By boat to Puerto Natales

We left Chiloe as we arrived - in the rain - to reach the port of Puerto Montt, starting point for our next adventure. We were off to the Torres del Paine, a trekker-mecca on the southern tip of the cone of South America, and we were heading there by ferry; four days and three nights aboard the ro-ro Evangelista through the channels and waterways and past the myriad islands and islets, fiords and sounds that comprise this incredibly dissected coastline of Chilean Patagonia.

Together with our 150-odd fellow passengers, we embarked on the Evangelista in mid-afternoon for a 4pm sailing. The port of Puerto Montt slipped behind into the grey sheets of rain as we headed out from the calm waters of the Reloncavi Sound into the slightly less calm waters of the Gulf of Ancud. Soon we passing the island of Chiloe to starboard and the cloud-covered peaks of the mainland to port, as we sailed in and out of rain squalls and into our first night at sea. After our rock and roll experience of nights on the yacht in the Galapagos, the smoothness of the Evangelista on these gentle protected waters seemed almost unnatural - we slept extremely well!

M/V Evangelista waiting for us in the harbour of Puerto Montt

We farewelled the city of Puerto Montt ...

... and headed out into the approaching storm

The next morning we woke to find ourselves in the calm waters of island studded Moreleda Channel; the rain had gone and the sun even broke through briefly every so often, but the grey sky showed us a world of sombre colours - sombre but beautiful. Forest lined slopes dropped steeply into the sea from tops hidden by cloud, while on the mainland the snow-capped cone of 2915m Cerro Maca rose above the coastal forests.

2915m Cerro Maca rises above the forest

Land and seascape of the Moreleda Channel

A world of blue - distant snow-capped peaks lining the Moreleda Channel

One of the many islands in the channels

Soon we entered the narrower Errazuriz Channel and into the even narrower Pulluche Channel, where the green-forest covered slopes plunged down on both sides. When the sun appeared, the greenness of the cold temperate rain forest was intense.

The intense green of cold temperate rainforest

In the Errazuriz Channel

Steep forest-clad hills plunging into the sea

We made the most of this tranquil passage, as by mid-afternoon we emerged from the channel and into the open sea; it was time to pop the sea-sickness medication, as we quickly learnt how well protected the inland waterways were! Soon the boat was heading into a 3m swell, the 50kph winds whipping the foam off their crests, while albatrosses soared gracefully between the peaks and troughs of the waves. It would take 12 hours to cross the Golfo de Penas, as the Evangelista pitched and thumped its way through a night of 8 on the Beaufort scale. Not long before dawn, the pitching turned to a sideways roll, then a strange and peaceful calm descended; we had left the open sea and re-entered the protected inland waterways.

Heading out to sea and the Golfo de Penas

Mollymawk at full stretch

Petrel skimming the waves

The graceful flight of the albatross

Ghost ship in the mists of the Cotopaxi Channel

We awoke to find ourselves in the deep waters of the Messier Channel with grey mists shrouding the landscape and waterfalls cascaded from the grey rock hillsides into the sea. Not long after breakfast, we were called up on deck; ahead in the mists, like a ghost ship, lay the "Capitan Leonides", stranded 40 years ago in the Cotopaxi Shallows just next to the deepest channel of the coastline; 50m more to starboard and it might still have been sailing today! The Evangelista sounded a mournful horn of respect as we sailed by the rusting hulk.

About to enter the English Narrows

At the end of the Messier Channel, the route seemed to close up, but the captain skilfully guided the big ferry around a series of lightbuoys and into the Angosturas Ingles, only 180m wide and guarded by low beech and shrub covered islets. On a tiny islet at the entrance stood a small white statue, the Virgen de Stella Maria, protector of all sailors; once again the ship's horn sounded to salute her.

Virgen de Stella Maria

The further south, the lower the snowline

Waterfall tumbling down into the sea

Misty forest-clad fringes of the channel

Bleak is beautiful

Cliff-lines fading into the mist

The landscape was beginning to change; from forested slopes that plunged into the sea to more rounded domes of exposed rock and more shrubby vegetation, while the snowline was getting lower and the higher ridges and mountains behind wore white mantles beneath the grey cloud. Small channels, inlets and islets dissected the landscape into fascinatingly complex patterns, and the silhouettes of the shorelines faded away in pastel tones. Bleak is beautiful!

A series of rocky islets

The forest gave way to more barren rocky landscapes ...

... and the grey skies persisted

By lunch time we reached the tiny port of Puerto Eden, on Wellington Island, one of the most isolated settlements in the region and home to the last of the Kawechqua, a nomadic people who wandered the waterways of Patagonia in bark and mud canoes. Civilisation has not treated them well.

The progression of waterways continued from Puerto Eden - Paso del Indio, Paso del Abismo, Wide Channel, Sarmiento Channel - taking us into our third night on board.

A broader reach of our voyage

The Evangelista steaming down a channel

Entry to Puerto Eden on Isla Wellington

The small and very isolated fishing village of Puerto Eden

Dawn on the last day - looking and feeling a lot colder


Just before dawn, we sailed through Paso White, at 80m wide the narrowest point in the passage, and into Golfo Almirante Montt. The sun was shining when we awoke, but there was a price to pay. The clouds had been chased away by gale-force winds which whipped the waters of the gulf into a frenzy of white-caps.

Across them we could see Puerto Natales with its backdrop of peaks bathed in the sunlight.

First glimpse of the rugged peaks of southern Patagonia

View across the wind-swept sea to Puerto Natales

The magnificent peaks of the Patagonian Andes

Finally a promise of better weather

Life on board - the fair Nello's new "children"

After 10 hours of sailing in circles we finally docked at Puerto Natales

So tempting, so near, yet so far; the port authorities refused permission to dock as the 50 knot winds were too strong to safely anchor at the port and for the next 10 hours we cruised around in large circles waiting for conditions to abate. Finally in the late afternoon we landed; this part of the world had certainly lived up to its wind-blown reputation. Welcome to Puerto Natales!