Well adventures on Fram actually 1st - 12th March
We (Hen and Nikki) felt a little wistful on 1st March as we waved goodbye to the special island that had been our home for the last four months. But we also felt lucky to be boarding the Fram, a ship that has been enormously supportive of the Trust, and whose team has become welcome familiar faces to us this season. We were immediately welcomed aboard by Anja, the expedition leader for our slow journey back home began. The afternoon whales greeted us as we passed a misty Wilhelmina Bay. We were treated to the sight of many humpbacks surrounding the ship. Fram is so well designed for viewing wildlife, that we were able to see the spectacle from all areas of the ship, and were delighted by not only the sight of whale blows, but also flukes within metres of us. The following day we entered Antarctic Sound and cruised by huge tabular icebergs. This reminded us that this would be our last view of an Antarctic landscape. We entered the Scotia Sea and began our journey to South Georgia. During the two sea day which followed, the expedition team kept us entertained with fascinating lectures preparing us for our trip to this isolated and beautiful place.
Our first view of South Georgia on 5th March was of the island rising out of the mist. We entered picturesque Drygalski Fjord, with its fascinating geology and stunning glaciers. We also spotted macaroni penguins swimming in the water. In the afternoon we visited Grytviken whaling station, and King Edward point which is now home to a British Antarctic Survey applied fisheries research station. The visit exceeded all of our expectations. We saw our first king penguins and were amazed at the boldness of the young fur seals on the beach. We were also able to pay our respects at the grave of Ernest Shackleton, and to wander through the remains of the old whaling station and to visit the whalers' church. We were hugely impressed with the museum, where we spent over an hour looking at the excellent exhibits. Some items seemed strangely familiar, such as manfood boxes from Hope Bay! Another gallery houses a life sized replica of the James Caird. This tiny looking craft really illustrates how treacherous the journey must have been for Shackleton and his five companions in reaching South Georgia from Elephant Island in 1916. In the evening, we were joined by the Postmistress of South Georgia, Sarah, and the Head of Fisheries and Executive Officer of South Georgia, Martin Collins whose talks gave us insights into life on South Georgia and how the island is run.
We began our second day on South Georgia with a landing at Fortuna Bay with the sun shining. We were only too happy to lend a hand to the expedition team, and soon found ourselves on 'seal patrol', having to discourage seal pups from chasing passengers! The scale of the wildlife was mind blowing, with a king penguin colony, hundreds of fur seals and reindeer wandering all within a small stretch of beach just a couple of miles long. Hen was lucky enough to accompany several expedition team members and passengers on the 'Shackleton Walk', which follows the last 6km that Shackleton, Crean and Worsley walked across South Georgia to Stromness whaling station in May 1916. In the glorious sunshine, the walk was thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part, especially as we were accompanied by Axel's enthusiastic tales of the original journey. We spent the afternoon in Stromness, surrounded by seal pups, a few elephant seals, and yet more reindeer. All in all, it was a magical trip to South Georgia; a first for both of us!
After the wonders of South Georgia we had to catch up on end of season report writing before reaching the Falkland Islands! This was a little difficult, as the expedition team again put on a series of interesting lectures about the Falklands. These included introductions to the varied wildlife on the islands, and geological lectures explaining how the Falklands is geologically part of Africa when part of the super continent Gondwana millions of years ago. We were happy to see the sight of Stanley coming into view on the morning of 9th March, and immediately set about a full day of Trust-related activities. Huge thanks must go to former Port Lockroy resident Sally Owen, who met us at the pier and is an absolute star in organising the propane bottles, fire extinguishers and information leaflets for the museum in Stanley. She also dropped us off at Stanley post office where we were able to meet Lindsay and the team who have been overseeing Port Lockroy's post this season, as well as being shown around the Philatelic Bureau! We also managed to fit in a long-anticipated fish and chip lunch with Sally, tea with the South Georgia officials at Government House (courtesy of Martin), and a trip to see the Reclus Hut at the Stanley Museum. The hut was originally prefabricated in Stanley, and was built on the Reclus Peninsula (later renamed Portal Point) on the north west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula in 1956. It was used by the Falkland |sland Dependencies Survey (FIDS), the precursor to BAS, until 1958, and it was important for supporting the 1957 party which undertook the first East to West crossing of the Antarctic Peninsula. The hut was moved by a team of BAS men, including Dave Burkitt, to the Falkland Islands in 1996. It now stands in the grounds of Stanley Museum. We were able to take photographs of the hut to assess its condition and plan for future interpretation, and to meet Leona Roberts, the curator of the Stanley museum. All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and productive day!
On the next day (10th March) we had a completely different perspective of the Falklands, with trips to nature reserves at Carcass Island and West Point Island, which lie to the north-west of the islands. We were treated to a wonderful variety of wildlife including flightless steamer ducks, Magellanic penguins, Cobb's wren, black browed albatross and rockhopper penguins. We were also excited to see an old Stephenson screen at West Point, and naturally had to look inside to see if it still contained any instruments (it did indeed contain two thermometers!). As if this wasn't enough, we were also spoilt with home baked tea and scones at both nature reserves. Many thanks to Rod and Lorraine McGill at Carcass, and to Michael and his colleagues at West Point for the wonderful hospitality! Our final stop on the Falklands began with a spectacular sunset on 11th March at New Island Nature Reserve, where the family made us feel very welcome. We again saw black browed albatross chicks on nests, and rockhopper penguins, nestled in a spectacular natural amphitheatre. It was a fitting backdrop for our final landing.
As we write this we are en route to Buenos Aires, where we will leave Fram to make our separate ways home. Fram is currently surrounded by 60 foot waves and being buffeted by hurricane force winds, which has certainly made for a dramatic morning, and is a wonderful illustration of the variety of weather that can be expected on such a trip. We must admit that we are very grateful to be aboard such a sturdy vessel in these conditions! Many many thanks to the Captain, Anja and her team for welcoming us on our journey home and giving us a trip that we will never forget!
Hannele and Dave (Detaille team) are also now on their way home while Ylva, Anna, Michael and Liesl have a final few days remaining at Port Lockroy. We would have dearly loved to have been there with them to see out the close of the season, but it has been a truly wonderful and exciting end to the season for us both – a privileged and unique chance to experience South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. We look forward to seeing friends and family back home in the UK very soon, and to telling them about the past four months at a very special little place called Port Lockroy.