Thursday, November 17, 2022

Finally some distance North made

We woke up to a drizzly day but little wind so we untied the lines and slid out of the indent and into the main flow of the channel. The forecast was calling for wind later so we had planned to stop just around the corner. Any decrease in latitude was always a good thing no matter how small the change was. This would need to be how we approached the narrow channels going forward. Inch by inch, mile by mile. We curved around to the north and into one of the few open bays remaining for quite some time. The wind was stronger against us now but we were able to motor sail a reasonable angle and with a couple of tacks had passed both planned stopping points for the day. Onward we continued, tack after tack but our speeds were still good and by the end of the day we had progressed a solid 45 NM to the north.

We spent the night in an open anchorage with another fish boat and were up early the next morning moving north again in reasonably calm seas. By mid morning we had passed out of Seno Union are were winding through a labyrinth of narrow channels again. This shortcut allowed us to avoid some of the more open waters in Canal Sarmiento yet even upon entering the Canal we found the winds not as strong as expected. Again we were able to keep our speeds up by motor sailing tight tacking angles in winds under 20 knots.

Having made much greater distance than expected over the past two days, I left Mark at the helm and went below to sort out the best longer term plan given the forecasted weather. There was a significant system moving in that would keep us at anchor for 2 or 3 days. Our options were to continue in the channels over night and make it to Puerto Eden well sooner than expected or take our time and spend a few days exploring Estero Peel, an area of tidewater glaciers we had missed on the way south. Stopping had the added bonus of a rendezvous with a new cruising boat Touche who we had been emailing with on a regular basis. Not stopping meant the possibility of a short hop from Eden after the system passed and a surprisingly good weather window for crossing our next big hurtle, the gulf of Penas. This was a forecast 7 days in advance though so the likelihood of it being correct was almost zero. We decided to check out the glaciers.

We anchored close to one of the massive walls of ice flowing into the ocean and got an early start the next morning. In glassy calm weather we floated at the toe of the glacier and enjoyed a breakfast among the bergie bits. Mark was able to fly his drone and get some great footage of our spectacular location while I took movies of dolphins playing with our stationary boat. Large waves would pass under us occasionally as house sized pieces of ice crashed off the face into the water in front of us. It was a very memorable morning.

We could feel the weather was changing though and decided it was time to move on so we started north again and after a quiet night in a very tight anchorage we awoke to fog so thick we couldn't see the shore 15 feet away. Our early start to the day was seriously stymied by visibility but after waiting 3 hours we were finally able to just see the shore so we got under way relying heavily on radar. Despite a later than planned start, we had current with us for once and no wind so we made good time to the next anchorage where our new friends were waiting.

We had used slightly more diesel than planned by detouring to check out the glaciers but this was of little concern as we expected to have no problem getting diesel in Puerto Eden a few hops to the north. We enjoyed a couple days at anchor waiting for the storm to pass with our new friends on Touche. Swapping stories of the various places we'd both been and trading valuable intel for them going south and us going north made time pass quickly. As always though the rest stop eneded and it was time to continue on our different paths.

The forecast still showed the perfect weather window for passing the gulf but now it was out of reach even if we motored over night and skipped Puerto Eden. We would have to catch the next one as skipping Eden was not an option now because of the required fuel stop. If only we'd known how difficult that would be, maybe we would have made different choices...

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Southern Chile is not done with us yet!

"Hang on!" I screamed to Mark. He was up front getting the anchor ready for our arrival back at Caleta Fog when a giant white wall of wind and water descended upon us from behind. I gave the engine all the throttle we had to try to turn the boat around into it, lest we be thrown well up on the beach. With very little room to maneuver I somehow managed to keep the boat off the rocks as we shot just past the headland with a solid 50 knots hitting us on our side. We had seen a few willywaws and waterspouts on our way south from Puerto Natales but nothing like this racha that hit at the most inopportune time. Southern Chile was certainly not done with us yet.

Caleta Fog was no longer an option for us so we continued south staying well off the coast as the strong squalls were now frequent. In a way we were lucky the squall hadn't happened after we had anchored as it was unlikely the holding was good enough to keep us off the shore there. Unfortunately we now had no option but to continue through the narrows and try to find shelter past the tricky rapids. We quickly checked the tide tables and it was maybe possible for us to pass through so we pushed onward to get a closer look. After a few minutes of reconnaissance with the binoculars we waited for the next squall to pass and then made a run through the angustera. Once on the other side unscathed we could both breath a sigh of relief. We continued a few miles further and anchored in Caleta Cascada, very aptly named as there were numerous towering waterfalls around the slight indent in the main channel. We got the hook down and a few lines to shore and sat, thanking our luck for making it here to apparent safety.

I was not convinced the anchorage was good as it really wasn't much more than a small dent beside towering cliffs and very few trees were large enough to provide any shelter. That night proved otherwise and while slightly blustery in the rigging we saw very little disturbance on deck or in the water. The next day proved even more so as wave after wave of squalls, waterspouts and white walls of water passed by in the channel with little impact to us. We were very thankful have a safe place to watch the tornado parade march by as they pinballed down the steep sided narrow channel.

On our day off we took stock of our fuel and provisions acquired in Natales. As always we could have used more of "this" or "that" and we seemed to be going through way more fuel than expected. We'd need to be careful until we could replenish that supply at our next stop 200NM to the north in Puerto Eden. Hind sight is 20/20 and little did we know that fuel would be our next significant challenge to face.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Finally into more protected waters

The huge ocean swell faded away and the dark angry clouds parted to reveal patches of blue with sunlight sparkling through the mist. We had passed through the dreaded Magellan Strait and were now moving quickly north up the winding channels towards Puerto Natales. Anchorages here were more protected and easier to approach. Quieter nights allowed for all of us to catch up on much needed sleep. We rose early and made the most of each day, the miles ticking away. Afternoon winds would usually halt our progress but in only 3 short days we managed to pass through Canal Kirke and into the large sound south of Natales.

Passing through Canal Kirke was a surprise as we had planned to anchor on the west side of the narrows but after close inspection with the binoculars and a few test approaches to the rapids we decide to try to run the rapids off slack. After a few tense moments at the start we ran through easily with a 3 knot current helping us, all crew on deck helpfully pointing out various eddies and waves to avoid.

The next day we left early expecting to face strong winds in the afternoon. The plan was to anchor just south of Natales as the seas and winds were clearly picking up. As we approached the last sound before the town though a nasty large swell kicked up due to the wind against current and the thought of trying to anchor in the open bays seemed less than desirable. We toughed out the last 10 NM in some of the largest swells we'd seen to date, surprisingly still making reasonable way forward. Our glass vase of fake flowers filled with stones toppled off its perch in the salon for the first time in 3 years keeping us all busy once at anchor trying to find the strange places the rocks had been flung.

Upon anchoring, the Navy called us directly to inform us that the port was closed and we should wait to present our Zarpe until the following day. We all laughed at the thought of the 4 of us trying to cross the bay in our tiny dinghy with such a large sea running and were more than happy to wait except for the thought of restaurants and stores that could provide anything our hearts desired. After a month of zero civilization the wait seemed like torture. We all dreamt of Pizza and Hamburgers.

The next day saw a flurry of activity as we set to work reprovisioning the boat with food and fuel. Fuel was looking to be a very difficult slog carrying the jerry cans and drums almost 4 blocks to the pier but an extremely nice couple with a truck offered to drive all our containers down to the wharf. They patiently waited what seemed to me to be an eternity as we slowly filled all the cans and a job that I had been dreading for a few days past had been dealt with very quickly and easily.

After stowing all the diesel in its various places on the boat we wandered back into town and treated ourselves to fantastic Pizza. A quick provision ended the day and we started the trek back across the bay filled to the gills with food forced to leave Mark behind as there was no room for the 4 of us. We had made it half way across when the outboard died. It would not start no matter what we did so we were forced to row. After what seemed a life time for Alan (the rower) we started trying to guess the remainder of strokes he would require before we arrived back at the boat. All of us guessed short and he rowed and rowed and rowed. Finally we made it to the boat and unloaded the provisions but unfortunately we had to sort out how to retrieve Mark on the other side. Dark was falling quickly and we knew it wouldn't be possible to row back across the bay so we were forced to pull up anchor and motor across to effect the rescue. We made it back to the anchorage just as the light faded. Crisis averted.

The next day the port was closed yet again but two of our crew were keen to move to a more comfortable environment (with heat, showers and beds that weren't wet). Their stay had come to an end and they were flying back to Canada in a few days so we formed a plan to sneak them across the bay. Just as they got their bags on deck a local boat stopped by to say hello and were happy to take them over in a much larger dinghy. As always the goodbyes were said too quickly but it allowed Mark and I to move to a more secure anchorage just south of town. We spent the next day receiving the periodic texts from the boys describing fantastic showers and meals, while we barely avoided sea sickness on board.

It would have been nice to be able to spend more time in Puerto Natales but without a reasonable harbour, we knew it was time to move on and continue our journey north. Stage one of the trip was successfully completed and while the difficulties were expected to be less frequent, we knew that with 2 less crew we'd still be working hard to keep the boat safe in the anchorages. If we'd known what the next couple of days were in store for us we might have just left the boat in Natales to fend for itself and joined the boys in luxury. But that story is for another day.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

The HARD Way Part IV

"I've got nothing but white and something labeled Rocks on the chart plotter. We are just about to go over them.... Can you see anything???"

All three crew were standing out in the pouring rain although the wind was strong enough to keep them mostly dry. The side swell from New Zealand was tilting the boat from side to side. We were entering a small uncharted channel before the headland marking the end of Magellan strait. I had hoped to avoid this shortcut but the seas and wind were too strong to make any further progress so it was either this or turn tail and sail 30 NM back to Mostyn. The Chilean navy had once charted and approved this pass but I guess too many boats were lost so they issued a chart update that simply had a "Canceled" stamped across it. The guide book described the passage as "delicate" and said that while its location would make most think the pass to be fantastic, the random nature of the boat killing rocks would make them wish they were somewhere else once inside. We were doing it anyway, the HARD way would end one way or another.

Out of the spray and spume two large rocks appeared like a gateway to hell. We surfed the 2-3 m swell between them and finally entered calmer water. The rain even seemed to let up a bit. Dolphins swam in front of us. Maybe this wasn't a bad idea after all. The guide book described a single gps way point at the north end of the pass to indicate clear water. We were on our own until then. We felt our way up the channel back tracking once or twice to avoid shoals identified by the depth sounder and emerged into the large bay at the north end of the pass. I stood on deck with the binoculars and could see no way through the labyrinth of rocks and crashing waves. Mark was able to see a ship in what looked to be a pass so we turned our boat towards it. The GPS way point seemed to be more or less in the same direction. Things were looking good. Then they weren't.

"There is something wrong with that boat! It doesn't look right" Mark called out. Sure enough that boat certainly wasn't right. It was a medium sized freighter recently half sunk in what looked like the middle of the pass. We decided not to go there but the GPS way point was directing us just to the right of it and all across the bay jagged rocks and islets bared any other options. We inched closer to the way point. A large rolling swell gently moving the depth sounder between 15 and 10 m as it passed under the boat. It was a good thing I was wearing waterproof pants, the moisture streaming from my body was hidden. None of the crew noticed my extreme concern.

We passed within 100 m of the half sunk vessel, thankful that it had identified the mid pass rock but wondering if all hands were fine when that calamity had occurred. Given the size of the swell on this calm day we all knew this ship hadn't been there very long and had maybe only run up on the rocks in the storm a few days past. All were silent as we pondered the flood of emotions passing over us. Joy in having finally completed the Strait of Magellan combined with a touch of sorrow for all those who's toils had not led to success.

We turned north and after a brief interlude of heaving from side to side the waves evened out and rolled behind us, the wind decreased and blue sky started to poke out of the gloominess. We were through and perhaps our days of struggling to make way were finally over.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The HARD Way Part III

Two Condors were soaring well above the boat catching the gusts as the spray blew off the steep cliffs all around us. A Hawk, upset at where the Condors were floating swooped in and tried to harass one of them despite being one tenth of his size. The Condors paid no mind and continued to circle high above the bay Sea Rover was nestled into.

We had arrived in Puerto Madryn early that morning following an unplanned all night sail. The anchorage was much much better than expected and we all slept soundly for most of the morning. After watching the nature channel live for a good half hour we decided we needed to do something constructive so we transferred diesel from our portable gerry cans (all 10 of them) into the main tank. As always it was a horrible job. Luckily the condors kept us entertained and we managed to spy their nest almost directly above us in a scraggly 1000 year old tree sprouting high up on the cliff.

The three crew decided they had enough energy to stretch their legs on shore for a spell. I watched them from the boat as they scaled the ridge, rising higher and higher and further and further away. Like many anchorages in the area one could wander on the bare rock for many miles. A few squalls of torrential rain did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm and they proudly called me on the VHF from the top of a false peak. The telephoto lens showed them as specs among the towering peaks behind them.

We spent the next couple of days on board, waiting for the weather to improve. From the safety of our anchorage we could see giant spirals of wind and spray blowing down the channel. We were very happy to be warm and dry. We took the time to fix a leaking valve on the watermaker and did a few engine checks while Mark sewed more of the canvas. Given the beating Sea Rover was taking there always seemed to be lots of maintenance items to keep us from getting bored. We of course added a few more shore lines to keep the boat in place.

The following day after a wet, cold and early departure, that involved a couple of hours untying the spider's web of lines that had kept us safe over the blow we had endured at anchor, we headed back out in the strait to try to bash across and get within striking distance of the giant headland at the west end of Magellan. There was a possible window to round the next day and we all were keen to put this mammoth task to bed and actually start heading north in the more protected channels.

With gusts above 30 we still managed to get a bit of help from the board tight staysail and were happy with the 3 knots we were making in sort of the right direction. We finally pulled behind a smattering of small islets on the north side of the strait and were able to relax a bit as the swell and winds eased slightly. After a few navigation challenges in amongst the complicated uncharted island group we found a small cove listed in the guide book as "Caleta Extra"... Oh it was Extra alright.... Extra scary for Gary. Two crew went ashore with a bag of lines to prepare to catch Sea Rover as I tried to drive her back in to the cove no bigger than 15 m across. All of this with a pretty significant wind on the beam. Some how we managed to get the boat secured without running aground although I think we might have scraped the bow pulpit on one of the rock walls. As usual the crew all worked amazingly well together to keep our little boat safe.

We all slept well until the tide rose high enough to expose us to the howling winds above the rock slot we were nestled into. Undaunted with the winds we left the small space and ate breakfast in the pre dawn light enjoying the last few miles of calm before we broke out of the island group and were back into the full force of the strait. Spirits were high as we all knew this could be our last day in this very difficult part of the trip. Little did we know that the Hard way wasn't quite done with us yet...

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The HARD Way Part 2

Bang! Scrape, scrape, scrape! Mark shouted "What the hell was that!". I was already out of bed and half way down the galley. It was 3 am. The boys up front were also awake and mostly dressed by the time I had made it outside, assessed the problem and called down for all hands on deck.

Wake up calls in the middle of the night are never fun and we had been pretty lucky on the trip so far. Its dark, disorienting and in this case cold and rainy. I do my best to try to think of anything that might be a problem over night when pulling into an anchorage. I also try to do things to solve the problem before nightfall so we don't have 3 am wake up calls. In this case, when we were anchoring, I identified the problem and decided to ignore it. Which was why I knew what was happening before anyone else had even had a chance to wake up. As always, hope and praying are poor substitutes for doing.

We had tied a single stern line to the fisherman's line across the small narrow bay using a small scrap of line to keep it from slipping one way or the other. This combined with a tight anchor in front would keep us off the steep rocks to either side of the boat. By tying this way instead of using our own stern lines, we were able to avoid the extra work of launching the dinghy, tying them on shore and dragging the lines back to the boat. It also meant we could leave the anchorage much quicker the following morning. Unfortunately, our small line didn't hold in the gusty winds that had just come up and now the stern line was sliding along the fisherman's line with the wind, our stern inching closer and closer to the rock. Now we got to do all the work we should have done when it was calm and not raining... in the dark.

My crew being the troupers that they are, jumped into action without any complaint and in short order (about an hour) we had secured the boat the way it should have been done in the first place. We were lucky and managed not to run aground. I was able to add yet another lesson to my slow to learn brain and maybe wouldn't make the same mistake again.

The next morning was slower than expected. The winds were up and blowing in the rigging so there seemed to be no hurry to depart. By mid afternoon though things had calmed down significantly and we could no longer see buffaloes racing down the strait. We headed off with a plan to stop just 15 NM further NW. Soon after we departed the current started helping us, the winds died down to 15 on the nose and we were making 4 to 5 knots... The best we had done in a while. We decided to push for the next anchorage expecting to arrive just before dark.

By the time we'd arrived there we were making great time and the latest forecast was for conditions to continue to improve. An unplanned window of opportunity to make very good distance over night suddenly had appeared and surprisingly everyone was game to take it. We cooked a quick dinner while underway and settled in for the night, running two hour watches in pairs. It was still bumpy but we were making reasonable time until around midnight when a number of squalls started blowing off one of the many glaciers on the north side of the channel. Winds would increase to 40, it would start snowing/raining and then things would calm down again. The pattern continued through both shifts keeping us all on our toes.

Traffic was unexpectedly heavy that night and it seemed many boats of all sizes were also taking advantage of the slightly better weather. Our crew were quick studies in identifying the many different lights coming out of the darkness and we had no trouble avoiding the passing ships.

We arrived at the long inlet that contained what I'd hoped would be a safe anchorage just before sun up. The weather was starting to deteriorate again and our window to be on the water was closing quickly. As soon as it was light enough to see we motored our way up the unsounded channel hoping there was nothing lurking below the surface. By 8 am we had completed our overnight passage and after a few challenging moments getting the anchor set and backing the boat up to the stern lines we were snug in a little cove surrounded by rock and ice. Another 6 lines to shore made doubly sure were wouldn't get a 3 am wake up call and after a quick celebration breakfast of blueberry pancakes we all crawled into our warm beds happy with the 60 NM miles we had managed to scratch off this horrible strait.

We only needed one more jump like that and we'd be done the hardest part of the trip. While looking at the forecast it seemed that opportunity would not happen again for a long while so all I could do was hope and pray for better weather. As always we were forced to make our own luck, but we will leave that story for another day.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The HARD way part I

A warning to our readers. Some may find the next few posts disturbing. Feel free to skip the ones titled The Hard way if you have any concern for Sea Rover's safety. Spoiler alert: We made it to Puerto Natales and dropped off half the crew, so while you are holding your breath waiting to see if we survived, you can rest assured we made it through all the challenges that Magellan put us through. Now back to the story.

It was clear that the weather was not going to give us an easy way to go NW in the Strait. My plan was to wait for small weather windows and make short hops instead of the "One and done" move. One of the many problems with Magellan is the lack of good anchorages. Our guide book was littered with penciled in notes next to the various possible stops. Notations like "Sleepless night","Thought we were going to die", "Violent/Dangerous Rachas" made next to most of the anchorages along the way was the reason we sailed it from one end to the other on the way down. Despite it's beauty, this was not a place to linger. It is beautiful. Towering peaks on both sides with glaciers in between. Waterfalls cutting into the shear granite cliffs. All of this and more made for stunning scenery. If only we could see it. Between the waves crashing saltwater over the dodger and bimini and the sideways rain/sleet/snow, our first day of travel was spent mostly looking at the radar.

After getting woken up by the boat rolling gunnel to gunnel in our first anchorage of Magellan we all knew we needed something better to weather the storm coming later that afternoon. Bahia Woods would not cut it. We quickly prepared the boat for departure and ventured out into the strait. About 15 NM in the wrong direction was an anchorage that would fit the bill of safety but that meant 30 NM more time in the strait and even then (before having made it across the strait for the second time) I knew that minimizing my time here was best. We decided to bash on to what we hoped would be a more protected bay 15 NM to the west. "Bash" is a word thats been used to describe our movement against the wind and waves many times before but in Magellan it has a whole new definition. Imagine every 4th or 5th wave crashing right over the Bimini, a constant stream of water being blowing through all the zippers in the bimini's cover. Imagine a motion so violent that you aren't sure if you still have all your organs in the places their are supposed to be, followed by a that same motion in the opposite direction. Add in freezing cold rain/sleet/snow and the realization that despite moving forward at 3-4 knots you are only making 1.5 knots in the direction where the misery might stop and you now have imagined "Bashing" in the strait of Magellan.

After much trial and error we came up with a sail/motor angle where we could a least keep the boat from being thrust backwards on each wave. By motor tacking a tight angle with the staysail alone we could move at a reasonable pace. Yes we'd have to travel double the distance to where we wanted to go but at least we'd get there. Unfortunately the steering could not be handed off to the autopilot so a hand on the helm was always required. The rest of the team did their best to keep the windows clear and watch for other vessels. Both jobs difficult due to the constant moisture from outside evaporating on our sort of warm bodies and the violent motion making it impossible to stand without two hands on something.

8 Hours into our journey we sailed into Caleta Gallant, relieved once there at the size of the bay, as there was another sailboat and fish boat already taking shelter. We knew the following days would see very strong winds so in water almost shallow enough to stand in we let out all our chain and took some solace in the fact we were well set. The anchorage seemed to offer no wind protection but at least the seas were calm so we all crawled into our bunks, tired from the strains of the day and previous sleepless night.

The next morning we woke to clearer skies but strong wind. And then it got stronger. And then it got stronger again. We tie a fuse on the anchor chain called a snubber to allow for some give in the system. This snubber keeps the anchor from getting jerked out of bottom if a gust throws the boat one way or the other. It also absorbs much of the force on the whole anchor system. By 10am our first snubber had snapped. Shortly after noon our second attempt disintegrated in over 50 knots. The winds we were seeing were not fleeting gusts of strong wind (rachas) were were all familiar with by now. These were sustained winds over 40 knots for long periods of time. The anchorage despite us being less than 100m from the head of the bay was now a maelstrom of sea spray with a good 3 foot chop. There was nothing to be done except replace the snubber yet again with much stronger line and take comfort in the knowledge that our anchor was holding and if the chain did break at least we'd be able to walk on to the sandy shore once the boat blew onto it.

Breaks when the wind calmed down to 20 knots now seemed like eerie silence, our ears accustomed to the shriek and howl that the rigging produced above 30. Despite the noise and jerky movement, we were all happy we weren't out in the strait and slept reasonably well on night 2. The next morning the winds had subsided slightly so after seeing reports of the second sail boat making reasonable time westward we decided to brave the strait once more and started bashing again in the late afternoon. The weather gods were finally kind to us by calming the winds and seas down for the second half of the passage. A short time later we even caught a slight favorable current and were able to pull into Bahia Mussel in short order. We secured our selves with a stern line to the fisherman's line across the nook plus the anchor feeling proud that we'd so far made pretty good progress west despite the challenging weather.
We would live to fight another day. And fight we would... but this post is long enough.