Monday, December 13, 2021

Fin del Mundo - Puerto Williams

Can you spot the Bonhomie de Nieve?
We actually started this blog post about Puerto Williams in March 2020 when we were preparing Sea Rover II for a winter at the bottom of the world.  When it became clear that 'a winter' might mean 'forever', we both felt less inclined to write about our this unique little town and our experience here.  But we should have.  

Our route through Chile.
 Puerto Williams 
is at the end of the red line

To set the stage, Puerto Williams is at 54o55'S, only 60 nautical miles from Cape Horn.  It is the town that is furthest south in the whole world (despite the fact that Ushuaia in Argentina makes this same claim, it is technically 5 nm further north!) It is located on the south side of the Beagle Channel, on an island called Navarino, 25 miles east of Ushuaia.  

Sea Rover spent the last 21 months at the Club de Yates, Micalvi, which is essentially a beached navy vessel (the Micalvi) that was turned into a club house for yachties about 20 years ago. Different from a typical yacht club that most of us are familiar with in North America, there are no docks here.  Instead, boats tie up 3 abreast to the side of the ship, and other boats tie up along side.  You end up with 3 'rows' of  boats, 7-8 boats deep.  As we draw 7 feet fully loaded, we needed to be in the deepest part of the inlet, which turned out to be right next to the Micalvi.  Before we left, we tied our 6 thick shore lines to the Micalvi, with enough slack to accommodate both high and low tides (as the Micalvi does not move with the tide).  Sometimes Sea Rover is 4 feet below the deck of the ship, and sometimes we can step off our deck onto the Micalvi's roof, depending on the tide.  Regardless, we are the anchor point for the 6 other boats rafted to the outside of us.  

No sailor here ever trusts someone else's lines!
As Puerto Williams is difficult to get to (by all means of transportation!) the sailors that make it here tend to be the cream of the crop (present company excluded). The benefit of being around such seasoned sailors here at the sunken Navy vessel is that even with 3 rows of 7 boats rafted outside of us, all lines are tied and boats are put to bed in a very seamanship manner. There is no need to suggest to any of the boats that they should add additional lines to shore... It's already done. When the wind picks up to 40+ knots there is no drama with boats swinging around wildly or sails coming unfurled. 

Micalvi in all her glory
We've been back on the boat for almost 2 weeks now.  Miraculously the engine seems to run and all other systems are operating normally.  The climate here is quite dry, and so the mold on the boat was kept to a minimum and for once there was not water in the bilges.  Our original plan was to take the boat 1200 nm north up to Puerto Montt this season so that we could pull her out on the hard.  We had two main concerns with this plan: 1) we only have 6-7 weeks to make it all the way north, which isn't quite enough time to do it comfortably; 2) our boat visa, which expires in February.  One of the reasons for coming to Puerto Williams in 2020 was that our original boat visa for Chile, which was issued in Easter Island, was expiring.  Foreign boats are allowed to say in the country for 1 year + a 1 year extension (usually).  At that time, you can re-start the clock on the visa by clearing out of the country, and checking into another country.  Once you've done that, you can return to Chile and clear into the country again for another 2 years.  The easiest place to do this is down here, where Ushuaia, Argentina and Puerto Williams, Chile are only 25 nm apart.  So when we arrived in Puerto Williams in 2020, we immediately cleared out and went to Argentina for a week.  We then returned to Puerto Williams and re-started the visa clock.  This is very straight forward when the ports are open.  This is not so straight forward when the ports are closed.  While Ushuaia is open, Puerto Williams is closed to foreign vessels entering the country. So we could go to Argentina but we would not be allowed back into Chile.  In our opinion, Ushuaia is not an ideal place to leave the boat for the winter as the docks and anchorage are extremely exposed.  Puerto Williams is much more protected and therefore a much better option.  As such, we have made the decision to keep the boat here for another winter instead of trying to take it to Puerto Montt where it would likely be more difficult to get a visa renewal.  If the port opens to foreign boats, we'll go to Ushuaia to reset the clock, and if it doesn't, we'll apply for an extension and see how it goes.   

We got lucky with our spot for the pandemic!
So we have some time on our hands.  We've been slowly putting the boat back together and recuperating from a very busy few weeks in Canada before we left.  We have been catching up with Cruising friends who lived here during the pandemic and meeting some new people.  And I've been working (I start vacation later today!!).

The end of the world.... literally.
Across the way from where we are berthed is a small sailing school where kids of all ages from Puerto Williams head out into the bay in Opti's, Lasers and J24's. The water temperature is 9 °C. The air temp is typically 14 °C at the height of summer.  The kids go out year round despite the snow and ice here in the winter. Obviously we were coddled too much as children...  Yesterday the club held a fundraiser for a regatta in Monaco in early 2022.  Our friends on s/v Zephyros, who lived here during the pandemic, invited us to lunch at the club to support the kids.  While chowing down on Pizza Centolla (crab pizza) and Choripan (chorizo sausage in a bun) we watched our Swiss friend Rene treat dozens of people who'd never set foot in a boat to an exhilarating 30 minutes of open ocean sailing in a 24-foot J-boat in 40 knots of wind.  I think it was entertaining for all! The day summed up our observations of the town perfectly.  Despite the fact that conditions here are often tough, everyone comes together and supports each other.

Our new "plan" for the season is to get the bottom cleaned to make sure we still have a prop, and then extricate the boat from the spider web of lines that is the Micalvi.  Assuming that we are successful, we'll then take the boat out into the Beagle Channel for a few weeks over Christmas/New Years to give her a bit of a shake down and to see how the engine holds up.  Then we'll bring her back here and work our way back into the Micalvi 'nest' and prepare her for winter - properly this time!  Assuming the pandemic cooperates this year, Gary will come down later in the season to fix a few things and hopefully restart the clock on the visa.  We'll then come down in the fall and start the trek north through the channels to Puerto Montt.  

But you know what they way about sailing 'plans' - they are written in the sand at low tide.  We'll see what the year brings.  


  1. Great to hear about the engine. I assume that the batteries are okay as well???

    So, big change in plans then for this coming year! Probably a good idea or you would be very rushed to head north this season....besides you have a house you need to get 'running' again ;-)

  2. Enjoyed reading your saga of your return to the Sea Rover, but sounded like an endurance test. Glad your floating home seems ship shape. Great Adventure Blog!