Exploring Elephant Island
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once again, the scout boat was sent out. During this entire process, the crew kept us informed over the ship’s public address system as to what was happening. My understanding is that our unscheduled arrival here has a lot to do with the rapidity in which we managed to cross the dreaded Drake Passage, so there’s no real road map for today. But that’s the most enjoyable part of expedition cruising: everything is subject to change – and usually, it does so for the better.
Finally, the official word came: we’d be making a very brief 30-minute cruise by the Fram’s Polarcirkel boats to explore the shores of Cape Lookout.
The process of getting into these boats was involved but easy. For excursions that are strictly confined to the Polarcirkels, guests are called down by group numbers to the Mud Room where the boots, suits and lifejackets are stored on Deck 2. There, they change into the necessary clothing and return to the Deck 2 lobby, where their keycards are scanned out. The cheery male voice on the computer stays, “Goodbye!” and you’re on your way down the stairs and outside the shell door to the tender platform.
The Polarcirkel boats are capable of holding approximately seven passengers comfortably when cruising, or eight guests when you are travelling from ship to shore. They’re different from more standard zodiac rafts that you might be used to if you’ve expedition cruised before; these have hard-sided “walls” that are raised up about half a foot off the upper pontoons that are coupled with a hard runner that protects the pontoons from ice. For those who are reading between the lines, these are not the rafts you want to get your fingers in between the pontoons and the ship!
Once we’d set out, it started to softly snow as we gazed up at the jagged peaks and outcrops of the South Shetlands. Covering the shoreline were plenty of chinstrap penguins, all crying out and talking to each other. Other than the sound of the penguins and the low hum of the Polarcirkel’s outboard motors, barely any other noise could be heard.
I think the only way to describe Antarctica is to be completely honest. Although Elephant Island is in the South Shetlands – and not officially in Antarctica – I have found myself flooded with emotions today. It’s almost too much to make sense of; they conflict and ping-pong off each other in the most curious fashion. One minute you’re happy, the next minute you feel as though you’re on the verge of bursting into tears.
For me, too, this is a very personal journey. I’ve wanted to sail to Antarctica for as long as I can remember. Now that I am here (well, let’s face it –nearly here), I am painfully aware that I may never come back in my lifetime. I hope I do – but you can never be sure. Therefore, more than other trips, I feel as though I need to attempt to hang on to every last second of it.
These emotions would not have been unlike those felt on August 30, 1916, when 22 members of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition were rescued from Point Wild on Elephant Island – very near to where we were this evening. They’d spent 135 days here when their ship, the Endurance, was crushed by heavy pack ice. To stay in this beautiful though barren landscape for that length of time, without ever knowing if rescue was coming – or was even possible – is a mental nightmare of a strength that I think few of us can fathom nowadays.
For our first introduction to Antarctica, Hurtigruten has really pulled out all the stops.
Our full journey:
Hurtigruten's FRAM, Antarctica
|January 15, 2015||Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|January 16||Buenos Aires - Ushuaia, Argentina|
|January 17||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 18||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 19||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 20||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 21||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 22||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 23||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 24||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 25||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 26||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 27||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 28||Ushuaia - Buenos Aires|
|January 29, 2015||Buenos Aires, Argentina|