Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chile - First Impressions

The Promised Land - Mouth of the River Leading to Valdivia

We’ve been in Chile for a week now and have fallen in love with the country.  At first glance it looks a lot like channels at the top end of Vancouver Island.   The hillsides are green, and there are boats transiting back and forth across the narrow waterways.  But then you look closer and realize that the trees, birds and marine mammals are all completely different.  We will definitely need to buy a whole new set of wildlife identification books!  

South American Sea Lions
The sea lions were the most stunning.  They are about three times the size of the ones at home, and the males have what can only be described as big manes (like a lion).  They are incredible.  They hang out at the outdoor fish/vegetable on the edge of the river in town.  Despite a big chainlink fence, two had made it inside the market and ‘helped’  the workers fillet fish, to the delight of all the tourists (us included). 
Fillet-guy fends off a hungry sea lion at the outdoor fish market

Currently the boat is in a marina about 5 miles up a river from the ocean, and 5 miles south of the town of Valdivia.  It is probably the most tranquil place we’ve ever stayed.  It is literally in the middle of nowhere, but the bus stops right outside the gates and goes by every 10 minutes, so it is very easy to get into town.  The marina facilities are great – free hot showers (assuming they haven’t ‘borrowed’ the propane tank for the BBQ...), free laundry (no dryer, which does make it a bit of challenge as you can really only do the washing on a sunny day), nice docks, super friendly staff.  It is an ‘outstation’ of the main marina in town, but has slips that can handle boats over 40 feet.  Most of the boats are Chilean, but there are currently three foreign yachts here (including us).  There is a Swiss single handler, Renee, and a British/US couple on a catamaran called Begonia.  Funnily enough I had met Maryanne from Begonia last March at a pressure cooking class I took in La Paz.  It was nice to arrive at the dock to a friendly face and we’ve enjoyed getting to know them better over the last week.   The locals are also incredibly friendly and welcoming.  On our second day we got invited to an impromptu party in the work room being put on by the workers and other yacht club members.  They fed us BBQ’d meat (the first we’d had in many many weeks) and red wine (even Gary drank a glass!).  No one spoke much English, but we made do with our Spanglish.  It was a very fun afternoon. 

The town of Valdivia is quite nice.  This area was settled by Germans and so the town has a distinctly European feel.   The chocolate stores in town have wonderful Easter window displays at the moment – it is almost like being in Germany.  
There is a wonderful outdoor fish and vegetable market that sells the biggest mussels I’ve ever seen.   We haven’t tried them yet, but I think I’ll only need to eat 2 or 3 to be completely full.  We spent our first day off the boat walking around town in the pouring rain.  We loaded up on fish and vegetables at the market, and then all bought alpaca sweaters as none of us seem to have enough warm clothes (Gary in particular).  The man in one sweater store even threw in a free pair of wool socks when he saw Gary’s bare sandled feet. 

Not sure about this one...
On Tuesday we rented a car and drove down to Puerto Montt (220 km south) to check out the marina and haul out facility there.  We also dropped Nadine off so that she could catch a flight down to Punta Arenas, where she hopes to get on a couple of Patagonian cruises before she flies home at the beginning of April.  The town was a bit grittier than Valdivia, but I think we’ll enjoy spending some time there as well.  We ended up having dinner at the ‘German Club’ in town and so I finally got the bratwurst, saurkraut and spatzle I was dreaming about while on passage.  Mmmmmm.  

The marina/haul out facility in Puerto Montt was fine and we’ll definitely haul out there next year, but we’ve decided to keep the boat in the water at our current marina in Valdivia for this season.  This marina is more protected and we know the staff will take very good care of the boat.  Plus the boat will be in fresh water.  We’ll just have to prepare for a lot of rain.  We’ve already had quite bit of rain this week and so the boat has been thoroughly rinsed off - Sea Rover no longer feels like a salt lick.  Our poor bimini leaked like a sieve during the first day of rain, but has finally decided to be waterproof again.  Luckily for us all the panels seem to still zip together even though they haven’t been used in four years.  They are certainly a necessity here.

Public washrooms, Chile-style
So far life is good.  We’ll spend the next few weeks tackling boat projects (ie, installing the hot water/heating system, finding and fixing leaks, cleaning every compartment) and exploring the town.   I think we will enjoy owning a floating condo in Chile...

Monday, March 19, 2018

Passage Reflections - Karina 's Thoughts

We’ve now been on dry land for 4 days after what I found to be a very long, difficult 3 week passage.  I thought I’d write a few quick notes on my impressions of the last passage before it is all too far in the past to remember how I felt.  Maybe this entry will be useful later when Gary has some crazy idea to sail around Cape Horn or to do something equally crazy…

I’m still not sure if I feel a sense of accomplishment yet, or just massive relief for having made it here in one piece without any major breakages.  We went through at least five major weather systems (or was it six??), each with seas greater than 4 meters and winds in the 30 knot range during each event.  We’d have 24-36 hours of crap conditions, then about a 12-24 hour break before the next one.  The breaks were definitely required, but not necessarily restful as it was often difficult to keep the boat moving in the light airs and big seas.  We ended up running north 250 nm to avoid one big system, only to be smacked immediately following it by another, even bigger system on our second last day.  We saw sustained 30 knot winds and 5 meter seas for about six hours.  We managed to fill the cockpit with water three times on my shift which was incredibly scary… the only good thing about it was seeing how fast the water emptied through the cockpit drains.  Thank heavens for small miracles.  During that storm I declared I’d be perfectly happy to never sail again.  And there are no pictures as I never want to remember those conditions… Being on the bottom of one wave and looking up to the crest of the next many, many feet up was not a pleasant experience.  I definitely never want to go through conditions like that again.

One of the things that kept me going during the difficult hours was watching all the sea birds.  We had a flock of either petrels or shearwaters (need a bird book!) follow us pretty much the whole way.  I’d watch them and imagine that they represented all the people at home following us on the blog or on our tracker.  That helped give me the strength to make it through my watch.  Interestingly, on the really, really tough days, when I needed an extra shot of courage, an albatross would make an appearance...  I think I have a new spirit animal.

The boat took a beating this year but managed to make it through reasonably unscathed.  We’ve worked it out that she (and Gary) spent 59 days offshore.  The vast majority of those days were in rough conditions.  Despite a few leaks, she looked after us really well.  Frankly, I don’t know how she didn’t shake apart.  In terms of issues (at least on Legs 2 and 3) we chafed through two furling lines and the genoa sheet. We also lost the pins out of 4 shackles – the genoa shackle, and two separate shackles on the boom vang (we lost one of them twice!).   In addition, two sets of screws for the bimini came undone (but were luckily found before they escaped overboard), and the top pins that hold the bimini together came out twice.  We also developed a stress fracture on one of the hydrovane mounts (note, the hydrovane is our device that steers the boat by the wind).  We monitored the crack daily and it did grow in size over the course of the trip, but happily it (and the back end of the boat) didn’t fall off.   We also broke the lazyjacks again, although that was caused by handler-error, not the seas.  Overall, I can’t say enough good things about Heidi, our hydrovane – she steered us faithfully in every condition we encountered, from the light airs to the 5 meter seas.  Our autopilot (Otto) also had no problem in any of the conditions we put it through.  And our engine, Myrtle, started reliably when required.  We couldn’t have asked for more. 

As for making it here in one piece, I’d like to thank Nadine for helping us get the boat here.  She was very helpful crew and kept us fed and allowed us to get some rest.  And of course, I need to thank Gary for getting us here safely.  I don’t think he slept more than 2 hours a day, but made all the right decisions on where to go and when.  He calmly dealt with every issue as it came up (always at 2 am) and constantly reminded me that our boat was just like a rubber ducky in a big bathtub.  He was right – we just kept bobbing up and down each wave, no matter how big.

Am I glad I did this trip?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  I’m glad we are here and will definitely enjoy exploring Chile, but I’m a Cruiser, not a Sailor.  I didn’t hate being offshore (at least not all the time), but I certainly didn’t love it either.  Obviously I can do it, and I can see the appeal of trade wind sailing where you set the sails and forget them for two weeks.  As that should be the type of conditions we encounter when we leave Chile in a few years’ time, I know I will do another passage.  But, I’m happy it won’t be any time soon.

Overall trip details:
Leg 1: La Paz to Galapagos = 22 days; 1900 nm (~3600 km)
Leg 2: Galapagos to Easter Island = 16 days; 2000 nm (~3800 km)
Leg 3: Easter Island to Valdivia, Chile = 21 days; 2300 nm (~4370 km)

Overall distance travelled this year = ~11,700 km (greater than all the way across Canada and back)


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Made it to the Promised land - Day 22

We made it.
Well, not quite yet but we are pulling into the river to go up to Valdivia now.  It's been a very long journey and it will take us a few days of sleep before we realize what we have done but tonight should be spent at a dock and that is all that matters right now.
More to come later

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Heading to the Promised land - Day 20

Well Sea Rover has just made it through her first "Storm". Yup, Gales are soooo passe now, in fact we are still in a gale and I'm down here writing a blog post. We hove to/forereached for about 12 hours yesterday and again for 4 hours this morning but are now underway at best possible speed to get into Valdivia before the next one wholops the coast sometime late tomorrow night.
The seas are still huge at about 5 m but the winds are down to 20 knots so we can make way safely. Wind and seas are forecast to dimish through out the rest of the day and into to tomorrow. We hope to arrive in port sometime mid day tomorrow but if we are a bit late we at least have a safe anchorage where we can weather the next Gale until the seas come down enough to let us go up the river to Valdivia.
All is well on board
93 NM to go!

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Monday, March 12, 2018

All is well

Just a quick post to state that all is well on board. Yes, we know our tracker shows us slowly drifting north. The wind and seas are such that it doesn't make sense to keep trying to sail south so we will wait out the storm and continue when conditions improve.
Hopefully we won't loose too much more ground and we'll be able to carry on shortly.
278 NM to go to Valdivia.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the Promised Land - Day 15

Karina: The "Gaia Principle"

If you've been following us on our tracker, you are probably shaking your heads right now and saying 'those poor creatures have finally gone mad in the southern ocean'. Although we've spent a few days traveling directly towards our destination, we veered off yesterday morning and started to sail north. No, we haven't lost our minds (although that is debatable). We'd traveled in the southerly direction for the past week knowing we were going to get pushed north with the last gale. And that is exactly what happened. The wind veered to the south and so the only direction we could travel with any kind of comfort was NE. As it turns out, this was a good thing...

Now to explain the "Gaia Principle". We have friends, Desiree and Damon, on a junk-rigged steel boat called 'Gaia'. They've are about our age and have been Cruising for at least 10 years. They've done a number of ocean crossings and are famous for never using their engine. They sail to anchor, they sail off anchor. Basically, they just sail. I wasn't even sure they had an engine until Damon talked about needing to buy diesel - shocking. Anyway, we got to talking about our upcoming trip back in the fall and Desiree told me how they literally floated in the monsoon trough between the Galapagos and Hawaii for 14 days. Their overall trip took something like 30 days. Ugg. I asked her how she could handle being 'out there' for so long, and she said that she considered the boat her home, so where ever the boat was, she was home. Therefore it didn't matter how many days a passage took as she had everything she needed with her. Gary and I both thought this sounded good in theory, but weren't sure either of us could put this into practice. We called her attitude the 'Gaia Principle', which I've been trying to live up to ever since (mostly unsuccessfully, I might add).

We now have a chance to put the "Gaia Principle" into full practice. We were hoping to make it into Puerto Montt before a big low hit the coast of Chile, but it doesn't look like that will be the case. If we'd kept our current course of heading straight to Puerto Montt, we would have ended up right in the middle of it. Having been in 4.5 m seas twice now in the southern ocean, I'm not keen on experiencing the 6 m seas that are being predicted with this latest system. Both our weather routers (yup, we have two) have told us to run north for the next few days to get out of the winds and big seas, so north we go! So no, we haven't gone mad, we are just moving to 'safe waters'. This of course means that we will not be into port by Monday, as we were all looking forward to, but as Desiree said, this is our home and so what else do we need? We will be fine being out here for a few more days. Sometimes the way to your destination isn't a straight path.

Oh, and it now looks like our final destination will be Valdivia instead of Puerto Montt. Stay tuned.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the promised land - Day 11

Is it really day 11? Are we there yet? Oh wait, that's Gary's question. For the past 11 days we have been going from one small way point to another. Side note, we have been "trying" to get to the way points but Poseidon has had other plans. Anyway, going from point to point like this has not given me a very good sense of how close or, should I say, how far we have to go. Are we there yet? No. It's "only" 960 nautical miles to the Chilean mainland. Now I have something to focus on during my bleary night shifts.
On a more positive note, I think I slept thru most of this day. Nothing like the "white" noise of the engine running at 1800 rpm to put you into a state of unconsciousness. To my unskillful eye we all seemed to be catching our breath and getting some rest. And since we were motoring in very calm seas (read only 2.5-3 meter swell) it was a perfect time to have a cold shower. Yes, the hot water tank would have been amazing after 8 hours of motoring. Alas, that was not the case on Searover. But we are now a clean bunch and currently staying that way as we did not spill our dinner. The other highlight of the day was seeing our first albatross soaring gracefully around the boat while the sun was setting in an almost cloudless sky.
I seem to have extra time to add to this as my bed is currently several inches higher than it should be. Gary claims the diesel needed extra polishing and has been transferred from the tank to the bladder. I think he's tired and turned the valves the wrong way which almost burst the bladder. I'm glad the fuel is getting a cleaning. Maybe it will make us go faster when we motor...
960 NM to go.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the promised land - Day 10

We are just finishing sailing in our first gale in the Southern ocean. Not pretty. Well actually, the mass of white foam mixed with hues of deep blue and green and the contrasting sky of white, grey and blue would make quite a painting. Anyway, aside from losing our port lazyjack line we've come through with minimal carnage. All of us are exhausted and production in the kitchen has stopped for now as the seas are still around 4.5 meters with 20 knots of wind. We should see some lighter winds later this afternoon with the seas calming down shortly after that. After the past 36 hours this will be very welcome.
All is well on board Sea Rover.
Somewhere around 1100 NM to go.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the promised land - Day 8

I think I've said this before... Offshore sailing is mostly moments of mundane activity with very quick moments of adrenalin thrown in just often enough to make sure you know how small you really are in the big ocean.
Yesterday afternoon through to tonight we have floated or motored in 3 meter swells of a very long period. Pretty comfortable. Its a good thing because we all needed copious amounts of down time due to the day before.
Yesterday I ended the post after describing my underwater water ski with a dive knife in my teeth to free a 12 inch line wrapped on the prop while fighting off great white sharks... Ok maybe it wasn't that dramatic but I'm writing the blog so poetic licence is mine alone. Anyway, after that event we got the boat moving again and sailed close hauled in very uncomfortable seas. Even Nadine was getting tired of the motion by nightfall so we tacked off and headed west then east at big sailing angles to try to get a better ride in the waves. Halfway through Karina's midnight watch I woke up to a loud bang and pretty big vibration. As usual I was in the cockpit before being fully awake knowing that something had broken. Now the task was to sort out what was wrong before more things went wrong. Karina was already trying to puzzle out what had broken and was shining her headlamp around the boat. We discovered the jib furling line had broken and the sail had unfurled to it's full size. Not good in 15 to 20 knots up wind. Karina headed the boat down wind and then we somehow managed to furl the sail by hand turning the drum. Surprisingly there was only one moment when I thought I would lose my grip and have the whole sail fly out again. With the jib now under control we flopped in the cockpit to consider what the next step was.
Both of us were pretty sacked from the day and Im not sure either of us could have done simple math if asked. Nadine was especially tired after making all the Naan bread and slept, snoring loudly through the whole ordeal. We measured the pieces of line that we had and discovered that none were the correct length or diameter for the furler. The line that broke was our spare but the original line was not quiet chafed all the way through from the trip to the Galapagos so we went to pull it out of the locker. It wasn't there. We both remembered thinking it had been put in a good accessible spot in case we needed to revert back to it but neither could remember where that was. You'd think that in a boat with the square footage the size of most peoples living rooms things can't go far. Well 2 hours later and 3 full unpackings of all the gear out of the lazerarete later Karina found it in the nice accessible spot behind a cover panel... As these things always go, this was done in the dark with the boat rolling rail to rail and a cold sea running down both sides. In spite of tearing apart the aft, forward and salon cabins Nadine still managed to remain unconscious.
Having finally found the line we realized we would need daylight and some possible outside internet assistance to fix it and jury rigged a much shorter line so we could get under way again.
The next morning after some much needed dead down time we all assembled in the cockpit to review our options for repairing the line. Given the squally conditions and upcoming gails we were expecting we really needed a simple way to control the jib without going on the foredeck. Upon inspection we noticed that only 4 12 core lines were cut and the outside braid only halfway chafed through. To fix it we melted and stuck the 4 core lines back together and then Nadine spent the next 4 hours darning both the core and cover until it looked like new. Netiher Karina or I went to a high school where the darning socks course was a prerequisite. Luckily Nadine is just a few years older than us, when things were fixed rather than thrown out and knew quite a few stitches that were applicable. We tested it on a winch and it seems to hold so we are now happily using it again.
Flash forward to today where Nadine made crepes for breakfast and upside down banana caramel muffins for dessert tonight and you can see we are back into the mundane.
In the interest of saving my marriage, this post contains no foreshadowing, forward looking statements or any comment on what the future might hold.

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