Monday, 30 November 2009

So close and yet so far away

On our last night of sailing south in the Drake Passage, we began to feel the ship moving a little more than we were used to. By morning, the sea had built up a good swell and it kept building for most of the day! The captain closed portions of the deck for security reasons, but inside we were warm, dry, and mostly comfortable(!) As we sailed by the South Shetland Islands, brash ice and icebergs passed by the good ship Fram, and one in particular caught our eye as the big waves crashed against and over it. The South Shetland Islands also passed us by but the foggy conditions prevented good views. We somehow felt near and far from Antarctica at the same time.

The weather system (an area of low pressure) causing the conditions we experienced today was situated right over us and prevented our first planned landing at Half Moon Island. We hope to have a chance to visit on our way back north in a few days. We expect the conditions to improve for the rest of our precious time in Antarctica. In preparation for our landings we gave everyone their mandatory IAATO ( briefing on conduct in Antarctica, and fitted their life-jackets.

In the morning some of our Polar Cirkle boat groups had a chance to visit the bridge, where Capt. Rune Andreassen was on watch. He explained the workings of the "brain" of the Fram (the engine room is the "muscle"!) and fielded many questions from interested passengers. For many it was the first time they had ever set foot on a ship's bridge, let alone one so sophisticated as the Fram's.

And finally, a big Hi from grandparents and all of us on the Fram to APDS, 4th Grade! Hope you are enjoying the blog!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Crossing the Drake Passage

Our embarking guests had a very long day yesterday and so this morning, our Imaq restaurant was strangely quiet for breakfast at 0730h! Only later was it hustling and bustling as usual. Through the day, the Drake was kind to us, gently rocking the ship and making many of us all feel a little tired. Some decide to stay and their cabins and recover from the travel day but most actively participated in our lecture series on marine wildlife photography, mammals, penguins, biodiversity and icebergs.

In the morning we held a wildlife photography workshop on deck. There we practiced our skills at capturing images of birds in flight, which is not easy. Although the numbers were relatively low, we had plenty of seabirds as subjects. Most notable were the Wandering, Black-browed, Grey-headed, and Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses following and encircling the ship. These birds are large and relatively slow moving so made great bird-in-flight subjects for beginners. We were unlucky with the whales today but expect to see some in-transit tomorrow. They are still moving south to Antarctica and don't settle-in down there until summer (January).

Tomorrow we will approach the South Shetland Islands through the day, and we all look forward to our first landing on the Last Continent- Half Moon Island and the Chinstrap Penguin colony there.

After a long day we sail to Antarctica!

The day began as planned with our arrival in Ushuaia at 0630h. However, we soon learned that Lan Argentina (an airline) was on strike and our incoming passengers were stranded in Buenos Aires. In the early afternoon we were pleased to hear that the strike was over and that we would welcome our new guests only a little late to the ship. In spite of all this we left Ushuaia only an hour later than planned.

Staff on board the Fram were able to take advantage of beautiful Ushuaia while waiting for our guests and after we prepared the ship for sailing. The mountains surrounding the most southerly city in the world were snow-covered and provided a fantastic backdrop to this most interesting place. An added bonus was the presence alongside the dock of a 3-masted sailing ship called the Europa.

As the sun set we sailed down the Beagle Channel, on our way to the Drake Passage and our goal of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Drake and Cape Horn

Our guest weatherman Joerg Kachelmann called for a rough Drake Passage for this our second day sailing north, and neither he nor the Drake disappointed us. As we approached Cape Horn the wind was blowing 45-50 knots out of the northwest, whipping up the sea and creating waves bigger than 10m/32 ft in height. We were rocking and rolling for sure, but the Fram is excellent in rough seas and she kept us relatively steady under the circumstances. She is a heavy, wide ship with very effective stabilizers- this is the combination you need off Cape Horn! Here is our position as of 1530h this afternoon as shown on the radar image on the bridge.

The big waves coming towards us slowed us down a little bit so we couldn't reach Cape Horn in good light to see it from a distance... maybe next time!

Despite the rock'n'rolling, we had a very active day on board, with lectures, slideshows and videos on-going. And now it is time to pack our suitcases and prepare for the journey home.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

North-bound to Ushuaia

We've had a fabulous day on the Drake Passage, with sunny conditions and a moderate sea. In the morning the Captain invited passengers to the bridge for a visit. As he explained the workings of the various pieces of equipment, a pod of about 8 Orcas was spotted just off the port bow of the ship- not a bad way to be interrupted! The whales were moving very quickly and few had the opportunity to make images, however, the sight of them is imprinted in the memories of all of those who were lucky enough to see them.

For the whole day we had hundreds of seabirds with us. They were generally using the ship as a wind-break and following to the port side in the lee. Species we saw included the Cape Petrels (of course!), Southern Fulmars, Antarctic Petrels, and Giant Petrels including the rare white morph.

As it is one of our last days of this cruise, the Captain hosted his dinner this evening in the Imaq Restaurant on the ship. It was a time to reflect on our marvelous trip and enjoy each other's company.

Last day in Antarctica

We had a wonderful last day in the White Continent, and both our landings were on the West Antarctica Continent itself! Right after breakfast we set-foot on the small Argentinean base of Almirante Brown. Some Gentoo Penguins nest around the base and behind is a 120m/400ft high hill. We took advantage of the elevation and climbed to the top to have breathtaking views of Paradise Bay. The effort needed to do this was considerable but the slide back down on the snow was much easier and much more fun! We were then taken on a Polar Cirkle boat cruise to see a Blue-eyed Shag colony on a cliff nearby and the beautifully shaped icebergs in the bay.

After lunch we landed in Neko Harbour, named after a whaling factory vessel which operated in the South Shetland Islands for many seasons at the beginning of the 20th century and often used this harbour. A big Gentoo Penguin colony is established on the hills surrounding the sandy beach. We could observe them getting ready for the breeding season by stealing the neighbors' pebbles to build their nests. We went up the hill behind the colony to have an even better slide down than the one in the morning.

Monday, 23 November 2009

South to the Lemaire and beyond

We continued our journey south today, first with an early-morning transit of the Lemaire Channel, followed by landings at Petermann Island then Vernadsky Station.

In the middle of the Lemaire, we encountered a field of brash ice and bergy-bits but our captain and chief officer steered us safely through. We passed another ship in the channel, which is a very rare event anywhere in Antarctica, let alone in such narrow a place. Some minke whales and Snow Petrels were sighted on the way through.

The weather was not as sunny as yesterday but this didn't stop us from enjoying the magnificent panoramas of icebergs around the Petermann Island. And we continue to have calm conditions! Petermann Island is home to a mixed colony of Gentoo and Adélie Penguins, and Blue-eyed Cormorants, and we had great opportunities to view and study all three. In addition we noticed a stray Chinstrap Penguin in amongst the Gentoos and Adélies.

After a short cruise farther south we came to Vernadsky Station for our afternoon landing. This station is part of the Ukranian antarctic program and used to be owned and operated by the United Kingdom. In those days it was called "Faraday". At the station we caught a glimse of what it's like to live and work in Antarctica. The station has a gift shop (the most southerly in the world!) and a bar which serves Horilka (Ukranian vodka). Many passengers partook of a "wee dram" on this most southerly point in our cruise!

After Vernadsky we head back north again through Lemaire Channel, this time with good visibility to the tops of the mountains of Booth Island and the mainland.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Cuverville Island and Port Lockroy

We awoke to beautiful sunny conditions today amongst the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. Some fog and snow in the night slowed us down a little but we made it to our first landing at Cuverville Island in plenty of time. There we were blessed with bright sunshine, warm conditions and no wind, which is a rare combination in Antarctica!

Cuverville Island was discovered by Gerlache on his 1897-99 voyage, who named it for J.M.A. Cavelier de Cuverville (1834-1912), a vice admiral of the French Navy. For us it provided fantastic views of nearby Rongé Island, the mainland of Antarctica, and its animal residents- the Gentoo Penguins and skuas. The penguins were beginning to build their nests and lay eggs, and the skuas were patiently waiting for the snow to melt so they could get their breeding season started as well. We knew the Gentoos had started to lay because we watched as a skua flew over the colony with a stolen Gentoo egg. We also received an image from one of our passengers that proves penguins can fly!

In the afternoon we repositioned to Port Lockroy and on the cruise were awestruck with the beauty of the ice-clad mountains of Antarctica. The light was great for wildlife photography on our Port Lockroy landing, which included a visit to the Gentoo and Blue-eyed Shag colony at Jugla Point.

At the British Base A, Port Lockroy, people were able to do some shopping and post letters and cards at the official British Post Office there. The Base is maintained by the United Kingdom Artarctic Heritage Trust (

Sea and land

Our day began at sea and ended on land. This was last day of crossing the Drake Passage before we arrive in Antarctica, and the water was nice and smooth. Too bad we had fog most of the day and could not see well the approach to the South Shetland Islands. However, this helped our attention in the educational lectures we had on weather, penguins and other topics.

In the mid-afternoon, we made landfall in the South Shetland Islands, which lie to the northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula. Our first landing of this expedition cruise was to Half Moon Island, and the mist and fog, which remained for most of the late afternoon and evening, provided a perfect atmosphere for our landing. The light was also just right for good wildlife photography- bright but not harsh. The Chinstrap Penguins had begun to lay egg and local predators- the gulls and skuas- were actively stealing a few. However, there are usually so many penguins in a colony that gulls and skuas cannot have a big impact on the production of young.

Seals like to visit Half Moon Island, and we had the pleasure of observing two Weddell Seals and a young male Elephant Seal on our visit. The Weddell Seals lazed away their time but occasionally looked up to check that we were still there. The Elephant Seal landed on the beach at the end of the landing but seemed very interested in our presence on "his" beach.

Friday, 20 November 2009

First day at sea

This morning our passengers were given a great bird-watching and photographing session by 2 of our Expedition Staff members, John Chardine and Olle Melander. As usual in this area of the Drake Passage, many Cape Petrels, some Southern Giant Petrels, a small flock of Southern Fulmars, and at least 10 Albatrosses of three different species (the majestic Wandering Albatrosses, the elegant Black-browed Albatrosses and the fascinating Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses) were up in the air and around the ship to help our passengers in their morning task. As if it had been programmed, the fog arrived and decreased the visibility when the session finished, and it has stayed rather low ever since.

Life on board has been quite busy, getting everything ready for the landings as soon as we arrive in Antarctica. The passengers learned about the optional excursions that they can take in Ushuaia and Buenos Aires and attended some lectures. They have also had time to start getting to know each other and the ship.

Antarctica here we come!

We spent a very pleasant day in Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world, in preparation for our departure to Antarctica in the early evening. The weather was beautifully warm and sunny on this early summer day in the southern hemisphere. In the afternoon the sun shone brightly on the southern end of the Andes Mountains.

Passengers arrived on the ship in the mid-afternoon and settled in. Some had the chance to walk around Ushuaia and enjoy what the city has to offer before coming aboard. One couple, who had followed our Fram blog for the past few months, happened to meet our ship photographer and asked for their picture to be taken. Here they are (with their permission to appear in the blog!).

As we left Ushuaia, we sailed east along the famous Beagle Channel, named after HMS Beagle, the ship in which Charles Darwin sailed in this part of the world in the 1830s. (Don't forget that the 24 November is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "The Origin of Species"). Each side of the channel, the green hills covered in Southern Beech trees and grasses contrasted with the snow-covered peaks above.

We will now be two days at sea before we reach the Last Continent!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

South America approaching

On our last sea-day of this fantastic voyage we approach the very southern tip of the South American continent. Cape Horn is to our port side and ahead lie the Chilean islands of Isla Wollaston and Navarino, the Beagle Channel, and our final destination, Ushuaia.

We had a great day on the Drake Passage with calm seas for most of the day and a moderate swell as we sailed north. Our constant companions, and a joy to watch, have been the seabirds, which today followed us behind and in the lee of the wind. At one time we had four species of albatrosses around the ship- Black-browed, Grey-headed, Wandering, and Light-mantled Sooty, accompanied by many Giant Petrels and Cape Petrels.

Around midday we came upon a pod of Finback Whales so we slowed the ship and observed them for a time.

As we make your way through the corridors of the Fram tonight, the sight of packed suitcases outside each cabin can only mean one thing- our voyage is almost over. A pity as we were just getting to really know each other.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Heading north on the Drake

We are now sailing northward towards Cape Horn on smooth waters. The Drake Passage has an undeserved reputation for being rough all the time but in fact it is often quite comfortable, as today. We call flat-calm conditions on the Drake Passage, the "Drake Lake".

In the early morning we were treated to cruise into the active volcano that is Deception Island. We passed through Neptune's Bellows and circled Whalers Bay. Ahead of us lay the remains of the Norwegian "Hector" Whaling Station and the British Base B. Both were severely damaged after the last eruption that took place in 1969.

As it is one of our last nights aboard the ship we held our fund-raising auction before attending the Captain's Dinner. We now have one more day at sea before arriving at Ushuaia on Thursday morning.

Our last day in Antarctica

The weather continued to be fine today with calm conditions all day. We had bright cloud overhead which made the photography particularly good as the light was not harsh.

Our first landing was at the British base A at Port Lockroy, which was named by Charcot for Edouard Lockroy, French politician and Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies, who assisted Charcot in obtaining government support for his expedition. The base houses living quarters maintained in original style, an official British Post Office, and a well-supplied gift shop, and is run by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust ( People tend to choose to build Antarctic bases in places that are free of ice and this is the sort of habitat that penguins prefer as well. It is no surprise then to see penguins (Gentoo) nesting all around Base A, seemingly oblivious to the comings and goings of people. In amongst the Gentoos scurried several, all-white Snowy Sheathbills.

In the afternoon we landed at the Argentinian base Almirante Brown. This was our only landing on the Antarctic continent itself, so was a hige thrill for everyone. People walked up the hill just behind the station and had a magnificent view of Paradise Bay. After a fun slide down the hill, we went for a boat cruise to see spectacular glaciers descending into the sea.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Arktowski Station and Half Moon Island

Today was a spectacular one- we had sunshine from dusk till dawn.
What added hugely to the day was the almost complete lack of wind. We hope the high pressure system that created such
amazing conditions stays with us for the next few days!

Our first landing was in the Polish Arktowski Station on King Edward Island, were a Weddell Seal gave us a warm but disinterested welcome. A Leopard Seal also decided to scare our boat-catcher at the landing site. We were close to the big Adelie Penguin colony at the end of the beach and could admire the comings and goings of these little creatures as they made their way from their landing site to the colony and back.

In the afternoon we landed at Half Moon Island where spectacular scenery got everybody's attention. The backdrop of Livingston Island was truly breathtaking. Besides the Chinstrap Penguins, there were other bird species breeding on this small, crescent-shaped extinct volcano, including Gentoo Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Antarctic Terns and Sheatbills.

As we sailed towards the Antarctic continent the fine weather stayed with us and the setting sun lit the ice-covered mountains of Livingston Island with a golden light- they reminded us of the look of whipped merangue.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Icy seas!

As we sail ever closer to the Antarctic Peninsula we have started to see extensive sea-ice and icebergs. However, this has not impeded the Fram's progress. On one of the icebergs we saw today, there were a dozen or so Chinstrap Penguins roosting, and nearby an Antarctic Petrel flew by- more hints that we are approaching Antarctica! It may interest people to know that large icebergs are given letter-number designations and are tracked through their lives (see

A highlight today was the virtually constant accompaniment of the ship by many Cape Petrels. They followed us and took advantage of our movement to make their way south with us. The petrels wheeled in tight groups, almost like schooling fish as they escape a predator.

After three days at sea, our Fram passengers are ready to touch down on solid ground. There is much anticipation aboard ship for the experiences that will touch us when we arrive at the Last Continent. At this very moment we are passing by the remote Elephant Island, where Shacklton's men were left for several months, while "the Boss" with five of his men sailed to South Georgia in the James Caird in the first leg of their rescue.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Scotian Sea

We are in the middle of Scotian Sea, making our way against the wind and waves to Antarctica. A low pressure system is providing us with changeable weather- snow, sun, cloud- and intermittently the ship dips down into the trough of a wave and the fo'c'sle (forecastle) is covered with icy sea-spray.

The crew have regular safety training sessions and today they practiced their fire drill. Here you can see them dressed in their fire-suits and breathing apparatus.

Even though the weather has been changing quite dramatically from sunshine to snowstorm, the seabirds are still keeping us company in great numbers, and today we added only the second observation of the rare white form of the Southern Giant Petrel. These birds seem to revel in the strong, cold wind that is whipping up the ocean.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

there she blows!

Today we steamed in a southwesterly direction from South Georgia towards the South Shetland Islands, adjacent to the Antarctic Peninsula. Seas were friendly and the sun shone for most of the day, interrupted only by a brief snow storm in the morning.

The seabirds continued to be with us as we sail (for example, Giant Petrels, Albatrosses, Cape Petrels, Snow Petrels) and we have an extra passenger in the name of a Snowy Sheathbill on-board. It is quite common for this species of bird to land on ships and he/she will no doubt have company soon, as we approach the Antarctic Peninsula.

A huge highlight of the day was to sail by an enormous tabular iceberg estimated to be 17 by 12 nautical miles in size! Icebergs this size are all catalogued and are give "names"- this one is called B15I.

We had a great whale watching day with several large whales (Humpbacks?) being seen to the side and behind the vessel. In one pod we counted at least 5 animals blowing. Another highlight today was the rare sighting of a Southern Bottlenosed Whale, and not only was it sighted but one of our passengers was able to make some images of the whale and its partner.