Ice and weather. That’s what it all comes down to as ships make their way through this part of the world. On Chile’s coast along the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, ice buildup and quixotic weather conditions heavily dictate which routes ships can take. Even when passage is safe around the popular Amalia, El Brujo or numerous other breathtaking glaciers found here, misty rain or soupy fog might be the order of the day. And it can always shift in a flash, as glassy waters erupt into choppy waves — or, more happily, shrouded peaks become flooded with sunlight sparkling off the ice fields, letting you relish a momentary peaceful stillness in the air.
Snug in a parka, and from the comfort of your ship deck, you marvel at the different appearances of the glaciers, from fields pocked with lumps of ice to smooth watery rivulets, all in hues of blue too numerous to describe. The truly lucky get to witness sunrise or dine at sunset while anchored in the deep fjords or narrow channels along the coast. But any time of the day, you’re guaranteed a backdrop of snowcapped peaks while you observe small Peale’s dolphins and sea lions as well as terns, albatrosses and other seabirds going about their daily business around you.
One of the main channels in Patagonia, the Sarmiento Channel runs in a north-south direction, starting at the Guía Narrows and finishing at the southern edge of Victoria Pass, where it joins the Smyth Channel. The Kawesqar people have inhabited this region for more than 6,000 years, but the channel was named for a more recent arrival: the Spanish explorer Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, who first navigated it between 1579 and 1580. The Chilean mainland lies to the east, and the islands of Esperanza, Vancouver and Piazzi flank the channel to the west. As elsewhere in the Chilean fjord region, the ragged coastline is cut with inlets set among snow-covered mountain ranges. In many places, massive glaciers run down to the sea. All kinds of marine animals, including Magellanic penguins, southern elephant seals, dolphins and orcas, can be seen along these shores.