Coming Ashore At Brown Bluff With Hurtigruten

Our first landing in Antarctica happened this afternoon on Brown Bluff! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our first landing in Antarctica happened this afternoon on Brown Bluff! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Monday, January 19, 2015

Because of a snowstorm that pounded Hurtigruten’s FRAM late last night, we awoke to the news that we wouldn’t be able to make our scheduled landing at King’s Cove. But this is the nature of expedition cruising; it pays to be flexible and expect the unexpected.

In the Observation Lounge on Deck 7 early this morning, waiting for our first glimpse of the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

In the Observation Lounge on Deck 7 early this morning, waiting for our first glimpse of the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Suddenly, Antarctica is visible from the bright windows of the lounge...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Suddenly, Antarctica is visible from the bright windows of the lounge…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Even so, many guests – including myself – were up at 06:00 to catch our first sight of land in Antarctica, and we weren’t disappointed. We passed several large tabular icebergs on our morning of scenic cruising, and watched as penguins raced off icefloes as we made our way slowly past.

The beauty of Antarctica is as indescribable as it is magical. Words show their horrifying inadequacy here.

Antarctica! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Antarctica! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I’ve seen beautiful things in this world before. I’ve been lucky enough to watch elephants run wild in South Africa, and to see the sun set on the Mekong in Cambodia. I’ve looked on as lizards sunbathed themselves in the Galapagos, and sailed silently between the majestic rocky outcroppings of Australia’s King George Falls.

This wasn’t like that. This was like meeting your long-lost soul mate.

The open bow viewing area on Deck 5 became the place to be as Hurtigruten's FRAM neared the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The open bow viewing area on Deck 5 became the place to be as Hurtigruten’s FRAM neared the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Passing a penguin-filled iceberg. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Passing a penguin-filled iceberg. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and FRAM's Expedition Team members alike line up to take photographs. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and FRAM’s Expedition Team members alike line up to take photographs. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Passing a huge tabular iceberg. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Passing a huge tabular iceberg. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I saw my first glimpse of Antarctica, bathed in a million shades of grey and blue that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. The clouds boiled overhead, the seas rolled beneath our keel. Even here, in a land without a permanent population, everything that surrounds us is alive, in its own unique way.

After an enjoyable breakfast and lunch in the Imaq Restaurant (both of which are served buffet-style), we arrived at Brown Bluff, located on the coast of the Antarctic Sound at the end of the Tabarin Peninsula. Interestingly, the Peninsula gets its name from a popular Parisian nightclub that was favored by early polar explorers – though I don’t personally see the connection!

After lunch, we disembarked the FRAM...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

After lunch, we disembarked the FRAM…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and headed for Brown Bluff via the ship's Polarcirkel boats. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and headed for Brown Bluff via the ship’s Polarcirkel boats. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Brown Bluff is spectacular, with cliffs that tower 745 metres (2450 feet) above the rocky shoreline. This afternoon, guests aboard the FRAM made their way to Deck 2’s Mud Room to put their boots and lifejackets on in a procedure that is, at last, becoming quick and routine. It’s also fun – going down to Deck 2 to change footwear and put on all the necessary gear somehow heightens the experience.

Disembarkation is very orderly, and the Expedition Team are doing a fantastic job of managing the groups and crowds. Disembarkation today started with Kayak Group A, then moved on to those who were partaking in the first round of optional cruising-only excursions. Finally, Zodiac Groups 3,4,5 and 6 were able to disembark one at a time, followed by Groups 7, 1, and 2. Being in Group 3, I disembarked first this time – but our disembarkation tomorrow will be last, as groups are cycled so that not one group is always first or last. It’s a very clever – and fair – way of arranging things.

Coming ashore on Brown Bluff, with its vast rocky beach and towering cliffs. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Coming ashore on Brown Bluff, with its vast rocky beach and towering cliffs. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There are also just a few Adelie Penguins. Everywhere. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There are also just a few Adelie Penguins. Everywhere. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Perfect for reflecting. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Perfect for reflecting. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

When guests come ashore, they’re given a short briefing by one of the Expedition Team members before being turned loose to their own devices. These short briefings are important and informative, and let guests know where they can and cannot go, and at what time they must be back at the Polarcirkel boats for the return to the ship. Most are conducted in English and German.

Today, guests could hike along the beach for kilometres so long as they were mindful of the carefully-placed orange cones and flags that denoted where the Adelie Penguin rookeries started. Guests are asked not to step over to the other side of the cones, though this can be difficult in some instances to determine which is the “right” side of the cone to be on.

The enormous icebergs that had been driven ashore by the tide became objects of fascination. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The enormous icebergs that had been driven ashore by the tide became objects of fascination. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...particularly those with a brilliant blue hue to them, indicative of very old, highly compressed ice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…particularly those with a brilliant blue hue to them, indicative of very old, highly compressed ice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

As we walked along the beach, frequent stops were made to touch the many icebergs that had washed ashore. Contrary to what you might think, these aren’t made up of smooth, shiny ice like you’d find in the ice cube tray in your freezer; rather, most were made up largely of ice and snow pellets that you could scoop up in your hand.

Hurtigruten's FRAM, hidden by ice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Hurtigruten’s FRAM, hidden by ice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It also made sense to stop and photograph these icebergs, many of which held huge crevasses tinted in varying shades of blue. This blue appearance is caused by compressed snow which forms glacial ice, and appears to be blue due to the refraction of light, which cannot penetrate the surface of the ice because it is so tightly compressed. “White” icebergs appear that way because their surfaces still contain a tremendous amount of air, reflecting the sun’s rays. I wouldn’t rely on my description to write your next science essay, but that’s essentially the gist of it.

Here’s my unexpected recommendation for anyone travelling to Antarctica: find yourself a rock or a snowbank and sit down. Don’t move. Just watch and listen.

It's amazing what you can see in Antarctica when you sit still and just take in the scenery. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It’s amazing what you can see in Antarctica when you sit still and just take in the scenery. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

We did as much, finding a nice rock near the shoreline to perch on. Initially, this was for a practical reason – walking in those rubber boots is tough business, and a rest was in order. But then something amazing happened: once we’d stopped walking and started watching, Antarctica came alive.

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Our Live Voyage Report aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM continues tomorrow from the heart of the Antarctic Peninsula as we explore Danco Island! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

Exploring Elephant Island

Our first sight of land since leaving Ushuaia: Elephant Island, South Shetlands. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our first sight of land since leaving Ushuaia: Elephant Island, South Shetlands. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I can tell you about my morning aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM as she sailed through the Drake Passage en-route to Antarctica. It was a very pleasant morning, and guests onboard are settling into a nice shipboard routine.

What I will remember, though, is this afternoon.

Guests on deck aboard Hurtigruten's FRAM look on as we encounter both land and ice for the first time on our journey. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests on deck aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM look on as we encounter both land and ice for the first time on our journey. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Throughout the morning, we began to see small bergy bits of ice around us. A few larger bergs loomed on the horizon off our starboard side, and guests were out on the deck of the FRAM to do some bird and whale spotting.

The FRAM is a hugely comfortable ship to be sailing these waters on, and her interior décor has a lot to do with that. Not only do her interiors pay homage to some of Norway’s most important explorers (portraits of Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen grace the two onboard elevators manufactured by OTIS), Fram’s interiors drew their inspiration from the market she was always intended to sail: Greenland.

Open deck space aboard FRAM is abundant and plentiful. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Open deck space aboard FRAM is abundant and plentiful. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Designers have even added a raised platform on Deck 8 to allow guests to overlook the ship's bow. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Designers have even added a raised platform on Deck 8 to allow guests to overlook the ship’s bow. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Designed by Arkitekt Arne Johansen AS of Norway, the names of Fram’s interior public areas all come from the native Inuit language of Greenland. The Nunami Lobby on Deck 4, for instance, translates roughly to “on shore”; while the Imaq Restaurant all the way aft derives its moniker from the Greenlandic Inuit word for “ocean.”

All of Fram’s public areas were situated on decks 4 and 7, with Deck 4 acting as the primary entertainment deck. Here, as with all other Hurtigruten ships, the 174-seat Imaq Restaurant is located all the way aft and surrounded by three banks of windows to ensure the polar scenery is never far from sight. Providing breakfast, lunch and dinner, the room’s décor is some of the most traditional aboard Fram, with plenty of dark woods and brass accents complemented by rich red carpeting and soft furnishings.

FRAM also features an open-bow that's perfect for scenic cruising, and which was well-utilised today. Unlike other ships, bow access is always open. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

FRAM also features an open-bow that’s perfect for scenic cruising, and which was well-utilised today. Unlike other ships, bow access is always open. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Deck 7 is home to the ship’s gymnasium and open aft deck with its two Jacuzzi tubs. Forward, the Observation Lounge offers sweeping 180-degree views of the scenery ahead – which, this morning was limited mainly to ocean.

You can also access the Fram’s Wi-Fi internet connection from here, along with the Reception Lobby on Deck 4. Six hours of internet time will cost you 200NOK, or 12 hours for 400NOK. It’s worth noting that, for whatever reason, guest internet access is limited to the hours of 14:00 until 08:00am; after that time, it becomes inoperative. Even still, at numerous points in the day internet access is completely out of reach; perhaps unsurprising when sailing in this part of the world. But, given the relatively high cost, you’ll want to ask yourself what it is worth it to you to check your emails.

Lanfall! Elephant Island. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Lanfall! Elephant Island. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

­Around 14:00 hours, we arrived off Elephant Island. FRAM’s anchor clattered and shook the bow as it let go, and the expedition team set out on the scout boat to see if they could find a good place for us to perhaps go ashore.

While this was going on, guests made use of the ship’s ample open deck space, including a bow that is built expressly for guests to stand on as an observation platform. Even high above the Observation Lounge on Deck 7 is an open deck, complete with a raised step that encircles the forward part of the deck to allow people to see over the protective wind screen installed there.

Guests begin to wander outside as we approach land. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests begin to wander outside as we approach land. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A little while later, the expedition scout boat came back with the news: the pack ice near shore is too thick to be a suitable landing site. But, because we’re an expedition ship (and the Hurtigruten team doesn’t give up), we pulled up our anchor and set out to completely circumnavigate it and arrive at Cape Lookout, on the southern side of the South Shetland, to try our chances there.

Around 17:45, the FRAM slowed to a crawl, and once again dropped her anchor. We’d arrived. Even just from the decks of the ship, superlatives fail to describe the majesty of this place we’ve reached. To simply call it “grandiose” seems, at least here, to be far to­ much of an understatement.

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Our Live Voyage Report aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM continues tomorrow from the heart of the Antarctic peninsula! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

Crossing the Drake

At sea on the Drake Passage, bound for Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

At sea on the Drake Passage, bound for Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Saturday, January 17, 2015

It was a wild night here onboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM, but the purpose-built expedition ship handled it well. Despite Beaufort Force 9 winds and some monstrous seas pounding down upon us throughout the night, the only sounds that could be heard in my stateroom forward on Deck 5 were those of my toiletries clanking around in the cupboards.

Not surprising given the extremely high winds outside last night and this morning! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Not surprising given the extremely high winds outside last night and this morning! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

In fact, upon hearing the weather forecast last evening, I secured anything that might slide around, from camera equipment to battery chargers. My laptop has rubberized pads, so it could stay seated on the desk in the room without it going anywhere. But preparation is key; you don’t want to have things break when they go bump in the night.

Simply moving around the ship proved to be difficult this morning. This was taken on Deck 4, looking aft toward the Dining Room. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Simply moving around the ship proved to be difficult this morning. This was taken on Deck 4, looking aft toward the Dining Room. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Since the forecast was…unpleasant, I elected to put on Seabands – little wrist bands with a pressure point that have helped with seasickness in the past. They worked. With the exception of trying to move about the ship and in the room at night and during the early morning, I really haven’t felt uncomfortable at all. Crashing around in the ship’s corridors – now that’s another story. But, as the old saying goes, keep “one hand for your drink, one hand for the ship.”

The FRAM is, however, a gorgeous ship - even in rough weather. This is the Deck 7 landing of the main staircase. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The FRAM is, however, a gorgeous ship – even in rough weather. This is the Deck 7 landing of the main staircase. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Not everyone is in the same boat, so to speak: so common are rough seas in this region that every stateroom, corridor and elevator lobby is outfitted with the dreaded “white bags.” And without going into detail, they’ve been well used. But – this is the Drake Passage. I came into this cruise, as did most people I’ve spoken to, with the knowledge that the first two days could be a little touch-and-go weather-wise.

Unfortunately for those who don’t have their sea legs just yet, there’s a lot of housekeeping duties going on today for the Expedition Staff here onboard the FRAM – and they all involve guests.

Preparing for Antarctica: guests were all issued with their bright-blue (and complimentary) jackets this morning. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Preparing for Antarctica: guests were all issued with their bright-blue (and complimentary) jackets this morning. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today at 09:00, guests could proceed to Deck 2 when their Zodiac Group was called over the public address system to be outfitted with their bright-blue Expedition Jackets. Emblazoned with the Hurtigruten branding, these jackets are very cool – and not nearly as big and bulky as you might expect. But they are a good windbreaker, so just be sure to bring some warm layers to place underneath them.

Immediately following the jacket handout was an information lecture on the optional post-cruise tours guests could participate in back in Ushuaia and Buenos Aires, as well as the Voyage Adventures that can be booked onboard.

They are:

  • Cruising in Antarctica’s Lemaire Channel. Max 24 people; 750 NOK pp.
  • Max 10/12 people. Swimmers Only. 995 NOK pp.
  • “An Amundsen Night” – tenting in Antarctica. Max 18 people. 3250 NOK pp.
  • Deception Island Hike. Very difficult. Max 100 people. 250 NOK pp.
  • Geology Cruise Deception Island. Max 24 people. 750 NOK pp.
We were also called down to the "Muck Room" to be fitted with rubber boots - mandatory for landings in Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

We were also called down to the “Muck Room” to be fitted with rubber boots – mandatory for landings in Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests can fill out their requests on a form provided near the Expedition Desk on Deck 4. Because these excursions ashore are so popular, a lottery system has to be employed in order to accommodate the restricted numbers of guests these tours can carry. They also look to be quite popular; already, a small queue has built at reception filled with people either booking or enquiring about them.

This afternoon, we were called (again by Zodiac Group numbers) down to Deck 2 to be outfitted with rubber boots. Rubber boots are mandatory for all landings ashore, and Hurtigruten offers the possibility to rent them from onboard the FRAM at a cost of 120 NOK for the duration of the voyage.

Sadly, all guests were not fitted with a complimentary bottle of the MS Fram's own Scotch - but you can buy it onboard! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Sadly, all guests were not fitted with a complimentary bottle of the MS Fram’s own Scotch – but you can buy it onboard! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Since boots are mandatory – and since this isn’t exactly an inexpensive voyage – I do find it a bit odd that the rubber boots carry an additional charge. But, it is a minimal one, and the boots are extremely high-quality. My advice? Don’t bother bringing your own boots – very few guests on my sailing did, and the few that I have seen will be completely unsuitable if we have to make a wet landing somewhere. The boots Hurtigruten has onboard nearly come up to my knees, so I’ll be warm and dry regardless of the landing location!

Someone once described a book as the only lover you can keep up on a shelf, and the FRAM has no shortages of these onboard, in the small but well-stocked library just off the starboard side of the Observation Lounge.

Cafe onboard the FRAM, Deck 4. Here, you can get coffee and tea along with some sweets around the clock. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Cafe onboard the FRAM, Deck 4. Here, you can get coffee and tea along with some sweets around the clock. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There's even a faux fireplace on Deck 4 just off the Reception Lobby that's quite cozy. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There’s even a faux fireplace on Deck 4 just off the Reception Lobby that’s quite cozy. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Click here to continue reading!

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM continues tomorrow we make our first landing ashore at Elephant Island! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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