This post extends through lunchtime yesterday: March 29. There were two Big Activities to see and do on days 28 and 29: our second passage through the White Narrows, headed back east, and then, on Tuesday, a closeup view of the largest glacier in South America.
As usual, click the photos once or twice to enlarge them.
We left Puerto Natales in the late morning of the 28th and headed west through the fjords and mountains back toward the “White Narrows“. I’ve previously posted about our west-to-east transit through this most treacherous of passages, but I’ve since learned a bit more and was better prepared to take pictures.
The approach to the Narrows from either direction is lovely, with snow-capped mountains on either side.
The White Narrows is a gap in the channel between the mainland and a small island, with shallow waters below. The minimum width of the Narrows is 80 meters (260 feet), while the beam, or width, of the Roald Amundsen is 24 meters (79 feet). That means that if we went straight through the middle, we’d have a gap of 28 meters (91 feet) on each side.
But we don’t go through the middle, as the south side of the narrows is shallower than the north side. That means we thread the needle by going closer to the north than the south side. It looks and feels as if you could reach out and touch the trees on the mainland to the north.
Below is the gap through which we’ll pass (photo taken from the east side). The arrow shows the infamous narrows:
This site provided a cool picture of another ship making the transit; I believe this was taken with a drone. Note that the ship is staying closer to the north than to the south side of the Narrows.
You can traverse the narrows only during “slack water”: that period between low and high tide when there is very little current—a short period that occurs only four times a day. This is the time when the current through the Narrows is around 1 knot or less (about 1.2 mph). If it’s higher, it can make the ship harder to steer, as well as causing eddies that can throw off the navigation.
The only way to measure the current through the narrows, and determine an auspicious time for passage, is to send out a Zodiac with the proper instruments. That small inflatable ship, carrying a Chilean pilot, a navigator, and other bigwigs from the ship, goes into the gap about an hour before the ship does. The people on the Zodiac, I’m told, are constantly communicating with the bridge of the ship, giving information about currents, wind, and so on. Sometimes they stay in one spot and sometimes the Zodiac moves back and forth across the narrows testing the water flow.
Here’s what you see from the ship. Since you never know when the time is right, if you want to experience the passage you must go on deck roughly when the small ship enters the narrows, and wait for about an hour.
See the tiny Zodiac in the photo below?
Closer up (more zoom on my lens):
Finally, without fanfare, the bridge and narrows-watchers decide that the time is right for the ship to go through, the ship starts moving, and we approach the opening slowly and carefully:
Almost there. . .
And the passage through. This is the south side, where we’re farther from land.
And the closer north side, where people are amazed that they’re so close to land. It’s sure less than 90 feet to the rocks!
I was told by the Expedition Leader, who’s in charge of determining our itinerary, that he was on the bridge during the transit as the ship was steered MANUALLY through the gap. GPSs won’t do here because the currents and eddies change rapidly. The leader said that the captain loudly told all the interlopers on the bridge to remain absolutely quiet, as he had to concentrate on steering the ship. There’s also a Chilean pilot on the bridge, who doesn’t steer the ship but is there to give advice.
And we’re through! Another great feat of navigation. The sheep has to steer left immediately after going through to stay in the middle of the passage.
After the transit, the exploration Zodiac returns to the ship, which is stopped to disgorge the measurement team and then hoist the boat into the bay.
I was also told twice that when Chilean pilots come aboard—several times during this trip—they don’t stop the ship because it’s expensive to stop it and start it again. Instead, both the small pilot’s boat and our big ship assume similar speeds, the Admunsen opens its door, a platform or a ladder comes out, and the pilot has to JUMP from one ship to the other on the fly. This is, I’m told, nerve-wracking.
Above and below: the intrepid Measurement Team returns to the ship. As you see, four people are needed to man the Zodiac, make measurements, and advise the ship’s captain.
Right on the other side of the Narrows, the lovely scenery resumes.
Watching the transit works up one’s appetite. It was dinnertime (I eat at 6 pm, which is early).
I alternate between beer and wine at dinner (no booze at lunch though some people toss it down then). I like the wine because you can see the scenery outside the dining room reflected in the glass:
A man needs a hearty “Steakhouse Burger” after that nail-biting passage. I hadn’t had a burger in several days, and so why not?
And a chocolate shake for dessert.
We spent the rest of the day wending our way through the channel, and since the ship’s streaming video is down, I had no idea where we were headed the next day. At 8:15 each night they used to stream the next days itinerary over the cabin t.v. Now you have to go to the auditorium to hear it, but I didn’t want to be in a big crowd, covid-free though we seem to be.
I opened up my cabin window to see the scene below; we were in front of a huge glacier and my balcony was facing it directly.
It turned out to be the face of South America’s largest glacier, the Brüggen Glacier, indicated in the map below. Wikipedia gives ancillary information:
Brüggen Glacier, also known as Pío XI Glacier, is in southern Chile and is the largest western outflow from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Now about 66 km (41 mi) in length, it is the longest glacier in the southern hemisphere outside Antarctica. Unlike most glaciers worldwide, it advanced significantly from 1945 to 1976, Brüggen surged 5 km (3.1 mi) across the Eyre Fjord, reaching the western shore by 1962 and cutting off Lake Greve from the sea. The glacier continued advancing both northward and southward in the fjord to near its present position before stabilizing. The growth covers a distance of more than 10 km (6.2 mi) north to south, adding nearly 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi) of ice. The glacier is named after the German geologist Juan Brüggen Messtorff.
The Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s second largest contiguous field, is the remnant of the ice field that covered much more of this area during the last big glacial period, about 40,000 years ago
It got sunny later in the day, and here you see a panorama of the glacier’s face (in the middle) and the surrounding area.
A morning selfie from my balcony. What a view I had!
The expedition leader and ship’s captain decided that it was sufficiently calm for us to go out in Zodiacs, though I didn’t expect that. I quickly threw on my warm clothes and was in the second boat to to out. The remarkable calmness of the water and relative quiescence of the glacier enabled us to travel very close to the face. (You never go right up to the face lest a deadly “calving event” occur.)
We were out early as the sun rose:
And we traveled in the Zodiac along the face for 45 minutes. Unlike Antarctica, it was relatively warm and I didn’t need gloves. There are no icebergs in this channel as the warmer waters melt the falling ice quickly.
It’s a moraine-ish glacier, with lots of dirt mixed in with the ice. That makes the waters in this fjord very silty, sometimes clogging up the water intakes of the Zodiacs.
You can see how close they let us get to the glacier:
As the tides go in and out, part of the glacier often overhangs the water:
Another view of the ice hanging over water:
The Amundsen lay in the distance. Perhaps I should have taken a later Zodiac when the sun came out, but I was eager and in fact had no idea whether there would be sun.
The Mother Ship waiting to receive its Zodiacs:
And the mountains around us:
I decided to have a “proper” lunch at the Aune restaurant because I had a tiny breakfast so I could rush to the Zodiac launch. Before lunch, though, I visited one of the things that they do for passengers: give them clay to make penguins and paint to paint their models. Then they fire the penguins and put them on display. Here’s the display from this trip’s workshop.
As you see, the quality varies. Two parents and their chick are on the left:
I don’t know who made this messed-up penguin head, but I give it the First Prize:
In the cabinet are penguin models from earlier trips:
Lunch yesterday in the Aune, just to show you the nature of the food. I translated the menu from German (the ship’s app with English menus was down)
Soup: Traditional Ukrainian borscht (beet soup) with lamb and sour cream (I didn’t detect any sour ceam):
Main: Beef stroganoff with mashed potatoes, sour cream, pickled vegetables, and beets
Dessert: Financier (a french cake), cream, and berry compote. As usual, dessert in the Aune is the best course .
And an after-lunch view of the fjord. I have a few photos from later in the day, but I’ll combine them with photos of whatever happens in the next day or two. I asked our ornithologist what the rarest bird he’d seen was, and he said that he saw a local hummingbird fly by the ship (he was able to identify it, but I forgot the ID). Since we’re not often on land that has vegetation, there’s not much chance to see land birds.