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Punta Arenas, Chile. 13th March

March 14, 2015

On Board ‘Via Australis’ 10th March.

There is a famous memorial on Cape Horn Island, made of metal in the shape of an diamond, fixed by one point and with the full size shape of a wandering albatross in flight cut out of the middle. It was erected December 1992 and has withstood many violent storms perhaps similar to the one we are experiencing at the moment. It stood intact until last year when the most ferocious of storms tore away the left hand of it.

Fortunately for us, on arrival at the landing point on the island this morning at 6.30, the conditions were good: little wind, no swell and the landing place in good order. So it was in to the zodiacs for a quick trip to shore, then a long climb up over 170 steep steps to the memorial, lighthouse and chapel. It was raining lightly but our spirits weren’t dampened in any way. In fact it just added to the situation of being at a place where thousands of sailors over the centuries have perished in this very location. The land is pristine. Walkways to the different points help to keep it that way.

The rain increased then the word was sent from the ship to get people back quickly. The weather was changing and the ship would become exposed. The trip back in the zodiac was much more choppy with the occasional wave drenching the lifejacket wearing occupants.

So here I sit, confined to cabins, Joan lying down, surprisingly coping with the movement of the boat pretty well. The seas are turbulent, a shudder passes through the ship when it comes down heavily in the trough of a larger than usual swell. Even if these conditions seabirds  can be seen skimming over the water.

Later:   It has turned into a full blown hurricane with wind gusts up to 91 knots (166kph), 5 metre waves and, as the ship is head on to the wind, our speed has dropped to 3kph. The boat is handling it well though there are many of the passengers not showing up for meals. Drastic action had to be taken and the captain decided to change course and run with the wind meaning a detour around Navarin Island. The place we were originally heading to, Wulaia Bay is experiencing 6 metre waves and violent winds. The sister ship, the Stella Australis, had offloaded the passengers at Wulaia Bay at 8pm this morning. It took 6 hours to get the last of them back onto the boat. Adam, our son, wasn’t far off the mark when he suggested tying ourselves to the mast. Staff, some of whom have been with the company for ten years say it is one of the worst storms they have experienced.

11th March. Once the Via Australis reentered the Beagle Channel things calmed down and this morning the sea was calm with a clearing sky. Over the next couple of days we visit five glaciers and the first, Pia, gave us an idea what we are in for. The face of the glacier is 1.5 kms wide. It is slow moving and calves not as regularly as some we will visit. It is very impressive and the cracking and moaning of the ice as it moves downward gives you an idea of the pressure the ice must be under. The zodiacs took us to shore where we were offered a choice of hot chocolate laced with whisky or whisky on the rocks the ice of course coming from the glacier.

The next stop was the Garibaldi Fjord and glacier. This time the ship slowly progressed up until 300 metres from the face of the ice. It is a more active glacier and calves more regularly. Unfortunately that didn’t occur while the boat was there. Dissappointing to the many photo snappers who stood poised at the bow waiting for something to happen. The scenery in these fjords is magnificent: towering sides, forested up until the snow line then bare contorted rock reaching a further one hundred metres or so higher. Young South American fur seals cavorted near the boat while the bird life consisted mainly of the blue eyed cormorant.

12th March.  Perhaps a word about the Via Australis. Registered in Valparaiso, Chile, it  is ten years old, is 73 metres in length and a draught of only 3.3 metre. This means it can get into quite shallow bays and fjords. It can carry 136 passengers and has a crew of 46.The crew are the best. In the off season the company pays them to attend a certain university to give them more knowledge to pass on to the passengers. The food has been excellent and I am sure we will weigh more than 5 days ago. We would highly recommend this trip. To be cruising through wilderness interspersed with glaciers and only seeing one person not o the boat has been everything we expected. The only man seen was the lighthouse keeper at Cape Horn. The history of the area is also so interesting with the daily presentations expanding on what we may remember from school days.Joan is starting to pick up a few words of Spanish: ‘Hay algas en la Helice’ is  her first effort. It means ‘there is seaweed in the propeller.’ Not th type of sentence you would normally start a conversation with, in fact I would say it would usually be a conversation stopper. It started as a joke with Emilio our waiter and the quote took on a life of its own. There was a great group at our table: Roy & Sheila from Wales, Caroline & Michael from Pennsylvania and Jose and Dora from Brazil. The last couple could hardly speak a word of English but we all hit off very well. Thhe translator on my tablet helped at times.

13th March.

So here we are, safely back on land at Punta Arenas in Chile. The glaciers visited were varied but all very memorable. Today the visit to more pinguinis on Magdalena Island near Punta Arenas was almost cancelled due to strong winds. But in the end were allowed to go ashore for a quick visit. We are staying here in a hotel for the night then catch a bus back to Ushuaia to pick up the bakkie.

From → Patagonia 2015

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