Monday, January 13, 2020

Seno Iceberg is not aptly named

One of the reasons I dragged Karina down here (kicking and screaming, I might add) is to view the majestic icefields of  Patagonia.  We had a small taste last year at Laguna San Rafael where we reached the edge of the northern part of the ice field.  Later this year we plan to reach the south end of the southern icefield but unwilling to wait I took Sea Rover (and Karina) on a small diversion to get a first glimpse of this force of nature.

Brrr...  Maybe Seno Iceberg is aptly named after all...  It's cold here!
We headed east down a channel marked Seno Iceberg.  The name alone conjures up views of titanic sized frozen chunks of blue and white water.  Things got off to a good start when our instruments showed the water temperature quickly dropping.  12 degrees C -10 - 7 - 4!!!  The water turned a classic turquoise green.  This was going to be great!

Then the wind started to pick up.  Our instruments were showing the wind increasing as fast as the water temperature was decreasing...  5 knots - 10 - 17 -25 -30!!!  The water turned a classic turquoise green with white ribbons of foam.  Maybe this wasn't such a good idea!

I had visions of Sea Rover being blown down the channel where she would meet her maker smashed on the hard blue wall sure to be at the end of the fjord.  After being squashed on the wall, I was sure that huge chunks of 1000 year old ice also being blown east would finish us off and if that didn't do us in surely the house sized calving blocks of ice from above would.  It was sleeting sideways and we could see nothing but grey.  It was time to pull into a safe anchorage and reassess.

Southern Patagonia Icefield only 5 NM away
We found a nice bay where the wind dropped down to 20 knots and set our anchor.  We went below and warmed up in the balmy 12 degree C boat.  After some lunch we noticed the rain had slowed and we could see the end of the bay about 5 miles south.  The wind seemed to be calming down as well.  We tied Sea Rover into the cove and donned our survival suits.  After prepping "Pearl" (our dinghy) for the voyage down to the glacier, we were just about to head off when we noticed another grey wall coming from the west.  We retreated back to the cockpit and waited another half hour for the next window.  When it came, we were now ready.

Wow, we made it right to the face of a glacier!

As soon as the squall passed us we raced down bay in an effort to get there and back before the next squall.  As the scenery flew by, I was making mental notes of where we might take refuge should our timing be off.  Despite a small issue with our new dinghy chaps trying to sink the dinghy (modifications will be required) we made it right to the face of the glacier in good time.

Last year in Laguna San Rafael we couldn't get within 5 miles of the glacier due to all the bergy bits blocking our forward progress.  Now we were standing on a small rock less than 100 m away from the towering face.  Where were the icebergs?  Upon closer inspection we realized that very little of the glacier is actually still in the water.
Danger Gary posing in front of the glacier

Glacier Tempano is no longer really a "tidewater" glacier.  Like Jorge Montt glacier just to the north, it is one of the fastest receding glaciers in the world.  In 2014 a careful study of Jorge Montt revealed the ice depth lost 30 m on average.  Between 2016 and 2014 the face has moved 1.5 km further back.  We can attest first hand experience having seen cruiser friends photos of this exact spot and its change in just a few years.

Unwilling Karina posing in front of the glacier
After careful coaxing, Karina joined me on the small rock and we quickly took a few last photos to prove we were both there.  While small chunks fell off the face and crashed on to the beach below (no ice fall tsunamis here) we grabbed a piece of 1000 year old ice and jumped back in the dinghy in an attempt to race back up the strait and the safety of Sea Rover before the next squall hit us.

Can we make it back to the boat before the next squall?!?!?
Shortly after leaving the face, the rain began again but the waves weren't too bad from the increased winds and we had the company of dolphins playing in the dinghys bow wave 5 or 6 inches from Karina's face.  Comfortably and reasonably dry in our survival suits we trekked back to the boat happy that our worries about the excursion were unfounded.

Last month was Chile was supposed to have hosted the world climate summit.  Perhaps if Greta had come here the world would know more about how fast history is melting away.  In the time it took us to motor back to Sea Rover from the face of the glacier, our 1000 year old piece of ice was gone.

1000 year old ice gone before we could make it back to the boat.
Yet another example that climate change is REAL!

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