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
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.
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
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
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
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
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