Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Brecknock


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).



Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Why are we here???

Up until last week we had many moments (even full days and nights) where we questioned why we came down here. Sure there were moments of fleeting spectacularness but for every one of those moments we'd also have a few of terror and misery. Yesterday was a full day that pushed any doubts whatsoever out of our mind that every single bad moment was soooo worth it.
We are anchored in Brazo norte an arm of the Beagle Channel overlooking about 10 glaciers and unbelievable snow and ice covered peaks. Yesterday was the first day we've had since we've entered the channels that didn't have a cloud in the sky. We met up with long lost friends Rum Doxy and hiked up a ridge overlooking the Strait and spent the whole afternoon basking in the views, sun and warmth. Things were so calm that the snow was reflected in the waters of the Beagle Channel below. There were no cruise ships, sailboats or anyone else that passed all afternoon. We were the only ones on the planet who got to experience this once in a million day. Words, pictures, video or even drone footage can't hope to describe what we saw and felt. Yesterday was a day that we selfishly will keep for ourselves for ever. Never forgetting how special this place really is if you are patient and take the time to get to know her.
We are now just a few days away from civilization. Pictures and lots of posts will flow shortly after that.
All for now