Beagle Channel Cruise

1 May

“At first I was afraid, I was petrified!”

The words uttered by the 70’s icon Gloria Gaynor echoed through our heads when our ‘home’ for the next 26 hours came into view.

More car ferry than luxury liner, we were in no doubt that our cruise from Chile’s Puerto Williams to Punta Arenas through the Beagle Channel and up to the Straits of Magellan would be an experience we’d never forget.

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Upon boarding our boat, the Yahgan, (named after the region’s indigenous people) we were pleasantly surprised with the excellent condition of the ferry and the amount of space it allowed for around 100 passengers. The layout of the ferry consisted of a large bay for cars and trucks, two inside decks with eating and sleeping quarters and two outside viewing platforms.
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The boat was spotlessly clean, with wooden floors throughout and large viewing windows below deck. We’d paid a little extra for our seats which fully reclined into flat beds with pillows and blankets.
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Three meals a day were served at designated times. Passengers lined up at a galley counter and took a tray like they were back in the school canteen. Breakfast consisted of tea/coffee, ham and cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off and small fairy cakes. Lunch consisted of vegetable soup, spaghetti bolognaise and a cream caramel. Dinner consisted of more vegetable soup, roast chicken with rice and a yoghurt.
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We had prepared for rolling waves and brought sea sickness tablets with us for this journey but we were graced with fantastic  weather on the first day – calm seas and clear views of the endless mountains, creeping glaciers and icy water.
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The landscape looked almost prehistoric – rugged and untouched.
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At times in the narrower channels, the water was flat and still like a lake. Complete calmness was all around us with only the wildlife creating ripples on the water that spilled out into endless circles.
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We waved to several small sailing boats as they passed and commented on how brave the crew were to navigate these unpredictable waters. We also passed several lighthouses with small cottages attached and wondered what it would be like to live in such an isolated place.
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We felt very excited as the crew let us know we were approaching a narrow passageway aptly named Glacier Alley. The boat passed right by three awe-inspiring glaciers which hung right down to the sea and the passangers ran around the decks taking picture after picture. Nearly 100 years earlier (1833), Charles Darwin, coming to Patagonia as a naturalist on the HMS Beagle, wrote about the same journey “They (the mountains) are covered by a mantle of perpetual snow, and numerous cascades pour their waters…It is scarily possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and specially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow.”
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The first and the biggest glacier was called Holanda, named after the many Dutch who have explored South America. It looked like a giant wave of ice cascading down the mountain and it was filled with deep crevases.
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The second glacier was called Italia and it glowed bright blue with ice that had been tightly compressed over millions of years.
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Alemania glacier was the third standing at approximately 2000 feet high and rivers of water constantly gushed from its base. The sea all around the glacier glowed milky blue and green, rich with minerals and teeming with bird life.

The sea birds glided gracefully on the thermals above the sea, it was almost like they were playing a game to see who would dare to fly the closest to the water – the tips of their wings and bellies almost touching.
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Penguins sailed on the top of the water and dived down deep as we passed by. Seals curiously watched the boat, rolling around playfully with each other and leaping clear out of the water.
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We were privileged to see two whales on the first day as we passed through a small channel with calm waters.
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The whales flipped their tales and the largest of the two breached by the side of the boat.
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We also passed by three whales on the second day, albeit they were some way off. One young calf in the distance breached over and over close to the shoreline causing enormous splashes and another two moving parallel to the boat blew plumes of water spray into the air from their blow holes.

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That evening, as the sun was setting, the sky was filled with a fantastic light and hints of watery pink, orange and yellow framed the distant snow-covered mountains.

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The following morning, we awoke to a blanket of low-lying cloud and not a hint of blue to be seen anywhere. The boat had to travel at a slower speed to avoid hitting some of the larger waves but still on occasion the boat lurched from side to side and met waves head on with a startling crash. The closer we got to Punta Arenas, the wider the channel became – in some places, we could hardly see the land and it was like we were on the open sea. We noticed that fewer birds ventured out this far and we missed the company of the seals and penguins. We spent some time on deck during the day but mainly amused ourselves by reading, writing and playing cards.

After 26 hours on the ferry, we arrived into a rainy Punta Arenas where we would spend the next few days. Our voyage had taken us to the very ends of Latin America, where the mighty Andes meet the ocean. Our journey from here would take us North, but we would always remember and savour this incredible trip.

One Response to “Beagle Channel Cruise”

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  1. A tale of two cities | latin chattin' - August 10, 2014

    […] Ushuaia sits on the Beagle channel and a boat trip through its icy waters is truly awe inspiring. The landscapes are strikingly beautiful. As you sail through the fjords you can spot glaciers hanging straight down into the sea, snow capped mountains and lush forests. Seals, penguins and the occasional passing whale accompany the boats like they are auditioning to be your tour guide. Check out our fantastic 2 day watery adventure on our Beagle Channel Cruise post. […]

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