Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Change of Plans

As all good sailors know, sailing plans are made in the sand at low tide. And such it is with us. We had, of course, planned to leave Chile and sail the boat to Ecuador this season. Then Ecuador declared a state of emergency in January due to the rampant drug crisis, which meant we had to change our final destination from leaving the boat on a mooring ball in a river (used to be very safe) to pulling her out of the water in an uber-fancy, expensive marina in the heart of gang-land. Then Sea Rover needed much more TLC than expected to get her ready for the challenging, 2500 nm sea voyage we had ahead of us. This took a huge amount of time and energy. Then we got the price to enter Ecuador back from the agents, which was somewhere between $2000 and $3000, just for the privilege of clearing in to the country – to a place we didn’t really want to go. Then the season started to change and the comfortable weather windows for traversing the Southern Ocean were becoming fewer and farther between.

When we put it all together, we decided that maybe we had done enough for this year. Maybe it was time to think about a change of plans.

The plusses of leaving the boat in Algarrobo:

1.    We made it out of Patagonia, where travel is dictated very much by the weather. We are now far enough north that we aren’t weather-dependent. According to the pilot charts, the wind and seas are similar in April and September so there is no advantage to leaving now versus in the Chilean spring.

2.    We had a chance to explore some of our favourite places this season. We actually enjoyed our time in Puerto Montt – it surprised us with its hidden beauty. And we loved checking out old haunts in Valdivia, a place where we have very fond memories.

3.     We discovered an interesting, cool new place. So far we like Algarrobo. It is a resort town with an interesting malecon and lots of heladerias (ice cream shops). It has an abundance of interesting wildlife, from penguins and blue footed boobies, to pelicans and marine otters.

4.    The marina is top notch. The yard guys are professional and know their stuff. The climate is ideal: 15-20oC in the summer with no rain, 5-10oC in the winter with some rain (but only about 20% of what they get in Puerto Montt).

5.   El Nino might be over in the fall and the Humbolt Current will be back to carry us north.

The negatives of staying in Algarrobo:

1.    We are delaying our inevitable departure from Chile.

2.   Conditions might not be favourable when our boat visa expires in September and we are asked to leave.

We carefully weighed the Pros and Cons and decided to haul the boat out for the Chilean winter.

Sea Rover and friends

While having foreign Cruisers haul out here is not the norm, the marina has been gracious and accommodating. We hauled out on Friday morning with a minimum of fuss. They blocked the boat better than she has even been blocked before (Gary was delighted). And, best of all, Sea Rover will not be lonely this winter. She has lots and lots and lots of little new friends to keep her company!

We will be returning to Piers Island at the end of the week where we will rest up and dream about the adventures that next season might bring.

Champagne in a can...delicious!

This brings Season 10 to a close. Fair winds and following seas. See you next year. Cheers!

Friday, April 5, 2024


Cofradia Nautico del Pacifico

Following a tough passage from Valdivia, we have spent the last few days licking our wounds in Algarrobo. We had been given some intel about the marina before making the decision to come here, but still didn’t really know what to expect. A google maps search showed a resort town, and indeed the first thing you see when you sail in from offshore are the miles and miles of tiered hotels on the seemingly endless beach. But as you get closer, you can see it is much more than that.

Bird sanctuary in the marina

The marina itself is situated in the middle of a National Park that was obviously formed after the marina had been developed. To generate the marina, they made a breakwater between the shore and a very large, distinctive white rock. As it turns out, this rock houses a colony of…..PENGUINS!!!! Yes, we have Humbolt Penguins living 100 metres away from us. They look a lot like the Magellanic Penguins in the south, but they have slightly different markings. There are also hundreds of gulls, pelicans and other shore birds that call the rock home. Things get noisy in the evenings.
Humbolt Penguins - found on the coast of Peru and Chile

Back to the marina. It is quite small and as mentioned in our last post, uses a med-moor type tie up system for all the boats. Despite the breakwater, the big seas just outside the walls do make their way into the basin in the way of surge. The mooring system alleviates any issues that would occur if they were using a regular dock-finger type system like we are more used to. Plus, they can fit in more boats. This is not a Cruisers marina. All the boats here are owned by locals (ie, people from Santiago) and are used primarily for day sailing (yes, out in the big, 2.5m+ swell just outside the walls – as I said before, Chilean sailors are crazy). In addition to the bigger sailboats that are kept in the water, there are fleets and fleets of different kinds of race boats lined up out of the water. There are also small sailing dinghies and a few powerboats. On a weekend, the place resembles the Jericho Sailing Club with people doing every watersport imaginable. It has been fun to watch. During the week, it has just been us and the marina workers. They all seem a bit perplexed that we are here, but have accepted it. The facilities are more geared to day use than overnight, but there is a large bathroom with toilet and shower stalls. Unfortunately there is no laundry… I think we are back to hand washing for a while. Sigh.

The local beach on Easter Sunday

The marina is at one end of the National Park. From the gate, there is a trail that travels for a couple of miles along the shoreline to another large, white rock (probably filled with more birds…). There are a couple of stunning beaches in between. We went for an exploratory walk on Easter Sunday and were expecting to have the trail to ourselves. We came around the corner to….thousands of people on the beach! It was a sea of umbrellas for as far as the eye could see. We watched the people for a while, then walked up through the neighbourhood back towards the marina. It is a nice little town that reminds me of a mix of California and the Galapagos. The backstreets in the neighbourhood are sand, not paved. And it has a sunny, ‘California’ vibe. We haven’t walked the whole beach yet as I’ve been busy this week with work, but that is on the agenda for one day soon.

We are slowly recovering and enjoying our interlude in this quiet place.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Shakedown Cruise #2

After a bumpy ride from Puerto Montt to Valdivia, we were ready to re-explore the town where we first arrived in Chile 6 years ago. The marina was much the same, and much to my delight, one of the marina dogs, Samantha, was still around. Like me, she is older and grayer, but seemed happy to see us again. 

We spent our time wandering around the town. We had a delicious banana split at the EntreLagos chocolate store, visited a few of the local fish, fruit and craft markets, caught up with some old friends and made some new ones. Gary was excited that the movie Dune was still playing at the local theatre. We thought we were being smart by going to see the English version (with Spanish subtitles), but it turned out that much of the movie was spoken in a weird alien language instead of English and so the Spanish subtitles didn’t really help. We did our best, but we may need to watch it again as I’m pretty sure we missed some key information. Overall, it was a relaxing week. 

Typical street market in Valdivia

As a weather window started to open up the week of March 25th, we began discussions on next steps. Even though we had run the engine for a solid 30 hours on the trip up to Validivia, Gary was concerned about leaving for a long offshore passage where checking on and working on the engine would be difficult. The new engine belts and a bolt or two were all quite loose by the time we pulled into the marina in Validivia and he expected he would have to make a few more adjustments after it had run for a few more hours. As such, we decided to do a second Shakedown cruise to the town of Algarrobo, 450 nm north of Validivia. 

There is a small, local marina there, with a haul out facility. Algarrobo is just south of Valparaiso at latitude 33oS (same as Santiago) and effectively out of the Patagonian ‘weather’ zone.

The weather window looked good. Seas were expected to be mostly from the south between 1.7 and 2.5 m, with winds in the mid-teens to early 20’s from directly behind. Sounded pretty perfect. 

We planned to leave at first light (ie, 8am) on March 27th. As usual, things didn’t go as planned. We were up early to do the final preparations. As it was Gary’s birthday, I was making a special batch of banana pancakes. Halfway through cooking the propane sensor went off. I shut everything off and waited for Gary to get back from the shower. We did some quick troubleshooting to determine whether we had an actual propane leak or if the sensor was malfunctioning. We had an actual propane leak. It was like Sea Rover didn’t want to do the passage... We determined that the leak was on the tank side and not at the stove, so we pulled apart our very carefully packed back lazarette and got to work. Gary found the cracked fitting and spent the next few hours replacing the defective part. We put everything away and were ready to go again. 

We said goodbye to our new friends at the marina and were motoring down the Validiva River just after 2pm. By 3:15 we were in the open ocean and hurtling along at 8 knots with winds on the beam. The Crew instantly felt ill in the big swell and so the Captain manned to boat for the first few hours. The Crew dragged her carcass up on deck by dusk for the beginning of our 3-hour on/3-hour off watch schedules. As the evening wore on and we made our way north, the wind and seas clocked around to be directly behind. Unfortunately, the short period of the waves and the brutal cross swell made for an ugly and uncomfortable combination. Doing anything below was out of the question. By morning the seas were up and the motion even more uncomfortable. The Southern Ocean was not going to let us go without making us remember her awesome power. I was awoken on Thursday morning by a particularly violent wave that caused our 3-tier hanging fruit basket to blow apart. I spent the next 10 minutes in a groggy daze chasing avocados, tomatoes, plums and Easter eggs all over the inside of the boat. After securing them the best I could in one of the lee clothes, I dragged my carcass on deck for my watch while Gary gratefully fell into bed. As so it went. It was too rough to cook so we ate what we could grab from the fruit basket, although neither of us felt hungry. I hadn’t intended to give up caffeine on the trip but ended up doing so as it was too hard to boil the kettle. Trips to the bathroom were a nightmare. Sitting down was fine, but we were literally beaten to a pulp for the 10 seconds needed to pull up our pants. I had read an article years ago where a woman described this bathroom experience as being in the ‘hurt locker’ – an apt description. You’d think you were in a good brace position but then a sneaky wave would come from the opposite direction and you’d find yourself hurtling in a whole new, unexpected direction. It got to the point where we both stopped tying to undress when we went off-watch. We lay down in our foul weather gear, with our boots and life jackets still on. The seas moderated a bit on the second night as we were blanketed by a thick, drenching, bone chilling fog. A meal was eaten and we both got a bit of sleep. But the seas and wind were up again the next day when the sun finally burned off the fog. 

Despite the hardships on board, we made good time. By Saturday morning we were beginning to believe that we might make it into Algarrobo by dusk. We shook out a reef, sucked it up and pushed to get there in daylight. Sea Rover seemed to want out of the mess as well as she bore down and picked up speed. By 5pm we were rounding the headland and heading towards the marina. 

Walking the plank
And then came a new challenge. Weekenders!! Despite the 2.5m seas and breezy conditions, there were people out on the water doing everything you can think of – paddle boarding (on knees), sailing in small dinghies, small and big sailboats, jet skis, water skiers, kite surfers, etc etc. God Chileans are tough. Gary didn’t know which way to turn. We finally made it to the mouth of the marina, not having a clue where to go. 

Luckily one of the marina guys saw us coming and made the correct assumption that we needed help. He jumped in his dinghy and came out to meet us. The marina uses a med-moor style of docking that requires you to grab a mooring ball at the bow and then back into a dock, where you then tie up. I told the guy we had never done this before – he said ‘no problema’ and beckoned us to follow him. He took us to the far end of the marina – this required an act of faith on our part as we could see that the fairway was getting narrower and narrower and there would be no way we could turn around. For once the wind gods were with us and had piped down to a gentle 7 knots, which made things much easier. With the help of our bow thruster and the marina attendant, we got attached to a ball, and Gary managed to back us up to the dock where another kind soul was waiting to take our stern lines. We were fully moored by 6:00. Phew.

Time to rest, reflect and think about next steps. And to explore Algarrobo which supposedly has the worlds largest swimming pool!