Sailing Through the Chilean Fjords, Glaciers, Tierra del Fuego and The Strait of Magellan
After exploring Chile’s spectacular Northern Patagonia we started sailing through the 1,000-mile maze of virgin-forested islands, glistening glaciers and more fjords than in all of Scandinavia.
Think snow-capped peaks and ethereal blue glaciers, think chilly days but sunny skies. Think big because this corner of the world is bold and breathtaking.
Cold, beautiful places are usually risky for one major reason: weather. But the sun decided to cruise with us during our two days of scenic cruising in Northern Chile and we couldn’t have asked for nicer days.
Our first sea day took us up close and personal with some of Southern Patagonia’s most well-known glaciers. Some are hanging glacier, some feed into lagoons; some are advancing, but sadly most are receding. Nearly all are fed by the Patagonian Ice Cap, the third largest mass of ice (and fresh water) on the planet. By surface 80% of South America’s glaciers lie in Chile. They develop in the Andes of Chile from 27˚S southwards and in a very few places north of 18°30’S in the extreme north of the country. Seeing these beautiful blue masses is a breathtaking experience – and everyone was on deck to admire the view.
That afternoon we sailed through Tierra del Fuego and Canal Sarmiento – a place of other-worldly beauty. Mum and I found some perfect deck chairs on the top deck to admire the view (wearing almost every layer we had taken with us – it may have been sunny but as we headed further south it was getting cold). We started our second day in the Darwin Canal sailing with the current toward the Pacific Ocean. We began to pass by a number of ‘rock islands’ that have become sanctuaries for birds. Our destinations tomorrow will find us sailing within a number of fjords and past a number of glaciers.
Chile possesses 2,650 miles of coastline. It is on the southern stretch that Seno Eyre Fjord is located and referred to as the Patagonian region. Some of the sights here are known as the most interesting scenery on earth. Patagonia itself is a region that belongs to both Chile and Argentina. The Canal Sarmiento itself can be quite narrow at parts so small lighthouses stand watch to warn nearing ships. On either side of our ship we admired waterfalls cutting through the desolate landscape.
Chunks of ice began to appear throughout the water and it wasn’t long before we were officially enjoying another glacier-filled day. Bright blue glaciers began to cut through the green scenery creating some of the most fascinating contrasts I had ever admired.
Later in the afternoon we passed Isla Shoalon where the Santa Leonora was shipwrecked in 1964.
This ship was making her maiden voyage carrying Chilean pilots northwards as a passenger ship weighing around 18,000 tons. At that time, aboard the bridge, helm orders were given using the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ instead of ‘port’ and ‘starboard.’ As they transited Shoal Pass the pilot and the captain were engaged in conversation and on completion of their talk the captain said, “Alright pilot!”
The nervous helmsman responded to what he thought to be a helms order and applied full right (starboard) rudder. The ship veered to starboard and mounted the nearby shallows at full speed. Fortunately, no lives were lost. The passengers were rescued the next day. The investigation into the incident revealed that the use of the words ‘right’ and ‘left’ were the cause of the accident. As a result of that incident, all directions on the ship are given as ‘starboard’ (right) and ‘port’ (left).
Our second scenic day at sea brought us right through The Strait of Magellan. Named after Magellan for (along with his navigators) for finding the deep water channel between the South American mainland and Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego in 1520 that left future generations with new frontiers and fresh horizons to explore in calmer waters.
Modern history changed ever since ships first sailed the route through the tip of Chile and Argentina, enhancing global trade and geopolitical conquest for generations. (A replica of one of Magellan’s ships remains in Punta Arenas.) Such journeys became unnecessary with the completion of the Panama Canal in the 20th century but still makes a pretty gorgeous place to cruise through!