Wind, Waves and Wonderful Whales
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 discove