Tuesday, 1 December 2015

... and in the end .....

.......the love you take is equal to the love you make"- this is how the Beatles ended their recording career on their ultimate album "Abbey Road". These beautiful words remind us that we have made a lot of people fall in love with Antarctica and the Arctic by travelling with us on Fram, and we hope we have accomplished the same for our virtual travellers who have been following our blog.

But all good things must, at some point, come to an end and it is with this blog that we say farewell to our faithful readers. Our decision was not taken lightly and we are not abandoning you. We will continue to document our amazing journeys on Facebook at www.facebook.com. Sign-in to Facebook and do a search for MS Fram. Go to our page and "Like" it and you can follow us. Or just click the link to the right "Follow us on Facebook". Our blog will remain up at mvfram.blogspot.com for the foreseeable future.

So here we are- the final Blog Expedition team- some sad some happy, but all ready and waiting to join you for future adventures on the MS Fram!

Finally, a BIG thank you to all who have contributed to the over 2000 posts we have made on our blog since its inception.

Mr. and Mrs. Blog- I guess this means divorce!

Friday, 27 November 2015

Port Lockroy: snowshoeing and postcards

Time flies by! The last 7 days have been hectic, doing at least one landing every day, some days 2, plus extra activities like cruising, snow shoeing and kayaking. And now we have come to our last landing of this trip: Port Lockroy. At Port Lockroy, a tiny island scattered with gentoo penguin rookeries, amidst mighty glacier fronts, you can find the "Penguin Post Office", run by the British Antarctic Survey.

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Besides sending loads of post cards all around the world, a small group signed up for getting out and experiencing the Antarctic nature one more time, on a snow shoe hike. Arctic Nature Guides Tessa & Johannes were more than happy to take them out!

Picture by Johannes C. Apon 
Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Picture by Johannes C. Apon
And so it became time again to return to Ushuaia, Argentina. On our way out of the Antarctic Peninsula, the captain found time to do a little more cruising in Wilhelmina Bay. Here, we got a very nice good buy wave from several whales that feed in this krill rich bay. A perfect end of a perfect trip. Until next time!

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Iceberg graveyard and Pleneau Island

We had a very interesting day today. The morning was a little different in that instead of a landing we planned a small-boat cruise around the icebergs in Pleneau Bay. The bay is quite shallow and the bergs that float into it become grounded- hence "iceberg graveyard". But of course we cannot forget that to get to Pleneau Bay we had to navigate through the amazing Lemaire Channel. We did this successfully as there was little ice to impede us.

Pleneau held icebergs of every shape and size. Some were magically blue- caused by the selective absorption by water molecules in the ice, of the red, orange and yellow light, leaving the greens and blues behind. A lone Adelie Penguin was spending a nice morning on one of icebergs!

Back on the Fram we sailed down the Penola Strait to Petermann Island, under beautiful sun and clam conditions. The expedition team landed and set up shop but it soon became clear that a massive amount of pack ice sitting in the strait to the south was moving slowly towards us, blocking the landing site. 

Wisely, we aborted the landed and went to "plan B", which was back to Pleneau Bay and onto the Pleneau Island. By the time we got up there, the weather had dramatically changed to what we were used to for the cruise- wind and snow! Despite this we made a wonderful landing there- a true Antarctic experience! A very inquisitive Gentoo inspect Nick's Canon camera. Penguins clearly like Canon better than Nikon!

To top it off, our campers set up on nearby Hovgaard Island and had a wonderful night there.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The popular Cuverville

The light snow continues as we make our way down the Antarctic Peninsula. Today we stopped at the popular landing spot of Cuverville Island, situated in the stunning Errera Channel. Your faithful blogger first set foot on this island 20 years ago at the beginning of the second wave of Antarctic adventure tourism. Since then many have visited and met the resident Gentoo Penguins.

The colony has definitely expanded over the years as Gentoos take advantage of the warming trend on the Antarctic Peninsula. The opposite is happening to the ice-loving Adelie, which is marching south in search of a cooler climate.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Visiting the continent + camping on Danco Island

Today was a big day for many of our passengers, as our landing site, Neko Harbour, is the only place where we can do a landing on the continent of Antarctica itself. To be able to set foot on the 7th continent is a big deal, and many pictures were taken to document the event. During our landing, the weather changed quickly from sunny to foggy and windy conditions. We are lucky to have the safety and comfort of the Fram just around the corner when we are doing our landings. For the penguins, it’s a different story.

Johannes C. Apon
Expectations might have been even higher for our next event. During our Antarctica trips, we try to camp in tents, if weather conditions allow it. We call this the "Amundsen night". There are few cruise expedition companies that (can) do these kind of trips, so we are really lucky. So many passengers were interested, that we had to hold a lottery to decide who was able to join. The weather was still a bit windy and snowy when we put up camp at Danco Island, but soon the wind disappeared and the visibility increased. The tents were located not too far (or too close!) from a penguin highway, which the gentoo penguins use to commute between the sea and their rookery (colony). Our Arctic Nature Guides Stian and Johannes took the guests to a good point where they sat in silence, watching the penguins commute, jumping in the sea at night and jumping back on land again in the morning. What a way of getting close to and experience the Antarctic nature!

Johannes C. Apon

Johannes C. Apon

Johannes C. Apon

Monday, 23 November 2015

We are back at Deception Island again!

Faithful blog readers will be familiar with Deception Island. It is an active volcano and a small entrance known as Neptune's Bellows allows ships to sail into the volcano's caldera. Today it was blowing a gale when we arrived so we heaved-to outside the entrance and waited for the winds to calm. They did so and we sailed in! Once inside the winds still blew fiercely but from a direction that allowed a landing in Whaler's Bay.

Behind our landing and near the freshwater pond were several Brown Skuas. Seabirds such as skuas often bathe in freshwater to wash the salt out of their feathers. They seemed quite at home in the winds and snow.
The snow was flying around the oil tanks at the whaling station, providing a very Antarctic look
After our landing, we cruised around the Deception Island caldera. Deeper inside, we found sea-ice still stuck fast to the land from last winter. Our Captain decided to break some of it!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Arctowski scientific station & Half Moon Island

This journey to and along the Antarctic Peninsula is – first and foremost – about penguins and ice, a lot of ice. Today, we made an exception and visited the Polish scientific station of Arctowski on King George Island. At the moment, 24 people are working and living in the station, which is open year round. We were welcomed in their home in the most hospitable way, with coffee, tea and cookies. The station is visited on average only once a month, so the staff was very happy to tell about their daily life. Outside the station, we could also enjoy some wildlife, with Gentoo and Adelie penguin colonies just around the corner, and elephant seals laying on the beaches.
Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

In the afternoon, we steamed further south-west to Half Moon Island, to visit the Chinstrap penguin colonies. This tiny 2-kilometer-long half-moon shaped island is squeezed in between the two much larger islands of Livingston and Greenwich, which create some of the most stunning backgrounds you can imagine. It’s a perfect location for snowshoe hiking. Guides Johannes and Tessa took 20 guests to a viewpoint to enjoy the scenery, composed of ice berg filled seas, and glacier topped mountains rising straight out of the ocean.

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Picture by Johannes C. Apon

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Names can be deceiving!

So after a great surprise yesterday when we cruised in the vicinity of Point Lookout on Elephant Island, today, we visited Penguin Island off the south coast of King George Island in the South Shetlands. This was our first proper landing of the cruise and what a landing it was! But first, the name Penguin Island is somewhat misleading in that, yes there are penguins breeding- Chinstraps- but not so many, and there is SO much more to see there. The island is an Antarctic oasis with meadows covered in Antarctic Hairgrass and several species of birds breeding, including the skittish Southern Giant Petrel.

When we arrived at the landing site we were confronted with a wall of ice and snow from the previous winter. We did not let that stop us and the stair-masters Stian and Johannes set to building what has to be the VERY BEST set of ice-stairs ever made in Antarctica.

Where there are penguins, there are skuas! These are Brown Skuas, which mainly nest on sub-Antarctic islands but can be found on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula as well. Here a pair is shown eating a fish one of them has just freshly caught just off the beach.

Through the whole landing this magnificent arched iceberg showed off in front of us!

And to add to to the drama, these amazing lenticular cloud formations were a backdrop to our ship, the MV Fram.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Elephant Island

We are back in the Antarctic again! The crossing of the Drake Passage, which can be quite dreadful in bad weather, was a pure “Drake Lake”, with only minor waves. The first island and land to spot was the famous Elephant Island, the north-eastern most of the South Shetland Islands. It was here that 22 men of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ‘The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition’ had to spend 4.5 months. The expedition never reached the continent of Antarctica. Their ship, the Endurance, got stuck in the sea ice of the Weddel Sea and was crushed. After a long journey on the sea ice, and later open sea, the hauled their life boats ashore Elephant Island. In their strongest life boat, Shackleton and two of his strongest men sailed to South Georgia, while the remaining men lived under the two remaining life boats, hoping that their expedition leader would return.

Relatively good weather conditions allowed the Fram to visit ‘Point Wild’ and see the place where Shackleton’s men lived for ourselves, although the swells were too big to go ashore.

After we had sailed around Elephant Island, we found calmer waters. At Point Lookout, it turned out to be a fantastic evening. We made a cruise under illuminating lenticular clouds, while enjoying the glaciers, ice bergs and first penguins of the trip. A marvellous start!

Thursday, 19 November 2015


USH is how we refer to Ushuaia and Ushuaia is where Fram is today. This most southerly city in the world conjures up so many impressions, especially for your faithful blogger who has been coming here for 20 years. Ushuaia has has developed so much in those 20 years, most thanks to the Antarctic cruise industry which uses the port as a base of operations for the peninsula. Argentina also encourages nationals to move to the city with tax breaks and subsidies on commodities like fuel oil.

USH lies on the famous and beautiful Beagle Channel, named after HMS Beagle charted the area in the early 1800s. The channel is spectacular with snow-capped and tree-clad mountains on both the Chilean and Argentinean sides.

As we sailed out of USH east down the Beagle Channel, the light played with the surrounding landscape, providing a fitting farewell to Fram.

Sunday, 15 November 2015


It is not often this early in the Antarctic summer season that you are able to navigate through the Lemaire Channel, then farther south to Petermann Island. The winter sea ice is usually heavy and the Lemaire is often blocked with smaller icebergs. Despite the dire warnings of heavy sea ice this Antarctic season, we found almost none and we could easily reach Petermann Island in the morning.
Picture by Johannes C. Apon
In a fresh breeze we landed on a snow bank to the right of our normal landing in Port Circumcision, and then explored the amazing island. At first the light was grey and flat but then the sun came out and made for wonderful views of the mainland on the other side of the Penola Strait.

Mount Scott stood proudly as a backdrop to Petermann. In the foreground are penguins, but therein lies a story. Twenty years ago the common species on Petermann was the Adelie but over the intervening period, they have declined and Gentoos have increased. It appears that there is little direct competition between the two, rather, the trends are related to differing reactions to climate change. The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed more than any place on Earth over the last 50 years and this has meant less sea ice. Since krill rely on sea ice as a grazing habitat, they have declined on the peninsula. Adelies are krill specialists and have suffered with lower breeding success and insufficient recruitment to replace natural mortality in the adults. Thus the colony at Petermann has declined. Gentoos on the other hand can tolerate warmer conditions and are more flexible in the feeding habits. Their breeding success has been good and recruitment high. Their populations have been increasing on the peninsula and their distribution is moving south. Petermann is the most southerly breeding station for Gentoos in Antarctica so far but they are marching south!

A beautiful penguin feather lay on the snow at Petermann. The small things are interesting too!
Breeding with the penguins along the cliff edge were Blue-eyed Shags.
Part of the now small Adelie Penguin colony at Petermann
Gentoos doing what they do best at this time of year!
Amazing skies at the end of our landing!
A constant feature of our landing was the Gentoo Penguins returning from a feeding trip in large flocks. Then walking up onto the island and to their breeding locations. Why are the white penguins walking towards us, and the black ones walking away?!!!!

So this was our last landing in Antarctica and we are now headed across the Drake Passage to Ushuaia and then home. But we still have a couple of days to see more wildlife before we go ashore!