We had pushed the boat out (sorry, too hard to resist!) opting to go on the Navimag ferry up the western coastline and myriad of channels, to Puerto Montt, booking a triple AAA cabin in advance. Not so much because we wanted to travel in style – let’s face it, it was a ferry boat that transported livestock and cargo as well as a few passengers – we wanted to have a window and didn’t want to book last minute; four days at sea … what if the weather was foul, and we had no port hole to peer out of? Thanks, but no thanks. And probably just as well.
We boarded in Puerto Natales, sadly saying goodbye to Kau Lodge (the girls really did produce the best coffee we had tasted since leaving home) hoping for good weather, great views and half decent wine served with lunch and dinner (we were in training for Mendoza), plus sightings of wildlife from the decks. We got off to a good start, with a welcome bottle of vino in our cabin and relatively informative briefing in our dining room – the cabins had their own, on the lower deck next to the officers mess, below the main dining area.
In the early morning grey light and tides, the ship passed through the skinniest passage on the voyage, Paso Kirke, a mere 80m wide, with a restriction (natch) on the size vessel that can navigate through these waters, heading up the Sobenes Pass, the southernmost channel on our journey.
A series of safety briefings and nature films followed throughout the day, English and Spanish, in the main dining room plus an exchange book programme and the promise the chance to flex your vocal chords at the karaoke evening…. With the hope of sighting a few sea lions on rocky outcrops and seals ‘playing’ in the kelp forests, we stayed firmly on deck, making the most of the dry weather.
Just before supper we got the opportunity of coming up close to Glaciar Skua, part of the O’Higgins National Park and Campo de Hielo Sur. it was magnificent, spanning the width of the channel, some 40 plus metres visible above sea level. Almost the size of Perito Moreno, it’s spiky seraks and deep blue fissures were a sharp azure blue, even in the flat pre dusk light and clouds plus touch of rain, that had just started to fall.
And fall it did. For pretty much the entire journey.
Murphy’s Law as we wouldn’t get to see much of the stunning scenery around the small channels and islands that made up the fjords. We consoled ourselves with an extra glass of wine with lunch, ‘retiring’ to read in the afternoon, aperitifs before dinner plus a few more glasses with dinner . And really got to know our fellow cabin passengers from Australia as we spent rather a lot of time in their company; like naughty school kids we also skipped some of the lectures and demos in favour of chilling in our cabins watching movies and seeing what we could spot from the port holes…
Puerto Eden, the small (and only) town between Puerto Natales and Golfo de Penas was shrouded in mist as we passed at sunrise; we could just make out few rooftops as we slid by in the silent waters. Angostura Inglesa, English Narrows, so named because only one ship can pass through at a time, came and went without incident and we headed towards the deeper waters of Messier Channel and beyond it, Golfo de Penas and open seas.
It wasn’t the Drake Passage but it was a bumpy 12 hour ride. Just as we were finishing off supper we hit the first big swells and cross winds; time to ‘batten down the hatches’, steadying our tableware and helping our steward Andreas, gathering glasses that crashed over and bottles that had toppled off the table next to us, as he set about lashing closed the china cupboard and cutlery drawers. The evening film was cancelled and probably just as well, as the ship began to pitch and roll with a deep clunky groan echoing through hull as she rode the troughs. Off to our cabins we went…
The final day aboard dawned a little dryer and brighter – time to stretch our legs on deck and be on the look out for seals, dolphins and sea lions as we sailed around the Chiloe Archepelago. Shouts of “whales, whales” draw a small crowd, but we missed them and watched as sea lions fed on what looked like mini man-of-war jelly fish!
Two books, a handful of movies and a few pounds heavier (four course lunches and diners were beginning to take their toll) we finally arrived at Puerto Montt. Next stop Santiago.