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Norwegian expedition vessel visits St. Anthony

The bow of the MS Fram towers above one of the tenders used to ferry passages to shore and back.
The bow of the MS Fram towers above one of the tenders used to ferry passages to shore and back. - Thom Barker

MS Fram combines luxury with learning while travelling from the Arctic to Antarctica

ST. ANTHONY, N.L.

Although she is not charting new waters like her 19th century namesake, there is still a spirit of exploration to the MS Fram.

The Norwegian ship, which dropped anchor just outside St. Anthony Harbour Oct. 2, is not your average party vessel.

“There’s no swimming pool on this ship,” said Camille Seaman, expedition photographer. “There’s a Jacuzzi, but that’s really more for those tired muscles after your 10-km hike. I struggle to call this a cruise ship; we call it an expedition vessel.”

The MS Fram travels the Western Hemisphere all year round, spending northern summers in the Arctic and southern summers in Antarctica. In between, she explores the Atlantic coast of North America then passes through the Panama Canal and cruises down the Pacific coast of South America.

“We differ from normal cruising because we are a smaller ship, fewer passengers and we are more flexible in the way we operate,” expedition leader Mario Acquarone explained.

Crew welcome back passengers at the tender port on the MS Fram.
Crew welcome back passengers at the tender port on the MS Fram.

“We can do nature landings, which big passenger ships cannot do, and we go a little bit off the beaten track and try to give a theme that is either a historical or natural theme to our voyages.”

In place of nightclubs and theatres, the Fram has lecture halls. There are no casinos or deck sports, but there is a science lab and a museum. The entertainers are not singers, magicians and comedians – they are scientists, historians and naturalists.

“We’re science educators; we try to elucidate different science concepts and make them available to people of general knowledge,” said Wayne Brown, a California marine biologist who and is part of a husband-wife team on the expedition staff with Karen Brown, a whale researcher.

Karen noted passengers the Fram attracts are very enthusiastic about learning.

“I would say most of them love it,” she said. “For instance, yesterday we had some broken sea urchin tests, so we put them under the microscope and it’s fascinating to see what they look like really close up.”

All of this is not to say the passengers and crew are roughing it. From the well-appointed cabins, to the polished tile floors and gleaming wood trim, to the fine dining restaurant, to the 270-degree panoramic view from the comfort of the observation lounge, the Fram offers luxury all the way.

Fram legacy

Luxury was decidedly not the case on the original Fram, which means ‘forward’ in Norwegian. That ship was designed and built to be frozen into the Arctic ice pack in an attempt by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen to reach the geographical North Pole by using the natural east-west current of the Arctic Ocean.

seasNansen left Norway in July 1893 and went into the ice north of the New Siberian Islands in September. From September 1893 to August 1896, the Fram drifted in pack ice. But the drift was slower and more erratic than Nansen had predicted. Frustrated, he set off in March 1895 with one companion, Hjalmar Johansen, by dogsled. They never reached the pole, but set a record of 86 degrees, 13.6 minutes north, before retreating. The Fram came out of the ice in August 1896.

While Norwegian explorers and boats may not be the first that come to mind to North Americans, Nansen and the Fram are part of a long history and tradition of exploration and shipbuilding that dates to the Vikings who came to the Northern Peninsula 1,000 years ago.

“I think the Norwegians are very understated in their mastery of exploration, especially in polar regions, but they have incredible pride,” said Seaman. “So this Fram, we are on this ship with pride because we know what Fram represents as a historic legacy and what we’re doing with it currently.”

Forward-thinking

The current MS Fram and Hurtigurten, the company that owns her, pride themselves on being environmentally friendly. While diesel-powered, the Fram’s stack features state-of-art-particulate filters, explained Acquarone.

There is also the latest and greatest in garbage and water treatment systems, and a complex garbage reduction policy that involves provisioners avoiding prepacked food and taking on local ingredients wherever possible.

“We have no single-use plastic on this ship,” Seaman added. “We really try and walk the walk; we really are concerned about climate and pollution, especially plastic pollution in the ocean.”

They are even concerned about noise pollution. The ship has no rudder or rear-facing propellers. Instead, two 360-degree swivelling motors hanging below the bow pull the vessel forward.

Local reaction

Expedition staff and passengers were impressed with their stop in St. Anthony.

On-shore activities included a trip to L’Anse aux Meadows, which Acquarone said was the highlight of the voyage so far.

“It’s a great place, this historical site,” he said. “The Parks Canada site is fantastic, you feel goosebumps in seeing these sites that you’ve heard of and finally you see them and how visible it is that there is a trace of Norsemen having been here in this part of the world.

“I would add, the guides that we had at the Parks Canada site, especially Ethan, was a fantastic storyteller, precise in recounting the sagas and putting the sagas into local context there.”

He also really enjoyed the presentation at Norstead, which he said gave them the feeling of going back in time.

Karen and Wayne Brown chose to hike around St. Anthony.

“It’s cute,” Wayne said. “Everybody’s so friendly and one thing we noticed about the drivers here in town, they always slow down for pedestrians. If you’re walking on the side of the road, they make a point of not zipping by like we find in some villages. And the views, especially at the point, going up to the top, are amazing.”

Karen added they saw two humpback whales feeding off Fox Point, which was a real treat for the couple.

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