Day 6 – Cruising the Antarctic Peninsula, Day 2

Wind, Waves and Wonderful Whales

Our Antarctic Adventures with Hurtigruten took us to Danco Island this afternoon. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Our Antarctic Adventures with Hurtigruten took us to Danco Island this afternoon. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

Good Morning Antarctica! And good morning High Winds! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Good Morning Antarctica! And good morning High Winds! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

After a morning of scenic cruising, it was time for another delicious buffet lunch in the Imaq Restaurant. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
After a morning of scenic cruising, it was time for another delicious buffet lunch in the Imaq Restaurant. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

A bevvy of alcoholic drinks can be had with meals, but none are included in the cost of the cruise. It's certainly not a deal-breaker, just more of an FYI. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
A bevvy of alcoholic drinks can be had with meals, but none are included in the cost of the cruise. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker, just more of an FYI. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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!

There's nothing like scenic cruising in Antarctica. Nothing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
There’s nothing like scenic cruising in Antarctica. Nothing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

Disembarking the FRAM this afternoon for our explorations on Danco Island. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Disembarking the FRAM this afternoon for our explorations on Danco Island. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
FRAM's stern. She was built in Italy at the Fincantieri shipyards near Venice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
FRAM’s stern. She was built in Italy at the Fincantieri shipyards near Venice. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
FRAM is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest - and sturdiest - expedition ships operating in Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
FRAM is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest – and sturdiest – expedition ships operating in Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

The Polarcirkel ride in from the FRAM was absolutely stunning. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Polarcirkel ride in from the FRAM was absolutely stunning. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests from Hurtigruten's FRAM come ashore on Danco Island. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests from Hurtigruten’s FRAM come ashore on Danco Island. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

Pull up a snowdrift and admire your surroundings in Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Pull up a snowdrift and admire your surroundings in Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Antarctica is so beautiful that you just can't take your eyes off your surroundings. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Antarctica is so beautiful that you just can’t take your eyes off your surroundings. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The true spirit of exploration is alive and well both in Antarctica and onboard Hurtigruten's FRAM. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The true spirit of exploration is alive and well both in Antarctica and onboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

Gentoo Penguins call Danco Island home by the hundreds. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Gentoo Penguins call Danco Island home by the hundreds. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
I'm ready for my closeup. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
I’m ready for my closeup. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

Surely that isn't a sailing ship in the background? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Surely that isn’t a sailing ship in the background? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It is! And notice the size comparison. They say size doesn't matter, but... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It is! And notice the size comparison. They say size doesn’t matter, but… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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?

Goodby, Danco Island. You've been my favorite spot so far. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Goodby, Danco Island. You’ve been my favorite spot so far. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

Near midnight, guests in the Observation Lounge leapt to their feet...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Near midnight, guests in the Observation Lounge leapt to their feet…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...leaving their beers behind...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…leaving their beers behind…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...to watch nature put on a spectacular show. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…to watch nature put on a spectacular show. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests wander outside after midnight to watch as nearly half a dozen whales played around the FRAM, which came to a dead stop for over an hour to let us admire them. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests wander outside after midnight to watch as nearly half a dozen whales played around the FRAM, which came to a dead stop for over an hour to let us admire them. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests on the bow after midnight. Where else can you have this kind of cruising experience? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests on the bow after midnight. Where else can you have this kind of cruising experience? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
From the watchful eye of the Bridge. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
From the watchful eye of the Bridge. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The last rays of light on Tuesday, January 20 - or the first rays of Wednesday, January 21 - poke through the clouds above FRAM. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The last rays of light on Tuesday, January 20 – or the first rays of Wednesday, January 21 – poke through the clouds above FRAM. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Whale watching. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Whale watching. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Many guests took close-up shots of the whales. Not me. Nothing can match the vastness of Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Many guests took close-up shots of the whales. Not me. Nothing can match the vastness of Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

Goodnight, Antarctica. Until tomorrow. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Goodnight, Antarctica. Until tomorrow. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our full journey:

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
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on stumbleupon
StumbleUpon
Share on digg
Digg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security