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.

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