Sunday, April 28, 2019

What Worked Well and What Didn't This Season

We are currently in Puerto Montt getting Sea Rover II ready to spend the winter without us.  We had hoped to haul the boat out of the water and store her on the hard this year, but alas, it was not meant to be.  The machine that lifts the boats out the water is broken and not likely to be repaired before we leave at the end of the week.  No matter.  She is in a good spot in the marina at Club Nautico Reloncavi and will be fine until Gary returns later in the summer (aka winter in South America).

As this is our last week on the boat for a while, we wanted to highlight things that worked well for us this season and a few things that didn’t or ended up being more challenging than expected.

 What Worked

1.    Our hydronic heater system.  This was a major P.I.T.A. to install and took much longer than expected, but it was a godsend as we traveled south and the temperatures got colder.  The coldest the boat got was 9oC in the morning, but the heater had the temperature up to a balmy 14oC in no time.  It helped to keep the moisture down and allowed us to dry things out.  Definitely a winner.

2.    Hot water.  Our new hydronic heater system also produces hot water.  REALLY hot water.  It was awesome… until we realized the watermaker was broken and we had to conserve water.  Doh.

3.       The engine.  Despite giving the inside of the engine a salt water bath two days before leaving for the season last year, the engine continued to run as she has for the last 6 years since our rebuild.  Things didn’t look good at the beginning of the season as she running so poorly that Gary felt it was time to put her out to pasture and install a new model.  It was either the threat of being replaced, or the “ping” she made when Gary revved her up to 3000 rpm just before coming home for Christmas, but since we arrived back at the boat in December she has been running normally.  Myrtle will live for a while longer.

Two lines to shore plus one more on deck
4.       Shore lines.  Unlike BC where most boats typically have 1 floating line they use to tie to shore in certain situations, most boats sailing in Chile have a minimum of 4 lines between 100 and 150m in length.  Before leaving Valdivia, we bought 3 floating lines to augment the one that we already had from home.  We used two of them extensively this season and eventually mastered the system of deploying them efficiently (after a lot of disasters).  The “right” way to do it goes like this: Before entering an anchorage we would get the dinghy off the deck and tow it beside the boat.  After choosing an anchor spot, Gary would drop the anchor while I would get in the dinghy with one of the lines and row like hell to shore.  I’d leap out and secure the line to a tree or rock, then jump back into the dinghy with the end of the line and row like hell back towards the boat.  By this time Gary would be backing the boat up in my direction (hopefully).  When we’d come together, I’d quickly secure the line to the cleat and then we’d pull the boat tight.  Once the first line was secure I’d take the second line to shore and secure it.  Viola.  Easy Peasy.


What Didn’t:

Soles after only 4 months of use - ridiculous!
1.       My expensive Dubarry Ultima boots.  Before we left to go Cruising, I decided to invest in a good pair of sailing boots.  I knew I’d need them when we sailed down the US coast and again when we reached Chile several years later.  So, I swallowed the ghastly price ($400) and bought a pair.  I loved them going down the coast – they had great traction and they kept my feet warm and dry.  The next time I used the boots was for the last 2 weeks of last year’s passage from Easter Island to Valdivia.  Again, they kept my feet happy.  So, imagine my disappointment this season to discover, that after 1 month of wear here in Chile that my boots (now worn all of 4 months total) are completely unusable.  The sole has basically fallen off 1 boot and is almost cracked through on the other.  I contacted the company and was told that the boots undergo a process called “hydrolysis” when they don’t get used continuously.  Basically, they age even when they aren’t being used.  Incredible. They offered me a 20% discount to buy a new pair of boots.  Apparently our Swedish friend Ulf had the same thing happen, as did another friend from home.  Clearly these boots have a major problem.  They were definitely NOT worth the money and were a VERY poor investment.  I would NOT recommend them to anyone sailing offshore.  What an utter disappointment.   

2.       Propane.  Being a Canadian boat, we have Canadian propane tanks, which seem to be very difficult to fill here in Chile.  The boat yard in Valdivia where we overwintered could do it for us, but we have had little luck elsewhere in the country.  We ended up having to cut our trip short by a week this year as we were desperately low on propane.  We’ve found we are going through a lot more propane in the cold climate – I tend to bake more and even Gary is drinking hot liquids here!  Luckily we could get the tanks filled her at the marina, but this involved giving them to a guy who drove the tanks to the town of Osorno, 100km north of here.  Apparently that is the only place able to fill our kind of tank.  Yikes.  Our solution for next year is to have two Chilean tanks that we can get filled anywhere.  We’ll run primarily on those and will use our Canadian tanks as reserve only.  I’m not giving up hot liquids...

3.       Laundry.  Doing laundry by hand sucks at the best of time, but doing it in a cold climate sucks worst of all.  Laundry here is a 3-4 hour process (we don’t do it often enough, I guess).  We soak the clothes overnight, then scrub them with a brush, wring them out, rinse them, wring them out, rinse them again, wring them out, and if they are smart wool, rinse them and wring them out yet again (and maybe again, depending on the garment).  After doing laundry 7 or 8 times and giving ourselves carpal tunnel syndrome from wringing by hand, we made the decision to buy a clothes spinner or wringer for next year.  The other challenge of washing in this climate is getting the clothes to dry.  Nothing dries to 100% here, even on a sunny day. 

And because we don’t want to end the season on a negative note, we want to highlight the best part of this season:  the people we’ve met along the way. 

Annette and Mike on s/v Rum Doxy from Santa Barbara, USA.  I met Annette in the laundry room in Puerto Escondido in Mexico back in 2016.  We quickly realized we had a lot in common and spent the next few weeks hanging out together (along with the rest of our Mexican Cruising Clan) in various anchorages.  Unfortunately our paths diverged for the next few years but we’ve followed their progress by blog (as they’ve done with us).  We were delighted to hear they were coming to Chile this year!  After arriving in the country in early February, they brewed a batch of beer and quickly headed down to meet us just north of Laguna San Rafael.  It was wonderful to catch up and to hear about all that had happened in the last few years.  We met up several times over the next month.  We enjoyed many wonderful meals (including Annette’s ‘to die for’ chocolate cake) and played a game and a half of Mexican Trains Dominoes.  All I know is that I didn’t lose – I’m pretty sure Gary took those honors.  While we’ll be on slightly different schedules next year, we hope to meet up in an anchorage or two in the Beagle Channel.

s/v Clary at Marina Austral in Puerto Aguirre
Ulf and Pia on s/v Clary from Sweden.  We met Ulf and Pia at Marina Austral in Puerto Aguirre where we had ended up in search of internet and water.  They are a lovely couple who spent many years sailing in Spitzbergen, Norway, before making the trek to South America.  They overwintered last year in Ushuaia in Argentina and then spent the summer sailing (aka motoring) up the Patagonian channels.  We spent a delightful 2 days with them in Puerto Aguirre and so we were overjoyed to meet up with them again in Puerto Montt. 

Karyn and Steve on s/v Threshold from Florida.  We met Karyn, Steve and crew Charlie and Heather during our second stay at Marina Austral in Puerto Aguirre.  Despite not having access to internet for 3 weeks, they kindly got off the marina wifi for an hour while I completed a work call.  They even invited us over for drinks and dinner afterwards!  We met up with them again at the marina in Puerto Montt and enjoyed a few dinners together.  Karyn was kind enough to share all their knowledge on the channels and anchorages to the south, which will be invaluable to us next year.

Suzie and Lane on an 80 foot motor yacht – New Zealanders Lane and Suzie are Captain and Cook on board an 80 foot motor yacht.  They have their own sailboat which is currently on the hard in Australia.  They interrupted their Cruising to crew Iron Lady from the US to Antarctica and back.  

Kees and dog Balu on s/v Dubhe from the Netherlands.  Kees’ partner Susan was in the Netherlands when we met him at the dock in Puerto Montt.  They spent several years traveling inland on rivers in both Africa and South America on their boat.  Balu is a sweetheart.

And then there was the Valdivia crowd who supported Gary when he was alone during the fall and both of us in January.  All of them have left for the South Pacific or places beyond:

David and Margaret on s/v Heart and Soul
David and Margaret on s/v Heart and Soul from Qualicum, Canada.  They fed us the night we arrived on the boat in December, despite never having met me before.  They are a lovely couple who have basically done the same route we are doing, but a few years ahead and so they’ve been a wonderful resource for us.  They were having their boat fixed at Alwoplast after being ploughed into by a water taxi in a town a few hundred miles south, but they are now currently en route to the South Pacific.

Mark and Rosie on s/v Merkava from Squamish, Canada.  We met this couple briefly last year and again in the fall. They kept Gary fed and watered during his lonely stay during the fall.  They left in early January to sail for Easter Island, and just arrived in Hawaii.  We look forward to seeing them in Vancouver when they arrive home with the boat later in the summer.

Shelley and Barry on s/v Starship from Edmonton, Canada.  They took possession of their second Chris White Atlantic 49 catamaran built at Alwoplast, where we kept our boat, in Valdivia.  They are a wonderful, generous couple who are now en route home.

Beate, Daniel and baby Isabella on s/v Galadriel from Austria.  We met Daniel and Beate last year when Beate was 8 months pregnant with Isabella.  They stayed in Valdivia over the winter to have the baby and we met Isabella when she was 8 months old in January.  What a sweetheart – she stole everyone’s hearts at the dock with her little wave and ready smile.  This lovely family is currently en route to French Polynesia.


Daniel, Beate pre-Isabella(Galadriel) and Rene (Ata Ata)
Rene on s/v Ata Ata from Switzerland.  We met Rene last year in Valdivia and again in the fall where he entertained Gary as part of the single hander crew.  Unfortunately he had left for the south of Chile and then Europe before I returned to the boat in December.  The two marina dogs, Samantha and Maxima, were devastated by his absence as well.

And many others.

Meeting people like this and sharing stories, food and drink is what Cruising is all about.  Looking forward to who we meet next year….


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Memorable Moments - Part Two


Here are a few more memorable moments from our travels in the northern Patagonian channels this year.

A Damaged Wing

We anchored in lovely Caleta Lynch one sunny afternoon and decided to take the sea kayaks out for a paddle to enjoy the nice weather (and to try to find the rock we’d almost hit with the big boat on the way into the bay).  While paddling close to shore and admiring the sea life below us, Gary spotted a tangle of line hung up in a bush on shore.  He paddled over to investigate and discovered that the line was in perfect condition.  He decided he had to have it.  He beached his boat and waded over to the tangle.  He dragged the line into the water and started to sort it away from the branches it was caught up in.  He pulled, pushed, and pulled some more.  It took a long time, but he managed to salvage 50m of 1 inch line.  Ignoring my queries of “what the hell are we going to do with that?”, he draped it over his shoulder and managed to get it coiled into a neat package.  A BIG package.  Being too big to tow with the kayak he returned in the dinghy to claim his prize.  We then had to use the engine crane to get it on board.  Once again he refused to answer my queries of what we were going to use it for.  It seems that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we have it.  In case we need it. 

The next morning Gary woke up and realized he couldn’t move his arm.  He claims he dislocated his shoulder trying to pull the covers away from me during the night, but I know what really did it in.  The damn line! 

He has now found a purpose for the line.  It will become 4 very large, very long dock lines that we will use to secure us whenever we leave the boat in the water for the season. 















Interpreting the Guidebook and the Beauty of Technology

Our "bible"
Guidebook writers must be a curious breed.  While they provide incredibly useful information in terms of what to expect in an anchorage or in a general area, they don’t always give that information in a straightforward manner.  We noticed this while sailing in northern BC, and it seems to be true down here in Chile as well.  Perhaps this only happens for books that cover more remote areas.  I’m not sure. 

Words such as “tight” and “limited swinging room” could safely be re-written as “if your boat is bigger than 30 feet and has a draft greater than 4 feet, don’t bother even trying to anchor here”.  Minimum depths of 3m are clearly just a guide.  3m could just as easily be 2m… the reader is just supposed to understand it gets very shallow near that spot.  We encountered a new Guidebook term this trip: “irregular bottom”.  We, like most people, interpreted those words to mean that the depths would be uneven throughout the anchorage.  But, in Caleta Brooks, one of the bays we anchored in this season, they should have written “there are 5 uncharted rocks that lie 2.3m below the surface at low tide.  Beware as the depths change from 13m to 2.3m instantly.”  But alas, they left that for us to discover for ourselves… Note: Our keel draws 2.3m. 

Mapping the rocks and safe passage on Google Earth
Luckily it wasn’t low tide when we entered the anchorage and so we still had 1m beneath the keel when we “discovered” the first, second and third rocks.  We had visual sightings on rocks 4 and 5 and so they didn’t pose any immediate danger.  As the rocks were virtually invisible until you were upon them, we wondered how we were going to get out of the anchorage the next morning as we were planning to leave right when the tide would be lowest.  We didn’t want our 2.3m keel to meet the 2.3m rocks.  As we clearly couldn’t just follow our GPS track out of the anchorage we needed to find a clear path out through the rocks in deep water.  So, out came the hand held depth sounder and we jumped in the dinghy.   I took both depth and GPS readings while Gary rowed us around the bay.  

Having located several deep spots, we then attempted to map out a line of “safe passage” that would lead us out of the anchorage.  This proved very challenging as the person reading the depth and GPS position (ie, me) also had to make sure that the person rowing, who is sitting backwards, was rowing in a straight line.  Not sure how we didn’t get divorced.  But, miraculously, when we returned to the boat and Gary entered the GPS positions we had determined onto Google Earth (where, as it turns out, we could actually see the 5 rocks under the water), we had mapped out a perfectly straight line in the deep water between the rocks.  A miracle.  We then entered those waypoints into our chart plotter, and viola!  We had a safe path to leave the anchorage.  Of course, if we had looked at Google Earth BEFORE entering the anchorage all of this would have been a moot point as we would have known about the existence of the rocks and could have mapped them in advance.  Next time.





Sunday, April 21, 2019

Memorable Moments - Part One


As our season comes to a close, we’d like to write a few posts to remember some memorable moments from our travels in the northern Patagonian channels this year.

“Are You Sure We Have Enough Gas?”

Looking out at our anchorage towards Las Cinco Hermanas
…I asked as we prepared to take the dinghy over to some hot springs two miles across the bay.  It didn’t look to me like there was a lot left in the tank.  “Of course”, the Captain replied. He then uttered words I’m sure he wished he hadn’t…”If we run out of gas I will paddle us all the way back”.  It is quite likely that we wouldn’t have run out of gas except we forgot to look in the guidebook at where the hot springs were before setting out.  We’d read the description earlier in the afternoon and both remembered it saying that the location of the springs was obvious as you could see steam coming off the water.  Obvious.  As it turns out, it was obvious when we were 100m from them.  At a distance greater than 100m, not so much.  So, we wasted a bit of gas motoring along the shore of the bay while looking for the springs. 

View from our anchorage - where are the hot springs??
We’d already had a frustrating day of trying to decipher our Guidebook.  We’d chosen an anchorage based on to its proximity to the hot springs.  The book listed the minimum depth as 3m (we draw 2.3m), but it looked pretty tight in the diagram of the site in the book.  It turns out that 3m was more like 2.4m (we saw 0.1m beneath the keel), and we would have to anchor on shore to fit our boat into the ‘preferred’ anchor spot.  After a very slow traverse around the anchorage trying to avoid running aground, we opted to anchor in deeper water outside the anchor location listed in the book.  We found a reasonable spot (ie, in 18m of water) and dropped the hook.  Hmmmm, did we catch a rock?  Something didn’t feel’ quite right about how the anchor set.  Oh well, we figured we’d deal with it in the morning and decided to treat ourselves with a trip to the hot springs before dinner.

After much searching, we did finally find the springs.  They weren’t the natural springs described in the Guidebook – instead we found a dock, two concrete pools and a boardwalk.  And a bit of steam coming off the water.  But, hot springs are hot springs so we went for a soak.  They weren’t as warm as we expected, but it was lovely all the same.  Our relaxation was interrupted by the Chilean fish boat “Klio”, who are apparently the custodians of the springs.  Two of the guys came over to talk to us.  From what we could understand, the springs were only open to the public Thursday through Sunday (it was Tuesday) which was why they weren’t very hot.  They said it was ok to have stopped and gone for a swim, but warned us that the springs might not be as ‘clean’ as they’d be during the weekend.  We didn’t break out in any horrible skin diseases later so I guess it was fine. 

By the time we finished our conversation with the fishermen, it was starting to get dark.  Time to head across the bay (2 miles) back to the boat.  We zipped out of the anchorage and flew across the calm waters at top speed.  We almost made it.  About 0.5 miles from the island group where Sea Rover was waiting the dinghy came to an abrupt halt as the last of the gasoline was gobbled up by the outboard engine.  There was not a drop left in the tank! 

At least the view on the row back was good
The Admiral didn’t say the words she so wanted to say, and instead sat very quietly while the Captain said several bad words.  After a few moments of utter quiet, the Captain picked up the paddle and started to move us towards shore.  Now normally running out of gas and having to row back wouldn’t be a big deal except our dinghy oar system was completely broken.  The oar locks that were initially attached to the boat were pretty mickey-mouse and finally fell off in Easter Island.  We attached new, better oar locks at the beginning of this season, but we hadn’t yet drilled holes in the oars to make them operational.  Instead, we’d been using one of our kayak paddles for the minor bit of rowing we were doing between the boat and shore.  It worked great…over short distances.  As a long distance paddling tool in a dinghy without a seat (in our haste to leave for the springs we’d forgotten to re-install the bench seat), it left a bit to be desired.  But, Gary was game.  After all, he did say he would paddle the entire way back if we ran out of gas…

It was a long hour.  Thankfully it was calm and the moon bright.  We arrived back at Sea Rover just as the dark was setting in for the night, both tired and hungry.  Next time we will bring the spare gas tank.

The Hermit

The Hermit's house and barn
We were waylaid by weather on our way down to Laguna San Rafael and ended up anchoring in front of a Hermit’s cottage in a tiny bay for five days.  We spent the time between rain squalls and wind watching the Hermit’s three dogs, three pigs and a goat follow him around the bay.  The Hermit would row his boat along the protected shore of our bay while the animals followed him on shore. 

View of his beach from our anchor spot
On day one the Hermit waved to us.  On day two he rowed over to say hello.  Or so we think, as his Spanish was completely unintelligible to our ears (as ours was to him).  We ended up nodding and smiling at each other before he finally paddled away.  On day three we met up with him when we were out in the dinghy testing out our new dinghy oars (finally got them sorted out) and he was out in his row boat.  He had just been to check the stationary fish net he had installed in one corner of the bay and he offered us a fish.  We said yes and thanked him profusely.  He then gutted it for us, handed it over and rowed off with a wave.  We shared the fish with our friends on Rum Doxy and all decided to thank the Hermit by taking him some provisions the following day.  Mike from Rum Doxy speaks Spanish and would act as our interpreter.  Annette made the Hermit some cookies and we gave him a loaf of banana bread and a can of spam (don’t ask why that was on board).  I felt bad giving him the spam but really wanted it off the boat…

The Hermit (tiny red boat) rowing out to get supplies
Our trip to his hovel was an experience.  He met us on the beach (with the dogs, the pigs and the goat) and all of us (including some of the animals) traipsed into his house.  It was basic, as you’d guess, but had a lovely wood stove.  An old ‘girlie’ calendar was the only decoration, and he had a few basic pots and pans. There was a pot of gruel over the fire that he said he kept going and added to daily.  He offered us matcha tea, which we kindly declined, then we had a little chat.  It turns out he has been living in this remote spot for 22 years.  He moved there after his wife died and his daughter had grown.  A boat stops by every 15 days to deliver provisions, and he enjoyed his solitary existence.  He’d lost one of his pigs to a puma earlier in the season and he was either looking for a gun or had found a gun to deal with it – we weren’t sure.  He said a lot of other things in the hour we were there, but Mike could only understand every 10th word or so.  It sounds like he speaks to most of the boats that anchor in the bay on their way down to Laguna San Rafael and so he has a fair amount of human contact in the summer months when people are traveling to the glacier.  I can’t imagine what it would be like there in the dead of winter.  An interesting existence.



Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Puerto Agirre, An Oasis in the Wilderness

As you recall from our last post, we were both looking forward to spending a few days parked in an anchorage next to a small cell tower so Karina could do some work and I could see about fixing the watermaker with duct tape and seizing wire.





Civilization in the wilderness...
Our trip to Puerto Aguirre had been a stressful day.  It was our first time "sailing in the white" while here in Chile and the winds and currents hadn't been given their daily briefing and had gone rogue.  We finally passed by our last uncharted island and rounded the corner.  Our eyes focused on the houses and yes, there was a cell tower.  Houses meant people.  Surely we could get a few fresh vegetables.  Then we saw the high pier and a large 100 m ferry.  Wow, this place is happening!

The welcoming Marina Austral
The wind and current, sensing our arrival, switched in our favour.  We blasted down the channel.  I turned on our cell phones but strangely there was no connection.  Karina is up at the bow preparing the anchor.  Sea Rover is flying to our planned anchorage past the pier... but wait???  Is that a sailboat at the dock with a Swedish flag???  Is there a marina here that we don't know about???
We tear past the large ferry and Karina spys a small sign above the dock just before it passes out of sight.  "Marina Austral, Ch 09"

Minutes before entering the channel we had tried to contact the Port Captain.  As usual the officials sensed an impending difficult conversation in Spanglish and decline to answer.  We assume the same will be the case for the marina and decide to tie up first and ask questions later.

Karina dives into the lazarrete for lines and fenders while I struggle to turn back against the wind and current in the narrow channel.  I decide to employ the bow thruster for assistance and the instruments lock up with alarms and a last depth seen of 0.5 m.

The town of Puerto Aguirre with marina below
To buy time and calm nerves, we motor down to the anchorage and consider just sticking with the original plan of anchoring.  But it seems we don't have cell service (a major problem for Karina) and maybe the marina will have water.  This would save an emergency repair on the watermaker...  We decide to try again to arrive at the dock.  Sea Rover is finally turned into the wind and current and we edge closer to the giant ferry with the marina dock just beyond it.  Just as we are alongside, the ferry applies both stern and bow thrusters and casts off from the pier without a horn or whistle of any kind.  Mission aborted and we slink back to the anchorage to plan our next attempt.

20 minutes pass and the ferry has finally maneuvered off the pier, opening up our view to the dock.  Yes, it is a marina and there is a nice man patiently waiting to take our lines.
We have arrived.

Sea Rover and Rum Doxy enjoying the novelty of a dock
The next few days are spent enjoying new company, amazing hot showers and reasonable internet.  The highlight of the stay is the marina owner Jamie, an energetic, friendly Chilean who opens up his home for us and plies us with great  cuisine and wine.

We fill up our water tanks, rest and relax and plan for our next and last unknown leg of the season down to Laguna San Rafael.  We provision with better than expected produce from the local "supermercado" (ie, a 1 room house) and add an extra safety margin to our diesel tank.  Two weeks later we return to Puerto Aguirre and again accept the hospitality of Jamie and Marina Austral.  New friends are made with m/v Iron Lady and s/v Threshold and we catch up again with Rum Doxy.

Jaime and a reluctant Pejijo from Marina Austral
The neatest thing about Puerto Aguirre as a Cruiser is its location.  Those going south view it as the last bastion of civilization and those going north see it as a nice cold drink of water in a dessert of wilderness.  All who arrive are starved for companionship and friendships are easily made with stories of all the amazing adventures we've just completed.  Jamie is a gracious and welcoming host and goes out of his way to ensure everyone enjoys their stay.

This small new marina is perfectly placed and managed.  It will certainly be a stop for us in both directions next year.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Great Unknown

A few weeks ago, on our way south to the glacier at Laguna San Rafael we had one of our typical days moving from one unknown anchorage to the next.  STRESSFULL.

Bear with me while I set the scene.

After 3 days of travelling south in strong winds from varying directions, fighting contrary currents that were predicted to be with us and trying to decipher the cryptic language nuances of the two cruising guide books we are using for this area we were starting to get a little tired.

Pouring over the chart book... with magnifying glass
Everyone who cruises has their own comfort level and the writers of guide books are no different.  When they use words like 'close quarters' or 'tight anchorage' is that because their boat was 60 ft long or 20 ft long?  When they talk about 'uncharted rocks' or 'difficult to navigate', is that a carry over from the 90's when Chile's charts were much less accurate or detailed or are there still hidden dangers lurking below the surface?  These are all questions we deal with every day and  I think we've said it before...  Uncertainty is a double edged sword.  Adventure is all about travelling out of your comfort level but being out of that zone can certainly wear you down.

Can't get there from here!
Now imagine how we felt when we were forced to add "Sailing in the White" to our daily routine for the first time this season.  This is a term that strikes fear into the most hardened crusty Cruiser as it means you are now sailing without a map to tell you what is below the surface of the water.  Chile's charts have improved dramatically over the past 10 years and their Atlas is a model that should be followed by every country in the world but there are still areas where the underlying depth information was determined by a guy in a row boat with a lead line in 1720.

In planning our next day we unfortunately determine that to get to our next desired anchorage in a timely manner (ie: before a big forecasted afternoon blow, the current switching and darkness), we simply cannot follow the path the guy in the rowboat took 200 years ago and must shortcut through a minefield of uncharted reefs, unnamed islets and narrow passes.  How could we possibly not run aground?

Even the birds questioned our decision...
The night before this short passage is spent plying over the charts, both electronic and paper, comparing them with our cached electronic google satellite images to check for any differences along our planned route.  We study the guide books for any hints of what to avoid and read all the long trip reports of those who have passed here before.  Our fear is conquered by what little knowledge we have gleaned and transformed into a healthy caution.  We are as ready as we can be and it's time to move on.

That morning we set off and the big blow is quickly upon us and the currents are as usual not from the direction we expected.  The depth sounder jumps dramatically from 200 m to 2 and back to 200.  We question what we know.  Are we really ready?  We reef to make the boat comfortable, the current isn't slowing forward progress to a stop and we learn to slightly ignore the erratic depth sounder.  We follow our planned pass and nothing goes bump.  Dolphins leap, and Albatross soar while Penguins bob around us.  We make it to Puerto Aguirre with no paint missing off the bottom.

The great unknown is yet again pushed further ahead of us and by taking that small step it will be easier next time.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The End of the Road – This Year



Our goal this season was to make it down to the glacier at Laguna San Rafael, roughly 450 nm south of Valdivia.  I’m pleased to announce that we reached our goal on March 7th

Laguna San Rafael boasts the furthest glacier found north in the southern hemisphere at 46o 38’S.  We’d been told that lots of tourists do the trip, but don’t be fooled – this area is REMOTE.  You can get there by small tourists boats (at least 14 hours return from Chacabulco), small Cruise ship, or by airplane (although we didn’t see any of those).  All of those methods of transport are reasonably straight forward.  

Travelling there in a sailboat is another matter and requires a bit of planning and a lot of guess work.  The reason for this is the glacier is located at the bottom of a very long, narrow strait, that is accessed by travelling through two narrows where the current runs fierce, and down a river.  The currents can run up to 6 knots and so for a sailboat where our maximum speed under motor is 5 knots, this requires careful timing of the passes and river to ensure you are travelling WITH the current (ie, on the flood).  This sounds simple, and in theory it is, but as it turns out, this is where the guess work comes in. 

We have two guidebooks for Cruising in Chile – the “Italian Guide” and the “Royal Cruising Club” of England Guide.  Both are very good and cover the vast majority of anchorages on the more well travelled routes in the Patagonian canals.  Both books contain a section on Laguna San Rafael.  One informs the reader that slack water (which in my understanding of the term means that current is not flooding or ebbing, but has stopped moving – always the best time to cross a narrows) occurs 2 hours behind the tide times listed for the tidal station at Bahia Orange (plus 1 hour for daylight savings).  Having not come across Bahia Orange before, we did some research and realized it is the tidal station located at Cape Horn, 700 nm to the south!  OK.  We find the tide charts for Bahia Orange.  Great.  We check our chart plotter, which conveniently has tides for Paso Quesahuen, the first narrows, and decide that the numbers match.  Yippee.  We then read the other guide book, which helpfully tells us that high water (do they mean slack??) is 45 minutes AFTER the times listed for the tidal station at Bahia Orange.  Um, what?? Is anyone else confused?  Because we certainly were. 

Our first hurdle was getting through the first narrows at Paso Quesahuen.  Since the guidebooks gave contradictory information, we chose the one that matched our chart plotter.  Seemed reasonable.  Unfortunately we learned, the hard way, that this timing was just plain wrong!  We went through the narrows at supposed ‘slack’ with a 3 knot current with us and 25 knots of wind at our back.  It was an interesting ride, to say the least.  Luckily the weather turned poor and so we had a few days to lick our wounds and to re-think our strategy for attacking narrows #2 and the river. 

Being a Scientist, I’m always frustrated by incorrect or confusing information.  It stresses me out, especially when it creeps into my sailing life.  So, I spent one afternoon with a pair of binoculars, clock and a notebook and watched the current and tide just outside our anchorage.  According to one guidebook (and our chart plotter), high tide and supposedly slack tide were supposed to happen at 1401.  I started taking written observations at 1340.  

Here is a sampling of my recordings:
1340 – current still flooding strongly; pass looks really choppy and nasty
1350 – current still flooding strongly; oops - pass looks really choppy and nasty, but it might actually be dolphins leaping out of the water.  Need to look closer.
1401 – current still flooding strongly.  Yup, definitely dolphins leaping.  Cool.
1430 – tide still rising, current still flooding
1500 – tide still rising, current maybe slowing down?
1515 – tide at max, current seems to have switched?

And so on.  As near as I could tell, high tide (and slack, which seemed to correspond) happened an hour AFTER the tide indicated by Bahia Orange (without adjusting for daylight savings).  It turns out we weren’t the only ones confused by this contradictory information.  Our friends Annette and Mike on Rum Doxy, who we first met in Mexico back in 2016 and met again just north of Laguna San Rafael, were also confused.

Bergs in the river
On March 7th, after five days of waiting out bad weather, the sun shone brightly and it was time to make our run for the Laguna.  Mike went up the mast of Rum Doxy to look at the water outside the anchorage to assess when the current would switch in our favour.  Then we all got impatient and decided to go and see what happened.  Based on my previous observations, I felt that the next pass would probably turn either at 1230 or 1330 (still wasn’t 100% sure).  We aimed to get there at 1230, but then ended up sailing down Bahia Elefantes and arrived at 1330, just as the current was turning.  Perfect timing (or good planning.. or guessing).  We rode the flood through the next bay and finally into the river.  And here we met our next challenge.  Bergy bits.  These mini-icebergs (in addition to some full fledged ice berg daddies) get pushed out of the Laguna on the ebb tide/current and flow up into the river and the bay immediately north.  While they are pretty easy to dodge, it was a surreal experience. 

First view upon entering the lagoon
The whole trip from the narrows to the mouth of the Laguna took about 2 hours.  The tidal currents were fierce and confused where the river emptied into the Laguna and at first the path through the wall of ice before us seemed unclear.  Luckily, a path emerged as we got closer, and then, Voila! We were there!  And it was spectacular. 


The glacier is located at the far side of the bay, which is probably 8-10 nm wide.  We came out of the river into a fairly open area (ie, ice free) and were able to get our bearings.  Rum Doxy and Sea Rover II were the only beings for miles around.  After drifting slowly with just a single reefed main, Gary got impatient for speed and put out half the genoa.  Next thing I knew, we were cruising through the lagoon at 4 knots (too fast to truly enjoy the quiet beauty of the location in my opinion, but Gary was happy).  Despite our initial thought that there was “ice everywhere”, on closer inspection it turned out there was an area full of ice, pushed by the days wind, and there was a reasonably open area with a few bergs here and there.  This is where we sailed.  It was magical.  

We made it about half way across the bay, but unfortunately, our time ended too quickly as the day was getting long and the tide/current in the river was due to switch (or so we hoped).  


After a quick stop to put the dinghy in the water to get a closer look, we reluctantly turned around and headed back to the mouth of the river.  We arrived before the switch from a flood to an ebb and fought our way up the river for a half hour, before the current changed in our favour and swept us (literally) back out and through the pass.  The river landscape was completely different on the way out as there wasn’t a bergy bit to be seen – they’d all been returned to the river on the previous flood.  

After a long day, we put the hook down as the sun was setting.  A glorious day.  We celebrated our accomplishment by having drinks with glacier ice plucked out of the ocean in the lagoon.  Marvelous.









Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Sailing in Patagonia is Just Like Sailing in British Columbia, Except….


My very first impression upon sailing into Valdivia, Chile last March after our passage from Easter Island, was ‘wow, this looks so much like BC’. 
Typical view looking east from Isla Chiloe
That initial thought has repeated itself in my head over and over again as we sailed south from Valdivia and into northern Patagonian waters.  

The general topography is similar to BC.  There is a huge 190 km long island called Isla Chiloe (similar to Vancouver Island) that protects a big open straight (similar to Georgia Strait) that contains many small, protected islands (like the Gulf Islands).  There is then an open body of water (crossing from Port Hardy around Cape Caution) to a massive archipelago of islands where you could literally get lost for years.
As we sailed down the protected east coast of Isla Chiloe and looked to the east, we saw the towering mountains of the mainland, just like we do when sailing along the coast of Vancouver Island.  The mountains are ragged, tall and snow-capped, just like in BC.  The winds whip up the straight and kick up a good chop just like they do at home.   The water and air temperature are a balmy 12oC (in mid-summer), boat-eating seaweed flourishes, and there are plenty of nooks to explore.

Who is winning?  Seaweed 1, Gary 0.


But, as we looked a bit closer, we began to see the differences. 

For example, the islands off Isla Chiloe, which look strikingly similar to the Gulf Islands at first glance, are not full of tourists.  They are inhabited by people who have lived and farmed there for generations.  While the odd foreigner makes the trek to the islands, the vast majority of visitors seem to be family of people that live there.  Unlike the Gulf Islands, there are very few cottages for wealthy “city people”, and the islands have a quaint, quiet vibe of people just getting on with their lives.  We visited the tiny island of Quehui (pronounce Q-E) and anchored in from of the town of 800 people.  Upon arriving on the beach in our dinghy, we were instantly welcomed (accosted?) by Ignacio and his brother Patricio who run a small café (from the living room of their house) that doubles as the tourist office.  While Ignacio didn’t speak a word of English, Patricio was learning and so we managed a stilted conversation about life on the quiet island.  Unfortunately his English was about as good as our Spanish, but we appreciated their hospitality and interest.  They encouraged us to return the next day for a lunch of “loco”, which turned out to be giant snail foot, served with lime and mayonnaise on top of a tomato.  Sounds weird, but it is apparently a delicacy that can only be found in southern Peru and Chile and is quite special.  It was actually pretty good and an experience unique to southern Chile.


Dr Suess tree



Another major difference is the flora and fauna.  While the landscape looks similar (rustic tree-filled mountains), the kinds of trees are completely different.  Instead of impenetrable groves of douglas fir, hemlock and lichens, here there are impenetrable jungles of Cypress, Laurel, Beech, Gunnera (looks like giant rhubarb), tree ferns, tussock grass and lichens. 

Peale's Dolphins leaping for joy



The animals are different as well.  While the South American Sea Lions are curious like in BC, they are HUGE and have enormous manes.  Nothing gets the heart pumping faster than looking behind your sea kayak and seeing six of them tailing you… 

Pods of the beautiful Peale’s Dolphin have visited us to play in our bow wave several times, and we were extremely lucky to see a rare Marine Otter (only 1000 left), which is smaller than its’ northern cousin but eats dinner on its’ tummy just the same. 
The rare Marine Otter

Imperial Cormorants
We are constantly seeing new kinds of birds, which keep us running for our identification book.  So far we have sea kayaked with Magellanic Penguins, watched Flightless Steamer Ducks running across the top of the water, been delighted by the antics of the black and white Imperial Cormorants, and been amazed by the Kelp Geese, where the male is all white and the female is predominantly black and brown.  The hummingbirds still go for lovely pink flowers like they do at home, but here they are the size of sparrows.  And then there are the Albatross.  Almost every day we have been entertained by watching these majestic beings soaring above the waves.  Watching them has saved my sanity more than once. 

It is still early days for us in our exploration of this lovely country.  The familiar surroundings make us feel comfortable and at home, while the differences are a delight to discover.