Day 6 |
Nov 06, 2009

Cruising The Chilean Fjords

By Chris Srigley, General Naturalist

Weather: Overcast with rain

As I opened my eyes this morning I was acutely aware that it felt as if the Prince Albert II was no longer in motion. Of course this was not the case, however it did seem so because we were sailing through calm waters.

After the carnival ride we experienced during the night I was pleased to have woken to such a pleasant sensation. The highest of the waves we encountered during the night was said to reach 10 meters in height!

Getting on with my morning, I headed to the Observation Lounge for coffee, pastries and to read the morning paper before making my way to the Bridge.

Although the Chilean Fjords are not known for their abundance of wildlife, there are a couple of species that we may only see or are more likely to see within this range, along with the usual suspects of course.

Although the day started slowly, Dorothy and Pam, two very keen birders who spend a good amount of time spotting with me, soon joined me on the Bridge. We identified some species they had seen earlier and taken photos of before the birds started to pick up around us.

With the two of them arriving and adding their enthusiasm, we lost track of time and completely missed Juan Carlos’s lecture “Glacier Ice, The Life and Death of Continental Ice”. A fantastic and passionate speaker on his topic, Juan’s lectures really are not to be missed.
Those that attended were given a closer look at the world of glaciers, their features and how they form the landscape we see around them.

Speaking to the guests on deck afterwards, I knew it had been business as usual for Juan. All who had attended could not say enough about how he presents his lectures.

At this time we were able to pick up many of our fourteen species for the day. Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrels, South American Terns and South American Sea Lions were all around.

Keeping an eye on the time, I was adamant not to miss the second lecture of the day. Another well spoken, enthusiastic lecturer within our team, Robin Aiello, was soon to begin her talk “Marine Mammal Adaptations”. Robin would take us back to the beginning of marine mammals through the adaptations they have made over time to their life today in the world’s oceans.

As Robin was finishing up, Captain Peter Stahlberg was just bringing the Prince Albert II towards the English Narrows, one of the several narrow channels we must navigate during our time in the Chilean Fjords. We all crowded the outer decks to watch as the Prince Albert II weaved its way through the slalom course of islands and channel markers. During this traverse we spotted a couple of new species for our trip, Magellanic Diving Petrels and Steamer Ducks! If we had been lucky, we may have spotted the endemic Chilean Dolphin. Shy of ships, this small dolphin enjoys spending its time in narrow channels with heavy tidal rips, just like we were in. Alas, we will have to wait until the Kirke Narrows tomorrow for another chance at their prime habitat.

After lunch, J.J. Apestegui’s lecture “Seabirds” was taking place. An overview of seabirds and their adaptations to life at sea along with some of the more common species that we encounter – an interesting topic for all. The Theatre began to fill quickly as guests trickled in from the later-than-normal lunch. Our passage through the narrows had delayed them from heading to The Restaurant.

As our afternoon pushed on it was evident that we had been making good time. On the Bridge, Captain Peter and our Expedition Leader Robin West were discussing the evening plans. In true expedition style, it was decided we would delay our Recap & Briefing to make a side trip up the fjord to the Pio XI Glacier for a ship’s cruise.

Once Robin had made the announcement, everyone piled onto the decks. Sprawling out in front of us at 4.5 km wide was the brilliant blue of this tidewater glacier. An outlet glacier of the South Patagonian Ice Field, the Pio XI had once extended out into the fjords which waters we plied today.

With soundings ending some seven cables away at a depth of 61 m, we were unable to approach any closer than our present position with the Prince Albert II.

Suddenly Robin came over our radios, “All expedition staff, all expedition staff, we are going to offer a Zodiac tour”. With that said, Aiello and I sprinted for our staterooms! Obviously Captain Peter and Robin had come to another decision on the Bridge while we were all on deck.

Less than a half an hour later, the AB’s had the gangway set up, Zodiacs in the water and the first groups were pulling away. It is truly amazing onboard how well the teams work together on such short notice like this.

Approaching the glacier, we kept our distance in case of any calving that may occur, dodging brash ice and bergy bits along the way. As we neared the centre, I pointed out a large crack to my group, “That looks as if it might go; keep your eyes on it”. Getting farther across, we were now directly in front as small chunks began to fall from the glacier front. Within minutes the entire chunk came crashing down.

Through the roaring thunder of calving it was easy to hear the cheers rising from all the Zodiacs that had been within sight of this amazing event!

With that, we headed back to the Prince Albert II and prepared to head out with the second of the tours.

During dinner it was evident that everyone had enjoyed himself or herself as you could barely hear yourself think let alone have a conversation over the chatter and laughter. A perfect prelude to tonight’s evening entertainment: “Liars Club”!

Directly after dinner, we all gathered in the Panorama Lounge for some laughter as Victoria, Juan, J.J. and I took the guests through some interesting definitions of words like Lavacultophilia and Ninnyhammer. We had a fantastic turn out with ten large teams.

A perfect way to end a wonderful day here in the Chilean Fjords onboard the Prince Albert II!