Monday, January 23, 2012

Ventisquero San Rafael

My mind is brimming with wondrous exclamations of the sights and sounds of our experiences of the last week. And today was such a pinnacle.

We got an early start as we motored out of the Chilean fjord with no wind, but the tide was in our favour giving us a good over-ground speed. After about 20 nautical miles south, we reached the treacherous passage through a shallow and rock fringed bay where we encountered our first "bergy bits"!

What are bergy bits?? Bergy bits is a nickname for iceberg pieces that have broken free from a glacier. Some were floating by, some were washed ashore by tidal forces, and some were large enough to be stationary - sitting on the ocean floor at low tide as the currents flowed past.

Careful navigation required (only 10% exposed above water surface)

Jordan at the helm was constantly dodging these pieces of ice, the very large and the very small. Bergy bits were everywhere! He didn't want to hit even the smallest because they are quite literally as hard as rocks.

This area of the bay we found to be confusing as the markers did not make sense to us. "Red Right Return" (a sailing term) did not seem to apply here. The tide was also lower than what we had predicted according to the nearest tide table and we hit bottom twice. But Jordan eventually meandered his way through the markers, low tide shallows, and scads of bergy bits before finding the river entrance of Rio Tempanos. Not a passage that we would recommend for the feint of heart!

Traversing up the freshwater river was easier than through the bay as the river was deeper and there was only one direction to go but Jordan still had to dodge many bergy bits. Then we finally came to the lake, called Laguna San Rafael, about 4 miles across and strewn with icebergs and bergy bits.

Sea Turtle nose-to-nose with 1 large bergy bit

The ventisquero (glacier) here was difficult to spot at first because of the low clouds and hazy day. We continued to make our way towards it and then, finally, there it was! Absolutely breathtaking!!

But wait...what's that...the engine suddenly quit! Jordan was puzzled because plugged filters had previously given warning signs in advance, but this time it was a sudden stop. We very slowly drifted towards Ventisquero San Rafael as Jordan changed the 3 fuel filters and bled the lines successfully in about an hour. I was feeling a little bit anxious but I spent the time taking more photos of the glacier and pieces that were floating by and never hitting us.

We had made VHF contact with Patagonia Express (a tourist catamaran) and they were standing by on VHF in case our engine wouldn't start. But all was well and we soon motored over closer to the face of the glacier.

Still 1/2 km away from the glacier

Orca IV, another sailboat, had also arrived and we agreed to swap photos of boats with the glacier as a backdrop. Here is Sea Turtle in front of this beautiful icy blue glacier...

Sea Turtle (courtesy of Orca IV)

Can you spot the zodiac dinghy in the photo below? Just an indication of the size of this glacier...

In total, we spent hours taking photos (over 500!) and just peering at this monstrous beauty. Listening to the rumble, creaks, and groans and watching the calving - pieces breaking away and crashing into the lake. Spectacular! The colours of the glacier and the bergy bits are indescribable...intense blues, pale blues, greenish blues, snowy white, glassy clear.

Incredible colours in the ice

We celebrated this momentous occasion with, of course, Chilean Pisco Sours chilled with ancient glacier ice that Jordan scooped from the lake!

Tasty but VERY hard ice to break

Now if you know me, you know I'm a fair-weather gal. But I wanted to do this passage as much as Jordan for the excitement of seeing a glacier before they're all gone. But we were both surprised that we only had this one chilly day. The rest of the time, we were actually over-dressed and too warm. I was even taking photos of the glacier on Sea Turtle's deck in bare feet and too enthralled to remove my windbreaker!

It was hard to tear ourselves away but finally at 16:30 we had to leave so the tide would be running with us. The passage leaving was much easier as most bergy bits had flowed back into the lake with the pressure of a rising tide in the bay downstream and some had also melted considerably.

We soon came back to near our first anchorage at Estero Elefantes (S46°24.315' W073°47.867') that we had left early this morning and settled in for another windy night. Orca IV also anchored nearby.

1 comment:

Senior Housing San Rafael said...


Floating on the surface of the brilliant blue water are scores of icebergs that rock from side to side as boats pass. Most surprising is the variety of forms and colors in each iceberg, including a shimmering, translucent cobalt blue. Thanks...