Seabourn Antarctica & Patagonia Dispatch

published

IN TRANSIT FROM PUNTA ARENAS TO PUERTO CHACABUCO

As we move further and further north through the inland passages of the Chilean Fjords, the temperature gently rises, the winds drop the sun shines brighter and the clouds lift. We are very gradually leaving the land of the Magellanic sub-polar forest, and the small wind blasted scrub-like trees are giving way to… slightly taller and more sprightly looking trees. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, this is a huge area of wilderness, and we are moving north at a steady 15 plus knots, but change is gradual.

The morning dawned with a few low clouds and mist, but by 7 am the skies were bright and the temperature flirted with the low 50’s. The Quest was plying the channels of the incongruously named Archipelago Wellington, and after dawn was working its way into a broad channel between the Isla Campaña, and the even more incongruously named Isla Prat. This initially drew only a few guests on to the outer decks, but as more and more people were drawn by the sunshine from their cabins to the observation decks, we found ourselves looking straight down the broad north-south oriented fjord that the Quest was to remain in for the rest of the morning. The sky was clear and bright blue, with just a scattering of clouds.

The glacier-polished granite domes of the Chilean Fjords

The channel was once a deep straight glacial valley filled by a glacier draining the great Patagonian Ice Sheet more than 18,000 years ago. Now that the ice had receded to the small remnants of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field the channel had been flooded by the rising seas. The hills on either side were only sparsely vegetated and showed the smooth rounded shape of rocks that had been contoured by the ice sheet over thousands of years.

People used to the vibrant fauna and flora of the more temperate Inland Passage of Alaska had been remarking at the seeming lack of wildlife, but in the early to mid-morning we began to note a large number of Black Browed Albatross (known as BBA’s in the evolving ornithological slang of the ship). The majority were quite inconspicuous, floating low on the surface of the sea, showing only the white flash of their heads, but occasionally an individual or pair would fly up to the stern and soar gracefully low over the wake. These are probably the juvenile albatrosses that stay in the sheltered waters of the fjords while the adults go south to the krill-rich waters of Antarctica to feed and breed. Over the course of the day, the whale watchers counted nineteen sightings, mainly of fin whales, so no Orcas yet.

Arty was apprehended by galley staff trying to filch pilchards from the fridge

Just after the albatrosses were sighted we saw our first Fur seal. Some people maintain that they saw a Sea Lion, but there was no one in our group on deck to be definitive either way. Lone sightings of seals began to increase in frequency, and the tempo and mood on deck began to rise as well. Within twenty minutes we were frequently seeing groups of a half dozen or more Fur seals that either porpoised away from the ship, or in some cases looked as if they were chasing after it. Individual seals were basking on the surface in the sunshine quite unconcerned by the ship’s passing, whilst lazily raising and twisting their fins above the surface.

The end of the fjord came all too soon, and the warm temperatures began to fall as the ocean breeze hit the ship. We left its sheltered waters in the afternoon as we passed Isla Jungfrauen on our right, and then rode a gentle swell across the Golfo de Penas on a course on the open ocean that lasted all evening and took us around Peninsula de Taitao and into the twisting channels to the entrance to Paso del Medio and tomorrow’s adventure in Puerto Chacabuco.

Jason Hicks, Lecturer

Quest Cruise Director Handré Potgieter is a skilled pianist and composer.

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