Thursday, February 7, 2019

Dashing Through Canal Chacao

Today we made the passage from the outer coast to the inner waters between Isla Chiloe and mainland Chile.  The channel (Canal Chacao) that separates the top of Chiloe from the mainland is about 15 nm long and only 2 miles wide.  As such, an enormous amount of water travels between the ocean and the inner sea 4 times a day.  Currents can travel up to 9 knots and so passage of the channel has to be carefully timed.

Not our max speed, but still a respectable 9.1 knots
As always, we did our homework and knew when we had to go through.  For once the timing was even in our favour – we were to leave the anchorage at 9am to arrive at the mouth of the channel at slack tide by 9:30-10:00.  We could then expect a tidal push through the channel for the next few hours.  All went according to plan, except we hadn’t quite accounted for the wind.  Well, that’s not strictly true, we knew a SE wind would suck once we got through the channel, but we expected the wind to pick up in the afternoon (as it usually does) when we would already be through.  Alas, it was not to be.  The wind piped up at 8:50am and was a consistent 15-20 knots from the SE the entire way through.

Needless to say the first 15 nm literally flew by.  With a reefed main and triple reefed genoa we reached a top speed of 11.6 knots while going through the narrowest part of the channel.  Definitely a wild ride!  Then we reached the inner side of the channel, where the 15 knot SE wind met the 8 knot W current.  Not a pretty sight, with big standing waves.  We got tossed around like a rag doll in the huge confused seas.  Not for the first time were we glad we have such a well found boat.  She managed the nasty 1.5 m swell at 1s intervals in style, burying her nose when required, but slogging through it all with ease (I’m glad I didn’t wash the dodger windows before we left the anchorage this morning). 
The only carnage happened down below, where in our haste to leave Valdivia on that good weather window a few days ago we hadn’t got around to screwing down the floor surrounding our salon table.  After hearing a crash below in one of the particularly large, nasty standing waves, we looked down to see our table, still attached to the floor, on its side.  

They all survived!!! Yippee!!

Luckily (or unluckily, as the case may be) it wedged itself between the two couches when it fell so it wasn’t going anywhere for the rest of the trip.  Amazingly, it’s cargo of 13 bottle of wine (glasss!), 2 liquor bottles (more glass!), 6 boxes of wine and 12 cans of ginger ale all survived completely unscathed (due to the excellent packing job I did in Valdivia before we left).  Phew.

After 30 minutes of really rough seas, we made it out of the standing wave section and just into the normal, crappy seas you get when you try to sail upwind against a 20 knot wind in an area that has a huge fetch.  Luckily we only had about 10nm to go to our next anchorage, where we took refuge behind some shellfish farms at the bottom of the bay.  It isn’t as picturesque a spot as some of the others we could have chosen, but it is reasonably protected from the wind, and has no swell.  Yippee!
Our shellfish farm shelter

So, another few lessons learned on this trip.  A good reminder that sailing upwind in 20 knots really, really sucks (especially in steep, short seas), and nailing everything down that can be nailed down has moved up a few spots on the priority list.

We will likely spend another day in this anchorage tomorrow while we continue to finish off our boat job list.  The wind is actually expected to blow from the north on Saturday (unheard of!) and so we hope to take advantage of it to move us further south and into some of the interesting islands down the coast.  We (even Gary) are “off” sailing upwind for a while…

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