Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A True Antarctic Day and A New Year!

The plan for today was not much of a plan. We learned at yesterdays briefings for todays activities that the weather and ice conditions in Antarctic Sound might be grim. The conditions in the forecast were accurate. Ice conditions along the southeastern side of Antarctic Sound prevented us from venturing to a landing on the Antarctic Peninsula.

There was only light snow but it blew nearly horizontally as winds gusted to 19 meters per second or 40 miles per hour.

We selected Kinnes Cove on the southwest side of Joinville Island as our alternative location for a landing today. It turned out that our alternative landing location needed an alternative landing site. At our first landing site our landing operation was bedeviled by shallow water and high winds. We had landed a few passengers ashore, but then transferred them to a second landing site that had deeper water and was a bit more protected form the gusty winds. At our alternative landing site, everyone was able to get ashore.
Here we could scramble over the bare andesite rocks to the snow field above where we found ourselves among a large mixed colony of Adelie and Gentoo Penguins. The wind continued to gust and the snow continued but all of us had the full experience of a true Antarctic day landing under true Antarctic conditions. Conditions that to be honest were a major downgrade from the sunny and relatively warm and calm conditions we have had at our landings in the South Georgia and yesterday at Elephant Island.

These true Antarctic weather conditions prevailed the rest of the day. We motored southwesterly in Antarctic Sound dodging floating ice. On the bridge, our biologists kept a continuous lookout for wildlife, snow hampered long range visibility but we did see humpback whales on several occasions.. Our travels in Antarctic Sound came to an end at Rosamel Island.  This island, shaped like a scoop of ice cream, is where the Antarctic Sound opens into the expanse of the Weddell Sea.

At Rosamel we reversed course and headed for Deception Island. On our way we passed a tabular ice berg that stretched almost 1 nautical mile or almost 2 kilometers in length. The width of the big berg was left to our imagination. Tonight we welcome the New Year first with a dinner then a gala celebration.       

In yesterdays blog there was an error concerning the Shackleton’s small boats.

Shackleton’s men arrived at Elephant Island in 3 boats: the James Caird, the Dudley Docker and the Stancomb Willis. For the sail to South Georgia the James Caird was strengthened and decked over.  

Monday, 30 December 2013

Intrepid Landing at Elephant Island

This morning we arrived at Elephant Island. The sky was a thin overcast and the wind was negligible, as a result there were barely ripples on the surface of the ocean. Best of there was almost no sea swells. It was the first time in the 11 years that Hurtigruten has been operating in the Antarctic that we could attempt a landing at this fabled site. Decisions were made and Polarcirkle boats were launched.

Looking backward, in 1916 Elephant Island is the first land reached by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men after their ship “Endurance” was crushed by ice in their attempt to reach the southern coast of the Weddell Sea. Shackleton’s party reached Elephant Island in 2 small boats. Here the wood from the smaller boat was used to strengthen and deck over the second boat. The “Boss” then left 22 men under the leadership of Frank Wild while he and 5 others sailed on to South Georgia, where he planned to obtain a ship and rescue the men had to leave behind. That plan was not to be and it was 135 days after he left Elephant Island that he returned on the rescue ship YELCHO under the command of Chilean Pilot Luis Pardo Villalon.

On our ride to the island we enjoyed a short coastal cruise viewing the steeply inclined rocks that form the island. The rocks are shales and mudstones that have been compressed, heated, tilted and at the landing site they were riddled with thin veins of white quartz. On the rocks and nearby snow and ice fields were 100’s of Chinstrap Penguins. In additions we saw 3 Gentoo Penguins and 1 Macaroni Penguin plus a Leopard Seal cruised past the landing site.

Our landing at Point Wild went smoothly as the weather and sea conditions never deteriorated. We were able to get people in and out of the Polarcirkle boats with ease.It was a short walk to visit the monument to Piloto Pardo and from that site we could see the remnant stonework that Shackleton’s crew constructed during their isolation.

Our landings were interrupted for short periods of time on 3 occasions by calving from the Furness Glacier. Needless to say everyone had a great time and no doubt we will all try to match the photos we took today with those taken by Frank Hurley the photographer who documented the “Endurance” Expedition.

As we left Elephant Island we circled clock-wise passing Cape Valentine and then headed for Gibbs Island on our way to the Antarctic Sound area.   

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Onward to Elephant Island

The weather throughout today did not change. All day we had light winds with a few white caps and overcast skies. It was easy traveling and an easy ride.

Lectures were held by on topics including Antarctic fossils, politics and geography of Antarctica, Captain Cook, and the ownership of the Continent.

Riding beside us and cruising in the turbulent air flow caused by the FRAM’s superstructure we had continuous company from Antarctic Prions, Cape Petrels, and our first Southern Fulmars. No whales were sighted today but onboard, talk continued as to how fortunate we were yesterday, to have seen the large number of Fin whales.

As today was Sunday many of us attended the non-denominational but multi-lingual religious service.

Those looking out on the horizon can tell we’re getting close to Antarctica. The first few large icebergs could be seen as we sailed south.

To wrap up the day, the officers held a question and answer session for passengers to gain insight on the ins and outs of FRAM's inner workings.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Clear Sailing

Today has been a beautiful day with bright sun, blue skies and calm sea conditions. Not a whitecap in sight all day long, just some gentle ocean swells. We are clear of South Georgia Island and on our way to Elephant Island.

Today was filled with lectures and films. Our fellow travelers from OYAs VENNER, the Friends of South Georgia offered several lectures today, some in Norwegian and others in English. Perhaps the most unique presentation was the running commentary provided by Kjell Tokstad as he showed us the 8mm film he shot when we spent 2 summers and 1 winter at the whaling stations on South Georgia. It was the early 1960’s and he was 15 years old when he went south. 

This first-hand information and experience continued in the evening as 8 of the OYAs VENNER members answered questions from the audience about their time working in Antarctica, some at the land stations while others worked on factory ships. All were quite young when they came south for work.   

After dinner the FRAM encountered a large pod of migrating fin whales. For about a half an hour we watched with amazement and joy as 50 to 100 of these large creatures surfaced some within 15 meters of the FRAM.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Husvik and St. Andrews Bay

We landed on the beach at the south end of the Husvik whaling site. Our first task was to organize a pathway through the fur seals that populated the beach. Once this was done we were able to walk along Husdal Creek to the reach the cemetery. As at Lieth several of our fellow travelers had relatives buried there and they and many other people paid their respects. The fencing around the cemetery at Leith was is good shape but at Husvik the fencing had been flattened at several locations, probably by some of the elephant seals that were resting inside the cemetery.

The whaling station site is a no-trespassing zone due to the deteriorating buildings and potential for asbestos inhalation. Some of us skirted the site. We stayed outside the no-trespassing perimeter posts and walked the ridges and bogs headed northward then eastward until we had a clear view of the “Karrakatta” the abandoned whale catcher boat.

In the afternoon we motored southward to Saint Andrews Bay. This east-facing bay is open to full ocean swell and we did not land here. As we cruised safely outside the breaking waves we saw tens of thousands of adult King penguins and big brown down covered chicks. Notably in our nearshore travels we did not see any of the leopard seals that prey on penguins, though the waters off this rookery would have been a feasting location for hungry leopard seals
Onshore, grazing on the grassy outwash plain behind the beach we saw 4 to 6 reindeer. As the FRAM’s Chief Officer noted “we know something the reindeer do not know” and that is soon the members of the reindeer eradication program will be working in this region to eliminate the introduced reindeer population.        

The glaciers behind St. Andrews Bay formerly reached the coastline. But now after 20 years of melting they no longer reach the coast. The present glacier front of the Cook Glacier is now several 100 meters or yards inland and a fresh water lagoon has formed in front of the glacier and behind the sand and gravel beach bar.    

Thursday, 26 December 2013


Overnight we traveled to Fortuna Bay and this landing started at 0700. The weather conditions were heavy overcast, with fog, the temperature was just above freezing and it rained throughout most of the landing. Fortunately the wind never increased above the level of a moderate breeze.

From our landing site we had to skirt along the back of the beach to avoid often aggressive male fur seals. Once clear of the males and their harems we had a walk inland on the outwash plain of the Konig Glacier. The King Penguin colony is immense! All stages in the life cycle of the Kings could be seen from eggs to chicks to downy adolescents to ‘yearlings’ that do not yet have full colored plumage to thousands of adults to molting adults.
After lunch we reorganized and about 90 of us were landed on the west side of Fortuna Bay to do the Shackleton hike. We were to follow the path that Sir Ernest, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley traversed as the last part of their never before accomplished traverse across the backbone of South Georgia. Our hike ended adjacent to the Stromness whaling station.

At the end of its operational life Stromenss was used as a ship repair facility and evidence of this is documented by the dozen or so ships propellers that are on the beach. These propellers also provide resting spots for the “weaner” fur seals that populate the area.

Near the end of the landing some of us took Polarcirkels boat to the north end of the Stromness beach and here we began the steep upward climb on our hike over the loose shale and ridges to reach the area of the Lieth station. All arrived at the pick-up point at a small bay outside the Leith no trespassing zone and we arrived back at the FRAM in time for a hearty and deserved dinner.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Christmas morning greeted us, bright and sunny as we went ashore at Grytviken.  This holy day most of us crowded into the Whalers church for a service by the Reverend Richard Hines, the rector of the parish that includes South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

As today was our second landing at Grytviken the extra time allowed to visit excellent museum, the shop and to stroll along the waterfront and among the machinery of the station.

Adjacent to the buildings we encountered many elephant seals in their wallows and fur seals some of whom were quire protective of their territory. A relatively small group of King penguins, about 30 were well photographed.

About 100 of us hiked for about an hour and a half from Grytviken to Maiviken. The north-facing harbor at Maiviken was called a “sun-trap” by the Norwegians sealers and whalers. While no whaling buildings were erected here a hike to the bay served as Sunday recreation for the men working at Grytviken.

We all had lunch onboard as the FRAM motored a short distance to Jason harbor. At this site the structure is a refuge hut. The landing beach is steep and populated by bull seals and their harems. “Weaners” baby seals only a week or two old cavorted among the adults and in the tussock grass behind the beach. This landing and our walk was windy, too say the least, onboard the FRAM anemometer clocked wind speeds up to 20 meters per second or 45 miles per hour.

Our Christmas day ended with an elegant dinner and the main course was reindeer meat from the animals culled from South Georgia.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


At breakfast time we were in calmer waters as we approached the east side of South Georgia Island. The Island was not visible due to fog and light snow conditions. However by mid-day when we anchored in the King Edward Cove the weather cleared and we could see abandoned whaling station at Grytviken and the white museum building.

Our landing point was close to the Grytviken cemetery. The most noted person buried there is the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Others buried there were sealers and whalers,
including the father of one of our Norwegian passengers. The most recent internment is an Argentine sailor from the 1982 conflict.
Many of us attended a service at the Whalers church. This service was organized by Norwegian organization: OYAs-Venner -the Friends of the Island, South Georgia. The church building was pre-fabricated in Norway at the request of Carl Anton Larsen who founded the whaling station at Grytviken. Reassembled in Grytviken, the church was dedicated on Christmas day 1913. Today an additional service was held, a wedding, Olav Orheim and Grethe Sofie Bratlie exchanged vows, and celebrated with a reception once we returned to the FRAM. 
Onboard the FRAM we all gathered in the Observation lounge, where out Captain Arild Harvik held non-denominational reading of the true meaning of Christmas. We are 360 people onboard from 20 nationalities and we managed to sing Christmas carols simultaneously in 3 languages English, German and Norwegian.

Shortly afterward we gathered in our restaurant for a never ending buffet of holiday dinner delights. We all ate until we could hold no more. The day closed with an appearance from Santa Claus in the observation lounge.

Monday, 23 December 2013

During the night the wind and sea conditions increased. At breakfast time Beaufort force 7 conditions, a near gale, with winds up to 15 meters/second or about 33 miles/hour. The wind and waves were coming from a southwest direction. The wind and wave direction did not change but by 1500 or 3PM the winds had increased a bit and we moved up a notch in the Beaufort scale. Overall the FRAM is rolling smoothly and slowly, though the wave heights are about 5 meters or 17 feet. Admiral Francis Beaufort, the hydrographer for the British Navy, systematized the descriptive terms that sailors used and the sea condition that he had observed. In 1838 the Admiralty adopted his zero to 12, that is 13, increasing levels of classification, combining wind and sea conditions. Developed long before the twirling anemometers that we see today measuring wind speed, his Beaufort scale is still in common use on ships crossing the world’s oceans. Admiral Beaufort made another, lesser known, contribution to science, in that he is the person who suggested Charles Darwin as the young gentleman and naturalist who was selected to accompany Captain Robert Fitzroy on the circumnavigation of the Beagle.

Throughout the day the FRAM has been accompanied by seabirds. Today we added Grey-headed Albatrosses and Snow Petrels to the species list of birds skimming beside the FRAM.

Today was a critical day in terms of permission to go ashore. Everyone onboard who intends to go ashore has to complete two forms. First is the required reading and signature of the bio-security notice for all those going ashore on South Georgia. Second is required attendance at the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) formal briefing on the guidelines and proper behavior in Antarctica.

Our photographer has had a busy day. With Christmas approaching, the entire ships crew was photographed for their Season’s Greetings to all and the ship-board operational department members gathered for more personalized photographs.


Sunday, 22 December 2013


The FRAM is still heading southeasterly and our ride is quite comfortable as we have the winds from astern. Plus the sea surface conditions are moderate and mellow as the waves are not too big and are also approaching the FRAM from the rear. Wandering Albatross, Antarctic Skuas and Wilsons Storm Petrel have accompanied us throughout the day.

As today is Sunday a church service was held onboard. The service was dedicated to the memory of the Norwegian whalers who died at sea. Gone but not forgotten. After the indoor service many of us went on deck for second service which involved lowering a wreath to the sea in memory of the whalers who got a wet grave. The ceremony concluded with the singing of the hymn “Deilig er Jorden” or “Wonderful is the Earth”.

Lectures continued today and we learned about Antarctic seals and biodiversity. As budding historians we listened to talks on the founding of Grytviken by C.A. Larsen over a hundred years ago and recent improvements in the methods for preserving polar buildings. This last site location is on our list of possible sites to visit during our stay at the island of South Georgia. We also learned the geologic history of the Island and the biologic and human history of the Island was presented by Martin Collins, the Chief Executive and Director of Fisheries and the Reverend Richard Hines of the Anglican Church. We are pleased to have them onboard to hear their first-hand knowledge of South Georgia and the biologic and restoration programs that are presently underway.

This evening we have our classic FRAM fashion show and it remains to be seen if these last two eminent gentlemen will join us in this fun-filled event.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Sun, Solstice, and the Red Carpet

Here in the southern hemisphere, today was the summer solstice. The sun makes its southern-most track and as a result today has the longer period of sunlight, longer than any other day in the year. And today was exceptional for several reasons. First today was clear and sunny throughout our visit to Stanley, this is not always the case as often the local weather is cloudy and rainy. We even observed folks soaking up the sun, in the Church yard. Secondly all our excursions: bird watching, nature walks, historical tours, scenic over-flights and lastly the penguin and cookies trip were fully enjoyed by our sometimes sun and wind burned fellow travelers. While we enjoyed the bright sun we did have to lean a bit into the gale force winds that swept the waterfront.

On a third more reflective note, many of us gathered at the Cathedral for a short service to mark the start of the centenary celebration of the Whalers Church in Grytviken on South Georgia Island. The forth exceptional event today was a red carpet reception with the Honorable Nigel Haywood the Governor of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands. Kjell Tokstad representing the Norwegian organization Øyas Venner the “Friends of the Island- South Georgia” presented honorary memberships to the Governor, and his Chief Executive Martin Collins and Richard Hines the Vicar in Stanley. There followed a lovely reception with mulled claret, tasty treats, and excellent company.

At 5pm or 1700 we left the dock and motored to out of the harbor into the open sea. Behind us as a backdrop we had crystal clear views of Stanley and the surrounding ridges. On this longest day of the year, the sunlight faded as the orange disc of the sun dropped below the horizon. We are headed onward and forward to South Georgia Island and Christmas.

Friday, 20 December 2013


The FRAM continued on course toward Stanley. We motored along under overcast skies and in gentle to moderate sea conditions. Throughout the day both wandering and black-browed albatrosses accompanied cape and giant petrels in gliding alongside the FRAM and following in our behind the ship, occasionally dipping down for the tasty treats churned up in our wake.

Inside the FRAM our tri-lingual language program was underway. Lectures in English, German and Norwegian provided an introduction to the biology and environmental conditions that are found surrounding and on the sub-Antarctic islands.

Today was also the day we were fitted for the insulated rubber boots that we will wear when we go ashore by Polarcirkel boats. But tomorrow in Stanley the FRAM is dockside and our hiking boots that we brought from home are the order of the day.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

FRAM means forward!

Today was a very forward day. 231 tired travelers from 15 nations collected themselves on the FRAM and at 6:09PM today, or 1809 in ship-board time notation, we slipped sideways away from the dock in Ushuaia, Argentina and our trip was underway. The weather today in Ushuaia was “pretty good” that is only a breeze when we walked the dock, but not the gale force winds we sometimes lean into when we walk along the water front. The skies were overcast most of the day but cleared and it was sunny while we attended our safety briefing and demonstration. Once the docklines were cast off and with Ushuaia retreating in the background, we were on our way heading eastward in the Beagle Channel. Our next stop and our first port of call will be Stanley in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. Beagle Channel was first mapped and the depths were sounded by the British survey ship BEAGLE. That ships second voyage to this area is better known, as in was on that globe circling- circumnavigation- that the ships complement included the young naturalist Charles Darwin. The British Museum in London houses the plant and animal specimens plus the fossil samples that Charles Darwin collected on his land excursions in southern South America-the region known as Patagonia.
Tonight the Captain and his staff welcomed us onboard the FRAM. Later we exited the eastern end of Beagle Channel and assumed a northeast-ward course toward Stanley. Tomorrow is a day at sea with lectures introducing us to the history, the sea life and the geology of the waters we will sail across and the islands we will visit.

In closing, this is a very special trip, as history is with us –first-hand -- not from books or via Hollywood movies. We have onboard many Norwegians who worked at the whaling stations on South Georgia Island or on whaling ships that plied these waters. These people are members of the “Friends of the Island -South Georgia” and their prime motivation for this trip is to attend Christmas services at the Whalers church in Grytviken. This approaching Christmas will be the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Whalers church on South Georgia Island. We will be there. All of us onboard are looking forward to both lectures and informal conversations with those folks who over 50 years ago lived and worked in this region.    

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A whale of a day

The early risers needed no special announcement – nor were awoken by Friederike’s excited calls, summoning everybody to the outer decks. Those that were asleep and were in fact woken up by her, surely did not mind too much, as the spectacle around the ship was well worth the effort of getting out of bed and quickly putting some warm clothes on: we were surrounded by a large group of humpback whales, and occasionally, a few fin whales could be seen darting their way in the distance.

The Captain interrupted our journey for about an hour, and everybody had the opportunity to look at these magnificent creatures at length, as they also used the occasion to look at us: they were quite curious and spent a fair amount of time slowly cruising alongside the ship, and that provided us all with plenty of time to look at them and not just take pictures (which of course we did), but also to try to look into their watery world; and perhaps, to wonder on how different from us these fellow mammals are…

When we continued our journey, it seemed as if our distant marine cousins were not quite yet prepared to bid us farewell, as we had the chance to see them following the ship for a long while. It was spectacular to see the fin whales cruising past the ship (yes, they are quicker than our vessel), and to watch them porpoise out of the water in their frantic race. It definitely was a whale of a day!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Deception Island

Our day started with bright sunshine just at the entrance of the big caldera of Deception Island, the famous Neptune’s bellows. Then we began with our first landing at the former whaling station which we could visit in all quietness and spending lots of time surveying the whole area – whaling installation, base buildings, tanks and airplane hangar and last but not least, climbing to Ronald hill for the view or walking to the end of the beach close to Neptune’s windows to socialize with a weddell seal resting on the snow. It was also swimming time for some guests.
After lunch and not far away from our early landing, we moved to Telephone bay, were we attempted our second landing. Kayakers, cruisers and climbers went to do their own business, the first ones to a small bay teeming with seals, the second on a geological tour in and outside the caldera, and the last ones to the 170 m high hill which provided a magnificent view of the inner caldera. Even our safety officer went ashore and felt a little bit lost – missing the Fram – as you can see on the picture, while other passengers were very proud to have managed to come that fast to the summit, expressing all their joy in risky actions like raising the arms, while others had to grab the rocks so as not to be not blown away by the strong winds.

This was our farewell day from Antarctica and each one of us used the opportunity to spend some silent moments to be grateful for the wonderful experience we were granted to live in these latitudes. The best way to finish the day and the continental journey was by attending the creative and skillful crew show, where the hidden talents of some of our more permanent friends on board came to surface for the delight of all of us. 


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Lemaire Channel and Vernadsky Station

In true explorer fashion, this morning we did not know if we were going to be able to traverse the scenic Lemaire channel, as it seemed to be clogged with ice. Early in the morning, peacefully cruising in a beautiful haze, we inched our way into the channel and crossed it by avoiding the biggest ice chunks and breaking the new sea ice, which is something very exciting indeed – and just what you imagine a journey to Antarctica should be.
After sailing the whole length of the channel, we continued further south to the Argentine islands, which was also a very exciting journey as the whole sea was covered with fresh sea ice which Fram slowly tore apart to advance. In these islands, we visited the Ukranian research station Vernadsky, where the very friendly crew welcomed us and showed us around their working and everyday life quarters.

During our stay in Vernadsky, the weather changed dramatically, from darkly overcast to incredibly sunny, so we enjoyed the fabulous landscape of the mountainous Antarctic Peninsula stretching southwards as far as the eye could see; and also the beautiful icebergs slowly parading past it.

Our northbound journey across the Lemaire channel – which almost seemed a different place from this morning’s!- and through the Gerlache Strait and Wilhelmina Bay was simply spectacular: the sunny weather continued and the whole sea was covered with bits and pieces of ice of all shapes and sizes…