Postcards

Cruising the Glaciers of the Beagle Channel

Mollymawk has just returned from a six week cruise amongst the ventisqueros, or glaciers, of the Beagle Channel.
Most yachts make this round trip in a fortnight or less, but — well, as you know, we like to travel very slowly…

We mollymawks like to have time to get to know the places that we visit but, truth to tell, one could spend six months and more on the ventisqueros circuit and still not see everything. For this post we’ve rounded up a few pics which provide a little taster, and at some stage in the near future we’ll provide some information about how you can visit this region yourself.

Mollymawk in Caleta Beaulieau, Seno Pia

What an extraordinary thing a glacier is! It’s a tumultuous river hurtling down the valley, but a river whose motion has been suddenly arrested. Then again, although, on first acquaintance, it seems to be as solid as a rock and just as unmoving, in reality these things are perpetually shuffling down to the sea. Since no one has studied these particular glaciers in depth, no one knows how fast they’re moving, but some say that the ice travels two meters each day.
This photo (above) shows Molly anchored in front of one of three spectacular glaciers which are perpetually sliding into the estero, or fiord, known as Pia.
Mollymawk in Seno Pia

Just around the corner from that first frozen torrent there’s another – or rather, there are two more which arrive at the water in the same place. It’s quite hard to get good photos of these glaciers, because they sit with their backs to the sun, but you can always pick up that stunning cerulean blue tint in the ice.As a matter of interest, the glacier on the left is advancing. Checking Google’s satellite image we found that it had advanced several hundred meters over the past three years. Why this should be so, no one knows.
Mollymawk amongst the ice

Mollymawk nosing though the bergy-bits, or growlers as they are properly known. (Photo by Gean Monteiro)Our header picture shows Mollymawk sailing in front of the right-hand glacier of this same pair at the head of Seno Pia. At first glance the boat might seem to be approaching a cliff, but in fact that grey ‘rock’ is actually ice. As the glacier crawls down the valley it scrapes the rock and carries some of it away.
The rock-covered edge of a glacier in Estero Coloane

The gap which the crew are crossing in this photo looks rather like the rift made by an earthquake, but in fact they are stepping from the scree-covered mountainside onto the rubble-covered, grit-laden glacier.
A crevasse on the glacier at Coloane

This rift, on the other hand, is a fracture in the ice: a crevasse, in glaciological jargon.
This glacier is one of three in Estero Coloane. Beyond the estero, in the distance, we get a glimpse of the Beagle Channel.
Standing underneath a glacier

The crew standing in a blue cave under the edge of a glacier.
How long will it take for this ‘cave’ to creep down to the sea, we wonder? Will it still be here, in some shape or form, if we return in a few months time?
The snout of the glacier at Coloane

I have found no way, with the camera, of doing justice to a glacier. They are simply too vast, too majestic, and too truly and totally awesome to be captured and trapped inside the little box of tricks.

The same goes for the valleys, which must, themselves, have been carved by ancient glaciers of unimaginably vast proportions, but those frozen rivers are especially difficult to photograph. They even seem to possess an aura of sorts – something akin to the energy-field of a living being – and, of course, the camera can’t even catch a glimpse of that.

Snow-capped peaks above the glaciers in Seno Pia.
Mollymawk in front of a watherfall in Estero Coloane

Where there are glaciers there are also waterfalls, it seems. We must have passed hundreds during our cruise, and there was almost always one within earshot of our anchorage. This one is at Coloane.
A beaver pond beneath a glacier at Coloane

Pretty much every glacier also has its resident beaver family. That’s the beavers’ house, in the foreground of the photograph, on the right, and the dead trees are the result of their engineering activities.
Poppy meets a beaver

Poppy encounters her first beaver.
We will be writing more about the beavers of Tierra del Fuego in a future article.
A glacier in Estero Foque

Another day, another glacier – but you can never get tired of them!
This one is in the Fouque fiord.
Mollymawk in Estero Coloane

Since the fiords are very deep, yachts are seldom able to anchor and swing, in the usual way. Instead, we moored to the shore.
Mollymawk in Caleta Cinco Estrellas

In passing, I should point out that besides being unable to capture the true scale and grandeur of a glacier, the camera also encourages misrepresentation of the facts. Glorious days make lovely photos, whereas even the prettiest bay looks quite ugly in the wet, windy weather which is much more usual to this region.
Mollymawk and Venus in Seno Pia

Even in the middle of summer, Tierra del Fuego is seldom as sunny and warm as many of these photos would suggest. This photo was taken in the last week of January.
The vessel moored alongside Mollymawk is the good ship Venus.

Regardless of the weather, the mollymawks were able to get on with life. We were very glad of our super-duper Mullion oilskins, with their thermal linings.
Standing on an iceberg in Seno Pia

Rox and Gean on an island of their own.
“But what would have happened if the bergy-bit had flipped?” cries the timid kill-joy!
Well, you see, the Mullion oilskin also has an in-built buoyancy aid.
And besides, we’re all competent swimmers and as tough as nails, don’t you know!
Swimming in a glacial lake in Estero Fouque

All except your author, that is. Your author is missing the tropics…

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the wonderful story and pics. Mike

  2. This is wonderful footage. But the one of swimming with the bergs froze my balls off. There is so much beauty in the world. What was your average day-time temperature, say, between 1 Jan and end Feb? Just curious.

    1. Nick was the only one who swam. He swam, or waded, in just about every glacial lake or pond, and he also showered under the waterfalls. He has the idea that if he keeps on doing it then eventually it’ll stop hurting…

      The water temperature at the lake shown in these photos was 2 degrees C.
      The average day time air temperature during January must have been about 12 or 15 C (52 – 60 F). We had a couple of still, sunny days of about 20 C (70 F), but as soon as the wind starts to blow it gets pretty chilly. The lowest day time temp was 9 C / 50 F.
      Lowest night time temp during our turn around the glaciers was 3 C / 35 F. But last night it went down to 0 / 32.
      The lowest temp last winter was minus 14 C / about 8 F – a tad too chilly for the boating life to be thoroughly enjoyable…

  3. Thank you as ever for such a vivid insight into life on Mollymawk in such a breathaking place. What a great way to see in the New Year – can’t wait for the next update from my dear intrepid friends! Love and all good wishes XXXX

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