Sunday, 20 November 2016

Cruising Chilean Fjords

Events of Saturday, 19th November

Saturday was to be a day on the ship as we continued south. The previous evening, the ship had emerged from behind the protection of the chain of islands to cross an area of open sea called ‘The Gulf of Pain’ because of the poor sea conditions which can exist. Fortunately, the area failed to live up to its name and, by the time I took breakfast on Saturday, the ship was already entering more sheltered water and cruising towards the Iceberg Fjord.

There were two illustrated lectures in the theatre during the morning and I attended both. At 09:45 Luke Kenny gave a fascinating talk on salmon, which has become the mainstay of the Chilean aquaculture industry. At 11:15 Claire Allum described the indigenous people of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and the impact of European immigrants. Her interesting talk included short clips of motion picture film and still photographs from the 1920s illustrating a way of life which has disappeared.

Whilst I was enjoying lunch in the restaurant, we entered Iceberg Fjord so once I’d finished my meal, I wrapped up warmly to watch proceedings from one of the open decks.

Iceberg Fjord

Correctly, the term ‘Fjord’ is applied to a location where “current or past glaciation extended below sea level before retreating, to leave a characteristic U-shaped narrow, steep-sided inlet filled with sea water”. Although we could see snow on the distant mountains, the sides of the Iceberg Fjord were a mixture of rock, grass and trees. However, there is a glacier called Tempanos at the landward end of the fjord, supposedly because of the noises created by the glacial ice cracking. The ship travelled to within a mile or so of the glacier front at the end of the fjord. The observation decks were crowded with guests taking pictures of the glacier but I elected to observe from the foredeck on level 4, where the anchor winches are located, because this area of deck is only available to passengers occasionally and it is usually less windy than the higher decks.

Cruising Chilean Fjords: Iceberg Fjord.

Zodiac Cruise

Suddenly, to the delight of guests, the public address announced that an unscheduled Zodiac cruise would take place, allowing closer views of the glacier front. Before long, I was boarding one of the Zodiacs. I discovered that not all the guests had decided to take the unexpected cruise. With dry weather, a temperature of about ten degrees Celsius and intermittent appearance of an unexpectedly warm sun, the cruise closer to the glacier front was very enjoyable.

Zodiac cruise in Iceberg Fjord: The glacial ice advancing over the underlying rock at Tempanos Glacier.

We saw one fall of ice from the ice front as the tremendous pressures in the ice were relieved by cracking. At another time, we heard one loud explosion, like a single crack of thunder, as glacial ice cracked.

Zodiac cruise in Iceberg Fjord: Vivid blue colours in the Tempanos Glacier.

After a 45-minute cruise, we returned to ‘Silversea Explorer’, in time for me to take afternoon tea in the Panorama Lounge whilst the ship turned and cruised back along Iceberg Fjord.


Following afternoon tea, I wrapped-up again and went to the forward outside observation deck in time to watch the ship leave Iceberg Fjord and turn towards English Narrows.

Leaving Iceberg Fjord and rejoining the broad channel leading to English Narrows.

At around 6.15 p.m. we passed the grounded shipwreck of the ‘Captain Leonides’ lost when carrying cargo of sugar. Investigation established that the loss was, in fact, an insurance fraud and the captain at the time had his “Master’s Ticket” cancelled.

Grounded shipwreck of the ‘Captain Leonides’.

English Narrows

‘English Narrows’ is the name of an ‘S’-shaped narrow channel with strong currents between a cluster of islands. Ships cannot pass in the channel, so a one way system is in operation and the channel is only used in daylight. Two Chilean Pilots with extensive experience in the waters we were traversing were aboard to assist the Captain in locations like English Narrows. Our transit was due to start at 7.00 p.m. but this was slightly delayed, waiting for a small Chilean cargo ship heading north to clear the channel (northbound traffic has right-of-way).

Through English Narrows: Awaiting our turn to enter the narrow channel.

As it passed, I was able to identify it as ‘Seivag’ before we threaded our way through the twisting channel. Apart from the expected channel markers, there were three statues of the Madonna protecting travellers but I only saw one of them.

Having successfully negotiated English Narrows, it was time for our evening meal. There was always a ‘set’ menu, often offering a ‘Flavours of Chile’ collection of dishes but I usually found myself selecting from the wide ‘A la carte’ range. The ship continued south during the night so as to reach an anchorage off the Pio XI Glacier early on Sunday morning.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Pio XI Glacier.
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Pictures Cruising Chilean Fjords are here.
Pictures of the Zodiac Cruise in Iceberg Fjord are here.
Pictures of our passage Through English Narrows are here.
Pictures aboard 'Silver Explorer' are here.
All my pictures of Chile can be found in the collection Chile.

[Pictures added 13-Jan-2017]