Thursday 31 January 2013

Drake Passage

During night, the wind and the waves had calmed down quite a bit and we enjoyed the smooth sailing on the Drake Passage again.

The day was busy with bridge visits and lectures, and in the afternoon, freshly baked hot waffles were served and we had a charity auction in which we auctioned two items, the ships flag and the ships master chart of this voyage. The money raised is donated to several nature conservation organizations that work in the South Polar realm.

At the Captain´s Cocktail, Captain Arild Hårvik thanked his crew and all the passengers for the great spirit on board and wished everybody a safe voyage back home. On our way up the Beagle Channel, a large group of Dusky dolphins joined the Fram for several hours, leaping out of the water and playing in the bow wave.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Another Bouncy Day on the Drake

A full load of passengers on board Fram is about 230 people. Right now we have 145 guests and Fram is quiet.  Peaceful.     When you add a rough ride on the Drake, there are even fewer people up and about.  If you have your sea legs it is a very relaxing time. 
It can be mesmerizing to watch the breaking seas and giant Wandering Albatross soaring about.  On the other hand, if you forgot to take your motion sickness meds and you’re prone to sea sickness, then weather like we are having today is not such a tranquil experience.  “Hoo-ray and up she rises, hoo-ray and up she rises...”  can have different connotations.

The truth is that Fram is a very stable ship and while we had seas of four to five metres all day long, it is not a big deal on Fram.  Still, the gym sat empty, the Jacuzzis were drained, waffles were postponed until tomorrow, the seated dinner became a buffet, bridge visits were postponed from morning until afternoon, the elevators decommissioned and access to the outdoors was limited to deck seven.

Nevertheless, as always on sea days,  the lecture series continued at full throttle with talks scheduled on: Shackleton, The Geology of Antarctica, Albatross and Petrels, and The History of Whaling.
At 17:00 everyone was invited to join the Expedition Team in the Observation Lounge for a recap of the voyage.  The whole team lined up across the dance floor and responded to questions ranging from global warming, to landing procedures, to the stability of Fram in high seas! 
As we cruise steadily northwards the winds and the seas have noticeable decreased.  Now the seas are a comfortable three to four metres.  The forecast for tomorrow?  More of the same!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Whalers Bay and Telephone Bay

After a partly shaky night we entered into the caldera of the volcanic Deception Island early in the morning. A spectacularly narrow passage that is further complicated by an underwater rock called Raven Rock right in the middle of the entrance.

The destination for our morning landing was Whalers Bay, where we visited the remains of the old whaling station Hector and the British Base B that was set up by the Falkland Island Dependencies Service. The weather was not exactly perfect – drizzling rain and a bit of wind – but it was still impressive to take a stroll between the abandoned station buildings and the dismantled blubber cookers. Hard to imagine that at this lonesome beach, thousands of whales were processed. Reports of whalers tell that at some time, several hundred flensed carcasses were floating in the caldera. The smell must have been tremendous!

As the weather situation outside the sheltered caldera of Deception Island further deteriorated, we decided to re-schedule our afternoon landing. Instead of continuing towards Walker Bay at King George Island, we stayed a little longer at Deception Island and accomplished a landing at Telephone Bay at the far end of the caldera. We undertook a scenic walk around some crater lakes filled with turquoise water and up a hill, from where we had a view of the entire inner part of Deception Island.
In the late afternoon, provisioned with sea-sickness pills, we sailed out of Deception Island and headed into the Drake Passage.

Monday 28 January 2013

Port Lockroy and Neko Harbour

Rain was falling as we boarded the Polar Cirkle boats to go to Port Lockroy this morning at 09:30.  But what’s a little rain to adventurous Antarctic explorers such as ourselves?  This drizzle would not dampen our spirits, it would not stop us from seeing the most visited site in all of Antarctica and it would most definitely not prevent us from shopping at the most well supplied gift shop in all of Antarctica.

 Port Lockroy is the site of a former British Base and has been restored as a small  but excellent museum. The income from the well-supplied gift shop goes to the British Antarctic Heritage Trust and amongst other things helps to maintain the museum.

The Expedition Team helped us up a wet slippery slope where we were greeted by a large number of penguins.  Gentoo Penguins nest all around the museum, gift shop and living quarters of the few people that inhabit Port Lockroy in the summer.   Needless to say, they are very used to people wandering around.  Gentoos seemed to be everywhere.  They nest within a metre of the entrance to the museum and penguins constantly wander about.  According to IAATO regulations we must not approach penguins closer than 5 metres.  However the Lockroy penguins brazenly broke this rule at every opportunity.  How wonderful!

After lunch, we once again landed on the actual continent of Antarctica at Neko Harbour.  Neko is the site of another Gentoo colony and there were many penguins preening themselves on the beach.  A short walk took us up from the beach and to the base of the colony.  We had the option of hiking up a snow and ice field to a lofty lookout point where we had excellent views of Neko Harbour and the the glacier front.

One of the fun things when hiking in Antarctica is that sometimes there is an option to slide down the hill that you hiked up.  It seemed that most people chose the sliding option!  The Expedition Team selected an appropriate area for sliding and soon people were zipping down the hill.  Ski-bunda!

By 19:30 the last Polar Cirkel boat had left shore and we were once again heading further north.  As we were exiting Andvord Bay we sighted three Humpback Whales and were able to observe them near the ship for over forty minutes!

At 22:00 we joined our Philipino crew in the Observation lounge where they entertained us with singing and dancing.  It was a delightful way to end our day.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Prospect Point

At Prospect Point, the Falkland Islands Dependencies Service operated its Base J in the years 1957-1959. In this base, mostly topographic and geological research was carried out. Since, the station building has decayed and its remnants were finally removed in 2004 by the British Antarctic Survey. So today, only the fundaments remain. After a visit to this historic site, we went on a glacier walk. In rope teams lead by one guide, we ascended the glacier to a crevasse that was safe to approach. The crevasse was glooming blue and its walls were nicely decorated with icicles.

In the early afternoon, the Fram was sailing past the Argentine Islands, and several humpback whales greeted us along the way, waving with their tails.

As a special treat in the lecturing programme on board, one of our guests, the famous Brazilian Antarctic explorer Amyr  Klink, gave a report of his endeavors, among them rowing across the Atlantic Ocean and sailing around Antarctica. Fascinating to listen to a man with such exciting experiences!
As a further highlight of the day, some of the guests went out for a long ice cruise, both to the iceberg alley at Pléneau Island, and further through the Lemaire Channel. In the shallow waters around Pléneau, a lot of icebergs get stranded and stay. Their shapes and colors are just amazing. The wind picked up as the Polar Cirkle boats entered the Lemaire Channel, and the boat ride became a rather bumpy and very wet enterprise. Nevertheless it was an exciting and real Antarctic experience, and we got rewarded by three humpback whales that came really close. Seeing them from a small boat directly at the level of the water surface gives an even better impression of the huge body size of this majestic animals!

Saturday 26 January 2013

The Antarctic Circle

This morning at about 07:30 we crossed the Antarctic Circle.  How exotic and romantic does that sound? The Antarctic Circle!  Crossing the Antarctic Circle is the stuff of which documentaries and dreams are made.  It’s not something that one does one’s self is it?  You read about other people doing it but today we joined an elite group of explorers and adventurers.  We are now proud members of an exclusive club and we even have a certificate to prove it!!

At about 10:00 we started our landing at Detaille Island which was a British Base called Base W and was in operation from February 21st 1956 until March 31st 1959.  Recently the British Antarctic Heritage Trust has been doing some renovations to the interior and exterior of the main building.

We were fortunate to have blue skies once again this morning which presented ideal conditions for an Antarctic plunge.  49 people took the opportunity to go for a quick dip south of the circle.  After all, when will you ever again in your life have the chance to go for a swim... ahem, dip, so far south?  Probably never.

We wrapped up our landing at Detaille at 13:30 and headed further south in the hopes of being able to reach the Gullet.  At 15:00 it became apparent that the ice was too thick for us to make any more southerly progress.  It was decided that we should have a group photo on deck five to commemorate our crossing of the circle and our furthest point south.  It was only when we we were out on deck that we realized that we had a special visitor.  It was none other than HRH King Neptune.

 King Neptune was collecting payment for us crossing the Antarctic Circle.  Anyone willing to pay the sacrifice had icy water poured down the back of their neck.  The consolation was a shot of rum right after!  Surprisingly there was a lineup of eager (crazy!) people anxious to have ice water dumped on them.  Or was it the Rum they were after?  The last person to be baptized was Rochel from the crew.  Actually she wasn’t in line.  She got dragged over!

We then turned to the north in search of a suitable location to go for a cruise in the Polar Cirkel boats.  There was a magnificent ice berg very close to Detaille Island.  Truly this iceberg was a marvel.  It was worth launching the Polar Cirkel boats so that everyone could get a closer look.

Now it is 20:00 and we are making our way north once again.  Tomorrow’s plan is to attempt a landing at the Fish Islands.

Friday 25 January 2013

Here we are again...

Travelling to remote places also means that sometimes we are out of touch with the outside world...It is only the ship, the activities, the scenery that take over life on board... We did not had the world best`s internet connection lately as we want to show you pictures as well but hope that we are able to update you now again! Sorry for the wait- and thanks for the patience! And now... enjoy

Lemaire Channel, Petermann Island and Vernadsky Station

There was hardly any time for breakfast this morning. Waking up in the scenic Neumeyer Channel we continued through the even narrower Lemaire Channel. A lot of ice floes lined our way, and the blue sky, steep mountains and glaciers were mirrored in the cold steel blue water.

We were headed for our morning landing at Petermann Island. The Gentoo penguin chicks there are already almost as big as their parents, and their fat bellies clearly demonstrated that they have been doing very well this year. The cliff at the northern edge of the colony is the place where the blue-eyed shags breed and their chicks are also notoriously hungry. Their parents were industrious going back and forth to the sea and on every return, greedy quarreling broke out between the three to four siblings in each nest.

A view point at the far end of Petermann Island further offered a splendid view of the surroundings, with the FRAM in front of snow-covered mountains on one side and a bay filled with icebergs of all shapes and shades of blue on the other side.

Humpback whales accompanied us on our way to our afternoon landing site, the Ukrainian research base Vernadsky. Still miraculously under blue skies we cruised through the narrow channels in between the Argentine Islands up to the base, where we were shown around the building by the resident researchers. The landing was rounded off by a visit to historic Wordie House, the old and abandoned British station building on the neighboring Winter Island. The hill behind Wordie House offered a fantastic 360° panoramic view of the ice-filled Argentine Islands archipelago, and even some breaching humpback whales!

Thursday 24 January 2013

An Emperor!!!

One of the reasons people come to Antarctica is to see and to experience ice and that was exactly what today was all about.  As we have mentioned several times in this blog, the Weddell Sea has largely been impassable for Expedition Cruise ships this season.  As we pass the zenith of summer, the extent of the ice is diminishing.  We could see on our satellite ice charts that at the very least, we would be able to experience giant tabular icebergs up close and we would be able to patrol the edge of the sea ice pack.

There was lots of blue sky and sunshine early this morning.  And as expected, there was lots of ice!  Instead of doing a landing today we opted to drop the Polar Cirkle boats and go cruising in the heavy sea ice and have a close up view of tabular bergs from sea level.  There is nothing quite like cruising through heavy ice in a small boat.  It is really a fun and thrilling experience.

We were also hoping to be able to find seals lounging on ice floes and as luck would have it we found several Crabeater Seals and two or three Weddell Seals.  Speaking of luck: a few people got to see a juvenile Emperor Penguin!!  The northernmost Emperor Colony is less than 100 kms from where we were cruising but it was still an incredible stroke of luck to see a lone juvenile Emperor Penguin on an ice floe!

We wrapped up the cruising around noon.  Many people said it was there favourite thing to do so far and if given the choice, they would love to do even more Polar Cirkle boat cruising!

The rest of the day was full speed ahead.  We had a lot of miles to cover in order to reach Peterman Island tomorrow morning.  As we headed south the skies quickly closed in, the sea picked up and it began to snow.  What a transformation from our fantastic weather this morning.

In the afternoon the Polhogda and Framheim lecture halls were full as we once again picked up with our lecture series.

At 21:45 we met in the observation Lounge for a fashion show of the merchandise in the onboard gift shop.  And who were the models?  None other than the entire Expedition Team and the officers of the ship!

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Esperanza Station and Brown Bluff

The views out of the windows from the breakfast table were stunning: Over night, we had sailed into the Antarctic Sound, also called “Iceberg Alley”. Large grounded tabular icebergs lined our way into Hope Bay on the Southern side of the Sound. 

This is where the Argentine Esperanza Station is situated. A large leopard seal welcomed us at the beach, and in small groups, we were guided through the station. Actually, the station resembles a small town. Everything is there, a community center for social activities, a school, a church, a museum, all kinds of workshops and laboratories…

Brown Bluff, our afternoon landing site is situated nearby. The name comes from the brown volcanic deposits in the cliff that forms the picturesque background of one of the largest Adelie penguin colonies in Antarctica. The colony was teeming with half-grown penguin chicks. It was a great place for us to observe the behavior of the penguin chicks begging for food from the adults who returned from the sea with their fill of krill. Also a lot of stone thieves were lurking among the penguins. They were picking up pebbles from unattended nests to add them to their own nest.

The glacier moraine to the side of the colony was a great viewpoint to oversee the ice-filled bay, and we even accomplished guided tours on the nearby glacier with our experienced glacier guides.

After dinner we got a very special dessert. A pod of Orcas visited the ship and we enjoyed their company for more than half an hour. They slowly moved along the ice edge, and we could nicely see the hook-shaped dorsal fins of the females as well as the long sword-shape dorsals of the males.