Saturday 31 January 2015

Wildlife on the ice – That’s just nice

We spent our morning in Mikkelsen Harbor, on Trinity Island. The expedition team needed a while to find a good landing place for us as we had low tide and lots of big rocks next to the landing side. But of course we managed it to land and we can only say: it was fantastic. A little bay we had to pass through before we could see the penguins, was covered with little ice blocks coming from a calving glacier next bay. We reached the penguin colony walking over soft and melting snow layers. It was wonderful. All the chicks in different ages, fed by their parents, we did not expect to be so in the middle of the wildlife.

All passengers got the opportunity for a 30 minutes boat cruise with our little PolarCircleboats in Cierva Cove in the afternoon. It was amazing to be in the middle of the ice, looking for seals – and we found several Leopard seals – and even two Minke whales. Especially in the later evening the light became marvellous.

The day ended with a show done by several Humpback whales. They stayed next to the ship for nearly one hour. A big thank you to our Captain Arild that he slow down the engine so that we could have this unique experience. How many people on earth can say that they have seen a whale fluke in the orange and golden line of an amazing sunset? 

Friday 30 January 2015


The weather gods continued to treat us kindly, with following seas and winds as we gently rolled along on our way to the South Shetland Islands and our first Antarctic landing. While the sea conditions on our crossing have been very good, the number of sea-birds accompanying the FRAM has been minimal. Only a few Cape Petrels and a single Albatross, have been with us. Our ornithologist, Manuel and the rest of our bird-watchers expect more sightings as we approach the South Shetland Islands.

Early morning began with vacuuming. The goal of the vacuuming is to keep invasive plants and pest species out of Antarctica. Our part in this program is to vacuum our used outer garments that we will wear ashore. Our vacuuming focuses on the pockets and Velcro-straps to remove any seeds and other material that should not be transported and transplanted in Antarctica.

Later in the morning our lecture program began with introductory lectures in English and German. Topics covered included the penguin species we may see and their behaviour and an overall summary of the political and geographic status of Antarctica.

 At about 4pm or 1600 expectations were running high as we approached our first landing site on the offshore Shetland Islands at Yankee Harbor on Greenwich Island. Brisk winds were blowing from the North but the south and west reaching gravel beach protected our landing spot. As a result the boat rides inbound – southbound were smooth and dry. After our landing the Polarcirkle boat rides back out the FRAM were far from smooth and far from dry. As we had been forewarned we stored our cameras away and none were drowned by the salt spray.

Concerning the landing the Expedition Staff gave us a heads-up that the first landing always goes a bit slower as we have to get on our outer-gear and life jackets. Also it is our first time getting in the PolarCirkle boats and out at the shoreline. All of these activities are new to us but the Staff knows that by the second or third landing we will be experienced-old hands at going ashore.

On shore at Yankee Harbor the sun continued to shine and the wind continued to blow. But our walk along the lower slopes of the volcanic island took us to Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguin colonies. Some of the Gentoo’s had brown chicks that were both muddy and wet. Along the gravel beaches we saw Weddell and fur seals. Overhead we were circled by Skua Gulls, Giant Petrels and Antarctic terns.

Our day ended with the fashion show. The models were the ships officers and the Expedition Staff. Needless to say Ralph Lauren will not be calling them for his next Paris runway show. The Norwegian sweaters and other clothes are another story, as even Ralph would be jealous of their colors and warmth.      

Thursday 29 January 2015

An easy sea day

Last evening near midnight we turned out of the protected waters of Beagle Channel into the infamous Drake Passage. At that time most of were sound asleep as our day had started far earlier and for many of us in cities far away. On awakening we became aware that the FRAM, that our new steel home, was rolling gently in response to the seas and winds. The sea conditions approached the ship from behind –the stern - and as a result our first day at sea was a relatively calm and easy start.

Our first full day at sea was full of briefings and fittings. We had two briefings one was mandatory if you want to go ashore in Antarctica. Naturally we all attended and learned the rules and practices that we need to follow in accordance with the regulations of the Norwegian government and of Hurtigruten the owner of the FRAM. IAATO is the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators and Hurtigruten and the other members of this organization have set the rules, for example: no more than 100 passengers ashore as a times and when near penguins and their colonies, stay at least 15 feet or 5 meters distant. The second briefing covered the several extra activities: for example kayaking and camping, that will be available for small numbers of people as our trip advances.

There were also 2 fittings: at the first we received our water-proof and wind-proof Hurtigruten  jackets and at the second we were fitted for the insulated rubber boots that we will wear on our shore excursions.

By nightfall, a bit after 10pm or 2200 we were close to the mid-point in our, relatively smooth and easy crossing of Drake Passage.  

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Let's start again

As we arrived at the FRAM, the sun was shining and the winds were only a bit of breeze. These weather conditions are on the rare side in Ushuaia as the sun commonly only peeks through the clouds between rain squalls and the winds are often quite strong.

On-board we turned in our passports to the ships purser and then we were assigned our cabins and registered in the ships computer system. Now we can lock our wallets with our driver’s licenses, our money and our credit cards in our room safes. Captain Arvid and his bridge officers will take care of the driving and our card opens the door to our cabins and we can even shop at the ships store as the trip progresses.

Before leaving the dock in Ushuaia we attended the mandatory safety drill, where we learned the location of our lifeboat stations. After the drill we were underway for Antarctica with Ushuaia fading astern and the Beagle Channel welcoming as the FRAM headed east. The green hills and mountains bordering the Channel gave is a clear view of the tree-line as at our present southern latitude the tree-line is a clear demarcation with the southern beech trees below and only grasses and stunted shrubs above.

Out channel transit was highlighted by the accompaniment of a small pod of dolphins. Dolphins are common in the channel but these particular dolphins were species that is rarely sighted. Our biologists viewed our photographer, Dominic’s images and agreed the dolphins were Right Whale Dolphins, albeitly this is a confusing name but that is the identification of our bow wave friends.

Just after the dolphins departed we passed Puerto Williams. This collection of homes and villages is Chilean and is regarded by the Chileans as the southernmost town or village in South America. The Chileans and the Argentinians spar over the terminology and as far as the Argentinians are concerned, Ushuaia is the southernmost town in South America and Ushuaia is at best a village or military town.

 Dinner followed and after that we all gathered in the observation lounge for our welcoming by Captain Arvid and his staff. The evening closed our Expedition Leader, Karin Strand, giving us a head-up on tomorrows activities as we proceed south across Drake Passage toward our rendezvous with Antarctica.

Monday 26 January 2015

Returning Via The Drake Passage

 Day two on the Drake Passage began on the bridge of the boat with Fram’s Captain, Arild Hårvik. This is the brain of the ship, where navigation is carried out, decisions about speed and weather conditions are made and communication with other nearby ships happens.

On the ship's bridge

Passengers took turns learning about the ship’s Radar, compass’ and the importance of the coffee machine that keeps the crew awake through their 12-hour shifts.

A lecture on living in Antarctica in the winter by Tomasz Zadrozny

We learned about the ship’s features that were inspired by Antarctic animals, like stabilizing wings on the hull that extend like penguin wings to balance the ship against big waves.

In the afternoon we participated in lectures about everything from living in Antarctica in the winter to the myths of Cape Horn. We built puzzles, played cards and drooled over all of the fantastic photos and videos that were made during this trip.

The map from our journey

  In the evening we all met on the deck seven lounge to have a farewell toast with the captain. We auctioned off the ship’s flag, signed by the expedition team as well as a map used to guide us along the trip. The 2,100 Euros we collected will be donated to the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, meaning we can continue to leave an even greater legacy in Antarctica. 

On our way back to Ushuaia through the Drake Passage

Saturday 24 January 2015

Petermann Island and Vernadsky Station

Saturday, 24.01.2015  Petermann Island, Vernadsky Station

The day started with typical Antarctic weather: overcast, deep hanging clouds, visibility 800 m maximum. The mountains on the Peninsula side of the Penola Strait were not visible. Snow fell but as it was windy the snow did not come from above but horizontally from the side. Nevertheless we started our operation at 8.30. First the group for the boat cruising was set out. They had a somehow mysterious tour through all these Icebergs surrounding the island and floating in the Penola Strait. The normal landing on Petermann Island followed. The Island was discovered by Eduard Dallmann in 1873 and named after the German geographer August Petermann. The Island is famous for its mixed colonies of Gentoo and Adelie Penguins together with King Cormorants. Another highlight of the small Island is a so called iceberg graveyard on the ocean side of the island. Many icebergs from far south are stranded here because they were driven into a small shallow bay by the prevailing westerly winds. Our passengers had enough time to see the mixed colony and they could walk across the narrow Island to admire the nice scenery of stranded icebergs. 

The Fram in Penola Strait near Petermann Island

Cormorants and Adelie Penguins with chicks ( Petermann Island)

Gentoo Penguin with two chicks (Petermann Island)

Everybody returned to the ship for lunch and the ship sailed towards the nearby Argentine Islands.  A group of Orcas accompanied us for about half an hour.

We arrived near the Argentine island at about 3 pm and started our operation at about 3. 30. First the kayakers were set out for a cruise among these partly tiny islands with big stranded icebergs.

Our Ukrainian guides greeting us at Vernadsky

The kayakers on the way (Argentine Island)

The main group followed soon to visit the Ukrainian Station Vernadsky. This station was originally established by the British as Farraday Station in 1954 on the Galindez Island. This station became famous for the detection of the ozone hole above Antarctica. In 1996 the station was sold to the Ukrainian state and renamed after the famous Ukrainian scientist Vernadsky. Members of the station welcomed us and showed us the scientific equipment of the station. Our visit ended up in the station pub where we could taste their home made wodka and where also souvenirs were available. Our visit ended at 7 and we slowly moved back to Petermann Island where we planned to have another camping night after dinner.

But we had to change our plans. Our Captain called us for an exceptional meeting into the lounch at deck 7. Due to a medical emergency we had to sail back immediately to Ushaia.

Friday 23 January 2015

Neko Harbour and Port Lockroy

23 January 2015 Neko Harbour and Port Lockroy (Goudier Island)

In the early morning we picked up our group of campers from Neko Harbour, who dared to spend the night outside in the cold and brave the Antarctic elements. The view from the camp site could not have been more dramatic: glaciers in all directions crashing into the sea.

Shotly after we began with our normal landing so that all our guests could visit this spectacular site. Lots of ice from calving glaciers had drifted along the shore line, making the tender process more challenging, but this was no problem for our skilled drivers.

Along the slopes of the site we had a chance to slide down and have some fun.

Sliding guests

Sliding gentoo penguins

Breathtaking sights

Later in the afternoon we headed towards Port Lockroy,  recently popularised as the Penguin Post Office ! Unfortunately upon arrival the wind picked up very quickly, developing to gale force, making the transfer to shore (boat tender operation) impossible. We decided however to wait it out, and our luck eventually paid off, with winds settling down.

Finally arriving at Port Lockroy

MV Fram is a regular visitor to Port Lockroy, and it has been remarkable to see the development of the gentoo penguin colony over the past few weeks.The chicks are now very well developed. Since the penguins have chosen to nest very nearby to the base, it was possible for our guests to get a closer than usual insight into the penguins' busy lives. At the base, it was possible for our guests to visit a small museum, buy some souvenirs, and above all: send postcards from the Antarctic !

Penguin Post office

Gentoo and its chick

Thursday 22 January 2015

A wonderful day in Antarctica

Cuverville Island lies beautifully in the Errera Channel, surrounded by glaciers and high mountains.
Today we had many things on the agenda; there were kayaking, boat cruising, island hiking up to the incredible view and of course, not to forget our lovely penguins on the beach posing for us.

The boat cruisers had an absolutely incredible meeting with two Antarctic Minke Whales that were coming right up to their boats, spy-hopping and modelling for the spectators. The kayakers had some fantastic meetings with Weddell and Leopard seals, on the shore we had a busy time photographing the Gentoo penguins and enjoying the view.
After a few hours, we all needed to go back to M/S Fram for lunch and our afternoon adventures. It was with happy faces that we left and we all felt that this place will stay in our thoughts for a long time.

In the afternoon we sailed in to Wilhelmina Bay and what a treat we were up for. We had to sail through wind, snow and bad visibility, but what a reward we got. The weather cleared up and a whole group of Humpback whales were there waiting for us just in front of M/S Fram. Left and right, high and low, here and there, Humpback´s everywhere. Fluking, feeding, indulging on krill and showing of in the best Humpback manner there is. We all stood on deck and the aaahhhhhh´s and the oohhhhhh´s from us were well synchronised with the shutters of our cameras going of like machineguns.
An absolutely fantastic meeting with one of the greatest of our oceans.

Later that night we sat the campers ashore in Neko Harbour for the great Amundsen experience: a night in Antarctica.