Wind, Waves and Wonderful Whales
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
We weren’t even supposed to be here today.
Guests aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM awoke to another change of itinerary this morning, but to be honest, it made no difference to me: I have come to the conclusion, after just 24 hours in Antarctica, that there is no such thing as a bad landing spot here.
Our original landing sites at Mikkelsen Harbor and Cierva Cove were inaccessible this morning due to high winds that whipped up frothy swells and made launching the Polarcirkel boats impossible.
Still, even the high winds couldn’t keep guest off the open decks. I opened the curtains in my Deck 5 stateroom this morning to reveal two people standing at the railing, gripping their cameras, trying desperately to steady themselves and photograph sea birds while the FRAM rose and fell underneath them. I wasn’t quite so courageous; I settled for a late breakfast in the Imaq Restaurant with plenty of hot coffee.
In fact, an unexpected morning of scenic cruising was far from a bad thing. After breakfast, I ventured up to the lounge for more coffee. Simply admiring the views from the FRAM has become a pastime in itself.
Aboard the FRAM, coffee and tea are included around the clock in the Cafeteria on Deck 4, and during opening hours in the Observation Lounge and Imaq Restaurant. Everything else carries an additional charge, which is a little curious but not unheard of. For the price, some expedition operators include absolutely everything, while others – much like Hurtigruten – limit the complimentary drink offerings. A selection of juices (orange, apple, etc) are provided free of charge in the Restaurant during breakfast.
Drinks onboard are priced in Norwegian Kroner (NOK), which can be a little expensive for North American and European guests alike. However, the prices aboard FRAM seemed, for most items, to be more reasonable than those aboard Hurtigruten’s Norwegian coastal ships, so the sticker shock shouldn’t be too bad. A pint of beer (Carlsberg) cost 34NOK, or $4.45 US, and a can of Coke was just 19NOK, or $2.48 US.
Wine is less of a value, with glasses that run into the hundreds of NOK. I wanted to try FRAM’s onboard whisky offerings, but wasn’t prepared to part with 120NOK ($16 US) for a 2cl glass. I’d have to have a lot more Carlsberg before I’d be able to do that!
Still, I absolutely love the FRAM, additional costs and all. This has to be one of the most beautifully-designed and robustly-built expedition cruise ships afloat. We’ve passed many an expedition ship so far – all of them rugged and attractive in their own way. But FRAM is the sleek bulldog of the Antarctic: blunt, squat, and able to take what the ocean throws at her. Even in heavy seas and heavy winds like we experienced this morning, there’s very little creaking or rattling even when her bulbous bow clears the water and her keel slams into the next wave.
Why does that matter, you ask? To me, the sign of a well-built ship is one that remains remarkably quiet in rough seas. FRAM was built in Italy at the Fincantieri Shipyards near Venice, and the quality of her construction shows through.
By 14:00, we were coming to a stop off our picturesque make-up landing site for the afternoon: Danco Island. It is a name that doesn’t do this wonderful place justice; Danco sounds like it might be a gas station somewhere in the Midwest. Danco Island, on the other hand, is a beautiful 1.5-kilometre long island that was first discovered by Adrien de Gerlache in 1897 and named after his expedition geophysicist, Emile Danco, who perished in Antarctica.
The channels leading to Danco Island are choked with icebergs of all shapes and sizes, some of which are so artistically-inclined that you’d swear they were created painstakingly in the same way that Michelangelo might have created his Statue of David. The British built a base here in the last 1950’s that was manned for all of four years before becoming an abandoned refuge shelter, but the structure was torn down in 2004, leaving only the pristine beauty of this island in its place.
Once again, we made our way ashore via FRAM’s Polarcirkel boats, beginning with Group 4. This meant that my group, Group 3, would be the last to disembark. Not that I was complaining; it gave me a chance to enjoy a relaxing pint of beer in the Observation Lounge before eventually toddling off the Mud Room on Deck 2 when Group 3 was called.
Arriving on-shore around 15:00, I decided to do exactly what I had done yesterday: find a nice place to sit and admire Antarctica’s beauty. This time, it was a snow-covered rock facing out into the ice-filled channel – and once again, I was not disappointed.
During the 90 minutes I sat on that rock, I watched as Gentoo Penguins came by the dozen to have a peek at the stranger on the boulder. Once again, nature’s greatest comedians would waddle, slide and face-plant themselves on their merry way as they went about their business of hopping from one snow-covered rock to another, carefully avoiding the crevasses in the snowdrift behind me as they did so.
I also watched as an enormous iceberg broke free and drifted across the channel, moving at about five knots past the FRAM. The ice passed harmlessly off the ship’s port side, but I was astonished to see that, when it came abreast of the FRAM, the ice flow obscured everything except for the ship’s radar mast – roughly 100 feet above the waterline.
At one point, I figured my lone pint of Carlsberg was beginning to have some hallucinatory after-effects in the Antarctic sun: I could have swore I’d seen a three-masted sailing ship steam past an iceberg off to my right. But this was no alcohol-induced illusion; there really was a three-masted sailing ship, with a hull like an Ironclad warship, steaming up through the channel. As she approached FRAM’s stern, the difference in size became apparent – and I was immediately glad that we had the privilege of crossing the Drake Passage in our comfortably large ship.
Then, I watched the skies change from blue to grey to black to blue. I listened to the icebergs in front of me pop and crackle in the heat of the Antarctic sun, and could faintly make out the sound of the snowpack behind me melting into the rocky terrain below.
When I sat down initially, no one was around me. By the time I got up to stretch my legs, I’d swear half the ship had discovered this beautiful little spot just off to the right of the landing site. Maybe I’m starting a trend?
Back on the ship, guests were treated to another spectacle tonight – and it was one that no one was expecting. Here in Antarctica, simply going for a nightcap (or two) in the Observation Lounge can hold great surprises, and tonight’s was a spectacular show put on by a group of whales as the clock struck twelve and the date changed over from Tuesday, January 20 to Wednesday, January 21, 2015.
Where else in the world can you step out onto the bow of a cruise ship at quarter past twelve in the morning, beer in hand, and be joined by twenty other guests all doing the same thing? Even as it was unfolding before my eyes, tonight seemed to me to be the embodiment of pure magic.
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|