Friday, February 27, 2015

Two Sides of Chiloé

The month of February, 2015 - it'll never come again.   (Once it's gone, that is, I'm anticipating by a couple days.)

We might have done any number of things with that month, but what we actually did was to explore Chiloé - both the east coast of Chiloé Island itself, as well as the outlying islands in the Golfo Corcovado and the mainland on the eastern shores of the Gulf.

The area has something of a split personality.  The picture above was taken in Quellon, a fishing town every bit as hard working and hard-scrabble as fishing towns usually are.  When we pulled into the anchorage crowded with work boats and beheld the grimy waterfront of the town itself I was moved to comment that traveling sailors coming in from the delights of the Gulf of Alaska probably feel a similar sort of deflation when they first see our beloved, though certainly grimy, Kodiak.

Once we were ashore, the view didn't improve.  We found an open sewer and drunks on the sidewalk. The buildings cried out for a coat of paint, the nice women running the empanada shop where we stopped for a bite were turning away yet more drunks who were looking for a feed.

We were in Quellon only for groceries and boots (for Elias, who had been doing without waterproof boots) and kept our stay short - one afternoon and the following morning, and then we were gone.  But it was one of those places that you just don't feel like visiting with a four year old who listens poorly.

On the other hand, I suppose that it was a valuable bit of education for Elias.  "Dad," he asked me as we passed a passed-out drunk on our way back to Smooches after our morning hit ashore, "why do some people have no money and other people so much?"

And further on that other hand, there was the toothless young fisherman who gave us a double handful of the clams he had laboriously collected himself with the help of a hookah.  And the women in the empanada shop who shared their own dinner of mussels with us.

The mariscos (shellfish) didn't thrill us - Alaskans can be such seafood snobs - but there remains nothing as touching as a spontaneous gift from someone who doesn't have much.

We fled Quellon for nearby Isla Cailín - with a mostly empty beach to walk on, which we enjoy very much, but still in cell phone range for me to communicate with some biology collaborators back in the States.

Even though Cailín was out of the impact zone that is Quellon, it was still on the same metaphorical side of the coin.  The bay was encumbered with aquaculture, as is every spare scrap of ocean around Chiloé  And the beach was thick with plastic trash, most of it from aquaculture and fishing boats, just like every beach in the area.

The ocean around Chiloé is made to work hard - people here are getting a buck out of the sea more so than any other place we've visited in the Pacific.  It's hard to get Alaskans to be polite about farmed salmon, and the one taste that I've had of the local farmed fish will be enough, thanks very much.  But on the other hand I love the bustle and energy of the local fishing fleets, and the warm reception that people working on the water give us.  I appreciate the value of the muscular livelihoods that are earned on the water here.

This picture of Eric above, and all the pictures below, were from the other side of the metaphorical coin - in this case Bahía Tictoc, our southernmost point on the mainland thus far.

This is the Chile that we came to see.  Where Chiloé features heavily modified agricultural landscapes, Tictoc offers native forests.  And where Chiloé is a place of people, Tictoc has exactly one inhabitant - the caretaker for the land owned by Douglas Tompkins, who has single-handedly set aside a huge chunk of land here for conservation.

We on Galactic don't need a huge chunk of land - just give us a deserted little scrap of rocky shoreline for the boys to scamper around, and perhaps a few new bird species for the family to identify, and we'll be happy as can be.

Tictoc was the very first place where we've tied into a Patagonian anchorage with shorelines - in Puerto Juan Yates, to be more specific.  We identified a new species of dolphin (Peale's) as we were motoring into the anchorage, we saw our first kelp geese there, and from the decks of Galactic we watched American mink diving to forage in the subtidal zone.

Once we were over in nearby Puerto Escondido we met said caretaker (Manuel?  Manuelo? I find it so hard to catch names), got a tour of the premises, and Elias finally found his Chilean angling mojo, catching dinner for the whole family.

There's lots more of that sort of anchorage to come.

Through it all, of course, the rigors and vicissitudes of life on a traveling boat are never far away... 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Keepin' on

Any day you see penguins is a good day.  These are Magellanic penguins,
Spheniscus magellanicus
It's only really travel if you're on a roller coaster.  There have to be the heady highs and, inevitably, the Stygian lows that keep them company.  I first learned that when I was traveling by bus through Ethiopia with my bestest mate, Linus, all these many years ago.

Estero Pailad had plenty of surprises.  Here I'm
plucking a spawner out of the sea chest -
there were lots more where this one came from
Having the Little Dipper taken off us was a low.  We're pretty good about not being attached to possessions, and there was only a little of the inevitable self-blame.  (Why did we stop hanging the dinghies every night?)  But mostly, we (I) feel for the blow to the ship's operations.  You might call it a luxury to have two dinngers (we still have Smooches, our éminence grise of an Achilles).  But aside from the convenience of being a two-car family and having a boat that was great for Elias to operate on his own, we quite like the redundancy of a second tender for the waters where we plan to operate over the next year or so.  The Little Dipper had beed our planned go-to for rowing lines ashore in the caletas of Patagonia.

Scanning Estero Pailad for a dinghy that we know is
well and truly gone 

Ah, well.  We did have a bit of a compensatory up when we first went ashore to look for any signs of the missing boat and stumbled upon an extended family from Santiago, about to enjoy a mid-afternoon repast of lamb roasted over an open fire.  They immediately welcomed us into their gathering, pressing beer and wine on us and insisting we should stay to eat with them.  Quite remarkably hospitable people, whose easy friendship we weren't quite in the mood to enjoy.

Despite whatever lows come your way, it is vitally important on a traveling boat to develop the capacity to just keep going, metaphorically and actually.  When we bought Pelagic, I remember the sellers, Q and Tatty, telling us that even when things just seemed too hard, we should keep going.

They were talking about the work of keeping a traveling boat in good nick, but the same thing applies to this sort of situation.  So the day after we lost the Little Dipper, we picked up the hook and headed down to the fishing town of Quellon.

How Alisa and Elias sail to weather
How Eric does
We had a bit of a bash to windward to get there - two reefs in the main and all that.  But after we'd tacked back towards Chiloé and the wind-against-tide action had mellowed out a bit, Eric recovered his wits enough to point behind us and say, "Look, that volcano is erupting."
See the plume on the left?
And, he was right.  One of the peaks on the horizon was having a grumpy.

Eric was so pleased that he had been the one to spot it.  And for me, it was this powerful moment of realization, a moment that brought home to me how far we've traveled over the last year or so, and what a remarkable place we've reached.  A place where your four-year-old can look over the stern of the family home and spot an erupting volcano in the Andes.

Too cool, that.

And finally, this parting shot.  The Little Dipper in happier days, Amanu Atoll, the Tuamotus, 2014.
Sic transit gloria and all that

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ripped off

For years we've made it a habit to hang the dinghies on halyards at night. It's part of what we call the "Galactic way" - our general approach to operating the ship. If the dinghies are hanging out of the water, they're a lot less likely to go wandering in the night.

On this last haulout, I saw that the topsides paint was getting scratched up where we hang the dinghy. So ever since we left Valdivia, we've been leaving both dinghies in the water every night, tied to the stern, just like most every other traveling sailboat does.

You can see where this is going.

Last night someone cut the painter of the Little Dipper, our hard rowing dinghy. And it is as gone as a dinghy can be.

We're going to miss that little boat. Elias has rowed around a bunch of anchorages in it all by himself, and we had some ripping sails with it at Amanu last season. We still have the sailing rig, if you're interested.

So, over seven and a half years of sailing we've now had two outboards and a dinghy stolen. I wonder if this makes us slow learners?