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.
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