Thursday 31 October 2013

Trick or treat...

It is not that we were lacking acitvity or that someone even got bored during these last two weeks. But as the night of blood, terror and bones is drawing near a certain excitement is to be felt everywhere. Big gathering in the Bistro area for preparation of the costumes. Chef Jimmy comes up with something really special: Not only we get a demonstration of the crew's remarkable skills carving pumpkins with one sharp knife only, we also get industrial amounts of marcipane to bring into all possible and impossible shapes. This is going to be this nights dessert.
In the evening there is a frantic search for missing make-up items. "Have you seen the blood spray...??" "Where's the glue? My scar is coming off!" And then we all assemble in front of the bar, the doors of which are firmly closed. Tension rises... Finally, the  door's ajar. Behind it is a dungeon of cobwebs, fog and creatures of the night, lovingly prepared by MV FRAM's welfare committee.
May the horrors begin! Later on, Count Andreassen hands out all the certificates for Equator crossing, Atlantic Games, Amazing Race, and of course the best costumes. Then it's dancing time for bats, skeletons and mummies, under the pale blue light of probably one of the most extraordinary Halloween locations there is - a ship on its way to Antarctica...

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Reaching the shelf

Still bumpy, this morning, although there is no wind to speak of. It's an old, mature swell, coming from afar, that keeps us pitching a little. But nobody really minds, be it in the lecture hall, in the restaurant - or on the car deck, where we finished up with the boot disinfection. Thanks again to the brave brushing squad!! Now the boots can really go into the shelf, ready for Antarctica.
Speaking of which: During the day we spot numerous oil rigs, drilling ships, tender ships, and everything that makes an oil play an oil play. This is a clear sign that we have left the deep sea environment and climbed up onto the continental shelf of South America. This is where Brazil makes most of its money (nasty tongues also say, this is where the money comes from that bought Brazil the world soccer championship…).
Already we are really having the first feeling of getting close to our destination. The remaining works are done with swift determination, the ship has to be in prime shape. All seats in the lecture theaters get a wet cleaning, all cabins are brought to perfection, and in the board shop our Hotel Manager Else Kristine and Expedition Leader Karin are proving themselves as fine decorators for our new line of outdoor clothing. Shelf discipline...
Well, but towards the evening duty is done, and all are looking forward to the finals of the Atlantic Games and the famous AMAZING RACE, where 6 teams (the members held together with a long rope!) roam the ship with different tasks. Great fun!
And let's not forget: Tomorrow is Halloween! So the decoration (in Bong's case a coffin made of cardboard) has to be "field tested"...

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Laundry day, slightly bumpy

The morning finds FRAM dancing across the sea; a little swell has formed over night, and finally we get a bit of the feeling to be on a very, very large ocean.
Fortunately, everybody has spent a considerable amount of time on board now and thus developed their "sea legs", hence no case of sea sickness. Yet.
Temperatures have dropped a little, air and sea, giving us a taste of what it is going to be like when we proceed further and further south.
We take this as a reminder to prepare for Antarctica. As we travel down from the northern hemisphere we absolutely want to (and have to) avoid to bring foreign species to the wrong places. That means cleaning, washing, and disinfecting of our gear, namely the muck boots and the emergency bags.
The timid call for possible volunteers among the guests finds an unexpected echo: No less than ten of them grab brushes and cloths and attack the boots with vigor, so that after not even two hours the bulk is done.
In the meantime the emergency suits and rations are checked, repacked, the bags equally treated or replaced by new ones. 
And the best part: This was FUN! Thank you all so much!
After so much excitement the rhythm eases out towards the evening. After nightfall there are a few lights on starboard: It's an offshore oilfield, some 50 miles away from Brazil. Normally no big event, but seeing a man-made installation after so many days all alone out there brings a strange feeling of company.
The rest is sheer coziness: While some do Norwegian needlework, there is movie night for the others.
Indeed, the pace at sea is a different one.

Monday 28 October 2013

North of Rio

This is a typical sunscreen-and-umbrella day. The morning is splendid, the desire to spend the time outside is only limited by the sheer force of the sun, hammering down on us.
So to get cooler, we go inside. Maybe to get smarter, too, as our ship's doctor Milixa gives a First-Aid course for everybody in the morning. Honestly, when was the last time you had one..?!
After lunch the next round of baking outside, then it is time for Navigation Officer Clyde's second round of nautical schooling on the bridge.
Towards the coffee/tea hour in the afternoon (this time with live piano music again), the weather starts to change, clouds are rolling in, temperature is dropping and the winds are picking up. And then the rain is breaking loose. Suddenly it is quite chilly in only shorts and a t-shirt. So, now you go inside in order to warm up.
It's all a matter of relativity.
Oh, and here are a few images from yesterday's Bingo night, which was great fun!

Sunday 27 October 2013

Can we see Brazil??

This is a question often asked, and indeed, looking at the map really makes you believe that we are just around the corner, halfway between Salvador and Recife.
But alas, this is an illusion; we are riding a southbound current, which speeds us up to a little over 13 knots but keeps us about 150-180 miles off shore. So, no Copacabana, no beaches to be seen, we really stay out in the open until we will reach the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, which separates Uruguay from Argentina.
So, apart from a morning lecture in the observation lounge (no slides, just tea and talk), there is not much to do during the day.
So let's use this opportunity to punch in a few images that were sacrificed for the sake of narration. Have the beautiful rainbow for example, shot by Manuel on one of the rainy days. On the same day he captured a magnificent sunset behind thick walls of clouds.
Or take the games in the Observation Lounge, enthusiastically arranged by MV FRAM's welfare committee. With such a small crowd it is a great pleasure to build mixed teams of guests and crew. It was hi-la-ri-ous.
And tonight is BINGO-night, and we really are looking forward to it. Games, Games, Games - one could think we are on holiday...

Saturday 26 October 2013

Underneath the surface

There are some sights you never get tired of, watching the ocean's eternal movement is certainly one of them. On a day like today, however, the eyes get an unforgettable treat - Deep Blue.
In capital letters. 
Alright, it is just an optical effect, so they say, light getting filtered, some wavelengths eliminated, others prevailing. What a cold way of describing - well, this! The color is so stunningly intense like nothing you have ever seen before. It is alive, you want to catch it and weave a fabric out of it, it is just - Blue.
The thrilling thought: Only some meters below the surface, the Blue becomes blue (no more capitals), then blueish, then grey, then dark like the blackest night.
This is the realm of many beings, of which we see not even a fraction. There are creatures under the surface we cannot imagine, living in the total darkness, remoteness, and still finding food, still fulfilling the cycles of their strange lives.
But all we see is the surface. 
Well, the same holds true when you are going on a cruise ship - normally. You encounter the people who work in the open, you get to know the public areas, the restaurants, bars, corridors.
But that is only the surface as well, shiny and well functioning. And as we can't explore the depth of the seas from here, we might as well go for the depths of FRAM.
Chief engineer Frank is more than willing to lead a small group down to the engine room, where heat and a muffled humming welcome us in the Engine Control Room, the "bridge" for the ships moving systems. All the information ends up here, everything can be controlled from here.
After jamming some foam plugs into our ears we follow Frank through the heavy door to the beating heart of FRAM, the generator room. Four of these big machines are available, most of the time we are running on two for the sake of fuel economy.
The noise suggests moving parts, but you don't see much of it. Diesel-electric is the keyword, basically we run with electricity that is fed into a gearbox which in turn transmits the power to the two pods underneath the ship. All highly modern, no huge pistons revolving, no shaft, no rudder. That comes as a surprise for many, but explains very well why FRAM is so utterly quiet.
Emerging back to the surface, to the sunshine, it feels good to have seen the hidden side. But somehow it feels better to be out here in the fresh air and enjoy - the Deep Blue.

Friday 25 October 2013

The fishy thing

Being a ruler of a vast kingdom entails the responsibility for a hell of lot of subjects. In Neptune's case these subjects are scaly, slimy, slippery, tentacly and don't smell good if left a few days out in the warmth. For them it is the utmost a living being can achieve (being scaly, slimy…etc.). So if an innocent vessel with innocent people comes along and asks for admission to the kingdom, the greets honor is to be baptized with just these things.
And here's what you need: Take a broth with indistinct pieces of fish and, well, stuff, prepare a thick paste of cream that got sour mixed with battered eggwhite and shaving foam, have plenty of eggs at the ready (the old ones work best), as well as sufficient ice water. What else do you need? Oh yes, rope to tie the delinquents to their chairs, a huge syringe to inject the foul brew into the mouth. And the cakes! Make them as dry as possible so nobody can swallow them. Ever. Instead add spices, and more spices. And then some.
Well, here's a few images. Have fun!

Thursday 24 October 2013

This is it!

The slow progress on the open sea has a lesson to teach: You can't force things. You cannot go faster, you cannot change the weather, you cannot bring the wildlife to the surface. Other than with the Atlantic Games where a little more effort or concentration can get you somewhere, nature does not indulge those desires.

But all good things come to those who wait, who let go. You might want to see flying whales with all your heart - it won't happen. But if you are contented with what you've got, then things occur to you, suddenly there is a school of dolphins emerging next to you, or a booby catching a flying fish. And if not, then not… then it's just the crew performing a drill right in front of you.
Happiness comes from the moment's joy, and many relaxed faces are to be seen, out on deck in the fresh breeze of the day, entering the library with a good book in hand or the restaurant where a dashing meal is waiting.
Although today there is excitement mixed with it. Somewhat during the evening we will do it! The Equator lies dead ahead, distance getting smaller and smaller.
To stick to proper procedure, Captain Rune files a request to the local authorities to get permission to cross the line - the authority being King Neptune himself. So no phone call, but a message in a bottle, hurled into the marine mailbox, like in the good old days
After dark the position on the screen counts down like for a start of a rocket, and at 19:47:55 local time the ship's horn rumbles deeply three times. We have changed hemisphere. 
And again, who ever expected grand things to happen, a mighty bump or fireworks or mermaids jumping will get nothing out of it. 
But those with the open mind who are just letting things be - well, they might actually feel something happening inside, a significant moment turning into a smile of the heart.
Here we are now, heading for the Grand South.