Glacier Alley

Toward evening we said goodbye to Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan and headed south through the Cockburn Channel. This evening and all of the next day, Mother Nature would steal the show. The South American continent ends at Ushuaia, but across the Strait is the cluster of islands called Tierra del Fuego. This is still Chilean territory. It is where we headed next. We were treated to quite a sunset: Antarctica Part 1 984

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The mists were just starting to rise on the mountains.
The mists were just starting to rise on the mountains.

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The next morning we were at it early! In the night we had entered the Beagle Channel, named after the boat that carried Charles Darwin as a naturalist on a mission to survey Tierra del Fuego. His book The Voyage of the Beagle is a diary of this experience. Antarctica Part 1 988

The upper entrance to the Beagle Channel is called Glacier Alley, for some reason. Antarctica Part 1 991

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A little bit later we were treated to a beautiful moonrise: Antarctica Part 1 999 What a way to start the day. And, it got even better as the sunlight began playing off peaks!

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Finally! A waterfall! Antarctica Part 1 1020 That was a nice one! Wish we could see more!

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Wait a minute. What’s that up there? Antarctica Part 1 1040


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Throughout our journey down Glacier Alley the ship’s naturalist kept us informed about the qualities of each glacier, the wildlife in the area, the history, and so on. What an asset they were to the experience! As we have done so many times before, all we could say to ourselves: What a wonderful world! Antarctica Part 1 1072

At last, it was time to leave the channel for our next port of call, the last one before Antarctica. Antarctica Part 1 1074 As night fell, we found the lights of beautiful Ushuaia! We were now in Argentina! But not for long.

OK Sailors, Let’s Study Our Charts!

You can’t go on a seafarin’ voyage without a good set of charts. So, let’s start with the one above to see where we’ve already been. We started in Valparaiso (not on the chart) and headed south along the Chilean coast till we found the Chacao Canal (number 2 on the chart), we entered the Gulf of Arcud, turned left and dropped anchor in Puerto Montt (3) After a delightful day there we headed south again, past the Castro Island on the right. We dodged numerous other islands, all at night, turned left at the Aysen Fjord and dropped anchor at Purteo Chacabuco. Later, we headed west into the Darwin Bay. And that brings you up to date with previous blogs. Now we headed south again. (I should point out as well that all those little numbers you see all over the white parts represent depth in meters.)

Antarctica Part 1 679So, on this chart you see a black line with the number 7 pointing to it? While I’m sure it’s lovely, we didn’t go there. Instead, if you look to the right of that line to the next body of water labeled Canal Messier. (As you may already know, if you click on the picture you can enlarge it.) That’s where we went. Canal Messier is famous for being one of the deepest fjords in the world, at 4,200 feet.  Here’s what it looked like:

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You may have noticed that in some of those last pictures the water looks cloudy. Apparently this is a result of silt that runs off the glaciers in this area. In fact, here’s one now:

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This one is called the Tempanos Glacier. And, as good captains do when they can, ours took us right up there.

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This one was not much in the mood for calving, but it still didn’t mind showing off its colors.

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We stayed for a while in this area, then continued our way south. This is a national park area and here is the home of one very lonely ranger and his very lonely family. If you enlarge the picture you can see two people on the front porch waving to us.

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You may have noticed by now that since we left Valparaiso, with the exception of a few port stops we have seen very few signs of civilization and we have now covered hundreds of miles. If you were to sail an equivalent distance on the east or west coasts of the US you would have certainly seen some coastal towns and probably resorts. Not here. So, at one of our science lectures somebody raised the question of, where IS everybody? The speaker at the time said we should consider that, although the southern hemisphere accounts for 32% of the worlds land mass, it accounts for only 12% of the world population.Everyone else lives above the equator. If you factor out the populations of the largest cities in South America, South Africa, Indonesia and Austrailia, that only leaves a couple dozen gauchos riding around on the pampas. Well, maybe he didn’t say that last part, but clearly there is nowhere near the population that we are used to experiencing. Alright, enough education. Here is the next chart:

Antarctica Part 1 680Where you see the number 10 (not 10a or 10b) is where we stopped for the Tempanos Glacier. From there we followed the line marked “Bad Weather Route” although the weather was anything but bad. We had expected, and packed for, the air to be much colder by now. Instead it was in the mid-fifties and getting warmer! And by now we were approaching the 50th parallel.

I should point out to you landlubbers, that the ocean in this part of the world is so famous for being rough that the various positions of latitude were given names by the old sailors, as follows: the water from the 40th to 50th line is known as the “roaring forties”, followed by the “furious fifties” and, best of all, the “shrieking sixties”. For us it was none of those things. Of course, we were in sheltered water, but it wasn’t even all that breezy. Nobody was complaining, though.

After leaving the glacier we continued south through the Sarmiento Canal and the Summer Pass. The Summer Pass is notable because at one point there is only 4 meters of water under our keel. I can’t imagine what it would be like for the prop to hit bottom on one of these ships. It’s pricey enough for me every time I do it on Lake Erie. For these guys, ouch!

But we made it through and here’s how things look in that part of the world:

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So, now we were done winding our way through this incredible jigsaw puzzle. Tomorrow we enter the Strait of Magellan. At last, it’s getting close to penguin time!