Until just recently, adventure travelers the world over have only dreamed of someday leaving their footprint on our planet ‘s 7th continent. This was one of their remaining ultimate challenges that seemed a far reach from possibility. But today, those dreams can come true. There is now an ultimately modern ship designed to meet the wants and needs of the majority of travelers.
In 2007, the travel industry witnessed the launching of the first high tech polar expedition cruise ship, the MS FRAM, from the Norwegian shipping company, Hurtigruten*.
Hurtigruten is a leader in exploring the Polar Regions. It has over 100 years of cruising the Norwegian coastline linking the very northern and southern limits of the country. It has also taken adventure travelers to some of the world’s most remote regions including Greenland, the
Arctic, Spitsbergen and Antarctica.
The new MS FRAM is a luxury, Baltic ice class 1B expedition cruise ship. It has a reinforced, strengthened hull that is stronger than previous vessels. With its more structural support, the MS FRAM can easily navigate through 2 feet thick sea ice. It also has the latest technology in the
MaK engine that provides low levels of noise, vibration, and emission. This contributes to quieter cruising and more stability than its competitive, older Russian ice-breakers which, until now, were the only vessels of choice for the frozen waters of the Arctic and Antarctic.
Along with its superior performance on the seas, the MS FRAM has been engineered to fulfill the lifetime dreams of older travelers with its attention to comfortable accommodation for both the mature and the physically challenged. As the newest world class expedition ship, every detail has been carefully considered in its design from the stylish cabins and suites to its indoor
observation and panoramic lounges, restaurant, and bistro. Because of the ship’s adventuring into colder climates, outdoor areas have been kept to a minimum at the bridge and rear of the ship. In keeping with its sleek and modern design, the entire decor of the MS FRAM is distinctly
For the summer season, the MS FRAM is positioned in Greenland. In winter, it cruises the seas around Antarctica – the white continent. Twice a year, the ship offers a special 67 day “pole to pole cruise. It was on this special cruise when I joined the ship for the last 19 days of its south bound leg to Antarctica. Just as the many other passengers, I was thrilled to be taking this journey which was fulfilling one of my lifetime dreams.
My journey began in Santiago, Chile. After two days of sightseeing in the city known as the “cleanest capital in South America,” I traveled by land through a portion of the beautiful Chilean wine area enroute to the coastal port city of Valparaiso. There I checked-in and boarded the MS FRAM for an unforgettable adventure. Following our first night’s delicious dinner on board, Captain Rune Andreassen and his crew welcomed the new arrivals.
After two days at sea, our first landing was the important Chilean port city of Puerto Montt, the gateway to the Lake District. It is an unequalled picture postcard of magnificent lakes, turquoise rivers and glacier-formed valleys surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes.
Germans were the first settlers to this region. Their architectural style can be seen throughout the area. Walking along the shoreline of Lake Llanquihue in Frutillar, about 12 miles from the port, I could imagine being back in Germany. However, after ordering a glass of wine in one of the tiny Black Forest-like restaurants in my almost-perfect German and then receiving a quizzical look, I realized the roots of the German language did not survive as long as their architecture.
During the days of cruising, the Andes Mountains captivated my imagination. There was always a beautiful view to capture with my camera. It’s amazing that this picturesque mountain chain extends over seven countries and ends at the tip of Chile. As we navigated through the Chilean fjords, I thought about how many millennia it took to create the glaciers, mountains and fjords and how much is still unknown about them.
On day 5, after docking in the port of Puerta Natales, buses took us to the Torres del Paine National Park with its spiry mountain peaks and
lakes. During the drive through the park I saw condors, black neck swans, and guanacos that live at high altitude and are cousins to the llama.
Later onboard ship and peering through my cabin porthole, I realized I was now getting closer to the “world of white” that I was seeking.
Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia was a short stay where I met my first species of penguins, the Magellan penguins. This was nesting time and
they had left the sea and returned to their underground burrows.
Our next stop, Tierre del Fuego (the land of fire), has always held a special allure to those with a spirit of adventure. It has both Argentinean and Chilean sections. We were on the southern route through the Cockburn and Beagle Channels. Our next stop would be Cape Horn and the
dreaded Drake Passage which has swallowed men and ships since there were sailors on the seas.
This was our first landing using the sturdy Polar Circle boats. Much of the success of cruising in Antarctica is thanks to this new landing boat. It is designed for comfort, stability, safety, accessibility and ease of disembarking for polar landings on beaches, rocky outcrops, and ice floes. These boats are a vast improvement over the rubber Zodiacs of the past.
After disembarking on Cape Horn, I climbed to the top of a hill to view a relief sculpture depicting an albatross in flight and commemorating those lost at sea. From here on, I would be sailing to the last great wilderness by the route of explorers, seal and whale hunters and today’s polar scientists.
With the modern high tech MS FRAM, crossing the Drake Passage where the Atlantic meets the Pacific was, thankfully, uneventful. The cruise ship can handle weather and seas, which was a great relief to all of us passengers. We were now finally in the waters of Antarctica, often surrounded by sea ice and icebergs. Our landings were made on desolate islands to enjoy the nesting colonies of penguins along with seals resting on the beaches. On Aitcho Island, we observed three kinds of penguins: the chinstraps, the gentoos and a lonely, but hopefully not lost, king penguin.
As we sailed deeper into the Antarctic Peninsula, the stunning beauty of the mountains, glaciers, sea ice and icebergs was everywhere. Every angle provided a unique picture for the cameras. Antarctica covers almost one-tenth of the earth’s surface. It is not an ocean ringed by land but a continent ringed by an ocean.
After many years of squabbling between countries, the sovereignty of this great continent was established by a global treaty. In short, no one country owns the land; however, many countries have established scientific research stations. Antarctic Treaty meetings are held annually to discuss laws and regulations. Today, no activity, whether governmental or private, can take place until sufficient information is available to determine that there will be no impact on the environment. For this same reason, I had to stop at the boot washing station at the ship gangway before and after boarding the small boats for landing in Antarctica. Every measure is taken to ensure the continent retains its pristine environment.
For the next 6 days, MS FRAM made landings at many places on the peninsula and the mainland. Each landing had a unique environment. Some were the homes for different animal and bird species while others housed scientific research stations.
Neko Harbor is a rare place on the Antarctic mainland where I came ashore. In the afternoon of the same day, our ship cruised to a second stop, Cuverville Island, where the largest known colonies of the gentoo penguins are found.
The Lemaire Channel with its extraordinary reflections is surely a Kodak moment, followed by a stop at Ukraine’s Vernadsky scientific research station on Galindez Island. After a warm welcome and a tour of the station, I learned that the 13 scientists are doing important work in
keeping records in their research on global warming. The group spends at least 18 months on site. I could only imagine how cold and lonely their winter stay must be.
On the same day, I visited a second station, the British Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, the most visited site in Antarctica because it operates a post office. Postcards to the U.S. take up to 6 weeks in transit via London. The two young ladies operating this base only in summer also study
the gentoo penguins.
We were next on to Whaler ‘s Bay on Deception Island which is a part of a volcanic caldera. The hot surface meeting the cold air and sea brought a foggy, eerie feeling to this deserted whaling station. It had its beginning in 1905 and was finally deserted after a mudslide in 1967. Everything from buildings to mechanical devices was left to the elements. It was amusing to watch some of the curious penguins that have swum to shore. Now realizing their feet were getting hot from the land surface, they quickly dived back into the sea in search of another island to rest.
Our last landing was Walker Bay on the most beautiful island of Livingston. It was like an “open air” museum with the most interesting collection of fossils as well as a shoreline covered with the
southern elephant seals. I could have spent the entire day observing and photographing these unusual mammals. Unfortunately, our authorized time for the visit expired, and I would now be returning to Ushuaia, the Argentine Tierra del Fuego and the end of the cruise.
I have come away from Antarctica with strong feelings about travel to this incredible place. First of all, I would love to have everyone see and enjoy this fascinating white wilderness as I have done. At the same time,
I sincerely hope that all the signatory countries to the Antarctic Treaty continue to do everything possible to protect this valuable asset on our planet.
For reservations and information on MS FRAM and Hurtigruten:
The MS FRAM is named after the first FRAM, built in 1892. It was originally designed as a wooden expedition schooner ship with the ability
to sail through the thick Arctic Ocean sea ice. It completed 3 historic expeditions. Its first exploration was to the North Pole. In what was
called the “race to the South Pole” in 1911, Roald Amundsen led the third FRAM expedition and reached the South Pole just one month
before Robert Scott.
FRAM became the first ship to sail to points the furthest north and the furthest south. The old wooden schooner was retired and abandoned to the elements for many years. It was only in the late 1920 that concerned individuals restored the ship to its original condition. By 1935, the restored FRAM was put on land in its new home: the FRAM Museum in Oslo, Norway.
Information for Travelers to Oslo:
The FRAM Museum On the Island of Bygd, Oslo, Norway
Web Site: http://www.fram.museum.no/en/
Tel: +47 23 28 29 50
Fax: +47 23 28 29 51