Friday, January 20, 2017

Cue the Unicorns

Isla de Chiloe, and the scattering of islands to the east, are rich with greens. Patchwork hills knitted by lines of old growth trees end in eroded cliffs or pebble beaches. The islands sit upon the flat water of the Bay of Ancud like a discarded costume. The Jolly Green Giant on the floor the morning after Halloween. Each island hosts a hidden village- a huddle of simple houses around a steeple. The
A typical scene sailing next to Isla de Chiloe
churches are colored creatively. Lavender steeples atop yellow spires. Sometimes a fire-engine red or the natural grain of the clapboard siding. The surrounding houses celebrate a similarly expressive color scheme of sunflower yellows, kelly greens, oranges and pinks mixed without hesitation. When the sun hits these islands, every 2-4 days, it is really spectacular. The rest of the time the land is cloaked in clouds and rain.  Clouds thick and low enough to hide a volcano, or three.

We have been cruising the fjords and islands off Chiloe for six days with Max's parents and sister. We are starting to understand the erratic weather, how the hills, fjords, and distant snow-peaked giants act as shapes and angles that funnel wind, capture clouds, and cause air to accelerate, diminish, or fail to permeate. For the next two months we will become experts at avoiding weather, playing hide and seek with wind and waves as we tuck Tortuga into into the endless nooks of the 1000 miles between Puerto Montt and Cabo de Hornos. During the day the weather changes so rapidly from misty rain to blue skies that we are constantly adjusting our clothing and sails. When we left Puerto Montt we knew that the weather wasn't going to be great for 48 hours, but were on a schedule and decided to deal with it. We left under gray, menacing skies and shortened the sail plan to an anchorage only 11 miles away called Estero Chope, located on the NW side of Isla Puluqui. We sailed through rain and short choppy waves until we reached the entrance to the two mile inlet which ends in a peaceful anchorage surrounded by steep hills and grazing sheep. The sun returned and we relaxed on the fore-deck enjoying the view of our first anchorage.

Max and I relaxing at our first anchorage

The whole dang crew! Enjoying Gerald's stories on the fore-deck with cold enough GTs
Our real goal during our first five day cruise in the Chiloe section of Southern Chile was to visit Estero Cahuelmo, a fjord that is rumored to be especially stunning but also subject to williwalls and severe weather. I had read about it in several books and the reports were always the same- enter the fjord during fair weather only and get out before your luck changes. I was enticed by, and nervous about, this fjord and we organized our sail plan around getting there at the right time. This meant stalling because the weather was not quite right. Our second anchorage was to be Caleta Zapatero which was rumored to be quaint and protected. It would also get us halfway to Cahuelmo. When we arrived at Zapatero we found a very narrow pass between two islands choked by the floating houses of fishermen. The hill next to the anchorage had suffered punishing winds by the looks of the trees
Sailing to Cahuelmo
and the fishermen's houses were near enough to feel as though we were dropping the hook right through their living room floor. It felt inappropriate and we left.

Where we ended up was a long inlet nearby called Caleta Andrade. We anchored in 30ft of water next to a green wall of vegetation. Every leaf dripped down and every groove collected rain into waterfalls that ran over lichen covered rocks into the surrounding bay. Clouds poured over the steep sides and settled in the valley. Black and white cormorants, as graceful as calligraphic strokes rose and dove around us. A small house poured a wisp of smoke from its chimney. It felt exotic there, like we were upriver in Heart of Darkness. We felt both welcomed and warned, an abstract feeling we would get used to.

The next day was our opportunity to get into Estero Cahuelmo for one night. We were only ten miles away but the weather was still erratic enough for pause. We decided to visit a nearby hotel where it was written that we could find hot springs. The cold, misty conditions of Caleta Andrade made this sound nice, and we all were curious to see the workings of a hotel on an island like this anyway. What could they be doing out here? Who are the guests? How do they get here?

Pauli in Foulies

The omnipresent mariscos 
We anchored in front of the hotel, very close to the shore were a river flows into the bay and went ashore. The buildings seemed abandoned. Town was quiet and the beach was a carpet of shellfish exposed by the dramatic tide. We trudged to the hotel in boots and foulies. Finding a series of buildings connected by walkways, it was not obvious which were houses and which were part of the hotel. Eventually we encountered a man who, very surprised, led us to an empty dining hall that overlooked the water. We marveled at the simple wooden place. A few Christmas decorations had lingered, looking melancholy in the dimly lit space. A glass cooler held a scattering of old beer bottles, some hosting a powder green fuzz of mold. There was an empty fireplace and a corkboard of village attractions advertised in English. We pulled up chairs and grabbed warm beers from the cooler. It reminded me of a dining hall I visited in Poland, a remnant of the communist era where coffee was grinds and hot water in a mug. The townspeople were summoned to cook us lunch and showed up one by one in uniform. They lit a fire and offered us the menu: Chilean Sea Bass, rice, desert. We ordered five and they got to work. Going to the bathroom I noticed three rooms containing two bathtubs each, cast as one unit in blue porcelain for enjoying the waters the hotel pumped in.

An hour or so later we were moved to a table facing a large window a young girl set with plates and wine glasses. Bread and butter arrived and a cornflower blue table cloth livened up the room. Through the window we watched a Chilean Armada boat grab a mooring and put two young men through an apparent hazing ritual. They jumped from the high sides of the ship in their underwear. It was a cold day to do such a thing. They swam around, climbed a ladder, shook hands with a superior and that was that. A creamy orange soup arrived and we devoured it while watching the Armada men get into the dingy and head to shore. Our main course arrived- a plate of rice and salad with fillets of Chilean Sea Bass. It was fantastic. We packed our stomachs. By the end of lunch we were eating something called Tutti-Frutti and discussing the weather with the Armada men. It was clearing up. We were good to go into Cahuelmo.
The entrance to Estero Cahuelmo

A neighboring fjord with narrow entrance
The cruise to Estero Cahuelmo is as stunning as the fjord itself. I was elated to finally see the impressive hulk of the earth where the Andes meet the sea and pass by each of the dramatically narrow fjord entrances. It reminded me of riding my bike through the streets of NYC's financial district where the buildings go up and up and one marvels at the possibility of such things. When we reached the entrance to Cahuelmo, it was a bit wider and more inviting than its neighbors. As we motored to our anchorage, we saw countless waterfalls spilling from the steep sides. Each was hundreds of feet long and often led to another of equal length. The clouds still poured by, opening for sun, dropping rain. Rainbows arched on every side and the expanse of Cahuelmo's majestic interior revealed itself more and more as our position changed. It would not have surprised me if a herd of unicorn galloped past juggling more rainbows. We found the nook in the north side where we were to anchor and tie off to the shore. There were many cut lines hanging from rocks and trees. We wondered why so many boats had left without taking up these stern lines. Had they been lazy or in a tremendous rush? We dropped the anchor, which caught well, and Max went in the dingy to secure a line from a fallen tree to our stern. It felt safe. The clouds cleared and the water was calm. We were free to sit and stare at the grandeur of the place.

Finally anchored in Cahuelmo

A member of the falcon family
We spent our evening in Cahuelmo like we spent many others- a good dinner and hours of playing cards and howling with laughter. The tight space of the boat, and lack of modern technological diversions, brings you back to an older time, when people had to interact for entertainment. We played every game we could think of, even amending rules and inventing new cards. The things that happen with an abundance of time are my favorite things about sailing trips. Cruising with five people on a 32ft boat for a week is truly a bonding experience. Often a very funny one.

Crewed up and on our way out of Puerto Montt.

One of many delightful breakfasts with the Kufners.
The next morning, Cahuelmo was a vision. It looked like an illustration on a funeral invitation that should have a psalm superimposed over it. A Jehovah's Witness brochure. Waterfalls spilling into rainbows that disappear into a pod of dolphin teaching their young to swim. A sharp-beaked falcon hunting from the bowsprit. We were grabbing cameras and boots and clambering into the dingy. Pauli and I got to shore first and started exploring the pebble beach. Any one of Cahuelmo's waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, or crystal rivers could be a park in itself, but here they were all together. We ran along the shore hopping from granite boulders to fallen trees silvered by wind and encrusted with barnacles. As we advanced toward the head, we saw more and more peaks to add to the dragon-toothed panorama. Water ran in from clear rivers on all sides and there were millions of shellfish. Every rock, fallen branch and crevice was packed. Walking in the bottom of Cahuelmo is like being an ant in one of nature's greatest cathedrals. Like a fly on the proverbial wall, I felt all day as though a secret was being revealed to me, like I was was spying on some great event through a keyhole. We exhausted ourselves in our exploration of the fjord. For lunch we ate a considerable amount of the mussels cooked in equal parts white wine and broth. We left at five and headed to Estero Bonito, a small bay that would cut 10 miles off the next crossing of the Gulf Of Ancud towards Castro, the capital of Isla de Chiloe.
Pauli and I, enticed by the waters of Cahuelmo, warm up after a dip.

Our final two anchorages before Castro were Mechuque and Estero Pindo. Each was a lovely anchorage in the natural harbor of one of the islands off of mainland Chiloe. In Mechuque we found a quaint village of colorful stilted houses, a painted wooden bridge, and a small museum of collected
Boat builders in Mechuque
maritime artifacts. The museum is open around the clock for visitors to wander through unsupervised. The rooms are as antique as the objects they hold which at times interrupt the nautical theme. A dried cat carcass hung on the wall, a room of sewing machines lined up next to mirrors, family pictures with typed up descriptions. It's an art installation completely unaware of itself. Mechuque offers many small places to provision vegetables, and basic staples. We stocked up on wine, fruit, and vegetables in a store run by an elderly couple.

Pauli finds a seal who shares her passion for flossing.

Pauli and I re-up in Mechuque. 

In the evening we ate at the village's restaurant. We were the only diners and filled up most of the small front room of a house. The tables and chairs were vintage metal and flowered plastic. On one wall was a giant poster of a western woman's face. Imagine the type of model who would be recruited to advertise Evian water. Hair swept back as if emerging from a magical spring, green eyes, big lips.

On the other wall a painting of the town on plywood seemed much more appropriate. The woman doted on us, especially Max, and we ate well. Huge plates of rice and the local farmed salmon. Salad with lemon juice and oil. We took over the space laughing, talking loudly and dusting off a few vintages from the restaurant's collection.

In the next island, Isla Quehui, we again experienced local culture by eating in the "village restaurant." This time we were unquestionably dining in a family's living room. The bathroom was their bathroom- drying bras hung over the tub, razors and shaving cream on the sink. Our hosts were a older woman and her epileptic son. I ran into him in the street and inquired if the village had a restaurant. He smiled, nodded, and led us to his mom's dining room. For the next couple hours the son ran back and forth from the house to the supermarket bringing us beer, lemons for his mother, and taking breaks to tell us stories about the village. Again, we ate the one menu item available. I love this about this part of the world. There is one thing on the menu and it is what is running around in the yard or swimming close to shore. The mother came out periodically to tell us about the history of the family and the islands, what each of her sons were doing and where they lived. She was the type of older woman who wore a turtleneck and a medallion of the virgin. I fought the urge to insist she sit down and we take care of dinner. Her son delivered plates of stewed chicken over rice and we delighted in the taste of a non-seafood dinner.

The sun makes a rare appearance in Mechuque.

Arriving in Castro we found ourselves in a more modern world with cafes, stores, and banks. We anchored in front of town and went to the Port Captain to clear in. Castro is a small city on a hill with a twin-steepled church at the top, colored as delicately as a Malibu Barbie Dreamhouse might be. By the wharf is a bountiful market selling produce, fish, mariscos, and endless stalls of wool and everything one could possibly think of knitting. We spent several days in Castro and I liked the town more and more. It is hip but completely unpretentious. There is a lot of art and inexpensive restaurants. The inside of the cathedral is made completely of Oak and absolutely unique. We said goodbye to Max's family there and began to provision Tortuga for our trip south. Just the two of us and 900 miles to Cape Horn.

Max's dad learns how it's done in Castro.

The Castro seafood market.

Sweater mania takes over

The inside of the Iglesia of Saint something or other. 

Sibling moment in church

Delightful mussel lunch in Cahuelmo.


Paps re-tells a classic story for our entertainment.

The museum in Mechuque