Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Sea Rover is on a Christmas Break

Here is a quick post wishing everyone a spectacular holiday with friends and family where ever you are following from.  

In terms of prioritization, writing a blog falls pretty far down the list of things to do on a boat.  I know that many are disappointed to hear this but yes, keeping the crew and boat safe does rate higher.  Sometimes due to this prioritization, the gap between what is actually happening and what is written grows so great that notes are needed to remember the details.  Those notes are sitting on Sea Rover while the Captain and crew are not.  This means that there will be a delay for the next installment of the epic journey north.  

Rest assured that Sea Rover is safely secured at a lovely island marina just north of Gulfo de Penas.  Nobody died and nothing is broken but we had some very noteworthy adventures in getting her there.  Tales which will be well worth the wait to hear until January.  As a reward for your patience we should be able to include a few pictures. 

Stay tuned...  We'll start up the adventure again before you've had a chance to miss us.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Finally some distance North made

We woke up to a drizzly day but little wind so we untied the lines and slid out of the indent and into the main flow of the channel. The forecast was calling for wind later so we had planned to stop just around the corner. Any decrease in latitude was always a good thing no matter how small the change was. This would need to be how we approached the narrow channels going forward. Inch by inch, mile by mile. We curved around to the north and into one of the few open bays remaining for quite some time. The wind was stronger against us now but we were able to motor sail a reasonable angle and with a couple of tacks had passed both planned stopping points for the day. Onward we continued, tack after tack but our speeds were still good and by the end of the day we had progressed a solid 45 NM to the north.

We spent the night in an open anchorage with another fish boat and were up early the next morning moving north again in reasonably calm seas. By mid morning we had passed out of Seno Union are were winding through a labyrinth of narrow channels again. This shortcut allowed us to avoid some of the more open waters in Canal Sarmiento yet even upon entering the Canal we found the winds not as strong as expected. Again we were able to keep our speeds up by motor sailing tight tacking angles in winds under 20 knots.

Having made much greater distance than expected over the past two days, I left Mark at the helm and went below to sort out the best longer term plan given the forecasted weather. There was a significant system moving in that would keep us at anchor for 2 or 3 days. Our options were to continue in the channels over night and make it to Puerto Eden well sooner than expected or take our time and spend a few days exploring Estero Peel, an area of tidewater glaciers we had missed on the way south. Stopping had the added bonus of a rendezvous with a new cruising boat Touche who we had been emailing with on a regular basis. Not stopping meant the possibility of a short hop from Eden after the system passed and a surprisingly good weather window for crossing our next big hurtle, the gulf of Penas. This was a forecast 7 days in advance though so the likelihood of it being correct was almost zero. We decided to check out the glaciers.

We anchored close to one of the massive walls of ice flowing into the ocean and got an early start the next morning. In glassy calm weather we floated at the toe of the glacier and enjoyed a breakfast among the bergie bits. Mark was able to fly his drone and get some great footage of our spectacular location while I took movies of dolphins playing with our stationary boat. Large waves would pass under us occasionally as house sized pieces of ice crashed off the face into the water in front of us. It was a very memorable morning.

We could feel the weather was changing though and decided it was time to move on so we started north again and after a quiet night in a very tight anchorage we awoke to fog so thick we couldn't see the shore 15 feet away. Our early start to the day was seriously stymied by visibility but after waiting 3 hours we were finally able to just see the shore so we got under way relying heavily on radar. Despite a later than planned start, we had current with us for once and no wind so we made good time to the next anchorage where our new friends were waiting.

We had used slightly more diesel than planned by detouring to check out the glaciers but this was of little concern as we expected to have no problem getting diesel in Puerto Eden a few hops to the north. We enjoyed a couple days at anchor waiting for the storm to pass with our new friends on Touche. Swapping stories of the various places we'd both been and trading valuable intel for them going south and us going north made time pass quickly. As always though the rest stop eneded and it was time to continue on our different paths.

The forecast still showed the perfect weather window for passing the gulf but now it was out of reach even if we motored over night and skipped Puerto Eden. We would have to catch the next one as skipping Eden was not an option now because of the required fuel stop. If only we'd known how difficult that would be, maybe we would have made different choices...

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Southern Chile is not done with us yet!

"Hang on!" I screamed to Mark. He was up front getting the anchor ready for our arrival back at Caleta Fog when a giant white wall of wind and water descended upon us from behind. I gave the engine all the throttle we had to try to turn the boat around into it, lest we be thrown well up on the beach. With very little room to maneuver I somehow managed to keep the boat off the rocks as we shot just past the headland with a solid 50 knots hitting us on our side. We had seen a few willywaws and waterspouts on our way south from Puerto Natales but nothing like this racha that hit at the most inopportune time. Southern Chile was certainly not done with us yet.

Caleta Fog was no longer an option for us so we continued south staying well off the coast as the strong squalls were now frequent. In a way we were lucky the squall hadn't happened after we had anchored as it was unlikely the holding was good enough to keep us off the shore there. Unfortunately we now had no option but to continue through the narrows and try to find shelter past the tricky rapids. We quickly checked the tide tables and it was maybe possible for us to pass through so we pushed onward to get a closer look. After a few minutes of reconnaissance with the binoculars we waited for the next squall to pass and then made a run through the angustera. Once on the other side unscathed we could both breath a sigh of relief. We continued a few miles further and anchored in Caleta Cascada, very aptly named as there were numerous towering waterfalls around the slight indent in the main channel. We got the hook down and a few lines to shore and sat, thanking our luck for making it here to apparent safety.

I was not convinced the anchorage was good as it really wasn't much more than a small dent beside towering cliffs and very few trees were large enough to provide any shelter. That night proved otherwise and while slightly blustery in the rigging we saw very little disturbance on deck or in the water. The next day proved even more so as wave after wave of squalls, waterspouts and white walls of water passed by in the channel with little impact to us. We were very thankful have a safe place to watch the tornado parade march by as they pinballed down the steep sided narrow channel.

On our day off we took stock of our fuel and provisions acquired in Natales. As always we could have used more of "this" or "that" and we seemed to be going through way more fuel than expected. We'd need to be careful until we could replenish that supply at our next stop 200NM to the north in Puerto Eden. Hind sight is 20/20 and little did we know that fuel would be our next significant challenge to face.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Finally into more protected waters

The huge ocean swell faded away and the dark angry clouds parted to reveal patches of blue with sunlight sparkling through the mist. We had passed through the dreaded Magellan Strait and were now moving quickly north up the winding channels towards Puerto Natales. Anchorages here were more protected and easier to approach. Quieter nights allowed for all of us to catch up on much needed sleep. We rose early and made the most of each day, the miles ticking away. Afternoon winds would usually halt our progress but in only 3 short days we managed to pass through Canal Kirke and into the large sound south of Natales.

Passing through Canal Kirke was a surprise as we had planned to anchor on the west side of the narrows but after close inspection with the binoculars and a few test approaches to the rapids we decide to try to run the rapids off slack. After a few tense moments at the start we ran through easily with a 3 knot current helping us, all crew on deck helpfully pointing out various eddies and waves to avoid.

The next day we left early expecting to face strong winds in the afternoon. The plan was to anchor just south of Natales as the seas and winds were clearly picking up. As we approached the last sound before the town though a nasty large swell kicked up due to the wind against current and the thought of trying to anchor in the open bays seemed less than desirable. We toughed out the last 10 NM in some of the largest swells we'd seen to date, surprisingly still making reasonable way forward. Our glass vase of fake flowers filled with stones toppled off its perch in the salon for the first time in 3 years keeping us all busy once at anchor trying to find the strange places the rocks had been flung.

Upon anchoring, the Navy called us directly to inform us that the port was closed and we should wait to present our Zarpe until the following day. We all laughed at the thought of the 4 of us trying to cross the bay in our tiny dinghy with such a large sea running and were more than happy to wait except for the thought of restaurants and stores that could provide anything our hearts desired. After a month of zero civilization the wait seemed like torture. We all dreamt of Pizza and Hamburgers.

The next day saw a flurry of activity as we set to work reprovisioning the boat with food and fuel. Fuel was looking to be a very difficult slog carrying the jerry cans and drums almost 4 blocks to the pier but an extremely nice couple with a truck offered to drive all our containers down to the wharf. They patiently waited what seemed to me to be an eternity as we slowly filled all the cans and a job that I had been dreading for a few days past had been dealt with very quickly and easily.

After stowing all the diesel in its various places on the boat we wandered back into town and treated ourselves to fantastic Pizza. A quick provision ended the day and we started the trek back across the bay filled to the gills with food forced to leave Mark behind as there was no room for the 4 of us. We had made it half way across when the outboard died. It would not start no matter what we did so we were forced to row. After what seemed a life time for Alan (the rower) we started trying to guess the remainder of strokes he would require before we arrived back at the boat. All of us guessed short and he rowed and rowed and rowed. Finally we made it to the boat and unloaded the provisions but unfortunately we had to sort out how to retrieve Mark on the other side. Dark was falling quickly and we knew it wouldn't be possible to row back across the bay so we were forced to pull up anchor and motor across to effect the rescue. We made it back to the anchorage just as the light faded. Crisis averted.

The next day the port was closed yet again but two of our crew were keen to move to a more comfortable environment (with heat, showers and beds that weren't wet). Their stay had come to an end and they were flying back to Canada in a few days so we formed a plan to sneak them across the bay. Just as they got their bags on deck a local boat stopped by to say hello and were happy to take them over in a much larger dinghy. As always the goodbyes were said too quickly but it allowed Mark and I to move to a more secure anchorage just south of town. We spent the next day receiving the periodic texts from the boys describing fantastic showers and meals, while we barely avoided sea sickness on board.

It would have been nice to be able to spend more time in Puerto Natales but without a reasonable harbour, we knew it was time to move on and continue our journey north. Stage one of the trip was successfully completed and while the difficulties were expected to be less frequent, we knew that with 2 less crew we'd still be working hard to keep the boat safe in the anchorages. If we'd known what the next couple of days were in store for us we might have just left the boat in Natales to fend for itself and joined the boys in luxury. But that story is for another day.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

The HARD Way Part IV

"I've got nothing but white and something labeled Rocks on the chart plotter. We are just about to go over them.... Can you see anything???"

All three crew were standing out in the pouring rain although the wind was strong enough to keep them mostly dry. The side swell from New Zealand was tilting the boat from side to side. We were entering a small uncharted channel before the headland marking the end of Magellan strait. I had hoped to avoid this shortcut but the seas and wind were too strong to make any further progress so it was either this or turn tail and sail 30 NM back to Mostyn. The Chilean navy had once charted and approved this pass but I guess too many boats were lost so they issued a chart update that simply had a "Canceled" stamped across it. The guide book described the passage as "delicate" and said that while its location would make most think the pass to be fantastic, the random nature of the boat killing rocks would make them wish they were somewhere else once inside. We were doing it anyway, the HARD way would end one way or another.

Out of the spray and spume two large rocks appeared like a gateway to hell. We surfed the 2-3 m swell between them and finally entered calmer water. The rain even seemed to let up a bit. Dolphins swam in front of us. Maybe this wasn't a bad idea after all. The guide book described a single gps way point at the north end of the pass to indicate clear water. We were on our own until then. We felt our way up the channel back tracking once or twice to avoid shoals identified by the depth sounder and emerged into the large bay at the north end of the pass. I stood on deck with the binoculars and could see no way through the labyrinth of rocks and crashing waves. Mark was able to see a ship in what looked to be a pass so we turned our boat towards it. The GPS way point seemed to be more or less in the same direction. Things were looking good. Then they weren't.

"There is something wrong with that boat! It doesn't look right" Mark called out. Sure enough that boat certainly wasn't right. It was a medium sized freighter recently half sunk in what looked like the middle of the pass. We decided not to go there but the GPS way point was directing us just to the right of it and all across the bay jagged rocks and islets bared any other options. We inched closer to the way point. A large rolling swell gently moving the depth sounder between 15 and 10 m as it passed under the boat. It was a good thing I was wearing waterproof pants, the moisture streaming from my body was hidden. None of the crew noticed my extreme concern.

We passed within 100 m of the half sunk vessel, thankful that it had identified the mid pass rock but wondering if all hands were fine when that calamity had occurred. Given the size of the swell on this calm day we all knew this ship hadn't been there very long and had maybe only run up on the rocks in the storm a few days past. All were silent as we pondered the flood of emotions passing over us. Joy in having finally completed the Strait of Magellan combined with a touch of sorrow for all those who's toils had not led to success.

We turned north and after a brief interlude of heaving from side to side the waves evened out and rolled behind us, the wind decreased and blue sky started to poke out of the gloominess. We were through and perhaps our days of struggling to make way were finally over.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The HARD Way Part III

Two Condors were soaring well above the boat catching the gusts as the spray blew off the steep cliffs all around us. A Hawk, upset at where the Condors were floating swooped in and tried to harass one of them despite being one tenth of his size. The Condors paid no mind and continued to circle high above the bay Sea Rover was nestled into.

We had arrived in Puerto Madryn early that morning following an unplanned all night sail. The anchorage was much much better than expected and we all slept soundly for most of the morning. After watching the nature channel live for a good half hour we decided we needed to do something constructive so we transferred diesel from our portable gerry cans (all 10 of them) into the main tank. As always it was a horrible job. Luckily the condors kept us entertained and we managed to spy their nest almost directly above us in a scraggly 1000 year old tree sprouting high up on the cliff.

The three crew decided they had enough energy to stretch their legs on shore for a spell. I watched them from the boat as they scaled the ridge, rising higher and higher and further and further away. Like many anchorages in the area one could wander on the bare rock for many miles. A few squalls of torrential rain did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm and they proudly called me on the VHF from the top of a false peak. The telephoto lens showed them as specs among the towering peaks behind them.

We spent the next couple of days on board, waiting for the weather to improve. From the safety of our anchorage we could see giant spirals of wind and spray blowing down the channel. We were very happy to be warm and dry. We took the time to fix a leaking valve on the watermaker and did a few engine checks while Mark sewed more of the canvas. Given the beating Sea Rover was taking there always seemed to be lots of maintenance items to keep us from getting bored. We of course added a few more shore lines to keep the boat in place.

The following day after a wet, cold and early departure, that involved a couple of hours untying the spider's web of lines that had kept us safe over the blow we had endured at anchor, we headed back out in the strait to try to bash across and get within striking distance of the giant headland at the west end of Magellan. There was a possible window to round the next day and we all were keen to put this mammoth task to bed and actually start heading north in the more protected channels.

With gusts above 30 we still managed to get a bit of help from the board tight staysail and were happy with the 3 knots we were making in sort of the right direction. We finally pulled behind a smattering of small islets on the north side of the strait and were able to relax a bit as the swell and winds eased slightly. After a few navigation challenges in amongst the complicated uncharted island group we found a small cove listed in the guide book as "Caleta Extra"... Oh it was Extra alright.... Extra scary for Gary. Two crew went ashore with a bag of lines to prepare to catch Sea Rover as I tried to drive her back in to the cove no bigger than 15 m across. All of this with a pretty significant wind on the beam. Some how we managed to get the boat secured without running aground although I think we might have scraped the bow pulpit on one of the rock walls. As usual the crew all worked amazingly well together to keep our little boat safe.

We all slept well until the tide rose high enough to expose us to the howling winds above the rock slot we were nestled into. Undaunted with the winds we left the small space and ate breakfast in the pre dawn light enjoying the last few miles of calm before we broke out of the island group and were back into the full force of the strait. Spirits were high as we all knew this could be our last day in this very difficult part of the trip. Little did we know that the Hard way wasn't quite done with us yet...

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The HARD Way Part 2

Bang! Scrape, scrape, scrape! Mark shouted "What the hell was that!". I was already out of bed and half way down the galley. It was 3 am. The boys up front were also awake and mostly dressed by the time I had made it outside, assessed the problem and called down for all hands on deck.

Wake up calls in the middle of the night are never fun and we had been pretty lucky on the trip so far. Its dark, disorienting and in this case cold and rainy. I do my best to try to think of anything that might be a problem over night when pulling into an anchorage. I also try to do things to solve the problem before nightfall so we don't have 3 am wake up calls. In this case, when we were anchoring, I identified the problem and decided to ignore it. Which was why I knew what was happening before anyone else had even had a chance to wake up. As always, hope and praying are poor substitutes for doing.

We had tied a single stern line to the fisherman's line across the small narrow bay using a small scrap of line to keep it from slipping one way or the other. This combined with a tight anchor in front would keep us off the steep rocks to either side of the boat. By tying this way instead of using our own stern lines, we were able to avoid the extra work of launching the dinghy, tying them on shore and dragging the lines back to the boat. It also meant we could leave the anchorage much quicker the following morning. Unfortunately, our small line didn't hold in the gusty winds that had just come up and now the stern line was sliding along the fisherman's line with the wind, our stern inching closer and closer to the rock. Now we got to do all the work we should have done when it was calm and not raining... in the dark.

My crew being the troupers that they are, jumped into action without any complaint and in short order (about an hour) we had secured the boat the way it should have been done in the first place. We were lucky and managed not to run aground. I was able to add yet another lesson to my slow to learn brain and maybe wouldn't make the same mistake again.

The next morning was slower than expected. The winds were up and blowing in the rigging so there seemed to be no hurry to depart. By mid afternoon though things had calmed down significantly and we could no longer see buffaloes racing down the strait. We headed off with a plan to stop just 15 NM further NW. Soon after we departed the current started helping us, the winds died down to 15 on the nose and we were making 4 to 5 knots... The best we had done in a while. We decided to push for the next anchorage expecting to arrive just before dark.

By the time we'd arrived there we were making great time and the latest forecast was for conditions to continue to improve. An unplanned window of opportunity to make very good distance over night suddenly had appeared and surprisingly everyone was game to take it. We cooked a quick dinner while underway and settled in for the night, running two hour watches in pairs. It was still bumpy but we were making reasonable time until around midnight when a number of squalls started blowing off one of the many glaciers on the north side of the channel. Winds would increase to 40, it would start snowing/raining and then things would calm down again. The pattern continued through both shifts keeping us all on our toes.

Traffic was unexpectedly heavy that night and it seemed many boats of all sizes were also taking advantage of the slightly better weather. Our crew were quick studies in identifying the many different lights coming out of the darkness and we had no trouble avoiding the passing ships.

We arrived at the long inlet that contained what I'd hoped would be a safe anchorage just before sun up. The weather was starting to deteriorate again and our window to be on the water was closing quickly. As soon as it was light enough to see we motored our way up the unsounded channel hoping there was nothing lurking below the surface. By 8 am we had completed our overnight passage and after a few challenging moments getting the anchor set and backing the boat up to the stern lines we were snug in a little cove surrounded by rock and ice. Another 6 lines to shore made doubly sure were wouldn't get a 3 am wake up call and after a quick celebration breakfast of blueberry pancakes we all crawled into our warm beds happy with the 60 NM miles we had managed to scratch off this horrible strait.

We only needed one more jump like that and we'd be done the hardest part of the trip. While looking at the forecast it seemed that opportunity would not happen again for a long while so all I could do was hope and pray for better weather. As always we were forced to make our own luck, but we will leave that story for another day.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The HARD way part I

A warning to our readers. Some may find the next few posts disturbing. Feel free to skip the ones titled The Hard way if you have any concern for Sea Rover's safety. Spoiler alert: We made it to Puerto Natales and dropped off half the crew, so while you are holding your breath waiting to see if we survived, you can rest assured we made it through all the challenges that Magellan put us through. Now back to the story.

It was clear that the weather was not going to give us an easy way to go NW in the Strait. My plan was to wait for small weather windows and make short hops instead of the "One and done" move. One of the many problems with Magellan is the lack of good anchorages. Our guide book was littered with penciled in notes next to the various possible stops. Notations like "Sleepless night","Thought we were going to die", "Violent/Dangerous Rachas" made next to most of the anchorages along the way was the reason we sailed it from one end to the other on the way down. Despite it's beauty, this was not a place to linger. It is beautiful. Towering peaks on both sides with glaciers in between. Waterfalls cutting into the shear granite cliffs. All of this and more made for stunning scenery. If only we could see it. Between the waves crashing saltwater over the dodger and bimini and the sideways rain/sleet/snow, our first day of travel was spent mostly looking at the radar.

After getting woken up by the boat rolling gunnel to gunnel in our first anchorage of Magellan we all knew we needed something better to weather the storm coming later that afternoon. Bahia Woods would not cut it. We quickly prepared the boat for departure and ventured out into the strait. About 15 NM in the wrong direction was an anchorage that would fit the bill of safety but that meant 30 NM more time in the strait and even then (before having made it across the strait for the second time) I knew that minimizing my time here was best. We decided to bash on to what we hoped would be a more protected bay 15 NM to the west. "Bash" is a word thats been used to describe our movement against the wind and waves many times before but in Magellan it has a whole new definition. Imagine every 4th or 5th wave crashing right over the Bimini, a constant stream of water being blowing through all the zippers in the bimini's cover. Imagine a motion so violent that you aren't sure if you still have all your organs in the places their are supposed to be, followed by a that same motion in the opposite direction. Add in freezing cold rain/sleet/snow and the realization that despite moving forward at 3-4 knots you are only making 1.5 knots in the direction where the misery might stop and you now have imagined "Bashing" in the strait of Magellan.

After much trial and error we came up with a sail/motor angle where we could a least keep the boat from being thrust backwards on each wave. By motor tacking a tight angle with the staysail alone we could move at a reasonable pace. Yes we'd have to travel double the distance to where we wanted to go but at least we'd get there. Unfortunately the steering could not be handed off to the autopilot so a hand on the helm was always required. The rest of the team did their best to keep the windows clear and watch for other vessels. Both jobs difficult due to the constant moisture from outside evaporating on our sort of warm bodies and the violent motion making it impossible to stand without two hands on something.

8 Hours into our journey we sailed into Caleta Gallant, relieved once there at the size of the bay, as there was another sailboat and fish boat already taking shelter. We knew the following days would see very strong winds so in water almost shallow enough to stand in we let out all our chain and took some solace in the fact we were well set. The anchorage seemed to offer no wind protection but at least the seas were calm so we all crawled into our bunks, tired from the strains of the day and previous sleepless night.

The next morning we woke to clearer skies but strong wind. And then it got stronger. And then it got stronger again. We tie a fuse on the anchor chain called a snubber to allow for some give in the system. This snubber keeps the anchor from getting jerked out of bottom if a gust throws the boat one way or the other. It also absorbs much of the force on the whole anchor system. By 10am our first snubber had snapped. Shortly after noon our second attempt disintegrated in over 50 knots. The winds we were seeing were not fleeting gusts of strong wind (rachas) were were all familiar with by now. These were sustained winds over 40 knots for long periods of time. The anchorage despite us being less than 100m from the head of the bay was now a maelstrom of sea spray with a good 3 foot chop. There was nothing to be done except replace the snubber yet again with much stronger line and take comfort in the knowledge that our anchor was holding and if the chain did break at least we'd be able to walk on to the sandy shore once the boat blew onto it.

Breaks when the wind calmed down to 20 knots now seemed like eerie silence, our ears accustomed to the shriek and howl that the rigging produced above 30. Despite the noise and jerky movement, we were all happy we weren't out in the strait and slept reasonably well on night 2. The next morning the winds had subsided slightly so after seeing reports of the second sail boat making reasonable time westward we decided to brave the strait once more and started bashing again in the late afternoon. The weather gods were finally kind to us by calming the winds and seas down for the second half of the passage. A short time later we even caught a slight favorable current and were able to pull into Bahia Mussel in short order. We secured our selves with a stern line to the fisherman's line across the nook plus the anchor feeling proud that we'd so far made pretty good progress west despite the challenging weather.
We would live to fight another day. And fight we would... but this post is long enough.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Straits of Magellan the hard way

After waiting in the protected anchorage of Brecknock for a couple of days a small window for rounding one of the worst parts of water on the trip opened up and we left our sanctuary at 0 dark 40. Light was dawning as we rounded the first corner and shortly after that we were into the swell. There was only a bit of wind and rain so we chanced the shortcut through a difficult pass. As on the way down 3 years ago dolphins shepherded us into this extremely complicated group of rocks and islets... I wondered if they were there to show us the safe way or were trying to tell us to turn around. Unlike last time we had no crazy squalls and were able to transit the area with little difficulty.

Once again we emerged into the full force of the open ocean (next stop New Zealand) but surprisingly the wind was at a favorable angle and the swells slightly aft of the beam so we tore down the channel and were soon back into the protected inlets. The sun poked through the broken clouds causing the sheer carved rock faces to glitter as if covered in diamonds and soon were approaching our next hurtle for the day, a narrow pass with a rock in the middle and fast moving current. Our timing wasn't perfect so I expected to have to wait for the next slack tide in 2 or 3 hours. As we approached, I stood on the deck peering through the binoculars looking for signs of standing waves. Suddenly I realized we were moving faster than expected towards the pass... Shortly after that we blew through unscathed. In less than 7 hours Sea Rover had transited two areas that I stressed about since the start of the trip had been passed without any challenge whatsoever.

We continued to make excellent time and as we passed each favorable anchorage we kept deciding to continue on with the day. Soon enough we emerged into Magellan strait. This strait is where so many nautical legends have passed through since Magallanes himself. For over 500 years sailors have toiled in the strait, like salmon swimming upstream, trying to get from east to west against the wind and current. When planning the trip north, this strait was the main deciding factor in choosing a late winter passage over summer. We needed a low to pass over the continent north of us causing the winds to swing from the almost constant NW to NE then SE then SW. Since we'd arrived in Chile more than a month ago there hadn't been one yet so despite being rare, I had hoped one would appear. A week before a small low was forecast to arrive on this day, which was why we pushed so hard to get here. Alas, it was not to be and there was nothing forecast for the next two weeks that would help us pass the strait with ease. We would be forced to do it the hard way.

Shortly after arriving in Magellan the hard way started and we fought to make it across the strait. A mere 5 NM took almost 3 hours and we were forced to divert slightly east to take refuge in a less than desirable anchorage. Wind and side swell meant a challenging nights sleep and in the early morning we were all ready to move on no matter what the forecast stated. We had concurred the Beagle, rounded Brecknock peninsula and we were proud of our accomplishments so far. After 300 NM of very difficult sailing, our boat and team were now well oiled machines ready to take on what ever was to be thrown at us. The hard way or not, we would emerge out of Magellan stronger for the toils, like so many legends before us.

Sent via SailMail, http://www.sailmail.com

Friday, October 21, 2022

Caleta Brecknock

Some day in the near future, internet on board Sea Rover will allow for pictures to be sent while off the grid. This may or may not be a good thing depending on your perspective. Part of what makes Caleta Brecknock so special is that it's a spectacular place that so few people have been able to experience. You wont see hordes of unprepared selfie obsessed instagramers here. In fact those people wouldn't survive here even if they could handle being disconnected from the rest of the world. That is a very good thing.
There are no signs on the paths that say "No Drones" or "Stay on trail" or "No camping"... The people that come here don't need those prompts. All who come understand the concepts of leaving no trace. They understand the fact that any flora or fauna that does live here is so special because it is such a hard place to survive. When we hike we hop from rock to rock, trying to avoid stepping on the smallest plant. When we see a bird or other animal we stop and wait for it to finish whatever it was doing. We are the intruders and it's no inconvenience standing still no matter how long it takes for them to move on. All of these things are good.

The difficult flip side is trying to explain to our friends, family and loved ones why it's so important for some of us to get to places like this untouched by others. Yes, readers of the last couple of blog posts (or future ones) may be shouting "WHY???". Why would anyone want to put themselves into situations that are going to be so difficult, maybe even dangerous. Even if I could post pictures, IPhone Panoramas or drone footage (we have it all), it would not do this place justice. Part of what makes a place like this so special is that its hard. It's hard to get here, really hard to live here and hard to spend more than a few days here.

We spent two days here hiking around, sitting in awe of the beauty, marvelling in the raw power that nature displays here. Power displayed both in the things that do live here and the weather that tries so hard to kill it all. Like 4 empty shells we greedily filled up our souls knowing that we'd need the fuel to sustain us until the next special place.
Caleta Brecknock is a place that easily describes why we cruise, why we put our selves through the various hardships. Unfortunately you have to have been here to come close to understanding this.

Sent via SailMail, http://www.sailmail.com

Monday, October 17, 2022

Hard fought miles

After a blustery night of wind on the beam laying over our home it was clear we couldn't spend any more time in the small indent we took refuge in the night before.
In the snow and rain we stood on deck sorting out a plan of how to extricate ourselves from the fisherman's lines safely. With gusts now to 50 it soon became a non issue and solved the problem by breaking free just as we got our lines and the dinghy on board. Once we got out of the slightly protected indent the full force of the gale was upon us. We spent a few anxious moments fighting the wind, inching past a port hand buoy but slowly our speeds increased to 3 knots in the right direction and we were on our way.
The rest of the day was spent weaving our way though protected and unprotected channels with winds and waves affecting our speed to varying degrees. Each time, just when we were about to give up and fly back to our protected anchorage from a few nights ago things would ease slightly and we'd regain our speed of 3-3.5 knots. By now, 25 knots of wind seemed down right calm.
We fought our way towards a corner which should have meant calmer seas and wind and the chance to take a breather. We hoped to assess where we'd be spending the night as it seemed clear we would not make our planned anchorage before darkness. We rounded the bend and were faced with the strongest winds yet. Not surprising Southern Patagonia was not ready to let us go. Our speed down to 1.5 knots a new problem was starting to develop. Our main tank was running low and transferring fuel required shutting down the engine. We slowly motor sailed the 4 NM channel and after 3 hours of bashing and banging discovered the anchorage where we might be able to take a pause had breaking waves over the entrance. It was now starting to look like we were between a rock, a hard place and another rock and a hard place. There were no good options to end our misery.
We decided we would tough out one more Nautical mile to round the next corner which would spit us out into a much more open channel. I expected it to get worse once we rounded but this would make our decision easy. We'd either be able to make a significant speed increase forwards or we'd fly the 40NM back to our protected anchorage. All other options would fade away.
An hour later we finally rounded the corner and miracle of miracles we were able to sail under staysail alone in reasonably comfortable seas. We shut down the engine, transferred fuel and sped to Caleta Brecknock arriving just before dusk.
Caleta Brecknock is by far my favorite anchorage in Chile, possibly any where. Feel free to google Brecknock for images of this spectacular place. The nook with an anchor and 4 easy to set shorelines secures the boat in any weather. Wind and gusts no matter how strong pass harmlessly over the rigging above. After two days of tense sailing and sleepless nights we could finally relax and let our guard down, if only for a moment.

Friday, October 14, 2022

A good first week Part 2

When we last posted, the boys were complaining about the boring weather of some sun and no wind. The second half of week 1 cured them of that complaint as we spent the rest of that time stuck in an anchorage. We started off with 4 lines to shore plus the anchor. After the first night we had 8 lines plus the anchor and after the second night we had 9 lines plus the anchor. A fairly significant low sat over our position for 6 days. We saw some pretty good gusts in the anchorage but with 9 lines to shore felt nice and safe.
We spent the time doing many boat projects. Sewing, electrical, mechanical ,woodworking and cooking took up our days. It felt like home-ec, shop and mechanics classes all rolled into one session. Nights were spent watching TV, sleeping and reading. Time passed slowly. Too slowly... The natives on the boat started getting restless and were demanding more and more jobs to keep them busy. I was handing out jobs that had been on the to-do list for almost a decade just to keep them happy.
To make matters worse there were periods of long calms in between the gusts and it was hard to justify sitting when the winds didn't seem that bad... When the jobs ran out I was forced to look very closely at the weather and try to find some window of opportunity to move on. After scouring the guide books and weather charts we came up with a plan to end the boredom.
The weather window was iffy, the next anchorage unknown but it was decided we could always return if needed so on the 7th day we untied the boat in the early morning and started out with a breezy 20 knots against us. It was a bit of a slow go but not too unconformable and after a few hours we were even able to get some help by using the staysail. After a pretty long day we made it to the planned anchorage and set about trying to sort out how to get the boat secured.
By this time it was snowing with winds around 30 but at least we were protected by the small nook so the seas were calm. A few exciting moments ensued and through strength and determination we were able to secure our selves to the fisherman's line at the peak of the squall passing through. We caught our breath and then went on with the task of running our own lines to shore just ask dusk was starting to set in.
After a hot dinner we all fell into bed, knowing that the next day would be just as challenging. This was ok as by now the go to phrase around the boat was "At least it's not boring..."

Sent via SailMail, http://www.sailmail.com

Saturday, October 8, 2022

A good first week Part 1

Sea Rover got off to a roaring start and made great time over the first part of week 1. The most spectacular part of the whole trip can be summed up in just a few anchorages and we've managed to check two of them off the list.
Caleta Olla was the first stop arriving there a day earlier than we had even planned to leave. This involved unceremoniously throwing Karina off the boat for a night in the cold. The weather window was just too good to pass up.
Olla is a nice bay surrounded by a large granite mountain with a glacier just poking out from behind. We tackled fixing the outboard in the morning and then while I did some last minute jobs, the boys made a quick trek up to check out the glacier. As usual, words cant do the scenery justice but we have pictures ready to upload when we get back. In the late afternoon the weather was still holding so we took off for goal number 2. Seno Pia.
After a calm motor down glacier alley (much different than last year) we somehow timed arriving at the entrance to Seno Pia and the sunken moraine at exactly low tide. We managed not to run aground and continued up the narrow channel with 3 large tide water glaciers flowing into the ocean around us. The hook was dropped just as dusk was falling.
The next day we explored the closest glacier by dingy, working our way slowly through the minefield of bergy bits. We stopped on shore at the foot of the glacier and Mark got some great footage with his drone. After watching a few blocks roll down the jagged landscape of snow and ice we headed back to the boat to prepare for an easy walk up the hill behind us.
That easy walk ended up being a surprisingly difficult route finding mission. Apparently when Covid prevents cruisers from exploring this fantastic anchorage for two years the land returns to its untouched beauty and all trails are erased from existence.
It was now day 3 of calm winds and reasonable weather and the boys were wondering if I had been telling fibs about the potential for difficult weather.
I knew our luck would quickly run out so it was certainly a great introduction to Patagonia and it gave us time to all get to know the boat and each other in a nice calm classroom setting. Becoming a team of well seasoned sailors was important for what lay ahead. Sadly it only took a few more days before we were forced to level up our skills but that will be a story for another day.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Leaving Puerto Williams

 After 2.5 years Sea Rover left Puerto Williams at 7am this morning to start her trek north towards warmer climates.  We have loved our time in Tierra del Fuego but Sea Rover needs some loving that only a stint on the hard in Puerto Montt can provide.  Why go now at the end of the cold Austral winter, you might ask?  Perhaps counterintuitively, there are more days of calm, sunny weather in the winter in the deep south compared to the summer.  Having experienced a number of Austral summers, I hardly think it could be worse!  And since Sea Rover needs to travel 1300 nm north against the prevailing north winds, a few days of relative calm here and there where the boat wouldn't be pounding into a 30 knot headwind sounded like a good plan.

As with all good plans, there was a snag.  Karina was in the middle of a huge project at work and couldn't take time off.  So on to Plan B.  Gary found Crew willing to spend a long period of time in a small boat motoring through some of the most challenging but most beautiful waters in the world.  Joining Gary for this trip are Karina's cousin Mark, as well as Brian and Allan from Piers Island.

I hope the Crew are hungry!!

Gary and Karina spent the month of September doing small boat projects, provisioning with water, diesel (790 L by HAND!!) and food (hundreds and hundreds of pounds).  Sea Rover has never been so low in the water. 


We took a small detour to Ushuaia to reset the boat visa (with thankfully less drama than last time) and remembered why we both love and hate the town.  Ushuaia is a lovely, vibrant city with nice restaurants and beautiful scenery, but it must be the windiest city in the world.  It is always a challenging place to be in a boat.

While in Ushuaia we met up with our old friend Rene, who is now Ata Ata-less as he recently sold his boat to one of the other Cruisers in Puerto Williams.  He is now living on land in a warm, dry house with his lovely girlfriend Graciella in town.  It was wonderful to see him again  as we don't know where our next meeting will be...

Club room at the Micalvi with flags from Cruisers around the World
We cleared back into Chile on Thursday and the Crew arrived on Saturday.  Miraculously a weather window to move west in the Beagle Channel opened up for Sunday, so despite the fact that Karina's flight to Canada didn't leave until Monday, the decision was made to leave on Sunday.  After some last minute provisioning, rope tying lessons and a few boat jobs on Saturday afternoon that led into the evening, the extended Crew of  Sea Rover had a last celebratory dinner of Argentinian beef and then hung our flag in the club room of the Micalvi, as is the tradition of all that pass through here.  

Quietly motoring out of Puerto Williams on a calm morning
All hands were up before the crack of dawn to be ready for the 7am departure.  Karina saw them off the dock, out of the bay and on their way to the next adventure.  

Bluewater Cruising burgee put to good use.

The remains of the flag we had up during the pandemic. A fitting end for it, I think. 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Making Sea Rover Legal and Putting Her to Bed

We are currently sitting by the pool at an airport hotel in Santiago waiting for our flight back to Canada after a short season in Tierra del Fuego. The boat was in better condition than we could have hoped after sitting for 2 years without being properly winterized. The engine drips salt water out of the heat exchanger, but this seems to be a manageable issue. A few of the electonic tools packed it in, but all the truly important stuff like radar, AIS, chart plotter, GPS worked as expected. We managed to rescue the lithium batteries, but the start batteries didn't survive. The zincs on the props were even still reasonably intact. And most importantly, everthing inside the boat was dry and there was very little mold. Because she fared so well, we didn't feel the urgency to "get her out of Patagonia" that we were feeling before we left Canada. Plus, our boat visa was expiring in February 2022 and we knew it would be difficult to renew it if we went to Puerto Montt. So we opted to stay in the far south for another season with the hopes that the port of Puerto Williams would miraculously open.
Sea Rover on the inside of the Micalvi

After enjoying a few weeks in the Beagle Channel, we returned to Puerto Williams and learned that one of the French boats, with a similar boat visa issue to ours, had been granted permission to sail over to Ushuaia and return even though the port was still closed. This would effectively renew their visa for another 2 years. They arrived back in port the same day we did and so we interrogated them as to what they had to do. Basically, the Port Captain was willing to let foreign boats from Puerto Williams leave and return as long as they got permission from the Health authorities. Thankfully the French couple had done all the legwork to figure out how to arrange all the necessary testing and paperwork with Health, so we followed their instructions. A big thank you to Natalia, in Puerto Williams who arranged everything for us on the Puerto Williams side, and Roxana who made it all happen in Ushuaia.

The process started with an antigen test in Puerto Williams that would allow us to enter Argentina. We then visited Immigration, Customs and the Port Captain to clear out of the country. We sent our results, vaccine passport and proof of insurance information to Roxana in Ushuaia ahead of time so that she could clear us in with their local health authorities. She met us at the marina in Ushuaia when we arrived, gave us copies of all the clear in forms, and then made an appointment with the Immigration office. Steps 1 and 2 complete. After clearing in with Immigration, we went to the Customs office and got our temporary import visa. So far so good. Then we went to the Prefectura (the equivalent of the Port Captain in Argentina) and everything went horribly wrong. We handed them stack of completed paperwork and told them we had just arrived from Puerto Williams. Several of the officials conferred for a few minutes, said a bunch of things to us in unintelligible (at least to us) Spansish, then gave us 5 more forms to fill out. The forms were things like an affidavit saying we wouldn't go to the Malvinas (Falklands) which didn't make any sense for people clearing in. When we tried to question it, they just kept pointing to the forms and saying 'fill them in'. So we did. Then they looked at the forms we'd received from Immigration and Customs and realized one of the forms was missing a stamp. So we tromped back to the Customs office to get a stamp. After handing the newly stamped forms to the Prefectura, they then announced that we'd filled in our entry paper wrong. I had put our port of origin as Puerto Williams and port of destination as Ushuaia. Seemed pretty clear to me (the form was in Spanish and English so there was no possible way I could get it wrong). They guy kept arguing that we weren't clearing in, we were leaving. No, we said, we are arriving from Puerto Williams today and returning to Puerto Williams tomorrow. No, he said, you are leaving for Puerto Williams. And on it went. He finally took our papers, crossed out what I'd written in the origin/destination box and re-wrote the information. He was so adamant that we finally thought that maybe they had decided to do our clear in and check out at the same time (as we had originally told them we were returning to Puerto Williams the next day). Although we were skeptical, we couldn't seem to make him listen to us, so we took the papers and left.

Next on the list was getting a PCR test so that we could return to Chile. We walked to the other end of town and went to the address the French boat had provided. Thankfully the woman at the desk spoke English so it was easy to book an immediate appointment. She gave us the address of the clinic and some directions, and off we went. After a bit of wandering in the direction she'd sent us, we realized the address was for the loading dock behind the hospital! We were met by 2 friendly people dressed in multiple protective gowns, face masks and face shields, and we completed our test sitting on chairs in the loading bay. A bit surreal, but at least it was outside. 

We then returned exhausted to the boat, only to be told by another sailor that the Prefectura had been trying to reach us on the radio. No kidding.... I had to work, so Gary tromped back over to the Prefectura's office. They told him he'd made a mistake on the form and that he was clearing in, not out.... They gave Gary new forms and told him he had to get new stamps from Immigration and Customs. By the time all of this was completed both offices were closed. Grrrr. 

The next morning we met up with our friend Rene from Ata Ata, who is fluent in 9 different languages. He was clearing in as well, so he offered to translate for us as we went through the process of clearing in - again. Our first stop was the Customs office. We told the Customs official that we needed new papers as the Prefectura had a problem with the first set. He refused saying he had already filed the paperwork to clear us in and he couldn't do it twice. Rene managed to get him to give us copies of the papers he'd signed and stamped the day before. We then tromped back to the Prefectura's office and gave them the copy. At first the guy we'd been dealing with said that the copies weren't good enough. I told him that was all we were going to get so he could decide what to do with it. He went away for a while, then came back and said we were now cleared in!! 

We then told him we wanted to clear out. He gave us the forms and off we went, back to Immigration and Customs to clear OUT of the country. I'm sure the Customs guy thought we were insane... Anyway, by 11:30 we had officially cleared out of the country again. The Prefectura then informed us that we'd have to leave the country by 1pm as that was the time we'd told them we'd leave the day before when we were in the midst of the clear in/out debacle. Usually you have 24 hours to leave the country once a zarpe has been issues. While what they were asking was completely unreasonable, we didn't argue. We were gone by 12:15. What an ordeal. 

We sailed back to Puerto Williams and were directed by the Navy to anchor just off the Micalvi to wait out our quarantine over the weekend. On Monday morning we met Natalia at the dock where she administered another antigen test under the watchful eye of the Navy. After receiving the all clear, we checked back into the country and obtained our new boat visa. We are good for another 2 years. Getting the visa sorted out was a hassle, but we are very glad we did it. The irony of the whole thing was that they opened the port in Puerto Williams 2 weeks later, not that it would have necessarily made the whole process any easier. From what we could tell it just made the quarantine period go away. 

We spent the last few weeks doing some boat projects (installing an antenna mast, running antenna wires, installing new solar panels) and putting the boat to bed for the season. We managed to score a spot on the inside of the Micalvi this year. As the inner bay is narrow and shallow only 2 boats can raft. We are still tied up directly to the Micalvi, but we only have 1 boat attached to us versus 7. Plus the prevailing wind will push us off the Micalvi instead of onto it.

That's if for us for the next few months while we return home to make our house habitable again...

Thursday, January 13, 2022

A Reminder of Why Most People Don't Sail Here - Part Two

January 1, 2022

We are hoping that how our year started is not an indication of how the rest of the year will go…

For our short trip this year we had hoped to loop around Isla Gordon and visit the glaciers in the North and South arms that lead into the Beagle Channel.  By January 1st it was clear that the weather was not going to cooperate with this plan as a series of strong lows were forecast to come through for the remainder of the week.  The first system was predicted to be a 961 millibar low. For those of you who are non-sailors, that is VERY big low and usually means you can expect very strong winds.  Our barometer was kind enough to tell us that a Cyclone was coming… The storm was expected to hit Tierra del Fuego on January 2nd.  The winds on January 1st were supposed to be light from the NE.  As Caleta Olla is not all that protected from the E, we decided we’d move 25 miles west to a small hurricane-hole anchorage called Caleta Cinco Estrellas. 

We woke up on January 1st to the bump of us running aground in Caleta Olla when the wind switched  to the NE.  Oops.  Luckily it was a soft bump and pulling in 10 feet of anchor chain solved the issue.  But, feeling that this was a harbinger of things to come, we decided we’d pull anchor and head to Cinco Estrellas.  As I pulled the lines from shore, Gary pulled in some more of the anchor chain.  While we were sorting out the lines on deck, a big NE gust came and blew the boat sideways.  The anchor dragged and we found ourselves beam-to on the shore.  Crap.  Luckily the mud was soft and we were able to back off without difficulty.  But still.  It wasn't yet 7am in the new year and we’d already run aground.  Twice.

We finally got sorted and motored out of the cove. The channel just outside the cove was a sea of white.  Hmmm, this was kind of unexpected based on the wind forecast (NE 10 knots).  But on we went.  Once out in the channel, the wind started off from the NE, but we were immediately bucking into 3-4 foot seas on the nose.  Wind against current?  We continued on. Another 0.5 nm further along and suddenly the wind was 20 knots from the W, so directly on the nose.  OK, at least this explained the seas.  Regardless of the wind and waves, we were actually making decent speed (4-5 knots) so we decided to continue on.  

Then the conversation in the cockpit went something like this:

Gary: Do you see that weird water thing over by the shore? What do you think it is?

Karina: It looks like a water spout.  


Karina: No, I think it’s a waterfall spraying up in the wind. 

Long pause.

Karina: No, it’s definitely a water spout.

And so it was.  For the next 2 hours we were hit by no less than 20 violent ‘rachas’ (ie, VERY strong 50+ knot wind gusts) in the form of visible water spouts.  If we’d stopped to really think about it beforehand we would have realized that NE winds would funnel down the glaciers on the north side of the channel and hit the water as violent wind gusts, aka rachas.  Rachas are a common phenomenon in Chile given the topography and typical wind strengths. We have spent our entire time in Chile so far avoiding anchorages reported in the guidebook to experience rachas.  And up until January 1st, we’d been mostly successful.  After January 1st though, I think we have experienced more rachas than most people in the world.  

GPS track through the Racha area - each arrow was a 'hit'
We had to pass three major glaciers over a 10 mile section of the channel, Francia, Italia and Allemande.  At the Italia glacier we went through a 15-20 minute stretch of being hit by 3-4 50 knot rachas, then got a bit of a break while we motored towards the next glacier.  At the Francia glacier, we experienced another 15-20 minute section of 4-5 50 knot rachas, then had another stretch of relative calm.  Not awesome, but manageable. Things cranked up a notch when we came the Allemande glacier, which is the biggest of them all.   The seas built to 7-9 feet and were coming off the north shore (versus from the expected direction of west) and hitting us directly on the beam.  The rachas were no longer showing up as water spouts on the water, but as huge curtains of flying foam.  Gary did his best to drive into them as much as he could, but we still got laid over on our side over and over and over again.  I counted 13 ‘squiggles’ on our GPS track while we passed this glacier, each representing a separate racha hit.  And most of them were in the 60+ range (our wind gauge doesn’t go any higher) and lasted a good 30-40 seconds.  It felt like it would never end.  Miraculously we didn’t lose anything off the deck, although our huge fenders were blown up from the water side of the rail and deposited on deck, and the BBQ was upside down.  And no, we don’t have any photos of the event.  We were too busy steering the boat, hanging on, and trying to calmly think through the series of things we’d have to do if (a) the steering failed at any point, (b) the engine failed, (c) the hard dodger and cockpit enclosure got ripped off.  All of these felt like very real possibilities while it was happening. 
Allemande glacier - it looks nasty, doesn't it?

And then, just like that, we were through it and the seas were calm with a gentle breeze against us. It felt like we’d just run a gauntlet of dragons… but, we survived.  While the crew were shaken, Sea Rover was no worse for wear.

Caleta Cinco Estrellas

We made it into Caleta Cinco Estrella, our chosen hurricane hole and prepared for the storm expected the next day.  We anchored and tied 5 lines to shore (after the morning we’d had, we weren’t taking any chances).  I went for a small hike and explored, then we hunkered down for the ‘storm’.  As advertised, the cove really was bomb-proof.  We had the occasional gust during the storm, but nothing menacing.  It snowed, hailed and freezing rained most of the storm day so we hibernated on board.

Entry to Caleta Cinco Estrellas after the storm deposited fresh snow

The next day we decided it was time to head back towards Puerto Williams.  The wind was from the traditional direction (ie, W) so we were pretty sure that the dragons would keep to themselves through the now-dreaded glacier stretch, but we were wary of any thing moving on the water, ie, sun beams, mist etc.  Thankfully our passage was smooth.  We had a very fast sail in 30 knot winds (from behind) so we had at least 1 day to remember that we were a sailboat.  We ended the day in an anchorage on the Chilean coast across from Ushuaia that we were hoping would give us some protection from the strong winds.  Although the cove was protected from the big seas, it didn’t offer any protection from the wind and so we spent the next 48 hours being blasted by 40 knot winds to the point where neither of us could hear ourselves think.  Luckily we were able to get poor internet from Ushuaia so we could entertain ourselves by working or finding the end of the internet.  And thank god for noise cancelling headphones.  They were a last minute purchase on this trip but were sanity savers.

I made Gary get up early (4am) on day 3 in the anchorage as the wind had calmed down and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to go.  The entrance to the anchorage is very narrow, with pointy rocks on and kelp on both sides so it is easiest to navigate in calm weather.  It took us an hour to remove all the kelp from the anchor, but we were on our way back to Puerto Williams by 5am.  And wouldn’t you know it, we had wind on the nose the whole way here.  East winds are very rare in this part of the Beagle Channel, but this is the second E wind we’ve had in this stretch of water… Regardless, we made it back into Port in time to see our friends on Zephyros off on their Antarctic adventure. 

Overall it was a good trip, but it has reminded us both how difficult it is to sail here, especially if you are trying to go west, which is of course the direction we have to go to get back north to Puerto Montt.  On the plus side, we’ve also been reminded how solid our boat is and know that she can handle whatever we are given.  We think we made the right choice not go north this year with such a short time window.  Our ‘plan’ is to sail north in the late winter/early spring next Sept-December, when the W winds typically
aren’t quite as strong. 

Happy New Year to all.






Sunday, January 9, 2022

A Reminder of Why Most People Don't Sail Here - Part One


Parasitic Darwin's fungus on a beech tree
After making the decision not to sail to Puerto Montt this year, we slowly started preparing Sea Rover for a short trip in the waterways of Tierra del Fuego.  We were pleasantly surprised that most of the boat systems seemed to be operating as expected.  We ran into an issue with our solar controller, but switching to new controllers solved the issue.  Even the watermaker seems to have come back to life.  We filled up with diesel, water, propane and food, and departed for a two week trip on December 23rd

It took 10 people and two dinghies to extricate Sea Rover from her spot deep in the boat raft at the Micalvi.  Unfortunately we don’t have any photos or video of the event as we were busy driving or fending our way out, but it was surprisingly undramatic.  It was a calm morning and so we expected to have a nice motor up the Beagle Channel.  Alas, as soon as we got out of the harbour the wind cranked up to 20 knots on the nose.  And so began our slow journey west…

Our first stop was 35 nm to the west of Puerto Williams at a pretty anchorage called Caleta Liwaia, more commonly known in the sailing community as ‘Eugenio’, named for the sole resident of the large island called Isla Hosta where the anchorage is located.  Eugenio’s Estancia (ranch) is located a few miles to the west of the anchorage and we saw his cows and sheep grazing the lands around the anchorage daily.  We even had a sighting of Eugenio himself on horseback surveying his territory one afternoon.  The cove is beautiful.  It has a nice, protected spot to anchor and secure the boat (2 lines to shore), and has easy hiking.  We enjoyed poking around the ancient forests and looking for beaver dams, which were not difficult to find.  The beaver was introduced to this area in the 1946 as a source for the fur trade and they have wreaked havoc ever since. 

We saw evidence of them everywhere, although the only two we actually saw were being separated from their pelts on the deck of a neighbouring sailboat.  It is legal (and encouraged) to hunt beaver in southern Chile and one of the locals is an expert.  He offered us some meat, but we said no.  I’m not sure we, as Canadians, are allowed to eat our national animal… What surprised us the most was the size of the trees the beavers were working on.  Some of the holes they were had made were the size of Gary’s head!

After spending Christmas enjoying the solitude of the anchorage, we started looking for a weather window to move to the next anchorage 25 miles west.  On what we thought was a suitable day, we got up at 4am, untied the lines, pulled up the anchor and hacked off the kelp in calm winds and seas, and motored out of the cove.  Within five minutes we were beating into 15 knots on the nose.  Then it was 20 knots.  Then it was 25 knots.  Then the seas started to build and our speed dropped to 2 knots while motor sailing.  After making it 5 miles in 2 hours we decided to turn around and go back to the anchorage.  It was still calm in the caleta when we arrived, but no sooner had we dropped the hook than the wind started to gust to 30 knots – and continued to do so for the next 30 hours without stop.  We did a few more boat jobs, including rigging the staysail as we realized that we were going to need a different sail plan this year compared to previously. 

Caleta Olla

The wind finally died down at about 4pm the next day so we decided to make a run for the next anchorage.  What a difference a day can make!  The channel was smooth and we had a nice evening motor, arriving in Caleta Olla just before dusk. Not surprisingly, we were greeted by a beaver while dropping the hook (2 lines to shore). We spent the next 5 days in Olla waiting for the next break in the weather systems which would allow us to continue west.  Despite being fairly open, the cove is surprisingly protected in strong (30+ knot) west winds.  There is a thin band of trees just off the beach that give an amazing amount of protection to the boats anchored just off the shore.  You can hear the wind in the rigging and you can see it hit the water in front of the boat, but no wind seems to hit the deck.  It was lovely.  

Guanaco on the beach at Caleta Olla

While we were there we took the dinghy over to the far shore of the bay and hiked up the hills for a view of the Hollanda glacier and lake.  It’s mostly open marshy field and pretty muddy going, but we saw a guanaco (llama-like thing), had a close encounter with a Caracara (hawk-like thing), and watched three Condors soar in the thermals.  It was a lovely day.

Hiking to the Hollanda Glacier

As it was calm on deck, we decided to set up our sea kayaks in the hopes that we’d have a few opportunities to use them at some of the glaciers.  Our last day in Olla started off sunny and warm (in our cockpit enclosure) so we decided to take the boats for a spin.  It took us half an hour to find all our gear (gortex paddling jackets, wetsuit pieces, kayaking boots, paddles etc) and get organized.  In our preoccupation with getting on the water, we didn’t really notice the weather.  No sooner had we paddled 100 metres from the boat when a squall hit with 40 knot winds that literally drove us into the river mouth across the bay.  It was like a big hand just lifted us up and pushed us along.  I’ve never experienced anything like it.  One minute all was calm, the next (literally) I’m back-paddling for all its worth trying to keep my kayak pointed downwind in 2 foot chop with spray coming off the top.  Crazy.  Thankfully it was pushing us into shore (albeit shore with a steep sided mountain that separated us from the boat) instead of out to sea.  We surfed into the river and paddled up as far as we could go before the current was against us, then slid the kayaks into some reeds to wait it out.  There was nothing else we could do.  I was wearing wetsuit bottoms and a long underwear top under my paddling jacket and had at least brought a wool hat, but Gary was only wearing fleece pants and a t-shirt under his paddling top.  It wasn’t long before we were both wet and cold. After a half hour or so it seemed that the wind was down a bit so we paddled to the river mouth to check the conditions.  Nope.  Back to the bed of reeds.  At that point we decided we needed to get off the water and start looking for shelter as it didn’t look like the weather was going to improve.  We found a small divet in the field behind a small tree and started to take stock of what we had with us (a camera – sorry, no pics!).  It was at this point that Gary mentioned that we had forgotten our lifejackets… Agggghhhh!  Things were not going well.  After getting reasonably settled, we realized that the wind had dropped a bit.  Should we make a run for Sea Rover?  We felt we had to try.  We dragged the boats back into the river, Gary took me under tow (he paddles faster and didn’t want to wait for me), and we paddled for our lives.  It was still windy, but the waves were down and it was probably only blowing 20 knots vs 40.  We slowly inched our way up the steep sided mountain shore and finally reached the lee of the trees and the safety of the sailboat.  We dragged the kayaks on board, changed into warm clothes and drank a lot of hot liquid.  By the time we’d warmed up the sun was out (of course).  But, 30 minutes later, the same type of squall came out of nowhere and hit the boat again.  Happily this time we experienced it from the safety and comfort of our cockpit!

And so ended the tumultuous year of 2021.

Caleta Olla and beyond.  River mouth on the right.