Saturday, February 25, 2017

Canal Messier to Puerto Eden

Monday, January 30th

What weather we avoided in Golfo de Penas caught up with us in Canal Messier. Of course I had imagined that once we were past the gulf, and in the canals once again, we would be sheltered. The truth is that going farther south means worse weather, period. The Arctic depressions move north during the austral summer bringing colder rain, squalls, and violent winds. In Canal Messier, which runs 70 miles north/south from Golfo de Penas, we experienced this weather for the first time. We
found ourselves in foam-streaked waves, fog-bound, and doing ten knots under bare poles. The gusts were truly exceptional and only increased. We passed the night before in Caleta Hale, a small cove in an island in the northern section of Messier, where we were tucked in close to the shore with two stern lines run to trees. We felt very secure but throughout the night the winds picked up and began screaming down the steep sides of nearby cliffs. The boat came alive with sounds. New sensations of movement came over me as the boat turned in a gust, heeled and then exhausted the elasticity of the polypropylene stern lines. I could feel the recoil as a dizzy sort of floating. We each lay awake discerning the sounds, convinced that the other was asleep. In the early morning we heard a scraping that convinced us the keel was on the rocks. We were dressed and taking in the lines and anchor chain with our teeth unbrushed, barometer unchecked, and cabin unstowed. Our brief consideration of the conditions in the canal convinced us that it was okay to go.

Out in Canal Messier, the waves were building and it was raining, however the wind was from the north and the current too would move us south. In Patagonia it is often the case that there is no wind. A 30 knot downwind sleigh ride, though seemingly chaotic, starts looking appealing after days of motoring. So we entered the downwind mania of the canal. However, it was not that type of day. Within a couple hours the weather worsened and I saw my first williwalls against the dark vegetation of the bordering cliffs. They appear as delicate wisps of smoke rising up and spinning together. From behind white walls of weather advanced over us eliminating visibility. They returned after increasingly brief breaks, bringing rain and powerful gusts of wind. We steadily reduced sail and tried to stay aware of our surroundings in the complete white out of the squalls.

During the breaks between squalls, or chubascos as they are called here, we were able to orient ourselves within the maze of islands, rocks, and cliffs that dramatize the landscape of Messier. We chose an anchorage and began advancing towards it carefully. It is not easy to see approaches to bays and inlets in clear weather. Add the influence of the storm, a speed of ten knots without motor or sails, and it becomes really hard. Add to that our failed depth sounder and compass, and you have a real navigational challenge. We stayed close enough to the shore to be able to see it and just kept talking and referencing charts and maps. As we got close, the squalls got worse. The gusts felt like sticking your head out of a car on the highway at 50 or 60 mph. At a particularity low point in the day, a seal came to the boat to show us that this weather was actually pretty awesome. It flipped out of the waves, fins tucked tightly back and nose pointed out, and entered a wave behind expertly, staying with us for a while to demonstrate its carefree acrobatics. We flashed our only smiles of the day. We had left at nine in the morning and by five we found our anchorage. We turned once into the wrong cove and had to leave and face the weather head on. Just as we turned into the correct cove, the wind become worse. A violent gust heeled us over until our rail touched the water and the motor let out an unnatural growl. Just after that we passed into the calm water of the cove and took our time anchoring and running stern lines to trees. We anchored more forward of our intended position in a nook of flat water and pulled back hard with the motor. We left more slack in our stern lines to accommodate for the tides and felt very secure. We played cards, had a few drinks, and watched the barometer rise. We began discussions of how we would avoid another day like that.

February 1

We are now in the area where the campo hielo is visible amid the high peaks. It once covered the entire area but now can only be seen deep inside fjords. This particular moment in the recession of the Ice Age. On a sunny morning we went into the 12 mile fjord, Seno Iceberg, to see a bit of this enormous ice cap up close. On the way in the water turned powdery green from the dust crushed under the weight of the ice and brought down by waterfalls, streams, and calving of the glacier. The
sides of the fjord were steep and veined with waterfalls from the morning rain. Clouds clung to the
sides. From a distance the glacier looked like a heavy blanket rumpled between the mountains. A
turquoise glow came out from under the thick white. We were able to get within a couple hundred yards of the ice face. That turquoise underbelly became deep blue where it overhung the water
pouring showers into the bay. Above the deep blue base, the ice turned lighter blue, more opaque, arranging itself into spikes and irregular chunks, until it was a snowy top whipped up into browned spikes like perfectly browned merangue. In many places where the granite base was exposed, a thick rust-colored moss covered everything, adding to the surreal chromatic of the scene. Under the sun, the proximity of the glacier, the floating icebergs, and surrounding hills and rapidly moving sky seemed so incredibly special. It reminded me so forcefully of why we had come so far south, why we dealt with days like yesterday and the general unease of our surroundings. Who had come to this spot before us? To view this glacier and the present moment in such enormous movement and time? We were there, which was strange enough and as incomprehensible as an earth covered in ice. As we began to articulate our bewilderment, I went ahead and caught some small icebergs in the fishing net to make dirty martinis. That seemed to embody what was in our hearts more than words.

From Seno Iceberg we made our way to Puerto Eden, sailing on a broad reach through the sunny canal. When the sailing is good down here, it is perfect. Flat water, broad reach and partial sun. Like riding your bike down a paved hill. It's the kind of sailing that reminds me why I fell in love with it in the first place. It can be so easy sometimes. Puerto Eden would be our last town before Ushuaia since we did not plan to stop in either Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, two respectably sized cities along
the way. As a result, I had big hopes for Puerto Eden. When we arrived it was pretty windy and we were able to sail past town right up to the mooring available outside the Armada station there. Too windy for our dingy, the Armada sent two men on a small boat to pick us up. We went with them to complete paperwork and were welcomed wholeheartedly. They asked about our trip, drew us an informative map of town, and warned us about the red tide since a community member had to be evacuated the week before in dire condition after eating an Abalone (some kind of shellfish). They returned us to the boat and we moved to the anchorage in front of town. We dropped the hook right in front of the pier and let the wind carry us back until it caught. The town is a small crowd of boldly painted tiny homes on a hillside. Insane glacier in the background, of course, visible once in a while when it isn't raining. A boardwalk runs along the town from one end to the other and then up to the surrounding hills in several places  for great views of the area. The only other boat there was a small steel sailboat with a curious skipper who watched our approach and anchoring method. It was obvious that he embodied the greatest type of comradery among sailors in remote places, and after our boat was secure we went to meet him. He invited us aboard and promptly made some mate. I love Argentinians. They are so welcoming and excited to share a mate with strangers. He was from Ushuaia and had come north from there alone, battling the predominantly north winds. We were impressed. Through conversation we were able to discuss so many things that we had been thinking about and he knew about. Of
course, his first question was, Come fue el golfo, referring to the infamous passage of golfo de penas in our past and his future. I was proud to tell him all about how easy it was. I did shudder at the thought of moving north through Canal Messier where we had encountered those nasty squalls, and it seems that the entire universe and all its elements are driving south.

We went into town together where Coco, as our Argentine friend is called, introduced us to Jose, the owner of a hospedaje in town that sells fuel, provides water, showers, and laundry. Jose is a viejo with permanently ruddy cheeks. He wears a knit cap with ball at the top and a sleeveless knit sweater typical of this area. Jose has jokes and everyone around him is laughing. The hostel he runs is more like a community center of Puerto Eden. His living room is the town's living room. There is a big table in the center, couches around, a coffee and tea station, and a wood burning stove in the corner with clothes hung above. We immediately felt comfortable and made arrangements with Jose for laundry, showers, 100 liters of diesel. People came in and out, shedding their rain gear at the door, charging phones and computers, making coffee, napping on the couch. It was always unclear who was an actual guest. We spent a lot of time there playing Uno, watching Coco's amazing card tricks, using the wifi, filling our water up, and feeling like part of the community.

Puerto Eden has three small markets where the most basic provisioning can be done. There are onions, carrots, eggs, and potatoes. All are a bit aged but much better than nothing. A ferry brings new stuff every week or so. We stocked up for the long trip to Ushuaia with onions, green apples, a piece of a squash, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage (our flatulence inducing fjord diet). We had a quiet evening on the boat (except for aforementioned flatulence), and after our third night in Puerto Eden we left on a clear day with flat water, bright sun, and unfortunate lack of wind.

Saturday February 5

For days we have been sailing through purple mountains. The wind picks up or dies down according to how it finds its way down slopes and across open spaces. The mountaintops have a dusting of snow. It is just enough to highlight the ridges and darken the recesses. They look unlike anything I have ever seen. We are closer to the ice age as move south. Yesterday we progressed along Canal
Wide 51 miles from Puerto Eden in a perfectly clear day. Every island, hill, mountain, and distant peak was visible. Close to us the fjords led to high glaciers. There was no wind and we motored the
whole way on flat, dark water. It was a great feeling to sit in the sun and watch the most tremendous
scenery roll by. We met the gregarious Peale dolphin for the first time. They come rushing from afar as soon as they spot us and then play games with the hull, zooming underneath and then turning on
their backs to swim slowly under the bowsprit before taking off to begin a circle of the boat again. At times, there are crowds of four of five. We chose an anchorage right off the canal so that we would not have to make a detour of too many miles. Upon entering, I was shocked to see another boat anchored in a pristine and remote bay. It was a ketch with a bright yellow hull. Three dolphin were painted on each side by the waterline. We saw a dingy tied up by a waterfall where the crew had gone to hike. We anchored and, on their way back, they came to visit us in their dingy. They were British and had been slowly making their way north from Puerto Williams where they had been living for a year. We could've exchanged a lot of stories and information, but they had to be back for supper and we left early the next morning.

Wednesday, February 8th

If you were to paint the Patagonian landscape south of Puerto Eden, you would have to limit your palate to shades of grey and subtle hints of color. A pale turquoise for the glacial underbelly that is always suspended above. Faded greens for the vegetation in the distance. Pale purple for the granite faces in the mist. The mountains appear in three layers. The layer closest to our path through the canals is covered in thick growth, wet with almost constant rain. Farther north the vegetation consisted of ferns, bamboo, and heavy Oak limbs dressed in lichen. Moving south the trees become shorter, gnarled, desperate in their attempts at growth. By the time we neared the Magellan Straits, the trees had reduced themselves to silver driftwood sticking up like skeletons of once arthritic hands. The advantage of this is that we can go for walks now, whereas the northern forest was impenetrable.

The second layer of mountains is without vegetation. They are immense granite forms with tops rounded off by the compression of the once omnipresent ice. That compression has left the hills with long running cracks and a white, powdery appearance that makes them look like shapes in smoke. Up close, even the smallest rock is riddled with compression lines and cracks as if the whole thing could
crumble so easily were it not an incredibly strong stone. Up close, the ghostly white appearance turns out to be a think white lichen. A black lichen grows in the crevices making the rock look overly photo shopped. Beyond these mountains is what is left of the ice cap, sitting atop mountains or in
between peaks so high and sharp, the ice never got there. this is the Chilean Cordillera, the mountain border between Chile and Argentina. The cloud fence that rains endlessly and leaves the eastern side of the continent rolling with tumbleweed. The snowy peaks of the Andes are as white and sharp as puppy teeth, barely discernible from the clouds on a partly sunny day.

Moving south, this panorama and the weather that batters it only becomes more and more severe. We are subject to constant changes in weather. Rain is here or around the corner,  squalls are common and bring incredible gusts of wind.  At night the wind outside sounds like a chorus singing up, up, and up as it tears down the fjords and whips through the rigging. Last night we felt a few deep trembles in the earth. Another new sensation.

In many ways our experience, though completely extraordinary, has been reduced to mundane daily tasks that take us from one anchorage to the next. The cabin is about 40-45 degrees when we wake up and begin to layer our clothing for the day's sailing. We eat breakfast and get underway quickly. We move between 15-50 miles a day depending on the conditions. It is important to keep in mind the focus it takes to remain vigilant at the tiller where nothing happens most of the time. It is important to make it to the next anchorage before exhausting one's ability to patiently go about the anchoring
procedure.  We have been bewildered by the Patagonian wilderness, the strength of the elements, and the charismatic sea life. We have also grown bored of all three and admitted it to each other in whispers at the end of the day. There is only so much rain and wind one can take with patience. We all know that. But somehow there is also so much beauty one can take while retaining enthusiasm. I will never tire of being surrounded by smiling, jumping dolphin, or of eating breakfast while whales exhale in the distance. I will never fail to rush to the sides of the boat to wait for a seal to resurface, but at a certain point I'd rather have a pint with a friend at a bar.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Chilean Fjords from Castro to Golfo de Penas

*We are meandering through the labyrinth of the Chilean coast that leads from Chiloe to Cape Horn. Our plan is to sail only during the day and anchor each night in a fjord, caleta, estero, or other watery Spanish thing. Eventually, we will traverse as much of the Straits of Magellan as is necessary to get to the Beagle Canal which delivers us to the Atlantic. I apologize for the confusing names in this post.

January 13th Castro-Estero Pilad

This morning we set out from Castro. Waking at our anchorage I looked up at the interior of the cabin and could feel the heaviness of the well-stocked boat. We were leaving for our long journey to Cabo de Hornos and future anchorages seemed so mysterious. I couldn't imagine what challenges they would bring but I knew we would be alone, off the grid, and isolated for a long time.

The cabin was cold and Max was brave. He had made coffee and was dressed and cranking on the anchor as I got out of bed. The engine was idling itself warm and a sleepy female voice from the Chilean Armada was on VHF 16 wishing us a safe voyage. I layered for the morning. Leggings, Carhardt overalls, wool sweater and new Grundens foulies. We didn't have much wind in the inlet and ate breakfast in the cockpit as we motored away from Castro. Curious penguins and seals were popping their heads above water to check us out. The miles to our intended anchorage, Estero Pailad, were quiet miles with only a slight breeze. We watched the shore and saw our first colony of penguins atop a sandbar. A woman in a red sweater collected mussels close by. We watched the depthfinder as we slipped through the narrow parts. We took turns reading to each other from copies of the New Yorker that Max's parents left. I knitted while Max read about a young man from Eritrea who dreams of escaping an oppressive regime through soccer. I took a turn and read about Richie
A typical Chilean fishing boat, as brightly painted
as the houses.
Torres, a young Puerto Rican raised in the Bronx projects who becomes head councilman for the NYCHA. These were our last bits of news from the world for a while. My brother sent a message over the satellite phone that my Facebook page had been hacked from a computer in Castro and some one posted that I was a big fan of "deck." All this as we sailed under genoa only into the silent, green space of Estero Pailad, an anchorage reputed for its isolation. Indeed it was only us and a pod of dolphin surrounded by dripping green under a gray flannel cloud cover. The strength of their exhalations as they rose was the only sound. I decided to stop thinking about the profanity on my fb page and the political struggles of the world for a while.

We wound our way into the fjord and dropped 100ft of anchor chain in 25ft of water directly in front of a red church and a dozen grazing sheep. We have changed the ratio of anchor chain to depth to take many things into factor. We find that it is not so straightforward in these fjords. The tides are dramatic and the bottom shoals quickly. Sometimes you have to get very close to shore before the depth is reasonable for anchoring. This means that you can't let out a 7:1 ratio of scope as is often recommended. So we have been dropping a lesser ratio and keeping an eye on the shore. Each fjord requires a unique anchoring plan and we feel like we are understanding more and more about the best setup.

Our anchorage in Estero Pailad.

Ashore we found a strange scene. The village was a schoolhouse, a church, and a cemetery among a few other buildings. All empty. All quiet. The animals looked at us in wonder. A copper-colored colt with a white blaze stood erect with eyes on us from the middle of a windswept pasture. A baby sheep tried desperately to coordinate its new legs to run away with its mother. The grass had grown to flowering meadow around the church. Barbed wire and a locked gate kept us out. We wandered among the buildings and excited two dogs who barked with piercing regularity. They flushed the nearby trees of crowds of Ibis. The cemetery was filled with plastic flowers and full-sized wooden cribs placed over graves like frames. The wind had blown many plastic buds out of he cemetery into the meadow where they blended so well with the wild flowers I couldn't tell the difference. We turned up a dirt road that led out of town.

We walked for an hour and a half vigorously stretching our legs. The woods suggested plentiful rain. Bamboo forests creaked with growth on either side and fell into the road. White and fuchsia Hollyhocks hung off the mossy rocks. Once again we found ourselves down the rabbit hole, amazed by our surroundings. Around the corner came a pair of oxen, bound at the horns, and led by two farmers.They wore dirty layers of working clothes and tall rubber boots. Upon seeing us, they yelped with shock, reminding me that we are a strange sight. Without hesitation, the older of the two moved towards me and, taking me by the hand, leaned in. The sour smell of cheap wine escaped his toothless grin and he planted a wet kiss on my cheek. De donde son? he asked warmly. We told him our story and then he got very excited. He had seen the boat and approved. I told him that his oxen were beautiful animals. Together they were as big as a truck and bound at the horns by a wooden pole and leather strap. Their noses were wet and black, their eyes deep and clear, and even their hides shone bright white and sable. Much cleaner than their masters, but not as friendly. The nearer animal pulled away from me with suspicion. His partner had no choice but to follow. Then he began to relieve himself with the power of a well-pressured hose. Foamy yellow poured across the dirt and over the farmers' boots. The air took on a new scent and we raised our voices over the sound and all pretended not to notice. The old man chatted on, telling us that he was happy we were walking because that is the way of a true Chiloete and that he and his partner were the most Chiloeten of all the Chiloetens we could meet. As far as I was concerned, that was without a doubt. We wished each other well and parted ways. It brought us so much happiness to meet people out here going about an antiquated form of life so proudly.

Sunday, January 15th Puerto Juan Yates

Last night we spent in Estero Huildad, an inlet so camouflaged that I kept checking the charts for some error. It just looked as though we were headed straight into a wide sand beach. When we were close enough to really be concerned, the sand split in two and we saw a narrow entrance where the two points overlapped. The tide was moving out in obvious swirls and eddies. I stood on the bowsprit in the sun and looked into the cobalt sparkling water. I turned to see Max's head above the dodger with the towering Vulcan Corcovado in the background. We entered a stunning bay with steep sides, pebble beaches, and stretching hills and flowered meadows. We set the anchor and immediately went to explore the beckoning fields. We crossed a pasture and found a trail under bent bamboo that led to the top of a cliff where a farmer had his house. We walked back down and explored what we could of the coast absorbing the rare sun and distant views of volcanoes and islands. We spent a quiet night anchored there. I made Paella and listened to NPR's All Songs Considered while Max spent hours on the fore-deck fishing and drinking beer. Some time alone, you could say.

Estero Huildad

Vulcan Corcovado

This morning we crossed the Gulf of Corcovado and made it to Bahia Tic Toc, a wildlife sanctuary in a group of tiny islands near the mainland coast. Our sail took us farther along the Chilean Cordillera revealing the impressive hulk of the Andes. It was a clear enough day to see the distant granite faces and the snow drift atop. Spouts of whales were all around us as we drew closer to Puerto Juan Yates, our anchorage in the Tic Toc Islands. Once there, we found a still bay filled with life. Penguins were swimming alongside or watching in crowds from rocks. The species of dolphin unique to the cove circled us, cormorants blended with the penguins, and small otters stood still to watch us cruise by. The sun was hot enough to swim and we lathered ourselves up with soap and dove off the boat. Later in the afternoon we explored in the dingy and found a shallow inner cove filled with granite boulders and shellfish filled crevices. We hiked as far as we could and found a place to sit and look at the
Andean panorama. While sitting, a penguin slipped up on the rock below and we watched him in his afternoon hunting and sunbathing routine. Across the expanse of water was a rock covered in sea lions. Two steamer ducks fled a nearby inlet and we watched their ridiculous attempt at flight, like a zealous swimmer doing the butterfly for the first time. This is what it really feels like to be alone with nature, I thought. This is what we have worked to see. It's the feeling that drove John Muir to write about the American west, drives Yvon Chouinard to disappear in Jackson's Hole to flyfish, and drove the late Doug Thompson to buy and protect much of the panorama we were looking at. We have traveled so far that we are completely removed from the influence of man. Scour the beach and you will not see a rubber boot, a cigarette butt, or a cheap plastic toy with its 1000 year half life.

Bahia Tic Toc

January 17th Puerto Santo Domingo

It is a wet day and the wind howls. The rain lets up and returns to its tap dance on the cabin top. I am baking bread and Max is sleeping. Yesterday we left the Tic Toc Islands and headed into Canal Refugio which goes behind Isla Refugio and offers shelter from the wider Canal Morleda that runs north south between the islands and the mainland. Inside the canal we found ourselves crowded by giants. To starboard the cliffs of Isla Refugio rose straight from the water up 1000 meters. To port the Andes continued their slow unveiling. The landscape just gets larger and larger as we go south. When we entered the bay where we would anchor I was pretty impressed with the scene, but then, as our perspective changed, the mountains in front of us split to reveal an inner valley that I couldn't believe. Inside were a cluster of mountains framing what I knew to be a lake from the charts. On the left side of the valley one mountain dominated the scene by spilling down a tremendous waterfall from a bowl shaped edged that suggested another lake 1000ft above the lower. I could see the water moving down in slow motion. A rainbow spread across the valley.

Puerto Santo Domingo

January 22 Puyuhuapi

We have decided to increase our progress towards Golfo de Penas after what has felt like a leisurely ten days exploring the fjords. From Puerto Santo Domingo, we followed Canal Refugio until we made it to the town of Puyuhuapi. Avoiding  Canal Morleda was a good idea. The waters in the narrower channels were calmer and the we were able to sail most of the time with the wind on our stern quarter and just the genoa out. We are still working on figuring out the tides and currents of these channels as they don't seem to follow any logical pattern or course.

Caleta Jacqueline

Fjord fishing with a Sibiki rig

For two days in Puyuhuapi we had sun. The sun here is so rare, but when it comes, it is bright, hot and everything seems to stretch up towards it. Before these days of sun we experienced the weather more typical of the fjords- a gray sky with low clouds and a fine rain that works its way through fabric, hair, and drives at your marrow where it sets up camp. On days like this you would not know anything of the landscape. You would not know how many volcanoes tower over you, or about the blue glaciers peeking out from valleys, or sitting high atop a peak. When the sun hit Puyuhuapi, a small settlement nestled in the mountains, we took a day off and went into El Parque Nacional de Quelat to hike to a glacier we had seen coming in. We hiked every possible trail in the park and only wished that we were wearing shorts. The glacier sat up high on the exposed granite of the mountaintop and thundered down a waterfall into a creamy turquoise lake. It had receded dramatically since 1973 and I had the feeling we were seeing the last stage of a precious thing. On either side of the glacier, two more waterfalls poured thousands of feet into the same lake. The distant water moved in slow motion as it fell, throwing out blooms where it hit rocks on the way down. To watch it bewildered my notions of time, space, and distance. We hiked down through a forest cloaked in moss. Every tree wore a shaggy coat that dragged in the mud. Here and there, red flowers bloomed in trumpets and yellow mushrooms, shaped like tiny clay tea cups ready for the kiln, sat atop the moss collecting rain. It smelled so unlike the sea. I packed my lungs like suitcases for the long voyage ahead.

Motoring into Puyuhuapi

This glacier used to reach all the way to the sea. 
In Puyuhuapi we found everything we needed. There are a dozen restaurants and the food is very good. More meat than mariscos at this point, but that is a welcome change. There are three or four supermarkets offering basic fruits and vegetables, and plenty of bars and cafes to slake the sailor's thirst. As the town is a scenic stop on the Carrera Austral, there are throngs of young people from all over the world walking the streets. It seems to be a particular attraction for long-distance peddlers who wheel bikes down the street that have become rectangles of gear. Most are young men with muscled legs packed into black biking shorts, wearing scraggly beards, but here and there is a rogue traveler whose story I would love to know. A 60 year old woman peddled by in a high gear, looking bedraggled but persistent. We saw a young man with a teddy bear zip-tied to his handle bars with a Forest Gump look in his eyes tented by a muddy poncho. Both travelers looked like they were about 3/4 of the way towards whatever they set out to discover. The best part of Puyuhuapi was that the abundance of young travelers allowed to make enough friends that we had a small gathering on the boat before we left. Now we are off on our own again with Puyuhuapi fading into the distance. We are finally headed towards Golfo de Penas.

January 24th Puerto Aguirre

We have advanced 60 miles out of the 200 towards Golfo de Penas and have found an anchorage in a protected cove called Puerto Aguirre. It was a fog bound day of sailing with constant rain. Arriving in the anchorage we quickly took to the interior of the boat where we lit the heater and dried out. It was dark and cold outside with clouds moving quickly over us. We got into bed and watched a movie while eating popcorn I made in the pressure cooker. Though we dreaded the thought of going into town in the rain, we knew it was necessary, that too much time inside the boat would drive us crazy. We have realized about this trip, where much can start to feel repetitive, we are aware and careful of the type of idleness that causes us to feel homesick, depressed, or lonely. We know we have to keep the inertia of progress going which is particularly challenging when it is wet and cold all day. So we suited up in all our gear and rowed to shore. A pod of dolphin who inhabit this cove swam in a wide circle as constant as a carnival carousel, surfacing in a slow series of archs, and then diving down.

On shore we found a wide path of crushed clam shells leading to town. We trudged upwards inside our heavy rain gear and were thankful for our new Grundens foulies which no weather can penetrate. Town was a network of narrow streets lined with the tiny homes typical of southern Chile. Only the dogs were out in the rain. Going about their canine politics, each escorted us through their owner's property to the edge, where the next dog took over. We found a bar that was open and drew curious looks from the three locals watching a telenovela inside. We told them our story and a toothless drunk insisted that Max take a sip of wine from his cup. This always happens to Max and he always obliges so as not to appear rude. The time of day, liquor involved, or filth of person offering does not matter. I once saw him take a shot of Agua Diente at 8 in the morning from a drunk on a dock in Colombia who was pouring out an entire bottle into a plastic shot glass for breakfast. So, Max drank some wine from that guy's cup and we ordered a tall bottle of Escudo beer and took it to a table. On the walls of the bar were the entire collection of Stihl advertisements featuring bikini-clad woman newly emancipated from the bush by a chainsaw attachment, weed whacker, or other Stihl implement. Our spirits were refreshed by this experience and eventually we saw the sun come out and returned to explore the rest of the town. It ended up being a lovely evening, the entire town lit up in the sunshine and we sat on a high ridge looking out at the endless islands ahead of us.

January 26th Caleta Jacqueline to Canaveral through Canal Abandonados

In order to reach Canal Suarez, where it is prudent to wait for a weather window to cross Golfo de Penas, one has to make it through a maze of islands that lead from the inner canals to the sea and then cross Bahia Anna Pink where exposure to the Pacific swell begins. There is a Chilean ferry that makes this passage and chooses to follow Canal Darwin which is wide with many lighthouses. The alternative option is to take Canal Abandonados, which is narrow and incompletely surveyed. However, it is fine for a boat our size and offers unique anchorages that are off the beaten path. We decided to go with Abandonados and it was worth it.

While we did have to keep a bow watch when the space between rocks became narrow, the entire day was surreal. The water was flat and the color of tea. The islands were granite slabs stained by the tides and hosting colonies of mussels at the waterline. The fog was dense enough to feel isolating but not dangerous. Fair weather in Patagonia offers views so vast that they can be overwhelming. When the fog settles one can focus on what is immediately below or in front. Our whole day was a series of images framed by fog, like small pieces of art hung on white walls. We saw crowds of penguins surface, the chic cormorants that appear from nowhere, clouds of small red shrimp swimming backwards in synchronized clouds, and enormous dolphin jumping in groups to look at us or turning like corkscrews under the bowsprit in their usual celebratory manner.

Soon we reached the ocean and our calm water began to undulate and then form into waves and chop. The peace of the inner canals became a treacherous coast of islands and rocks hidden in fog. We only had ten miles to go until we were anchored, but the weather felt dangerous. With wind, rain, and waves, the charm of the fog was lost to a feeling that we needed to be very careful. For those miles I stayed at the bow looking out for signs of shallow water or rocks awash as Max motored us through these hazards to find the inner fjord, Caleta Canaveral. As we entered water poured down from the sky, the nearby vegetation, and from each of the cliffs within view where it gathered into thin waterfalls. We found the fjord somehow and were welcomed by its abundant wildlife. Birds, seals, otters, and penguins swam to the head of the fjord with us where we anchored amidst waterfalls and fresh rivers running in.
Unbelievable amounts of fog.
Golfo de Penas

Navigating the Chilean coast from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn means transiting the notorious Golfo de Penas. This wide bay offers no option but to leave the relative safety of the channels and go offshore. During the roughly 100nm miles it takes to go from the northern anchorage of Canal Suarez to the southern anchorage of Caleta Ideal, a yacht is exposed to the tempestuous weather of the south Pacific before once again being safely tucked away in the southern channels.

The gulf is 50 miles across, stretching from latitude 46S to 47S, and extending 60 miles inland. To the north, the Peninsula Tres Montes curls into the gulf offering several fjords where one can wait for an appropriate weather window for a crossing. The southern most fjord is Canal Suarez where protection from bad weather can be found. The weather characteristics of the golf are defined by the prevailing westerlies that bring low pressure systems with regularity.  This paired with the quickly
A map of our course across Golfo de Penas
shoaling bottom at the entrance to the golf, and the large swell of the southern Pacific, can raise a formidable and irregular onshore set. The course recommended by Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego is to head from Canal Suarez offshore and give the lighthouse, Cabo Rapier on Penninsula Tres Montes, a 15 mile berth. Then slowly curve around to head to the southern goal of Bahia Tarn where the anchorage, Caleta Ideal, can be reached.

I had been anxious about this crossing for a while and read everything I could about it. There is much literature available to cause any sailor anxiety about these 100 miles. Especially this sailor. I had sufficiently scared myself, and as we got closer to the anchorage where we intended to wait for a weather window, I poured over the GRIB files looking for a perfect 24hr forecast where we could cross and was not able to find it. When we left Caleta Canaveral, we had planned on two more anchorages before the crossing, Cabo Gato and Canal Suarez. Hopping slowly down the coast seemed the safest idea, but as we left Canaveral in a dense fog and surrounded by rocks, islands, and promontories that threw up considerable spray when hit by the swell, we started to re-think our plan. When we finally battled our way offshore, we found an old friend in the open ocean. No more fog, no more islands, and a steady NW breeze. The idea of approaching the coast after just 20 miles made us uncomfortable. In fact, through conversation we revealed our mutual desire to stay offshore. It was Max who first mentioned the idea of just skipping the next two anchorages and going for the crossing. Sure that I was too prudent for this bold move, he began by saying, "I am not saying we should, but imagine if we just went for it now? The wind is favorable and in 24hrs we would be there." To his surprise, the thought had already entered my mind and I agreed. There was something about the foggy approaches to the fjords and the good feeling of the open sea that suggested strongly that we should go for it. We looked at the GRIB files and saw that the wind would come from the NW and range from 15-30 knots during the next 24hrs. We could see that there was a nasty system farther south just clearing Cape Horn with winds upwards of 50 knots. We agreed to go for it and our spirits were immediately buoyed by the prospect. Instead of the whole day we had scheduled for boat prep in Canal Suarez, we did everything necessary in an hour, while underway. We secured the dingy to the fore-deck, made ready the storm trysail in its track, and hoisted the staysail in order to engage our offshore sheet to tiller self-steering system. We ran the jacklines and put the tethers on our PFDS. Earlier that morning Max had noticed the fuel filter was full of dirty water from condensation inside the tanks and we had drained that off. We were ready and I took the first watch.

Throughout the night we dealt with large seas and fickle wind. A 15-20 NW wind changed to a 5-10 knot SW breeze brought by a rain squall. This made it hard to stay offshore and we had to start the engine for a couple hours until the wind returned. We went through many sail changes, suffered much cold rain, and remained extremely alert taking short turns at the tiller or attempts at sleep below deck. I laid down at 5 am and when I returned to the cockpit I found Max hand-steering on a broad reach and looking pretty delerious. However, the conditions were fine and the sun was welcomed. I took over and maintained a dead down wind course under a west wind with sails set wing on wing.

The day brought more sun and the wind remained steady at 10-15 knots. The swell pushed us towards shore and we were appreciative. The islands of the southern golf became visible we were more and more happy that we had chosen to cross the day before. We entered the golf and found our anchorage safely by 3pm, having left Caleta Canaveral the day before at 9am.

The most difficult thing about Golfo de Penas are the confused seas. Without sufficient wind, it is hard to make progress against the sickening level of rolling. One fear we had was that the rolling would upset sediment in the fuel tanks and cause engine failure. For this reason we chose a forecast with adequate wind. Even with a forecast of 15-30, the wind died enough at certain points that we had to motor. Of the 30 hours it took us to reach the southern anchorage, we motored between 8-10. Most of that was in finding our final anchorage.

I wouldn't say that the crossing of Golfo de Penas was easy. By the time we were finished I was so exhausted I could feel my mind failing me and my eyes were swollen and hot, but the conditions we encountered were nothing compared to what I had conjured up. Yes, there were large waves that tossed us around a bit, and the rain was a cold annoyance, but we had seen worse in every category. The following seas and wind speeds off the Guajira Penninsula of Colombia were much more intimidating. Our entrance to Canal Chacao made my heart race at certain points, but at no point during Golf de Penas did we feel in trouble or overwhelmed by the conditions.

Arrival in Canal Messier on the south side of Golfo de Penas.
My advice to sailors planning this crossing is to put more stock in facts than in the yarns spun in literature available. If it weren't for my avid reading of such stories I may have slept during my off watches and had a more dependable mind to handle the navigating once inside the gulf. It is a definite challenge to negotiate this passage but there are procedures and practices to kept one safe. Our best advice is as follows. Go when there is enough wind that the engine does not have to work too hard and is therefor reliable when needed. Stay far offshore and do not underestimate the difficulty of doing so in the east pushing swell and the 0.5 knot east going current. As the adage goes, put money in the bank when you can. Another tip is to not buy costly Gore-Tex foulies that promise dry warmth. We have never been warmer and dryer than in comparatively cheap Grundens foulies which repel water with thick rubber and are always dry for your next watch. Have a wide variety of sails to handle all levels of wind, maintain your engine with the utmost attention, and have more faith in your careful planning and weather data than in dramatized stories.

Additional, random pics from this stretch...