Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hello from Sunny Patagonia

We made the jump south from Chiloé Island, across the 20 miles of the open Boca del Guafo, and came to rest at the Caleta Momia.

"Patagonia" is something like "the Arctic" - a well-recognized region without a hard and fast boundary. Had we been in Patagonia all the weeks we'd been knocking around Chiloé? Perhaps, by some definitions. But over time we had come to the conclusion that this "wasn't quite it." The area we reached south of the Boca, though - the Islas Guaitecas and Chonos - that's it, definitely. We're there.

The mummies are long gone from Caleta Momia, as are the people who made them. We pushed south in classic conditions - driving mist interspersed with rain, wind strong behind us, visibility less than you'd want when pumping south at eight knots with wind and tide in your favor, traveling through somewhat intricate <<canales>> completely unknown to you.

We had the modern conveniences. The laptop downstairs displayed our choice from a selection of Chilean and US charts, which were generally in agreement about our position. The iPad in the cockpit plotted our position on Navionics - we bought their South American package to have triple charting redundancy with the plotter and the bound Atlas Hidráfico de Chile kindly given us by Phil and Julia on Illawong, and we're very glad we did - the Navionics package fills in some gaps in our electronic charting nicely. We had the radar warning us of traffic, of which there was some, as well as telling us where the land was in reality, rather than on the chart, and the AIS telling the bigger boats where we were, and us them, and an autopilot steering the boat while I monkeyed with the jib and staysail.

Such a different setup from what Bill Tilman and crew used on Mischief when they visited the canales in 1956. Lead line and a set of photos from an airplane survey and a hand on the tiller.

Any idiot could do it with all the help we have. I remind myself that our eyes will be our best tool for staying out of trouble. We have to engage with the environment, not with our screens.

I ordered a copy of "The Totorore Voyage" when I was last in the US - Gerry Clarke's hair-raising account of Southern Ocean sailing on a small boat. But it didn't reach me in time. So we don't have it on board. But a friend mentioned that the Totorore had explored a hidey-hole anchorage in Chaffers Island. That was enough to send us that way - the chart showed Estero Huanas running the length of the island, with a tiny channel communicating with Canal Alanta outside. None of our charts offered any information about the depths we might find.

In the event, the entrance proved too exciting for us - poor meteorological conditions, a rapidly shoaling bottom, and a tidal current pushing us into the entrance.

We carried on through narrow canales - all charted - and driving mist. The fjords were choked with black-browed albatrosses and Magellanic penguins - when did we get so accustomed to seeing albatross and penguins? And we came to ground at a caleta on the north side of Isla Rojas, un-named on the chart and beautiful, dropping the anchor in 10 meters of water near high tide at 44°21.39'S, 74°04.16'W. If you come this way yourself, consider it a recommendation.

That first day of travel in the canales was rich in lessons - the swirling of fjord-bound winds made sailing occasionally surprising, even though they were fair.

The larger lesson for us to learn, and this one seems much less tractable - how do we keep the boys content when they're boat-bound for days? Especially too-young-to-read-a-book Eric.

Monday, April 20, 2015


We've been in Chile since Christmas Eve, and we've been enjoying wonderful weather throughout.  Is it El Niño?  Just a particularly favorable position of the South Pacific high this season?  I dunno, but it's been great.

A few days ago, though, this beauty to the right rolled through.  That little green icon is the position of Galactic, at the southern end of Chiloé Island.

We were hoping to get a final round of fruit and veg at Quellón, the southernmost town on Chiloé, and then to use the northerlies ahead of the blow to cross the Boca de Guafos, the 30-mile stretch of open water between Chiloé and the start of Patagonia proper.

As it happened, the blow arrived a little too soon for that plan to work.  We consulted the graphical forecasts that we get via the radio, and thought we probably wouldn't try to beat the approaching low.  And then we saw the armada forecast and decided we definitely wouldn't.  They were calling for winds up to 50 knots, with gusts of 80 to 100.

That made sitting still seem the height of sensibility.
The magenta lines are our various tracks around
Chiloé so far.  Puerto Montt is at the top, and
the red target is where we are now, at Quellón

As the blow came through, we began to suspect that the armada forecast was dramatically over-calling the winds.  We hate to be dismissive of the local take on conditions, but we also began to grow skeptical of the numbers we were seeing.  Which is a shame, as we have/had great hopes for those forecasts as a source of info down south.

We left after the blow passed.  I fielded a long, mostly incomprehensible radio/phone conversation from the local armada, which involved a read-back of the now very out of date forecast, which was still calling for storm-force winds even though the low was long gone.  This armada radio operator was especially hard for me to understand, but it slowly dawned on me that the port was officially closed, and we weren't meant to be leaving.  Oops.

We got as far as Canal San Pedro, the southern-southernmost anchorage on Chiloé.  But the leaking transmission fluid that I noticed before we left Quellón turned out not to be a mirage.  We seem to have a bad lip seal, which means that we're glad that we didn't cross the Boca de Guafos after all.

So we're now back in Quellón, laying as low as we can re. the local armada, with whom we have had much lengthier interactions than I have recounted here...all of them convivial, I hasten to add.  I have some local knowledge indicating that we might be able to get a new seal here...I'll go ashore right now, and then we'll know.  We of course need to do whatever we can to ensure our self-suffiency down south...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bad Math

 The game is afoot.

A stop in the Chiloé fishing town of Quemchi produced a welder who could fashion us a pair of chumaceras, oarlocks for our new dinghy.  Any gear needs that occur after that, we'll have to satisfy with whatever we have on board.
Setting the crab pot for the first time
Our path south along Chiloé has taken us through waters that are familiar from our February cruise.  We stopped again in Mechuque, one of our favorite spots, and had a great catch-up with our mates on Windora, who are a few weeks behind us on the path south.

We anchored again at Isla Talcan, though at a new-to-us anchorage, where all of these pictures were taken.
And now we find ourselves back at Quellon.  It seems that Alisa made a math error in Puerto Montt and came up with the answer "six" when she was tackling the question of "how many kilos of potatoes do we need for the winter, or at least until we reach Puerto Natales?"

This is not the right answer.

And I, when I was telling the armada guy in Puerto Montt the date when we would get to Puerto Natales, answered "el siete de mayo."  

Somehow that seemed much much further away than the seventh of May, which would not be nearly enough time.

So we couldn't let Quellon pass us by without 1) taking the chance for our last supermercado visit for weeks and weeks, and 2) to visit the armada station and let them know that el siete de junio would be a better bet for expecting us in Natales.

(I'm struck that I should post a map of all these places we're visiting in Chile, as that would doubtless make the plot easier to follow.  Well.  I'll have the combination of free time and adequate bandwidth to do that just as soon as I'm back in a government job in Alaska.)

The boys, meanwhile, have such fond memories of our last visit to Quellon that they've told us they will refuse to go ashore there.

We could make them, of course.  But we have planned a lightning-quick, two-pronged, staggered maneuver involving a public mooring, the handheld VHF, and sequential visits to supermercado and armada.  Doing those kids-free is just fine with us, thank you very much.

Patagonia beach picnic
And today we sailed all day from Talcan, with the Andes sullen behind us, and termination dust, which everyone knows is Alaskan for the first snow of autumn, on the closest peak.  The cordillera was glowering beneath a ceiling of complex cloud shapes in pearl-gray, smoke-gray, and gray-gray.  When we left the anchorage at dawn I looked back at the shore and felt that replacement of banality by wonder that marks the best of the life afloat.

No bad weather has caught up with us yet.

I'm alive with the adventure of it all...