Last night we battened down the hatches for the notorious Golfo de Penas (Grief Gulf in Spanish, so called for the penance it may inflict on those who attempt its crossing). Lashed to our bunks, we could feel the heavy roll. Bud, with our comfort ever in mind, had promised a lie-in with a late brunch scheduled for calmer waters. At 0730, the clockwise noted the grey gloom and rolled over and went back to sleep. But the anticlockwise, conscious that a great ocean can mean great seabirds, donned their binoculars and oilskins, and swarmed up the rigging to assemble on the bridge wing at dawn. Grey skies with drizzle, but after the tame backwaters of the Chilean Fjords it was grand to feel the big Pacific swells: we peered into the gloom and waited with bated breath. Drawn up by the equally anticlockwise gyre of the Southern Ocean, the cold Humboldt currant streams cold Antarctic water north along the Chilean coast. This mixes with warm Pacific waters and the less saline meltwater from the fjords, plankton, copepods and fish thrive; for hungry seabirds roaming the vast southern ocean, it has been a favourite seafood restaurant for millennia. The seabird equivalent of an all-day breakfast.
As the light improved and our eyes focused, the first shape came swinging in on the port side with the rolling waves: long white wings, a gleaming white head, smart black upperparts. A Royal Albatross, all the way from New Zealand, having traversed the full width of the Pacific to dine on the finest Chilean squid. What a sight! And not alone. It was joined by Kiwi compatriots, Buller’s and Chatham albatrosses, then soon outnumbered by local Black-brows and the racing black shapes of hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters.
Later, after the promised brunch, we found haven in a sunlit fjord on Isla Clemente, took Zodiacs to a golden granite sand beach and followed the strand like latter-day Man Fridays, unable to hack a track through the dense bush. Those in kayaks paddled up dark rivers to look at streaming waterfalls, paused to watch Ringed Kingfishers or marvelled at the moss- and lichen-covered boughs of twisted riverside trees. After a hot-dog deck-snack, we stayed on deck to enjoy the afternoon sunshine on the forested granite hills. And we ended as we had begun, watching strings of silver-lined shearwaters and commuting skeins of sunlit shags beating low over the water to an island roost. Wide open ocean, seabirds, sunshine and a forested wilderness. From Grief Gulf to the clement waters of Isla Clemente, it has been a day of vivid contrasts.