Saturday 30 November 2013

2 trips done!

The last two days we spent at sea, most of the time in the Drake Passage. We had a little bit of stronger wind and many of our Chinese guests could not really handle this. They preferred to stay in the cabins and we got the feeling that we had suddenly lost quiet a number of passengers in Antarctica. But on the Captains Farewell they showed up all again. Some still a little bit pale in the face but happy to be in the calmer waters of the entrance of the Beagle Channel.

We thought, that this is the right time to let our wonderful trainee, Niri, from Norway let write again about his experiences until now.

Hallo blogger!

It’s me again, Niri the trainee.

I have now been with the FRAM for 2 trips. The first tour has been a trip with passengers from nearly all over the world to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula. My second trip has been a full Chinese charter to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Tomorrow my third and last trip will start; again with passengers from many different nations and again to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula. I am looking forward to it as I want to see how different the landscape looks like later in the season and what my new friends, the penguins and all the other birds are doing now, in December.  
I took some time to understand how far from home I really am, but seeing the flora and fauna in Antarctica I understood that I’m on the other side of the planet!

The animals that live in and around the south icy sea are really interesting creatures! It’s very nice to work with a team that consists of people with different specialties! If I have a question about history, biology, geology, organizing or anything else, someone in the team can answer.

Everything runs on tracks in the team. It’s clear to me that they have a lot of experience doing this kind of thing.

The daily life of the ship can be calm, like on a sea day. But if we have kayaking, camping, cruising and ordinary landings all in the same day, things can get busy! But I like it, you get time to relax but you don’t get too lazy. But of course I have not to lecture so that I have a little bit more time, especially on sea days, than my lecturer colleagues.

Here you can see my team and me in "action".

Photo John Chardine

Photo John Chardine

Photo Ina Schau Johansen

Photo Marsel van Oosten

I know I’m going to enjoy the next trip, hiking, polar circle boat rides, maybe camping, more seals and a lot of fun!  

Thursday 28 November 2013

Anyone for shopping?

You might ask, why are we talking about shopping in Antarctica? Well today we visited a restored British base on a small island called Goudier Island, in Port Lockroy. There, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust manage a shop, British sub-post office and museum. It is for sure a unique experience to shop in Antarctica! The museum preserves a record of  how the hut was used in former times for scientific purposes. Port Lockroy is one of the most popular destinations for cruise ships in Antarctica and regular readers of our Fram blog will be familiar with the place.

The scenery around the base is outstandingly beautiful and the icing on the cake are the Gentoo Penguins breeding around the buildings. An ongoing study is looking at the effect of tourism on the breeding success of the penguins and has shown that there is no negative impact. That makes us feel very good!

After Port Lockroy we tried to sail through the amazing Lemaire Channel between Booth Island and the mainland. However, the ice prevented us from entering so we only had a look from a distance. 

This also had the knock-on effect of preventing a landing on Petermann Island on the other side of the channel. Instead we chose an icy location in the Neumayer Channel for Polarcirkel boat cruising. It is a very special experience to be in a small boat in Antarctica, literally at eye level with the sea ice, and with the icy mountains towering above you. In the pack ice close to the ship we were able to observe a Crabeater Seal resting on the ice. We could see many wounds around the neck of the animal but it is apparently a mystery how they are made.

Our cruising made for a great end to our Antarctica experience and as we sailed north and into the Drake Passage, our memories will force us to look backwards towards this incredible place.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Can there be something nicer than ice?

Let’s say it just at the beginning, our last day has been incredible, incredible wonderful. The day started early at 8:00h with a landing in Cuverville, in a huge Gentoo Penguin colony and it ended after an amazing cruise through the Neumayer Channel in the evening light. 

It would be nearly not possible to explain with words what we experienced this day. Please, look at the pictures, perhaps they say more than words can do.

And now perhaps you will understand our answer to the question: “can there be something nicer than ice?”. Yes, yes and a third time yes. Penguins on the ice, camping on the ice, kayaking between the ice and a PolarCircelBoat cruise in front of this impressive glacier landscape, which is all so much better than ice!

Tuesday 26 November 2013

The journey continues!

This is now our third day in Antarctica and we have found lots to do in the South Shetland Islands. This chain of volcanic islands is moving away from the Antarctic Peninsula a few centimetres a year as a result of seafloor spreading. The active volcano called Deception Island is a result of this continued tectonic activity.

After spending a bumpy night in the northern-western part of the Bransfield Strait, we sailed into the flooded caldera of Deception Island in the early morning. The wind was howling outside but once we were inside the caldera, it calmed down. Pack ice from last winter had piled up in Whaler’s Bay but a portion of the beach was open enough for us to land. You really have to pinch yourself when you land at this place- remember it’s a ACTIVE volcano that erupts at regular intervals. It is time for another one based on how long it has been since the last. Evidence of the volcanic activity was in the form of steam rising from the beach, a sulfur smell in the air and hot water just below the surface of the black volcanic sand. As usual there were some Gentoo Penguins on the beach and at the end of the landing, a few were able to watch a Leopard Seal lying on an ice floe. Deception is famous for its Antarctic swimming opportunities and a few brave souls ventured in to the frigid waters. Behind the beach, we explored the outside of an abandoned British base and the oldest whaling station in Antarctica, dating from the early 1900s.

Pack ice in Whaler's Bay
Leopard Seal
Leopard Seal
Marsel van Oosten
Coming back out of Deception through Neptune’s Bellows is as impressive as going in with the high volcanic cliffs and the sea stack on one side, and colourful rock and snow on the other. Once out, we headed for our second landing of the day at Walker Bay on nearby Livingston Island. By the time we reached the bay the winds had dropped and all we had to contend with was a moderate swell. However, the Expedition Team was able to find a safe place to land on the beach. This landing was like none we had done before on this trip with the beach dotted with Elephant Seals and Southern Giant Petrels nesting and roosting behind the beach. Most walked up to see the fossil collection made from the area and on display. The Elephant Seals were mainly younger males but there were a couple of huge bulls with their big “blow-up” noses, and a young “weaner” lay on the beach on its own. It’s incredible how these young seals can become independent of their parents at such a young age and without any help learn to be an Elephant Seal.

Young Elephant Seal - 'weaner'
Elephant Seals - FriedaPhoto

Some went on a Polarcirkel boat cruise around the bay and got excellent views from the water of the rich Antarctica oasis of Hannah Point with its green vegetation and breeding penguins and giant petrels.

So overall our day was fantastic with a good mixture of beautiful scenery, geology and wildlife. Stay tuned for more to come!

Against great odds – we made the day successful!

The day started with lots of sunshine and blue sky, but sometimes this is not sufficient. The wind was blowing very strongly and our planned landing site on the “Aitcho” Islands was so exposed that a landing under safe conditions was not possible. Also a second try on a landing site very nearby was impossible. But there was no reason to give up hope for a landing of the day!

In the later afternoon we had planned a stopover in the Chinese Antarctic station “Great Wall”. Especially as we have a Chinese charter at the moment our guests were really looking forward to this event. China established three Antarctic stations and “Great Wall” – built in 1985 – is the biggest. The station can accommodate 80 persons during the summertime and up to 40 in winter. The other two stations are “Zhongshan” – built in 1989 – and the summer station “Kunlun” – opened in 2009.

Our expedition leader Anja asked the station if we could arrive earlier for our “visit” to the “Antarctic China”, and it worked out. Around 13:00h the expedition team went ashore to find a good landing place. It was not possible to reach the station directly with our PolarCircleBboats. We had low tide and between our ship and the station “Great Wall” we found a “small wall” in form of a little underwater gravel ridge that made the sea very shallow, so much so that our boats could not sail over. But again, we are on an expedition cruise, we could handle the situation, we landed on a snow covered beach and – we walked over to the station. “Great Wall” here we come!  It was even nice to stretch our legs on this 40min. hike. Walking on white snow in sunshine under blue sky with small white clouds, what could have been nicer?

During our visit we got a good impression about the “Chinese way of life” down here in Antarctica. Many souvenirs, made in China, have been bought by our Chinese guests at the station.  At the end of our cruise the Chinese passengers will take the souvenirs back to China. You see, even Antarctica is part of the worldwide economic cycle.

The evening ended with MV FRAM’s very well-known fashion show. Officers and expedition-staff gave their best to be at least the best models, not of the world, but of Antarctica!

Sunday 24 November 2013

Sea then land

We have had an exceptional crossing of the Drake Passage on our way to Antarctica. Winds remained light almost the whole trip and we were all very thankful of this. The alternative- high winds and high seas- was only in our nightmares! In actual fact the Drake has an undeserved reputation as a very rough stretch of water. It can often be light to moderate, as we experienced. With light winds comes fog on the Drake and we did not see much for the first day. The second day produced a lot of seabirds and some great opportunities to photograph them.

Antarctic Petrel - a true bird of the ice
After two days at sea we arrived near land at the South Shetland Islands in the early afternoon, and then sailed down to our first landing at Half Moon Island. We had great light but moderate winds for the landing so it was cold onshore. We were greeted by lots of snow and lots of Chinstrap Penguins on the small island, and also a nice  Weddell Seal. The backdrop of Livingston Island was spectacular!

Weddell Seal - FriedaPhoto

Weddell Seal - FriedaPhoto

The amazing Livingston Island
A few penguins had laid their eggs but most were still waiting for the “white stuff” to melt. These days it is often a long wait as more snow is falling on the Antarctic Peninsula in the winter because of climate change. Although they were waiting, the Chinstraps always looked busy walking to and fro, often with a new, prized stone in their beak for their nest.

Now that the penguins are laying eggs, the skuas are actively hunting over the colony. However, in the few hours we were on the island we didn’t see a one grab an penguin egg. When most people are introduced to skuas and their feeding habits, there is an automatic dislike because of our affection for penguins. However, we have to remember that skuas have to eat too and that a skua eating a penguin egg is no different to a penguin eating a krill. It's just that we have less feeling for krill than for penguins!

Brown Skua looking for penguin eggs
So, we had a great first day in Antarctica and now look forward to more great weather, great experiences, and great photo opportunities as we sail deeper into the last continent.

Friday 22 November 2013

An end can be a new beginning!

In the early morning the passengers from our last cruise left the ship and started their long journeys home- Ushuaia is a long way from everywhere! But just a few hours later our new passengers arrived and in the evening we started our new trip to the Antarctic Peninsula.

It is always a hard day for the crew to prepare the cabins and the whole ship for the new incoming guests. After everything was shining again on the ship, cabins, floors, restaurant and lounges, the luggage arrived and had to be distributed to each of our cabins. 

Shortly after the passengers arrived the check in started.This cruise will be a very special cruise – an almost full Chinese charter. 156 Chinese people people boarded in the early afternoon. After the check in they started to explore the ship. All over the vessel you could hear them laughing, and nearly always smiling even though they were  tired after the long flight from China. Everyone looked like they were on holiday, which they were!

As the weather in Ushuaia had been so wonderful nearly everybody spent time outside on deck when we left Ushuaia. The Beagle Channel was flat like a mirror. The sky was deep blue and the high mountains, the very end of the Andes, showed up clearly against the sky. The highest tips are very sharp, indicating that they were not covered in ice during the last glacial period. Then they would have been surrounded by ice and called “Nunataks” (a term from the Inuit Language). 

The southern beech (Nothogagus) forest that covered the mountain sides down to the will  the last really green vegetation we will see over the next 10 days. We said “good bye” to the beautiful and colorful spring time in South America, and look forward to the more or less icy spring time at the Antarctic Peninsula.