – a MV Fram cruise around the Caldera taking in the sights whilst our Geologist gave us information about this unique environment.

The Captain navigated us back out of the caldera and we head for the more protected waters of Walker Bay on Livingston Island a few hours away. Conditions were slightly better and we anchored just over a mile away from the beach. The wind and swell made for a very different Antarctic experience than our previous landings.

Listen to the announcements and take note of what you are told the Expedition team keep on telling us. Karnail our guest from Hurtigruten based in London tested the teams advice by deciding his camera would be in a better position around his neck than tucked away safely in a waterproof bag. As predicted the ‘wet’ ride to Walker bay was wet and Karnail no longer has a working camera, (he was not the only one) but he has fantastic memories and valuable hands on experience of the workings on MV Fram. He won’t do it again!

The groups of Elephant seals resting on the beach were addictive watching – with the grunts, noises – belching, snorting, constant fighting, scratching and shuffling. From the bay we could see the green moss banks at Hannah point – Is this really Antarctica?

A memorable final landing and day with Antarctica showing us a very different face! What will the Drake bring? Lake we hope……watch this space.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Sun, fun and more sun

All the campers survived the night, most taking the scenery, wildlife and colored skies during the very short time the sun was actually below the horizon.

The camp was taken down and the campers came back on board whilst the rest of us visited Peterman Island. The rich and varied bird life kept the photographers and ornithologists busy – Gentoo and Adelie Penguins with Blue eyed Shags all sitting on eggs. The spectacular views out the distant ice berg littered ocean gave the landscape photographers plenty to keep the trigger finger exercised.

We then cruised north through the Lemaire and the lucky thirty did this in a two hour Polarcirkle boat trip. The ice made navingation tricky but luckily the Captain made a path through with the Fram and we sneaked through before the ice closed around us. Minke Whales blessed us with their presence briefly as well as the odd Crabeater seal.

Boats picked up and all back on board we headed to Port Lockroy a museum run by the Antarctic Heritage Trust showing the scientific endeavor and exploration carried out by the post war British Antarctic Explorers. The sun and fun continued with the magnificent backdrop of the Feif range and the seven sisters still with a hefty winter dusting of snow. We all supported the work of the Antarctic Heritage Trust by buying plenty of gifts and postal items in their lovely little gift shop.

To top it all off we cruised in the evening light through the Neumeyer Channel now heading north ready for tomorrows landings. If Yesterday was a Wow then today was a WOW WOW!

Saturday 24 November 2012

What a glorious day.

The sun was gleaming, the wind stayed away and the scenery was fantastic.
Overnight MV Fram sailed south from the South Shetland Islands across Bransfield Strait and into the Gerlache Strait. Lots of us could not contain our excitement and spent the early part of the morning taking in the fantastic scenery. As we were eating breakfast we entered Andvord Bay.

We landed at Neko Harbour and were treated to views of the surrounding mountains, bays and icebergs. Closer to the landing we watched the Gentoo Penguins as they went back and for, in and out of the sea and the fascinating nest building and courtship rituals. The views from up the hill into the crevasses and ice falls of the nearby glacier were just breathtaking. Going down was a lot easier and quicker than going up with gravity and sliding down the steeper sections of the slope was great fun. How could we beat this?

During lunch the Captain repositioned the Ship to the Base Brown, the weather held and we climbed the hill above the base. Giving incredible views of Paradise Bay – very aptly named (even if it was because of the easy picking made by the early whalers) it is still very beautiful.

The evening got even better with the incredible light almost at sunset in the Lemaire channel – WOW! We dropped our campers at Peterman Island. What will tomorrow bring?

Friday 23 November 2012

Calm seas and The Great Wall

Following good progress overnight we made it to the South Shetland Islands. In the morning we did our preparations for landing – Boot fitting, vacuum cleaning clothing to ensure biosecurity and the IAATO briefing.

We were ready for landing but not before the Captain held the delayed welcome cocktail. Plenty of photographs were taken.

The weather was just perfect for our first landing at the Chinese station – Great Wall. The wintering team of 12 were very welcoming and showed around the impressive base. Earlier in the morning they had cleared a pathway for us, luckily they had a big excavator on hand as there was a lot of snow!

We also had a good introduction to Antarctic wildlife with Weddel seals, Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins as well as logistics with a Hercules C130, DH7 Twin Otter taking off from the nearby Chilean airfield at Presidente Eduardo Frei station as well as the Chilean SAR vessel.Tomorrow is another day and we hope it is like this one.

Thursday 22 November 2012

MV Ghost ship Fram

The previous days travel, lack of sleep all took its toll. The motion of the ocean caused a lot of stomach motions. When only less than 30% of us turned up for breakfast the expedition team delivered Ginger tea and crackers to our rooms. This continued through the day.

Those of us who did make it out on deck were treated to at least 7 Light-mantled Sooty Albatross swooping around the ship in close formation making the most of the winds and the waves.
At times we did wonder where everybody had gone. We are making good progress having crossed the Antarctic Convergence and hope to be in the South Shetlands tomorrow lunch time when the real journey will begin.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Off we go

After the enforced stay due to the transport strike in Argentina we are on our way to Antarctica! Our 'home' port of Ushuaia looked magnificent in its coating of fresh snow on higher ground, which fell last night. This trip is a first for Fram- all our passengers are Chinese speakers.

Passenger flights arrived early and as soon as we landed we were on board MS Fram. Although tired after days of travel we soon got used to our new home for the next 9 days. We handed in our medical forms and were issued our blue expedition jackets. These were soon put to good use as we had our Muster practice in what seemed a gale force wind coming off the glaciers around Ushuaia.

We pulled away from the pier and headed east down the Beagle Channel. The wind was cold on our faces but the light was very impressive on the snow-clad mountains. The views kept getting better with the clay banks contrasting with the beech forest and snowcapped peaks above. We were followed by Cape Petrel, Black-browed Albatross and Shags to name a few. Some distance past Ushuaia we passed the most southerly town in the world- Puerto Williams on Isla Navarrino, Chile.

As we headed out into the Drake Passage the seas started to build rocking us all asleep, looking forward to the adventure ahead.

Monday 19 November 2012

What now?

After our incredible voyage of the past 3 weeks, we have incredible memories – seeing is believing! But now reality looms – back to civilization. Compared with the seas we endured to and from South Georgia the Drake was comfortable, but the odd storm still reminded us the power of Southern Ocean.
The winds and the waves meant that we still had abundant bird life with us, including the Black browed Albatross and the Southern Fulmar that we have seen from very early on in the voyage – are these the same birds seeing us safely back to land?
Final lectures were given by the Expedition team and the Captain, Chief Engineer and Hotel Manager held a Question and Answer session covering any of those final queries including what goes on behind the scenes in the Galley, Engine room and the real story of ‘the storm’.
Due to the potential chaos caused by the travel strike in Argentina on the 20th we went as fast as possible out of the Drake into the protected waters of the Beagle channel and made our way northwards to Ushuaia for arrival on early evening on the 19th. Cancelled flights will mean taking in the highlights in the most southern city in the world for an extra day.
Our thoughts our now towards home, seeing family and friends and telling them about our unforgettable experiences and memories that will be with us forever.