An Isolated Anchorage amongst 1000 Waterfalls and Williwaws

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sat 3 Mar 2012 13:22

Position: 55° 07.006S 069° 53.300W

Estéro del 1000 Cascadas

Date: 2 March 2012


We decided to stay another day in Seno Garibaldi so, in the morning, whilst I got on with some paperwork on board, the DS and Andrew went ashore in the dinghy for a steep climb up a waterfall. After lunch we weighed anchor for another excursion to the glacier, hopefully expecting to see a bit more action than the day before. We went close to the glacier snout, turned the boat broadside to it, cut the engine off and drifted, the three of us sitting in a row in the cockpit waiting for a bit of dramatic calving. The DS said it was a bit like sitting in the front row of the stalls at a private performance. After an hour of creaks, groans and the occasional small bit of ice cascading into the water, there was an almighty crack and a vast chunk of the glacier dropped, seemingly in slow motion, vertically into the water with a roar of thunder. In a perfect semi-circle we could see a tsunami of water rise up, expand and head towards us. On with engine, turn the bows to the tidal wave and we bobbed around, feeling elated that after a combined viewing of two hours the glacier had at last delivered.


Satisfied at last, we turned the boat and headed back to the delightful Southern Sealion colony on the rocks. Spectacular glaciers are, well, spectacular, but we all agreed that the highlight of our visit to Garibaldi was our time spent just sitting feet away from the Sealion colony watching the crèches of pups skylarking around in the water and on the rocks; their anxious mothers trying to keep them under control, whilst the teenagers were constantly play fighting trying to assert their position in the colony’s pecking order. Meanwhile the Big Daddys were roaring away just to let everyone know who was boss. One could sit for hours observing this community interacting with each other.


So absorbed in the antics of the Sealions one could almost miss the abundance of other wildlife that shared this spot with them; the Turkey Vultures hopping around amongst them looking for carrion (apparently their snack of choice is a nice fresh placenta); a splendid Condor that had settled on a rock just a few metres away and the beautifully coloured Ashy-headed Geese swimming in the water just by their side. Kelp Geese would fly past in pairs, the all white male and the black and white speckled female noisily communicating with each other with their different and distinctive honks. Nestling under a rock at the back of the colony we saw a pair of the flightless Steamer Ducks with a brood of now large chicks. And sitting on the rocks above were many of the ubiquitous Imperial and Rock Shags. Further out in the fjord we could see a pair of Peale’s Dolphins arching out of the water, flashing their striped flanks. It is a nature-lover’s paradise.


Yesterday morning a couple of cruise ships came up the fjord (it is one of the few fjords where the entrance over the ancient moraine bar is sufficiently wide and deep to allow cruise ships to enter). One of them anchored just opposite our little anchorage and dropped a bunch of inflatable dinghies to ferry their passengers the two miles to the head of the fjord and the glacier.


But it was time for us to move on. The wind, now light, had moved round to the north and there had been a dramatic increase in the temperature. With the sun now often appearing between the clouds, our thermal longjohns were at last (but probably just temporarily) surplus to requirements as we sailed gently out of the fjord with the wind behind us, across the Beagle Channel and dived down a pretty, narrow channel between Isla Gordon and Isla Thomson heading for the channel that runs south of Isla Gordon, the Brazo Sudoeste.


We had decided to go to a fjord interestingly called Estéro del 1000 Cascadas – the Fjord of 1000 Waterfalls. Not many yachts go to this fjord for some reason but it was on our way and we had time on our hands. The pilot book for the whole of the Chilean canals is a remarkable labour of love called the Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego Nautical Guide written over a period of a dozen years or more by an Italian cruising couple. It is known affectionately by all the sailors down here as The Italian Guide, or simply as The Bible. It has 700 pages with details of nearly 500 anchorages. The first part of the book has all sorts of comprehensive chapters about the history, climate, geology etc of the area.  With only a dozen or so boats coming down here each year for the first time, sales of the handsome volume must be slim, but I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys a little armchair cruising as well (ISBN 88-85986-34-X).


The information in the Italian Guide about the Estéro del 1000 Cascadas was slim and there was no chartlet so we weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we found ourselves in an extraordinarily steep sided and narrow fjord with yet another spectacular glacier at the head. We dropped the anchor and tied ourselves in off a small beach, not without difficulty – between the beach and the trees that we were to tie to, Andrew found there was a waist high swamp he had to wade through. Having dried off, Andrew then went off for a reconnaissance in the kayak to the glacier. Running down the steep mountains on all sides of us were dozens of waterfalls all cascading into the fjord. It was a noisy anchorage! It was also the most isolated we had been to. It is off the beaten track (probably because of the lack of detail in the Italian Guide) and we might have been the first yacht to anchor here for some years. Because of the steep-sided mountains all around us, if anything went wrong there would be no chance of being able to summon help by radio. Even the Iridium satellite phone had difficulty in picking up a signal. We were on our own. Yesterday morning as we were leaving , the crane that lifts the dinghy up broke. Our departure was delayed by a couple of hours as we took it apart, analysed the problem as one which would take some time to sort out, and cobbled together a temporary means of getting the dinghy up under the davits.


The wind meanwhile had been increasing and, as we finally made our way out of the fjord, we were being hit by 50 knot williwaws that came bouncing off the mountains, screaming across the water in a vertical spume of spray and heeling the boat at a crazy angle even though we had no sails up at all. These conditions in this isolated spot, tied in close to the rocks in the middle of a pitch dark night would have been unnerving to say the least. Once we found ourselves out of the fjord we were surprised to find that there was comparatively little wind, so we set our sails and headed for our next destination, Caleta Coloane.