Cruise - Cargo Ship Voyage
A trip through the fjords at the bottom end of Chile
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After Torres del Paine we were heading north for the Lake District of Chile. We could catch a plane from Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt or catch the ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt. Having been on the Norwegian coastal steamer and a coastal ferry in Greenland there was no contest – it had to be the ferry. We thought it would be a way of seeing something of the fjord country at the bottom end of Chile which has no settlement or roads.
Navimag is a working vessel carrying passengers, lorries and cargo. Evangelistas is a massive ro-ro ferry which runs a weekly service between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt. It most definitely is NOT a cruise.
The trip takes three days one way but can be delayed by bad weather. When planning the trip we needed to build in enough slack in the itinerary to allow for delayed sailings. I must admit I breathed a big sigh of relief when I saw the ship arrive on time in Puerto Natales.
We had seen pictures of Navimag with the cargo deck full of lorries with sheep and cows and were disappointed when there weren’t any for our trip. This would have consequences later in the trip.
The boat has a range of accommodation from 28 berth dormitories to two berth en suite cabins. We had booked one of these. It was a compact but comfortable. We ate with the officers in their dining room. (Others ate in the restaurant.) We were looked after by Cecilia, a rotund and jolly soul who took a shine to Michael and made sure he had plenty of (excellent) food and (even better) wine.
We had to board on a Thursday night to sail Friday morning. Departure time was brought forward and we sailed several hours earlier than planned. That should have warned us for what was in store.
The weather was dull and wet with a few sunny breaks. We later learned that this is common on the trip. We wrapped up well and managed to spend a reasonable amount of time out on deck only going inside to avoid the worst of the rain. Most of the trip was in sheltered water between the islands up the coast. We sailed through wide channels with low green hills and mountains still with snow. There was no settlement and very little bird life.
The 'highlight' of the trip is the Saturday morning call at Puerto Eden, a small coastal village on Wellington Island. This was established by the Chilean Air Force in 1930 as a base for sea planes from Puerto Monte to Punta Arenas. The settlement is only accessible by sea. There are about 250 inhabitants. As soon as we arrived, rowing boats came to meet the ship to collect packages and passengers. There was one speed boat – "Mr. Money" lived in a large house well separated from the rest of the villagers. In good weather and if there is time it is possible to go ashore for a short time. We didn’t have time and Evangelistas was off as soon as the last package had been unloaded.
The second 'highlight' on Sunday is the wreck of the Capitán Leonidas in the middle of one of the channels. A ship called Cotopaxi struck an isolated rock here in the C19th and was lost. In the 1960s the captain of Capitán Leonidas ran his ship aground here on purpose. He intended to claim insurance for his cargo of sugar (which he had earlier sold on the quiet in Uruguay). Unfortunately for him the ship did not sink and now remains as a fairly effective navigational aid.
The final ‘highlight’ of the trip is the 12 hour crossing of the Golfo de Penas which takes you across the Pacific Ocean. This can be notoriously rough as you experience the full force of the Pacific Ocean. About 2pm the channel started widening and we could see the bow was going up and down. We headed for our bunks and had 12 hours of very rough sea followed by five hours of uncomfortably lumpy sea. We had warned our fellows and the Cecilia that we might not make dinner, a nicety, which proved unnecessary as dinner didn't happen. Our berth was near the galley and we could hear crockery falling off shelves and rolling around throughout the crossing. There was one huge crash from the kitchen and a few minutes later came an announcement that it was too rough to cook dinner so sandwiches would be served in the bar instead.
We learned later the wind had ‘only’ been force seven, which was generally regarded as nothing for those parts but lack of cargo made the ship bob up and down like a cork. In an attempt to avoid the worst of the Gulf, the captain had sailed further out to sea which made the crossing longer than usual and explained the very early start on the Friday morning.
On Monday morning we docked in Puerto Montt.
We had been really looking forward to the ferry but have to admit it didn’t live up to expectation, but that may have been because of the weather. We are pleased we did it but another time would fly.
This was part of a long trip through Argentina and Chile. My summary review can be read here.
Our pictures of Navimag are here.
54 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.