Sailing to the Land of the Penguins aboard the FRAM

An expedition to Antarctica is like no other voyage in the world. Here, guests of Norwegian-based Hurtigruten set out from the Fram on Zodiacs near the Lemaire Channel. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten ASA.
An expedition to Antarctica is like no other voyage in the world. Here, guests of Norwegian-based Hurtigruten set out from the FRAM on Zodiacs near the Lemaire Channel. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

There exists a place on this earth that has, for centuries, been reachable only by ship. It is the only continent on the planet that lacks a permanent population, with a land mass twice the size of Australia. It is at once desolate and beautiful; a place of quiet tranquility. But it is also a place of spiteful fails, where lives were made and lost, together and alone, among the cold and endless nights of winter, or punished by the blinding light of the polar summer. The men who achieved success here have largely been forgotten by history; those who failed have found themselves immortalized forever in ignominy.

I’m talking, of course, about Antarctica – and we’re headed there in early January aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM for a truly one-of-a-kind Live Voyage Report.

Built in 2007 specifically to sail the polar regions of the world, Hurtigruten’s 318-passenger FRAM is appropriately named: Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen used a purpose-built ship called the Fram on his South Pole Expedition of 1910, and Hurtigruten named their ship in honour of this historic vessel that can still be seen to this day in Oslo, Norway.

Antarctica captivated mankind for years, as this dramatic 1911 photograph illustrates. Photo courtesy of Adrian Raeside
Antarctica captivated mankind for years, as this dramatic 1911 photograph taken by Herbert Ponting on Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition of 1910-12 illustrates. Photo courtesy of Adrian Raeside

If you’re a polar history buff like I am, you’ll know that Roald Amundsen beat British explorer Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole by mere weeks in December of 1911, planting the Norwegian flag and successfully returning to Oslo to a heroes’ welcome. If you’re not familiar with Amundsen, that’s because he was successful. He discovered the Northwest Passage, conquered Antarctica and the South Pole, and even became the first man to undisputedly reach the magnetic North Pole in 1926.

The names you’ve probably heard joined with Antarctic exploration weren’t so lucky. Scott famously eviscerated himself on the ice after also trying to reach the South Pole on his own expedition, known as the Terra Nova Expedition. He arrived there on January 17, 1912, to find that Amundsen had beat him by a month. History doesn’t record what choice phrases Scott used upon discovering the Norwegian flag and Amundsen’s tent, but chances are good that it wasn’t “fiddlesticks.” Scott, along with companions Robert “Birdy” Bowers, Lawrence “Titus” Oates, Dr. Edward Wilson and Edgar “Taff” Evans would spend the next three months attempting to make it back to their permanent camp before all finally succumbed to the elements in March of 1912.

Robert Falcon Scott stands before the tent that Roald Amundsen erected at the South Pole. Amundsen beat Scott there by five weeks. Scott is standing on the far left, with Edgar "Taff" Evans on the far right in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons.
Robert Falcon Scott stands before the tent that Roald Amundsen erected at the South Pole. Amundsen beat Scott there by five weeks. Scott is standing on the far left, with Edgar “Taff” Evans on the far right in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons.

Ernest Shackleton fared slightly better. When his ship, Endurance, became trapped in the pack ice during his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1917, he successfully led a perilous rescue journey across the open polar sea to South Georgia Island – some 720 nautical miles away. The expedition was a failure; the rescue was a success.

Even some of the men involved in the search for the Northwest Passage were in Antarctica – most notably Captain Francis Crozier, who would join Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated quest for the Northwest Passage in 1845, and James Clark Ross explored here in 1841. Numerous land masses and oceans are named after him, as well as his ships HMS Erebus and Terrorboth of which would be lost in the Arctic as part of Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition.

Shackleton's crew launch the James Caird from Elephant Island in their 1916 rescue effort. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons
Shackleton’s crew launch the James Caird from Elephant Island in their 1916 rescue effort. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Hurtigruten focuses as much on the rich history of exploration and adventure in Antarctica as they do on things like penguins and ice floes. After all, the venerable Norwegian line has been sailing the polar waters of Arctic Norway for over a century, and during that time, they’ve learned a thing or two about exploration. Fram herself has sailed to Antarctica each winter since she first set sail in 2007, and her crew and Expedition Team have amassed an enormous wealth of polar experience during that time.

Hurtigruten's FRAM stands out against the monochromatic colors of Antarctica. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.
Hurtigruten’s FRAM stands out against the monochromatic colors of Antarctica. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Antarctica has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. Everything about it has entranced and fascinated me – including the two-day crossing of the stormy sea known as the Drake Passage.

Our full itinerary, both here and onboard:

Hurtigruten's FRAM, Antarctica

DATEPORT
January 15, 2015Buenos Aires, Argentina
January 16Buenos Aires - Ushuaia, Argentina
January 17Crossing the Drake Passage
January 18Crossing the Drake Passage
January 19Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 20Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 21Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 22Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 23Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 24Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 25Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 26Crossing the Drake Passage
January 27Crossing the Drake Passage
January 28Ushuaia - Buenos Aires
January 29, 2015Buenos Aires, Argentina

As exciting as Antarctica is, I’m equally as thrilled to be discovering it for the first time with Hurtigruten, a line I sailed with back in February of 2013.

Hurtigruten's Midnatsol on a brilliant winter's evening in Norway. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol on a brilliant winter’s evening in Norway. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A Hurtigruten cruise isn’t just a voyage; it’s an experience in its own right. Their ships are amazingly well-designed from a technical standpoint; stout, sturdy and able to take whatever the oceans of the world throw at them. But they’re also beautifully designed inside, and the Fram is no exception: her interiors have been created to reflect the culture and language of Greenland. To that end, the ship features extensive use of materials like wool, leather, and dark woods that lend the ship a decidedly Nordic feel that reflects both Greenland culture and Hurtigruten’s own Norwegian heritage.

Hurtigruten's FRAM was launched in 2007, and was designed specifically for Antarctic cruising. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.
Hurtigruten’s FRAM was launched in 2007, and was designed specifically for Antarctic cruising. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Even Fram’s public rooms reflect this focus on Greenland. There’s the Imaq Restaurant, which means ‘sea’ in Greenlandic Inuit. Sky is represented by the Qilak Lounge, and the earth by the Nunami Lobby.

At first, you might balk a little bit at Fram’s passenger accomodations. Don’t. You’re never going to be in your stateroom anyway, and as I discovered during my week aboard the similarly-designed Midnatsol, the Pullman-style beds are surprisingly comfortable. Plus, you’re sailing the Drake Passage – being lower to the floor is going to be your friend on this sailing!

Dusk begins to fall as guests enjoy themeselves in the Mysterier Bar on Deck 8. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
Hurtigruten’s ships feature colourful, Nordic interior design. Shown here is the Mysterier Bar aboard the 2003-built Midnatsol. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

What did impress me about Hurtigruten is how darn fun their sailings are. With the exception of lectures and some special onboard events, guests are largely left to their own devices, and that’s just the way they like it. It’s a very social experience, with guests drawn to Hurtigruten from around the world.

In Antarctica, Hurtigruten provides guests with a sky-blue parka that’s theirs to keep. They also rent out rubber boots for the duration of the voyage, and include nearly all expeditions ashore. All you need to pack are your clothes, some books, and a great sense of adventure.

I’m all packed – how about you?

Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.
Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Hurtigruten's FRAM, Antarctica

DATEPORT
January 15, 2015Buenos Aires, Argentina
January 16Buenos Aires - Ushuaia, Argentina
January 17Crossing the Drake Passage
January 18Crossing the Drake Passage
January 19Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 20Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 21Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 22Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 23Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 24Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 25Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula
January 26Crossing the Drake Passage
January 27Crossing the Drake Passage
January 28Ushuaia - Buenos Aires
January 29, 2015Buenos Aires, Argentina

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