Day 9 – Cruising the Antarctic Peninsula, Day 5

 Penguins, Port Lockroy & The Lemaire Channel

Hunting the Ice...in Antarctica aboard Hurtigruten's FRAM. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Hunting the Ice … in Antarctica aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Friday, January 23, 2015

Our fifth full day of exploring the Antarctic Peninsula aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM was packed full of adventure, as we paired the white continent’s natural beauty with remnants of human settlements here.

We began the day by exploring the snowy expanse of Neko Harbour, where we ‘rescued’ the campers who had tented out on the ice in Antarctica the night before. They came back from their experience feeling cold but accomplished, though most of them retreated to the warmth of their staterooms and went straight to bed.

Hurtigruten's FRAM at anchor this morning off Neko Harbour, Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Hurtigruten’s FRAM at anchor this morning off Neko Harbour, Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Those of us not as fortunate to have spent an evening out on the ice donned our rubber boots in the Mud Room on Deck 2, checked off the ship by zapping our keycards against the scanner that then wished us a canned “Goodbye!” in a monotone voice, and set out for Neko Harbour aboard FRAM’s Polarcirkel boats.

Neko Harbour was discovered by the globetrotting Adrien de Gerlache, who named it after a Scottish whaling boat called the Neko. Whaling, as you may have guessed, was a pretty popular pastime back in the day. In fact, what little of Antarctica isn’t named after famous explorers is typically named after whaling ships, operations, or Captains of Industry.

Coming ashore on Neko Harbour for a spectacular early-morning view. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Coming ashore on Neko Harbour for a spectacular early-morning view. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Penguins heading off to 'work' on their little penguin highways. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Penguins heading off to ‘work’ on their little penguin highways. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The snow at Neko Harbour is less snow and more compacted ice pellets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The snow at Neko Harbour is less snow and more compacted ice pellets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests help each other up the deep, snowy embankment. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests help each other up the deep, snowy embankment. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, of course, there is no whaling in Antarctica. Only the pristine beauty of Neko Harbour is left behind. Once again, after hiking about 100 metres up a snowy embankment, I dug a nice ‘snow hole’ in which to sit and watch Antarctica’s beauty unfold. I also watched the penguins do something similar: they’d carved ruts out of the snow, which literally resembled little penguin freeways filled with the tuxedo-clad creatures. At the early hour, you’d almost think they were headed off to work…

Impressively, Neko Harbour is one of the few places on our cruise – and most Antarctic Peninsula cruises – where guests can actually set foot on mainland Antarctica. It’s a pretty big deal to be able to do that.

Returning to the FRAM in the late morning via Polarcirkel boat. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Returning to the FRAM in the late morning via Polarcirkel boat. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

After another delicious buffet lunch onboard the FRAM, we called on Port Lockroy – though not without a few hours of indecision. When we arrived off the small outpost on the western shore of Wiencke Island, strong winds and heavy swells were making launching the Polarcirkel boats impossible. So we stuck around for about two hours while the bad weather raged on outside. Even just stepping out onto the enclosed, relatively sheltered Promenade on Deck 5 was enough to seriously mess up your hair and chill you to the bone.

The warm, beautiful interiors of the FRAM...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The warm, beautiful interiors of the FRAM…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...provided a stark contrast to the nasty weather outside. Notice the rigidity of the Norwegian flag; the wind was that strong! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…provided a stark contrast to the nasty weather outside. Notice the rigidity of the Norwegian flag; the wind was that strong! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Finally, about thirty minutes before we were scheduled to give up and set sail for the Lemaire Channel, the weather eased up. Not a lot, but enough. The shell doors were opened, and FRAM’s Polarcirckel boats were hydraulically lowered into the water from their home on the sheltered “Car Deck” on Deck 2.

Waiting for the weather outside to clear up from Deck 4...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Waiting for the weather outside to clear up from Deck 4…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Port Lockroy was discovered in 1904 and was promptly named for Edouard Lockroy, a politician from France who was instrumental in securing government support for the French Antarctic Expedition led by Jean-Baptiste Charcot. During World War II, however, the United Kingdom established a base at Port Lockroy. Cryptically known as Station A, the base was a prong in the far-reaching Operation Tabarin: the UK’s special military operation to secure Antarctica from potential Nazi German forces, who were sort of ‘in bed’ with Argentina at the time.

Finally, the weather let up long enough for us to disembark the FRAM...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Finally, the weather let up long enough for us to disembark the FRAM…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and head ashore at Port Lockroy. Notice the penguin blocking the path! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and head ashore at Port Lockroy. Notice the penguin blocking the path! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Interestingly, there is still much speculation as to what Operation Tabarin really was. Some have suggested it was merely a distraction intended to confuse the German Kreigsmarine, which typically relied on remote, sheltered harbours as resupply bases for U-Boats – though Antarctica does seem a bit out of the way. Others have suggested the British presence in Antarctica was more related to control over the Falkland Islands.

Port Lockroy's Base A was established during WWII. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Port Lockroy’s Base A was established during WWII. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Base A; once wartime operation outpost, now museum. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Base A; once wartime operation outpost, now museum. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Either way, Port Lockroy’s Station A still stands to this day, having been turned into a museum in 1996. Even better, it has been restored to its original condition, remaining very much as it would have appeared during the height of World War II.

Some images from our spectacular afternoon on Port Lockroy:

After being turned into a museum in 1996... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
After being turned into a museum in 1996… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...things were returned to the way they would have looked during the height of operations. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…things were returned to the way they would have looked during the height of operations. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Imagine having this as your view for months on end. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Imagine having this as your view for months on end. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Admiring the scenery...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Admiring the scenery…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and the penguins. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and the penguins. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Because of our late arrival in to Port Lockroy, our scenic cruise of the Lemaire Channel – known as the “Kodak Gap” for its striking beauty – was delayed until well past 22:00. This was a huge blow to guests onboard, compounded by the fact that heavy fog did its best to obscure our view of anything much more than a few metres beyond our own hull.

Late this evening, Hurtigruten's FRAM sailed through the Lemaire Channel under heavy fog. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Late this evening, Hurtigruten’s FRAM sailed through the Lemaire Channel under heavy fog. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Thanks to the unique weather, the experience was a fabulous one. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Thanks to the unique weather, the experience was a fabulous one. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Impressive!! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Impressive!! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

But fate smiled on us once more. While we missed the impressive daytime passage of the Lemaire Channel, we experienced what few others would: a dusk passage on a moody, fog-covered night, with only FRAM’s three massive searchlights mounted above her navigation bridge to guide our way.

Even with all the scheduling and weather issues this voyage has had, Hurtigruten’s Expedition Team and the Officers of the FRAM managed to turn a potential negative into a very big positive.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
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
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