Monday, March 23, 2020

We've made it to Vancouver and are home!

Hmmm, it seems our last point was talking about just making it to Antarctica and all of the sudden we are at the other end of the world in Vancouver?  What happened?  Well as everyone knows, things are changing in the world and for once we aren't talking about climate change.

After a week long ordeal of pretty significant stress we are back in our home country.  We left Antarctica a day early but still arrived in Ushuaia unable to return to our boat in Chile.  Over the next few days we quickly learned the big disadvantage of being a foreign national in a country during a crisis. Our plans changed from going to the boat via ferry to via bus to via air to not at all.  Then they changed to staying in Ushuaia to needing to get out of Argentina to holy cow, will we actually get out or be forced to become a refugee in a make shift camp.

Something you never want to see in an airport when you are trying to get home
Everyone should perform heroic measures to get to their home country.
On a happy note, we are under Q flag for the next 14 days so we'll be able to put some pretty good posts together with good quality pictures that will clearly show how spectacular Falklands/South Georgia/Antarctica are.

Stay tuned

Thursday, March 12, 2020

We've made it to Antarctica!

We've been in Antarctica for the past couple of days but today we were finally able to actually stand on the continent. It's a pretty good feeling when you get to hold up the flag of the continent and have your picture taken surrounded by a bit of rock but mostly ice and snow. Yes, today we are now able to say 5 down and 2 to go.
Having said that, the zodiac excursions are what stole the show today. There certainly are not many days when I can say we had to stop taking pictures of the whales because we had to wipe the humpback snot off the camera lens. Both this morning's and this afternoon's excursions have been filled with so many whale encounters that some people on the boat are now calling them boring. I doubt we will ever get enough interactions with them to feel that way. Like some of the guides on board... We could spend years down here and never feel that we'd had too much.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Zodiac trip next to A-68

Today we did something that probably nobody has ever done.
In calm seas we approached A-68, the largest iceberg ever recorded. It calved off the mainland in 2017. Drifting about 150 NM from the Antarctic peninsula and at 100 NM long and 10 NM wide, it's really a slowly moving island. We arrived just before lunch and after a rushed 4 course meal we went up to the observation deck to have a look at the massive ice in front of us. Then we started seeing whales. Right, Fin and Humpbacks were all around the ship. The expedition leader figured this wasn't personal enough so he ordered the zodiacs launched and within minutes we had a very unexpected 2 hour dinghy cruise amongst the ice, whales and fur seals. At one point we had 3 humpbacks cruising slowly under the zodiac, at another we had a Right whale in between two humpback tails.
Its pretty hard to really describe how we felt, cruising beside an iceberg bigger than South Georgia with 2 KM of ocean below us and the unbelievable number of whales all around us. This is all before we have even reached Antarctica. We hope this trip's namesake wont be a let down but we really can't fathom how it can get better.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Endurance is the name of the game

Today we marched across the plains above the abandoned whaling station Stromness, and then in the afternoon visited Grytviken where most of the 30 or so people who live on South Georgia call their home. Both Stromness and Grytviken are important names in the greatest story of survival in the history of polar exploration. Yes I am talking about Ernest Shackleton. I can't do the story justice here so if this post peaks your interest follow the interweb for the whole tale.

Shackleton in 1914 left England and set off on an expedition consisting of 27 men on board the sailing vessel Endurance. His hope was to become the first man to cross Antarctica. Due to an unusually thick ice pack and a freak wind shift they were trapped in the Weddell Sea not far from their planned Antarctica landing where they drifted frozen on the ice flow for many months until the ship was crushed by ice and finally sunk. The men eventually made their way to Elephant Island in 3 lifeboats, but given that there was no hope of rescue, Shackleton set off with 4 other men in a makeshift 23 ft sail boat with a mostly open deck. 16 days and 800 miles later they arrived on the desolate west shores of South Georgia, where due to the condition of their craft, Ernest was forced to cross the mountainous spine of the island on foot. 36 hours later despite the lack of any surveys on the island they managed to find their way to the small whaling station of Stromness and were then taken to Grytviken where Shackelton mounted 3 rescue attempts to save the men on Elephant island. The 4th (the first major Chilean Navy rescue mission) was successful and miraculously, every man survived the ordeal.

This morning we walked 2.5 km in a howling head wind (which swung against us on the way back) to the waterfall Shackelton was forced to rappel down to reach civilization after his ordeal slogging across the glaciers and peaks from the other side. It was a fitting start to a challenging day where many felt Shackelton's pain as they walked back from the edge of the cliff. Shackelton probably hadn't had food for 2 or 3 days and really hadn't had anything nourishing for about a year. We all hadn't been fed for at least an hour and were certainly feeling the effects. On the way back to the ship we were hit by a number of gusts and shortly after that a good blow clocked 60 knots on the ships wind meter.

We then moved down island to Grytviken where we braved many aggressive and viscous fur seals to wander amongst the creepy remains of the horrible history of this place. The scale of death here has been documented in uncensored fashion as you are taken through the process of carving up and distilling first seals and sea lions and then whales over a period of a couple of hundred years.

We have one more day on South Georgia and another 5am wake up call so we can squeeze in a few more wildlife viewing expeditions before we blast down to Antarctica. Many on board are now picking and choosing their adventures with care and keeping their energy as high as possible by consuming as many chocolate cookies as are available.

In the wake of Shackleton, Karina and I will endure these difficult days aboard the World Explorer.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

South Georgia is Amazing!!!

In the last 6 years, very few blog post titles have been given 3 marks of excitement. South Georgia is one of those places that can only be described with adjectives that conclude with at least 3 exclamation marks (more is better). For anyone that loves penguins this is a place that must be on your list. Getting here is not easy (ask Karina who spent most of yesterday's passage in bed) but once we arrived this morning it was full on spectacularness from 5 am till dark. We only were able to get to shore once (out of three tries) due to weather conditions but even if we dont make it ashore again we have enough pictures to keep us happy. In fact we filled up two memory cards with today's pictures alone.
On the shore visit we did managed to get to we saw fur seals, elephant seals and King penguins. A survey was last done about 5 to 10 years ago which numbered the penguin colony in the bay at 140 000. It's impossible to describe a colony of 140 000 birds that are 80 cm high packed into a bay less than two km wide. Add their goofy cartoonish motions, beautiful colouring and then the amazing scenery on top of that and all you can do is sit down and stare in awe... But then one of these goofy curious creatures walks up to you and you reach a sensory overload that can only be appreciated by those who have been here... Wow.
We have another early morning tomorrow. Here's hoping that the weather cooperates and our excellent guides get a chance to fully earn their well deserved pay.
For those keeping score. 4 down 4 to go...

Monday, March 2, 2020

3 Down 2 To Go

Well the first few days have been pretty successful on our quest to see the 8 possible Penguin species on land. Here on the Falklands we've seen the Rockhopper, Gentoo and Magellan Penguins. Funnily enough we've spent the past two years in Chile trying to see the Magellan Penguin on land. We've seen so many of them in the water where they moooo like cows but have always missed them on shore. Yesterday we hit the motherload and have now been able to check that box in spades.
We've got so many pictures but unfortunately we don't have great internet on board so you'll have to imagine the thousands of penguins we saw here in the Falklands. We'll post more when we get back to civilization.
The ship has kept us pretty busy with talks about wildlife, geology and even political commentary on the Falklands war. We've met people from all over the planet with the large majority of them taking a cruise for the first time. The only crisis we've had so far was when the ship was delayed bunkering today while we ashore exploring the town of Stanley. This two hour delay has become a scheduling nightmare for the kitchen staff which ensure a constant stream of food at 3 hour intervals... I'm not sure how people are going to manage having to eat lunch, afternoon tea and dinner all within 4 hours. Personally, I didn't find it a problem.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The real adventure begins!

Just in case you were afraid this year had not been enough of an adventure for us, today we leave on a trip we never thought we'd do.
While, I certainly had visions of somehow getting down to Antarctica in a very uncomfortable fashion, we are hopping on a pretty fancy looking ship for the next 20 or so days.  The Quark owned ship "World Explorer" is slightly larger than Sea Rover II.  It will certainly feel a bit like cheating...

Our trip leaves from Ushuaia and then we'll head north west to the Malvinas (we are in Ushuaia so that's what they are called).  We will spend a few days there and then sail south east to South Georgia, where we'll hopefully see some cool wildlife.  After a few days poking around there we'll pass the South Shetlands on our way to the Antarctic Peninsula.

We don't have internet on the boat but we will be bringing our own small devices so we should be able to post a few pictures along the way.  You will also be able to track us on our inreach device here:

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Seno Pia

A nice view from the anchorage, but just wait!
After the fantastic weather we’d experienced in Caleta Julia with our friends on Rum Doxy, we didn’t think it could get any better.  It turns out we were wrong. 

We took advantage of the calms in the Beagle Channel to travel up Seno Pia, a fiord that has three separate glaciers that come down to the waters’ edge.  It was overcast and drizzling when we arrived and we could only see the lower half of the glacier, but it was still one of the prettiest spots we’ve ever seen.  We anchored and enjoyed a quiet afternoon and evening, the only disturbance a visit from a fox who sniffed our shoreline before disappearing into the forest. 

Travelling through the ice on Zephyros
Our friends on Zephyros anchored overnight in a different arm of Seno Pia, but contacted us the next morning to ask if we wanted to go with them to visit the three arms of the glacier in their aluminum Boreal 47 sailboat.  As there was quite a lot of ice, there was no way we could take Sea Rover through, so we jumped at the chance.  In overcast conditions we picked our way through the ice strewn water up the western arm of the glacier.  

Glad we didn't take Sea Rover here....
Most of the ice bits was quite small (a few feet across), but there were several larger pieces we needed to avoid.  Jon dodged as many as he could, but inevitably we crunched through many of them.  Sea Rover definitely would have been unhappy!  Daxton, the youngest son on Zephyros occupied himself by picking up small bergy bits from the water with his net as we slowly cruised along.  Little did we know that he’d later “sell” these to us as ice for our drinks!  The ice got thicker as we got closer to the head of the glacier, and finally it got to the point where we couldn’t go any further.  We drifted slowly about a half mile from the face and enjoyed the total serenity.  It was magical.  The sun poked its head out a few times and gave us a glimpse of what was covered by the clouds – the majestic peaks we’d been privileged to see on our hike with Rum Doxy two days previously.

After a lovely lunch floating amongst the ice, we slowly motored back down the western arm and made our way into the middle arm.  The ice wasn’t as dense and so we were able to motor to within a quarter of a mile from the face of the glacier.  We watched a few calving events and took lots of photos.  As we got ready to leave, the sun made another appearance and the skies started to clear.  By the time we were passing the last glacier, the sky was almost cloudless and the mountains were spectacular.  We headed back to the anchorage where Zephyros rafted to Sea Rover for the night. 

Sea Rover and Zephyros in beautiful Seno Pia
The next day was bright and sunny with not a cloud in the sky and so we hiked up the hill behind the anchorage to get a birds eye view of the middle and east glaciers and their adjacent mountains.  A rough, muddy trail led through a beautiful Fugean forest of stunted cypress, moss and many flowering bushes.  We ended up on a plateau of rock overlooking the glaciers.  Spectacular.  We watched two condors soaring in the sky above us, and let the morning drift into afternoon.  We even removed our jackets for a short while…

After returning to the boat we all decided we needed to see ‘our’ glacier close up.  We hopped into our respective dinghies and bombed the mile across the bay to the face of the glacier.  We drifted a few hundred metres from the face (much to the chagrin of the Cruiseship passengers on the nearby shore, I’m sure) and watched little bits calve off.  

The waves this created sent small ripples out to where we floated.  We then beached the dinghies and walked up the spectacular beach to the glacier’s edge.  We stood on the beach amongst a boulder/iceberg field and watched a few more calving events (not to worry, we weren’t anywhere near the ‘danger’ area).  By this time the Cruiseship was gone and it was just us and the crew of Zephyros…alone in Tierra del Fuego.

Should I have left him there??

The ice we "bought" for our drinks
Afterwards we sat on the front deck of Sea Rover and enjoyed the spectacular views of the glacier, while sipping wine (or ginger ale in the case of Gary) made cold by glacier ice (after some careful negotiations with Daxton, the ice baron).   

We didn’t think it could get any better, and then the sun set and cast a beautiful glow on the mountains, just as the moon was rising.  Magnificent. It was made all the more special by the realization that we were the only people in the whole world experiencing this magic moment.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The High (Weather and Otherwise)

Sea Rover and Rum Doxy sharing a quiet afternoon

As Gary mentioned in a previous post, we met up with Mike and Annette on Rum Doxy in Caleta Julia in the Beagle Channel.  I first met Annette in the laundry room at the marina in Puerto Escondido in Baja, Mexico back in 2016 – you just never know what a random conversation on a mundane day will lead to.  They sailed with us off and on for the rest of that season and we’ve kept in touch ever since.  They sailed to Chile a year ago and we spent a fantastic day with them at Laguna San Rafael last season.  Their plan for this year was to sail from Valdivia to Puerto Williams (end of the world) and then back to Valdivia in one season.  As this is the hardest sailing we’ve ever done in our lives, I can’t imagine doing both ways a 6 month time period!  I’m going to need some time to recover before I can even contemplate going north again!  Especially as ‘north’ is the hard direction as it is mostly against the wind. 

They had left Puerto Williams at the end of January and were spending a few weeks enjoying the Beagle Channel before starting the slog north.  We had a fantastic two days getting caught up and sharing the hardships and magical moments of our respective trips.  The weather cleared up and so we hiked to the top of the nearby ridge where we were treated to absolutely stunning views of a good chunk of the mountain range.  Rum Doxy had spent at least 3 weeks in the Beagle Channel, and while they had seen every glacier you could see from the boat, they hadn’t had a really nice, clear day. 

Well, Annette got her wish that day.  I’ve never seen anything like it. 

Having good weather in Chile, especially in this part of Chile, is almost unheard of.  I lost count of how many days we couldn’t see more than 2 nm in any direction while we were sailing in the Patagonian Channels.  I kept saying to Gary that we could be sailing anywhere in the world for all we were actually seeing of the Patagonian scenery.  It rained every day.  And not just a bit of rain, we are talking torrential, can’t hear yourself talk over the rain kind of rain.  It rained every time we put down the anchor and set the shorelines, and every time we pulled up the anchor and brought the shorelines in.  I have 2 completely different outfits that I wear, one for anchoring/shore work and one for sailing, as the anchoring set was soaked through almost every day. 

So to arrive in the Beagle Channel to sunshine, with a forecast of an entire week of good weather and calm winds and seas was truly a gift. 

Unfortunately the gift of good weather meant that Annette and Mike had to use the weather window to start their journey north, but we are so glad we got to share a perfect day with them.  We wish them calm seas and fairwinds on their trip north.  Until next time…

Wednesday, February 19, 2020


Whenever you see pictures of sailing in Tierra del Fuego, Caleta Brecknock is the anchorage that is most often shown.  We knew it was going to be spectacular, but the pictures didn’t do it justice.  Getting to Brecknock from the North is a bit of a challenge as one has to cross Canal Cockburn, which is wide open to the southern ocean.  It is known for contrary winds and big seas, which can make the 9 mile crossing a challenge to say the least.  We chose as good a weather window to cross this as we could ever hope for – NW winds 20-25 knots.  The NW winds tend to go a bit more W at the Canal Cockburn/Brecknock entrance, so the more N in the wind the better. 

We planned the passage as if we were going offshore, with seasick meds and barf buckets at the ready, and the ditch bag standing by.  We expected a bumpy ride down Canal Cockburn with the wind at our back and a large swell hitting our bow.  Miraculously we had a gentle swell and almost no wind until we reached the entrance of the canal.  Then the wind picked up to 30 knots and the seas quadroupled in size! 

Dolphins leading the way!
Our guidebook mentions a shortcut through a rocky area that all the fish boats take.  The route is explained very clearly in the book and the diagrams made it seem do-able.  This short cut only shaves off 1-2 nm from the trip, but the conditions were such that we decided to give it a go.  The first part of the route is straight-forward, but requires going through a narrow pass (30 feet wide) between two islands.  Just as we were nearing the pass, a pod of leaping dolphins came through, turned around and literally escorted us through.  While the dolphins cavorted and leaped around us, I kept a keen eye on the depth sounder and gave Gary directions.  No problem.  The dolphins then escorted us around the next few rocky areas (nicely marked by kelp) and into the hardest part of the shortcut – a very narrow, rocky pass.  The pass is marked by navigational aids, but they are not in the best condition and somewhat difficult to see.  The path through the islets was well marked by kelp however (another very useful navigational aid down here), and the guidebook directions made it pretty easy.  Regardless, we breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the other side.  At this point the dolphins handed us off to about 200 albatross.  They made sure we made it the rest of the way into the calm waters of Seno Ocasion.

Heading towards the anchorage
The scenery went from impressive to absolutely spectacular as we neared the famed Caleta Brecknock, our anchorage for the night.  On our way into the anchorage we experienced an unexpected williwaw coming off the cliffs (or ‘racha’ as they are called in Spanish).  I had untied the dinghy so that I could get our dock lines out of the back lazarette as we were going to be rafting to Zephyros for the night.  I was standing on the port rail getting the fendors ready when all of a sudden the wind picked up the dinghy (80 lbs) and hurled it sideways into me.  Luckily I got an arm out before it 1) hit me in the face, and 2) it went overboard, taking me with it!  Gary didn’t hear my scream (which was lost in the wind) and was going to give me a hard time for ‘messing about with the dinghy’ before he realized I was holding my shoulder funny and trying not to cry.  Needless to say we tied the dinghy down again before it could try another escape, even though we only had 0.5 nm to go.  I had a bruise on my arm, but was otherwise OK. 

Sea Rover, Zephyros and Kiwi Dreams in Brecknock
We anchored and rafted to Zephyros and another boat called Kiwi Dreams, got our lines tied off, and then went for a hike.  The photos speak for themselves.  What a wonderful area.  We would have loved to stay in Caleta Brecknock for longer, but there was a good weather window for heading east the next day across the next open ocean area.  We will look forward to spending more time there next year on our way back north.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Difficult Middle

We have now arrived in port, but want to backtrack a bit and fill in some of our experiences over the last few weeks now that we have good internet and can post pictures.

Sea Rover and Zyphyros in Caleta Hidden
After our night crossing of the Strait of Magellan we spent a few days waiting out weather in an anchorage just outside of the narrow pass that would take us further south and into Tierra del Fuego.  The anchorage was called “Caleta Hidden” and it was indeed a hidden gem.  It is a lovely bay with lots of bird life, including a new kind of cormorant (at least new to us) that we hadn’t seen before.  Unfortunately I saw it when we were going through the narrow, shallow, rock-strewn entrance and so I didn’t have a lot of time to watch it.  Our bird book identified it as a Rock Cormorant, but I didn’t get photos as the Captain kept insisting I pay attention to the depth and location of the kelp while he maneuvered us through the entrance.  Really, talk about priorities!

It's not a rock!
The bay itself was well protected from the wind, meaning that we only felt 15 knot gusts in the anchorage while it was blowing 25-30 knots outside in the Strait.  Despite having wind directly on the stern, our two shorelines never got tight, mostly because they were being weighed down by an incredible water slime that settled on the lines as soon as we’d put them out.  We’ve never seen anything like it.  It took us almost an hour to get the stuff off when it was time to leave and the exercise left both of us exhausted and with sore arm muscles!

Mountain lake.  Yes, it was cold!
The hiking in the bay was great, once you made it through the extremely prickly bushes and dense underbrush around the band of trees and into the more clear areas higher up.  The ground was largely spongy moss and so quite wet, but the moss itself held our weight while walking.  It was a bit like walking on a spongy cloud.  I’m sure there was ground under there somewhere, but we never saw it.  Things that looked like nice rocks when we were hiking up turned out to be an even bigger, spongy white moss.  Crazy.  It was great to get off the boat and use our legs again.  Plus the scenery was spectacular. 

This was also the first anchorage that we shared with another boat.  It was here that we met the US flagged boat Zephyros, a couple our age with 2 boys aged 10 and 12.  They are a really nice family and we enjoyed playing games and getting to know them.  

Steamer duck family stymied by our shore line
After 4 days in the anchorage the Captain was getting squirrely and decided it was time to move on.  Even though the wind was forecast from the SW, it wasn’t supposed to be that strong and so we decided we’d transit the narrow pass that leads to Tierra del Fuego and move to an anchorage 30 nm south.  We had variable winds in the pass – one minute it would be flat calm with no wind, then the next 30 knots from the NW, then 30 knots from the E.  And so on.  Annoying, but manageable.  Things got slightly more exciting when we got to the narrows itself.  The wind was blowing 25-30 knots directly on the nose.  We motored against it slowly, until we got to the narrowest part of the pass where there was a 100 m gap between a huge rock and an island.  At this point the current picked us up and we hurtled through the pass at 7+ knots!  There were a few tense moments while we tried to identify the rock amongst all the swirling water, but everything went smoothly once we knew where we were.  Times like that make us grateful that we spent years sailing in current-strewn areas in BC and the San Juan Islands. 

Sea Rover in Caleta Cluedo
Once through the narrows we motored to an anchorage called Caleta Cluedo, which was named by Cruisers who spent way too many days there playing the game Clue.  Little did we know that we’d also be occupying the bay for quite some time….  The bay itself is very pleasant.  It is surrounded by some reasonably high hills and has a lovely waterfall entering the head of the bay.  As with most of the anchorages in Chile, our guidebook recommended putting out an anchor and then laying 2 lines to shore so that the stern of the boat is tucked in close to the shore.  This is done to maximize the protection from the wind by any trees that may line the shore.  Typically you drop the anchor, then one person gets in the dinghy and rows a line to shore.  The person on the boat pulls in the line which pulls the stern of the boat gently into the shore.  This sounds good in theory, but anchoring this way in practice is much more difficult than it seems if there is any kind of wind blowing.  As this is Chile, the wind blowing is a given!  

On this particular day we anchored in the middle with no problem.  I then got in the dinghy and tried to row to shore against a 15 knot headwind.  I rowed, and rowed, and rowed, and rowed, and very slowly inched my way up to the bay (while the Captain yelled out helpful suggestions).  I then got out and wrapped shoreline #1 around a good-sized tree.  As we weren’t sure our line was going to reach shore, I’d taken the whole line to shore with me.  The idea was that Gary would do his best to back the (anchored) boat into the wind (yeah, right), while I rowed the line back to the boat and got it on the back cleat.  We’d then pull the boat around from there.  Simple right?  Sadly, no. 
3 shore lines and 2 anchors kept Sea Rover safe 
Gary sort of managed to manoeuver the boat backwards towards the wind, and I did make contact with the boat, but I missed giving him the line and the boat floated downwind faster than I could follow in the dinghy.  We repeated this two more times with a similar lack of success.  Needless to say when we finally got the line attached the stern of the boat was 300 feet (which is the length of our line) from where we wanted it to be.  With the 15 knots of wind now hitting the boat broadside, there was no way that Gary could pull the boat into position by hand.   We’d need a mechanical advantage.  So, we attached another line to the shore line that we could use as a warp and Gary ended up winching the line in turn by painful turn.  About 45 minutes (and many sore muscles) later the stern was where we wanted it to be and we could finally attach shoreline #2.  We then realized that the bay was more shallow and rocky than we’d originally thought.  As a NW wind (which was predicted overnight) would push us sideways into the bay and possibly into the shallow, rocky bottom, we decided a second anchor off the side of the boat was required.  While relatively easy to deploy it took time (did I mention it was pouring rain this whole time?).  A mere 2.5 hours after getting the anchor down the boat was in place and secure.  We were wet.  And cold.  And hungry.   And grumpy.

View from the top looking out the entrance of Caleta Cluedo towards Canal Cockburn

Our original plan had been to stay in Cluedo overnight and then continue into Canal Brecknock, and Tierra del Fuego proper the next day.  As this involves a short open ocean crossing that is known to be potentially nasty and the weather window looked questionable the next day, it didn’t take much to convince us to stay in Cluedo for the next forecast weather systems to pass through.  So we spent the next 5 days hunkered down waiting out the bad weather. The anchorage was protected from NW winds, but not really from the SW and W.  We had 35+ SW and W winds hammer us for 24 hours on our last day.  With 3 shorelines (we’d added an extra the day before the big blow) plus 2 anchors we weren’t going anywhere, so we just enjoyed the solitude (if you can imagine solitude with wind loud enough to drown out speech on board). 

Another hike in Caleta Cluedo
I got a lot of work done and we managed to do two hikes in between the rainstorms.  All and all it was a quiet week.  At the end of the 5 days though we were definitely ready to move on. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Heading to Antarctica!

A number of years ago I decided it would be cool to sail to Chile.  I was careful to not mention this to Karina but started her on my standard subliminal message program while sleeping.  After a couple of years of nightly doses the prescribed message finally made it through and with very little convincing required she agreed.  The next project was to convince her to sail south to Puerto Williams.  The Chilean government made this easy for me with their requirement to have the boat leave Chile every two years.  Shortly after this was confirmed I implemented operation Antarctica.

Surprisingly no subliminal messaging was required.  We both agreed that it would be very cool to sail to Antarctica.  Maybe even the Falklands and South Georgia as well.  I spent lots of time in Puerto Montt and Valdivia making contacts and planting seeds.  My hope was to run into a 20 m or bigger sailboat run by a nice couple who needed some experienced extra hands to get their boat all the way down to the bottom.  No payment was necessary.  We'd even help with food.

As we sailed down the channels it became clear that to get us both to Antarctica a slightly larger vessel than first imagined might be required.  It would also be nice if we were not responsible at all for our safety.

I tried a number of mind control techniques to change these new deep rooted conditions.  In a last ditch effort to change the situation I added my own requirement...  There was no way I could be on a boat unless I slept in a room that had a window that opened.  Karina foiled me and got me a whole balcony...
It's slightly larger than our current one and sadly has no sails.  I hope all the readers feel slightly sorry for my sacrifice.  I know I do.

This is going to suck!
We've got some time before we leave so more posts are coming about our trip the Beagle Channel...  Readers will now also get to enjoy more snow and ice as we head further south to Antarctica at the end of the month.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Arrival at the End Of The World

We arrived in Puerto Williams, at 54o56’ South (also known as the END OF THE WORLD) at ~2 am on Sunday, February 9th.  Why so late (or early) in the day?  And why a night arrival, you may ask?

Entrance to the Beagle Channel...  We have arrived.
It all started on Friday morning.  We left our wonderful anchorage at the base of a glacier early with the intention of having a leisurely sail/motor 20 nm south to an anchorage known for its spectacular hiking.  I wanted to get there early so that we’d have the day to do at least one of the hikes described in the guidebook.  The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day so we were looking forward to an afternoon walking in the hills.

Climate change IS Happening!
As there wasn’t much wind we motored along happily, making water and running the heaters to dry Gary’s wet hiking boots (more on that in another post).  I was down in the cabin working when Gary took a radio call from a Dutch sailboat 10 nm ahead.  Their engine wasn’t working and so they requested a tow to the anchorage we were heading to as there was no wind for them to sail.  They had seen us on the AIS and we were the only boat going in this direction.  As the Laws of the Sea demand, we said yes, of course we would tow them.  What else could we do?

Earning serious boat Karma
It look us a few hours to make our way down the channel to their location, and thankfully the 10 knot headwind we’d been battling died a mile from where they were floating.  We drove up alongside their boat, introduced ourselves briefly, took their tow line and secured it to Sea Rover II.  We then towed them along at 3.5 knots for the next three hours until we reached the anchorage 10 nm away.  As it was a calm day, this was easy and everything went smoothly.   At the mouth of the anchorage we dropped the tow line and they limped into the cove using their 2 horsepower outboard engine, which was strapped to the back of their boat.  They anchored and all was well.  It was now 4pm in the afternoon so my plans for hiking went out the window.

Views upon views..  We have soooo many pictures like this.
They invited us over for a drink to thank us for the tow.  After a quick inspection of the engine it became clear that their issue wouldn’t be an easy fix and would likely require getting parts in Ushuaia, 30 nm away from where we were anchored.  As Saturday was forecast to be windless and calm, we offered to tow them there.  Another Cruiser who spoke Spanish talked to the Armada (Chilean Navy, who also act as the de facto Coast Guard) and arranged to have us stop at Puerto Navarino on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel, directly across from Ushuaia, so that we could all clear out of the country.  Clearing out of Chile is required before you can enter another country so this in an important formality.  The plan was to anchor in Navarino, complete the paperwork, stay overnight and then tow  them the 9 nm across the channel to Ushuaia on the Argentinian side the next morning.  Puerto Navarino is not an official port where country clear out procedures happen, and so it seemed that they were making an exception for this disabled boat.

Very early departure from Caleta Olla.  Ushuaia here we come!
We agreed to leave at first light on Saturday morning as we knew we had a long day ahead, so by 6am we had them under tow out of the anchorage.  The conditions were sunny and calm all morning.  The cockpit got so warm that we actually took off our foul weather gear for the first time this season!  I think we even got a sunburn.
Beagle Channel...  Scariest place to sail in the world...  Really???
After consulting the weather and seeing that the winds were forecast to be quite strong on Sunday, which would make it difficult to tow them safely, I contacted the Chilean Navy to ask for permission to transit directly to Ushuaia without stopping in Puerto Navarino.  They told us to stand by, but came back with a firm no, we needed to clear out in Navarino.  So, into “port” we went.  I put “port” in quotations as the town consists of the Armada building and nothing else.  Just outside the bay we pulled the Dutch boat alongside and anchored with them attached to our side.  We then launched the dinghy and went in to the office to begin the clear out procedure.
Yup...  They are still attached.  Sadly we aren't going to Ushuaia...
The officer on duty was very junior, but he remembered me from our (painful) radio conversation about trying to bypass Navarino.  He understood our concerns about the wind and went away to make a call.  He came back 5 minutes later and told us we had two options. 1) We could take a car to Puerto Williams, a 50 km drive on a bumpy gravel road, to clear out there, or 2) we could take our boats to Puerto Williams, a 25 nm (50km) motor down the Beagle Channel to clear out there.  Hmmm, not quite what we expected.  We pointed out that we’d arrived in boats and so didn’t have a car to make option 1 a reality.  Did he know a way we could get there?  He repeated that we had 2 options… and no, the Armada could not arrange a car for us.  It was not his problem (which, in fairness, it wasn’t).  After letting the disappointment sink in, we started discussing options.  Leaving the Dutch in Puerto Navarino wasn’t really an option as the anchorage is not protected from the north and the winds were forecast to come from that direction on Sunday.  As we had 6 hours of daylight left and it was ‘only’ another 25 nm to Puerto Williams, we made the fateful decision to tow them there that evening.  If the conditions stayed as they had been all day, this would have been easily accomplished.  Alas, it was not meant to be.
Surprisingly we have no pictures of when it got ugly...  You'll just have to trust us.
The wind picked up an hour into the trip to 15-20 knots directly on the nose, and the seas picked up along with it.  Pretty soon we were bashing into 1.5 metre seas with the Dutch boat bashing along 100 feet behind us.  As the wind built, our speed decreased until we were making 1.5 knots speed-over-ground.  At least we weren’t going backwards!  As this wasn’t comfortable for us or the poor Dutch, we decided to try to pull into a bay that looked like it might offer some protection on the charts.  Unfortunately it was too deep to anchor in the open area of the bay, and the only possible anchor location required a tight entry between several rock-strewn areas marked by kelp.  As our maneuverability with the Dutch attached behind was poor even without accounting for the strong wind, we decided it was safer to slog along at 1.5 knots towards Puerto Williams instead of risking getting close to shoals and rocks.  Out we went back into the seas.  At this point Gary and I resigned ourselves to a long night.  We did discuss turning around and heading back to Puerto Navarino, but this would have required a night entry in an area full of unmarked reefs and shoals.  It was challenging enough during the day in calm seas and neither of us could imagine trying it in the dark.  With no good options, we hoisted our mainsail and motor-sailed slowly up the channel.  Thankfully the winds died down as the sun set and the seas decreased along with them.  Pretty soon we were back to pulling them along at 3.5 knots in calm conditions.  A night arrival into Puerto Williams was now inevitable, but the bay is large and the Dutch knew the area well.
If it looks like this...  Don't try to go into the harbour no matter what they tell you.
We arrived in the big bay off of Puerto Williams at 0100 and then made a mistake.  Instead of just anchoring off the town and waiting for daylight to go into the protected inlet where the marina is located, we listened to the Dutch when they said the entry to the inlet was easy and we’d have lots of room to maneuver inside.  Despite our unvoiced, individual misgivings, we pulled them alongside and headed to the mouth of the inlet.  Even with the brightness of the full moon, it quickly became clear that we couldn’t identify enough landmarks in the dark to enter the inlet safely.  After we found ourselves in the middle of a kelp field and the depth sounder got down to 0.1 m beneath our keel, we slowly backed up (no easy feat with a 40 foot sailboat strapped to our side!) and moved back out into the bay.  I’m pretty sure I taught the Dutch a few new swear words during the whole procedure.  Phew.  We dodged a bullet.  By the time we were anchored it was 0230 and we were exhausted.  We fell into an exhausted sleep only to be awakened by the Navy at 7 am calling to tell us we needed to move as we were anchored off the end of the runway for the airport and they were expecting a plane… Oops.

Really...  We promise...  It did get rough...
The story, of course, ends well.  We towed the Dutch boat 70 nm down the Beagle Channel to Puerto Williams, where they are hopeful that the local mechanic will be able to fix their engine; we got here safely and made some new friends.  In Puerto Williams we immediately met up with our friend Rene on sv Ata Ata, a single-handed sailor we met when we first arrived in Valdivia 2 years ago.  He made us a lovely dinner our first night in town, and we enjoyed another lovely meal at a fantastic pizza restaurant in town with the Dutch last night.  We feel spoiled!

We officially cleared out of Chile yesterday and headed back up the Beagle Channel 25 nm to Ushuaia in Argentina today.  It’s a bit rough in the marina where we are currently moored as we are rafted 4 boats deep off a big wharf in a pretty exposed harbor, but it’s OK.  We’ll stay for a few days, then return to Puerto Williams on the weekend and re-check into Chile so that we can start the clock on our temporary boat import permit again, which is the whole reason we sailed down here in the first place.

So we made it to the THE END OF THE WORLD.  But what happened to the middle?  As we didn’t write much about our travels within the Patagonian Channels on the way down, we’ll spend the next few blog posts going back in time and filling in some of the gaps (with pictures, of course).