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,

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,

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,

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.