Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Strait of Magellan Done!

Way back as a kid, I learned a few things about a crazy guy who decided he wanted to sail around the world. This guy lived in the 1500's so things were a bit different than they are now. In fact one of the reasons he had such a hard time getting his expedition off the ground was that most still thought the world was flat. Fast forward 500 or so years and while we still have a few who believe the world is flat a lot has changed. We have satellites that give us exact position (even if the maps are sometimes a little off), a reasonable expectation of the weather to come, boats that can sail upwind or even motor and clothing that keeps us reasonably warm and dry while out in the elements. Magellan (or Magallenes as he's known to all but the English) had none of these things and worse yet he had to contend with a Spanish fleet that didn't trust him (he was Portuguese) and every place he went to reprovision had hostile natives that tried to kill his sailors. Somehow against all odds he still managed to find the fabled SW passage to the spice islands. It's no wonder one of the hardest places to sail on earth bears his name.
When we started thinking about sailing around the world, I read many books about those who had done it before. Famous sailors like Magellan, Drake, Cook, Slocum and of the more recent Moitessier were names that inspired many who went before us. Every book I read about someone sailing around the world included at least one of these names as a reason for leaving the safety of their home and venturing out in to the great wild blue yonder. As I was reading these stories about deserted tropical beaches, warm water snorkeling and unlimited sun downers all I could focus on was the names of those inspirees. Despite 500 years of history between them all of these sailors had one thing in common. They had all sailed in what is now Southern Chile. My focus quickly left the tranquil lifestyle I was initially thinking about when I proposed the sailing lifestyle to Karina and I said to her while pointing at a map... We should go there!
For all those who know Karina, you can imagine the response... "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard". Fast forward almost 15 years and well, WE HAVE ARRIVED.
Crossing the strait and sailing the 100 miles down the length of this place so steeped in history had little drama for us. We left on the back of a pretty weak front and enjoyed a full 24 hours of pleasant downwind sailing. We saw stars for the first time this year and had two days of sunshine. Dolphins, whales and penguins leapt beside us. Albatrosses glided around us and snow capped peaks towered above us. After a couple months of tough sailing and some significant emotional lows we were now finally both feeling a clearly defined emotional high. We both agreed that it was good to come here and the many years of hard work both physically and mentally to get here were justified.
Now I sit here, safe and warm inside Sea Rover, writing this post. We are tied in with 2 anchors and 3 shorelines. 30 knots is currently blowing outside and 60 is forecast over the next few days along with the driving rain and sleet that always comes with the wind. I wish I'd had a way to record those feelings we felt less than a week ago. Luckily there are still some good feelings left over to tide us over until the next high (which might be in few days).

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Law of Diminishing Returns (to Port)

Since we have no way to post fantastic pictures of the spectacular scenery to keep our readers interested, we've decided to spend this post pontificating.

Given the wonders of satellite technology I just used google to look up a definition of the Law of Diminishing Returns. It states:
"The Law of Diminishing Returns is an economic theory that describes how at a certain point, increasing labor does not yield an increase in production."
Over the past month of sailing in the southern channels of Chile, we have realized that this theory isn't just an economic theory, it applies to sailing as well.

Here is how:
Every day, before departure, we plan our next anchorage. Depending on a number of factors including quality of anchorages in the area, expected weather, sticking to a schedule and even just how we feel, the distance to this next anchorage can be anywhere from 20 to 60 NM away. We always plan at an average speed of 5 NM per hour. Doing the math, 20 NM should take 4 hours and 60 NM should take 12 hours. Because its summer here we have around 16 hours of daylight. In Chile, because of the unknown quality of the charts and lots of unmarked dangers lurking just below the surface we must be into the next anchorage (or "port") before it gets dark.

We leave our anchorage and head for the next. Thing are going well and our planned anchorage is well within reach by the planned time. Knowing the variable conditions down here and how rare things go well, we decide to push on to the next anchorage only a short distance away. In fact it's "Only an hour away". Once we make that fatal statement, the "Law of Diminishing Returns (to port)" kicks in and one of two things happen.

Possibility #1: The wind slows down or the current against us picks up and our Estimated Time to Arrival (ETA) never changes. The distance decreases but so does our speed and we are always only an hour away. This continues for the rest of the afternoon until we are 1 mile away with 1 hour of daylight left doing everything we can to maintain a speed of 1 NM per hour. Inevitably we arrive just before dark but still have at least an hour to get anchor set and the 3 or 4 lines attached to shore. We collapse into bed without bothering to eat dinner.

Possibility #2: The wind picks up and our speed increases dramatically. Doing 8 or 9 knots our anchorage is now only minutes away but it's just started raining sideways again and the entrance to the bay is too difficult given the sea and wind conditions. Since our speed has picked up we decide we still have time to make it to the next anchorage. In fact it's "Only an hour away". This of course invokes the Law yet again and we continue at infinitum with either possibility until we arrive at some anchorage just before dark and yet again and collapse into bed without dinner.

Every year we sail, we learn new laws that the god of the sea has commanded that we follow. Most apply to any attempt to bend him and his ways to our will. This is yet again another example.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Puerto Eden complete with a garden???

My bible studies are a bit rusty but I seem to remember Eden being a place with a garden and a fig leaf...  While we did find a garden here, if you only wore a fig leaf you'd probably have problems with frozen plumbing.

Puerto Eden, a lost paradise???
Other than the very cold wind, Puerto Eden has been a nice break from the solitude.  The people here, as usual in Chile, are very friendly and helpful.  We came here not expecting to find much in the way of things we needed.  Fuel was a long shot, vegetables unlikely,  cell reception a pipe dream, laundry not even considered.

Well, we are happy to report that all boxes were checked here.  We quickly found "Uncle Alito" who hooked us up with diesel on the down low.  The guide book talked about poor quality dirty fuel at exorbitant prices.  We were pleasantly surprised to find good clean diesel at prices that only reflect how hard it was to get it here.  Alito, after inviting us into his home for tea then went as far as offering us use of his laundry facilities.  We lept into action and two loads of hard to wash items were quickly run through the machine.  Unfortunately, as is common in Chile, he didn't have a dryer so we will spend the next couple of weeks moving items inside and out to get them dry.  The weather here is not exactly conducive to removing moisture from things.  At least they smell cleaner than they did.

Laundry being blow dried

After the unexpected laundry chore we went for a long walk around the small town to see if we could find any other hidden gems to spend our money on.  The first Almacen (market) we found took us a while to sort out how to get to.  After walking a few boardwalks around the store with no way to it evident, we sorted out a path and an older man working in his yard invited us through.  His living room had racks of AAA batteries in single unit blister packs and a few cans of peas...  He did have a bottle of concentrated lemon juice...  At least we could ward off scurvy but this was not a good start.  Karina asked in broken spanish...  Vegetables???  Ah, yes, follow me.  He went into his kitchen and grabbed a knife.  We then followed him into his yard and he pointed to various things growing in his garden and greenhouse.  Chives, Swiss Chard, Dill, Mint, and Lettuce were all quickly acquired.

The next Almacen we found looked closed and deserted but upon ringing the door bell a smiling man welcomed us in.  This was a "Supermercado"!  We discovered good quality Onions and Potatoes, lots of canned fruits and vegetables and a freezer full of meat including the coveted "Centolla" which is the same giant crab you find in Alaska.  King crab for dinner!

Puerto Eden is the rainiest place on earth (according to Wikipedia so it must be true).   We have actually had almost 24 hours without rain though.  We took the opportunity to further explore the boardwalks and covered the whole village in just under an hour.  This included a hike up to the lookout which taxed our boat bound bodies.  We even decided to stay an extra day with the promise to complete the same hike the next day (rain or shine).

Danger Gary, praying the tower wont fall over.
This is the last sign of civilization we'll see until we arrive in Puerto Williams more than a month from now so we will certainly make the most of it.  We've spent hours at the computer performing last minute internet

research tasks, getting ready for the next leg.  We've even managed to download a few videos to keep us occupied during the cold and rainy afternoons when it's too ugly to move to the next anchorage.

All in all we've been happy with our stop here.  If you've ever wondered why humans are so hearty and resilient, we've found the answer here in Puerto Eden.  Adam and Eve must have been pretty damn tough people to live here with nothing but a fig leaf and an apple.

Sea Rover and all her glory in Puerto Eden

Monday, January 13, 2020

Seno Iceberg is not aptly named

One of the reasons I dragged Karina down here (kicking and screaming, I might add) is to view the majestic icefields of  Patagonia.  We had a small taste last year at Laguna San Rafael where we reached the edge of the northern part of the ice field.  Later this year we plan to reach the south end of the southern icefield but unwilling to wait I took Sea Rover (and Karina) on a small diversion to get a first glimpse of this force of nature.

Brrr...  Maybe Seno Iceberg is aptly named after all...  It's cold here!
We headed east down a channel marked Seno Iceberg.  The name alone conjures up views of titanic sized frozen chunks of blue and white water.  Things got off to a good start when our instruments showed the water temperature quickly dropping.  12 degrees C -10 - 7 - 4!!!  The water turned a classic turquoise green.  This was going to be great!

Then the wind started to pick up.  Our instruments were showing the wind increasing as fast as the water temperature was decreasing...  5 knots - 10 - 17 -25 -30!!!  The water turned a classic turquoise green with white ribbons of foam.  Maybe this wasn't such a good idea!

I had visions of Sea Rover being blown down the channel where she would meet her maker smashed on the hard blue wall sure to be at the end of the fjord.  After being squashed on the wall, I was sure that huge chunks of 1000 year old ice also being blown east would finish us off and if that didn't do us in surely the house sized calving blocks of ice from above would.  It was sleeting sideways and we could see nothing but grey.  It was time to pull into a safe anchorage and reassess.

Southern Patagonia Icefield only 5 NM away
We found a nice bay where the wind dropped down to 20 knots and set our anchor.  We went below and warmed up in the balmy 12 degree C boat.  After some lunch we noticed the rain had slowed and we could see the end of the bay about 5 miles south.  The wind seemed to be calming down as well.  We tied Sea Rover into the cove and donned our survival suits.  After prepping "Pearl" (our dinghy) for the voyage down to the glacier, we were just about to head off when we noticed another grey wall coming from the west.  We retreated back to the cockpit and waited another half hour for the next window.  When it came, we were now ready.

Wow, we made it right to the face of a glacier!

As soon as the squall passed us we raced down bay in an effort to get there and back before the next squall.  As the scenery flew by, I was making mental notes of where we might take refuge should our timing be off.  Despite a small issue with our new dinghy chaps trying to sink the dinghy (modifications will be required) we made it right to the face of the glacier in good time.

Last year in Laguna San Rafael we couldn't get within 5 miles of the glacier due to all the bergy bits blocking our forward progress.  Now we were standing on a small rock less than 100 m away from the towering face.  Where were the icebergs?  Upon closer inspection we realized that very little of the glacier is actually still in the water.
Danger Gary posing in front of the glacier

Glacier Tempano is no longer really a "tidewater" glacier.  Like Jorge Montt glacier just to the north, it is one of the fastest receding glaciers in the world.  In 2014 a careful study of Jorge Montt revealed the ice depth lost 30 m on average.  Between 2016 and 2014 the face has moved 1.5 km further back.  We can attest first hand experience having seen cruiser friends photos of this exact spot and its change in just a few years.

Unwilling Karina posing in front of the glacier
After careful coaxing, Karina joined me on the small rock and we quickly took a few last photos to prove we were both there.  While small chunks fell off the face and crashed on to the beach below (no ice fall tsunamis here) we grabbed a piece of 1000 year old ice and jumped back in the dinghy in an attempt to race back up the strait and the safety of Sea Rover before the next squall hit us.

Can we make it back to the boat before the next squall?!?!?
Shortly after leaving the face, the rain began again but the waves weren't too bad from the increased winds and we had the company of dolphins playing in the dinghys bow wave 5 or 6 inches from Karina's face.  Comfortably and reasonably dry in our survival suits we trekked back to the boat happy that our worries about the excursion were unfounded.

Last month was Chile was supposed to have hosted the world climate summit.  Perhaps if Greta had come here the world would know more about how fast history is melting away.  In the time it took us to motor back to Sea Rover from the face of the glacier, our 1000 year old piece of ice was gone.

1000 year old ice gone before we could make it back to the boat.
Yet another example that climate change is REAL!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Tortel: An Unexpected Gem

All things that are good in life require some sort of hardship right???  Well despite the "Odyssey" required to arrive in Tortel, we were not disappointed.
Remember when I talked about the landscape like this:

Water and Rock

And This:

Water and Rock
 And This:

Rock and Water

Well given those images you would assume it's impossible for any sort of community to survive in this area.  Tortel is not only surviving, it's thriving.  This quaint village of about 500 people is a maze of boardwalks and stairs with well-kept homes nestled in between.

Tortel is Cute!  (Gary... not so much)

In fact, the boardwalks are the secret to how they’ve managed to create a village in this environment.   There are no areas flat enough to build roads and any footpaths would be quickly washed away let alone impossible to keep from becoming a boggy mess.  Homes are built above and over the land, not on it so there is no need to clear or level anything.

Who needs flat ground when you can build on platforms

The single road comes in well above the village so everything you need to live on requires it to be carried down at least 200m of stairs to the waters edge where you can either wheelbarrow it along the various 7 km of boardwalks or cheat and catch a water taxi to the closest point of your home.  This includes the materials (wood, windows appliance etc) needed to build your home.

Sea Rover set up for Patagonia with Tortel in the background.
The single road to town ends at the top of that hill!

We think there is a thriving history of industrious individuals who sustain their living expenses by carrying your stuff for you.  In fact they've built a shrine for them...

Everything needed to live here is carried on their backs

We haven't (and won’t be able to) spent enough time here to discover what keeps people busy here but at a glance it seems to cater to the few tourists who are adventurous enough to get here.  

Great carvers live here

There are various artisanal carving shops who seem to do excellent work and a few small stores and "restaurants".  Given the very short tourist season here we expect there is more to this place but alas, the south is calling and we must move on.  

Public art in Tortel

At a minimum there must be a fairly good number of people employed to keep the many many kilometers of wooden boardwalks from reverting back to the landscape the came from.

The boardwalks here must require constant maintenance

For the naturalists in our audience, you’ll be pleased to know you can find the worlds largest bee here.  This web page here lists them as extremely rare and almost extinct but we found them all over.

Bombus dahlbomii.  A very big bee!

You can also find hummingbirds the size of crows (ok only 9 inches tall)...  But they were too fast for us to get a good picture for proof… 

If you ever find yourself in the south of Chile, take the detour and visit this place.  You won’t be disappointed….  Unless you are looking for diesel and then despite what the guide book says, you are out of luck.
Don't forget to grab a map when you arrive...  Its easy to get lost here.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Tortel: Sea Rover’s Odyssey

 In our last post we spent a long time describing how remote we were and how difficult it would be to live in this area.  We had decided to take a detour of about 100NM to Tortel but had no idea what we would find when we got here.

Who knew it would only take an Odyssey similar to Homer’s complete with Sea Monsters and the plague to get here.    For those who wish to follow in our footsteps, here is a guide to sailing to Tortel.

Step 1, Fight off the Harpies:  Upon entering the Strait of Monsters, (AKA Canal Martinez) you will find invisible harpies (AKA Rachas) that come out of the sky and attack the boat at random.   They seem to be especially attracted to large amounts of sail so keeping a minimum sail area is essential even if the wind is only blowing 5 or 10 knots.

Naming your boat the Invincible wont help
against the Harpies
Step 2, Beat the Giant Squid:  This is also where giant squids attach to the bottom in an effort to drag you back to their lair.  These extremely intelligent animals (AKA Currents) are warry of being seen by humans so if your boat is slowed down to moving forward at only 2 knots a simple glance at the stern in not enough.  You must run from side to side and fore and aft as quickly as possible to catch a glimpse of him below as he moves out of your sight.  The reality is that even if you do see him there isn’t anything you can do to free yourself so you must continue to push forward at a painfully slow pace.

You will never see the Giant squid attached to your bottom
no matter where you look

Step 3, Survive the Plague of Flies:  When it’s not blowing 30 or 40 knots, small black flies that are happy at breezes below 30 knots (we think they are a secret Chilean genetic engineering project to protect their extensive coastline) come out in droves.   We thought heavy rain would keep them at bay but alas, this does not deter them.  Luckily their bite only itches for a few weeks and leaves a scar so the toll isn’t too high.

Even the bees are giant here

Step 4, Don’t drown in the Great flood:  We already have a sailboat so we didn’t need to build one but MAN DOES IT RAIN here.

Rain makes everything look better doesn't it!

Step 5, Sacrifice your wife to the Dragon:  When the Harpies go away, don’t even think of being complacent.  They were scared away by the DRAGON.  Yes, this creature, also invisible, scares away the Harpies and waits patiently until the sailor thinks he is safe.  He hovers until more sail is made and then WHAM he hits with a fury until you lash your wife to the mast in the torrential downpour and crashing seas as a sacrifice.

She had no idea of what was about to happen...

It is only then that the oasis of Tortel comes into view and you can relax for a little while. That is until you realize the only way out is the way you came in and you must do it all over again.
For those who care...  Yes, the Dragon gave her back.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Gulfo de Penas... Done!

Well, our penance paid previous to the Penas passage paid off :)
The crossing, despite the big seas was reasonably uneventful and we made it to anchor slightly before lunch. The only down side was the Champagne had to wait until dinner and the bacon was consumed this morning.
We've decided to detour to a small village inland called Tortel so we should be able to post a few pics from there in a few days. Until then you will have to be content with a word description of the area.

Having crossed the Gulf, the scenery has changed quite a bit. We saw this change slightly when we first crossed south of Chiloe back in the beginning of December. Around Chiloe the views are rolling pastoral hillsides with gentle hues of green. Off in the distance you could see the giant snow capped peaks and volcanoes but they seemed too far away to touch. Cute, brightly coloured homes, churches and small villages could be seen scattered everywhere. Small boat traffic was common. Once south of Chiloe into the start of the Patagonian channels the rolling hillsides vanished, to be replaced with towering cypress-covered spires. The forests seemed impenetrable and surely nobody could live here. Aside from 3 or 4 small villages and a few isolated hermits this is true. Land farming is replaced by fish farms, which cling to the hillsides as they spring from the ocean. Boat traffic is only for boats bigger than ours, and much less frequent. The snow covered peaks are close enough to touch just above the dark green hills.

Now we are south of Gulfo de Penas and it seems that even the trees have a harsh life. Living here would be extremely difficult - so nobody does. Fish farms may exist here but there are so many inlets and bays you'd need to know where to look to find them. Once out of the main channel south, boat traffic (aside from us) is non-existent. Everywhere we look all we see are giant, granite domes teaming with white waterfalls. This area was covered by glaciers not very long ago. As we continue south the glaciers will come down to greet us. Right now, satellite photos are the only reason we know glaciers are around us as the channels are too narrow and steep to see much past the polished domes before they vanish into the clouds. The constant torrential downpours that cut visibility to zero doesn't help either.

It feels like we are the only beings left in the world... In fact, it is quite likely that we are the only humans within a 50 mile radius. How many places on Earth can you say that?
A big milestone (crossing Gulfo de Penas) has been achieved, but we still have many more before we reach Puerto Williams. Stay tuned.