Laguna San Rafael

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Mon 17 Oct 2016 03:42
46:40.22S 73:52.15W

There is a slight twist to going through the second tidal gate to Laguna San Rafael as we found out when we worked out the tides last night. High water (the top of the tide) is 3 hours 10 minutes later than in Estero Elefantes and low water is 3 hours 31 minutes later. This is because the two basins are connected by a narrow and shallow ‘river’ so there is a time delay for the laguna to fill up or empty.

We set off at 11:30, an hour before low water in the laguna. The thinking was that as the water starts to flood in, the icebergs are pushed back and don’t choke the river. We had anchored in the shelter of Leopard Point and weren’t quite sure what to expect on the other side. We knew we had to follow Iceberg River.

We rounded the point and in front of us was the vast expanse of San Rafael Bay. The bay is mostly too shallow for a boat to navigate so it is essential to follow the river which has carved out a channel. The catch is that you cannot see where the river flows, it looks the same as the rest of the water. To aid navigation, beacons have been constructed in strategic positions. Once line up, they indicate the correct route through deeper water.  

Safely across the bay, we entered Iceberg River proper. This is when our new friend ‘Campo de Hielo Sur’ the fast passenger catamaran passed us. As usual he honked his horn.

Flat banks of Iceberg River

Laguna San Rafael

Franco and Caramor undergoing iceberg phobia therapy in Laguna San Rafael

Caramor in front of the San Rafael Glacier

The laguna is at the same latitude as we were two and a half weeks ago, in the Golfo Tres Montes, after crossing the Golfo de Penas. We have practically circumnavigated the large Peninsula de Taitao. To do so, we braved the rough waters of the Pacific and sailed overnight to reach Bahia Anna Pink. There was an alternative overland route but Caramor is just too heavy.

From the east of Golfo Tres Montes, it is possible to navigate up the river Lucac and then portage half a mile across the low lying Istmo de Ofqui into Laguna San Rafael, thus avoiding the open sea journey along an exposed coastline. This was the Chonos canoe people’s route.

The portage is marked in red, the orange section is navigable

In 1741, Lieutenant John Byron, an ancestor of the famous poet, with five other sailors, was told about the portage route by local indians. Their story was a sad tale. They had been on board the Wager, a fine ship, one of the British fleet under the command of Commodore George Anson. It was dismasted off the coast, south of the Golfo de Penas and washed ashore where it broke up. The crew built launches and split into groups to try and sail back to Britain. John Byron’s group had attempted to sail to Chiloé but failed and many men had lost their lives. They hauled their boat overland and reached the sheltered waters of Laguna San Rafael from where they eventually got to Chiloé. John was one of the few survivors and later succeeded in returning to Britain.

‘An English sailor giving a biscuit for the Patagon child’ taken from Byron’s book (The Indians were tall but there is a certain amount of artistic licence here)