Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Thing With Pictures

Days like this, you don't get pictures of.

We arrived in Puerto Natales late yesterday, just in time to sniff out a place of rest in this notoriously un-welcoming anchorage.  The Italian Guide, with a poetic flourish, calls the anchoring situation here "just a step short of tragic".

When we woke this morning, our solution to the anchoring puzzle from last night wasn't looking too good.  Onshore breeze (light), half a meter of water under the keel.

So Alisa and Elias (yes! a helpful little deckhand these days) and I spent the morning untying the cat's cradle we'd woven the night before.  Shorelines aboard, stern hook up, except that it was set so hard I couldn't budge it from Fernando with the trip line; so bow hook up first, then stern hook pulled with the windlass, doing the dance between anchors with that shore just downwind of us.

We did all that without taking a single picture.  Just like we took no pictures during the afternoon filled with the traveler's chores of armada paperwork (the bit of piping that attaches the armada guy's pistol to his body, and why is it only the guy at the front desk who is always armed?), food run (a thousand pesos for the taxi to drive through the gate to the fisherman's dock? we'll shlep), and propane fill-up (clouds of white vapor collecting around legs of the voluble woman, queen of all that she surveys in her backyard propane emporium, as she decants cooking gas into our foreign cylinders).  Days like this stretch and surprise you, and the memories last.  But somehow I never end up with pictures of these days.  

Now that we're in Natales, we also have access to the internet.  So, after that intro on what sort of pictures you don't get, here is a story told through the ones we did.

"This is so much fun," I keep saying to Alisa.  "I'm having such a good time."  I wonder if I'm protesting too much, and then decide no, this really is a blast.  "I'm so glad you keep saying that," Alisa always answers me.

The pic above is in Seno Eyre, just south of Puerto Edén, as we're making a valiant and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to buck the north wind and take in views of the Ventisquero Pio XI.

Ah, but!  Glacier-viewing is one of the lower forms of nautical tourism, hardly to be mourned when the chance goes astray.  Besides, traveling north to south as we are, there is always another glacier in the offing.  Things get better as you go.

The real consolations of travel are moments like the one above, in Caleta Parry, our backup anchorage after missing out on the glacier.  This golondrina de mar, aka stormy petrel, aka Mother Carey's chicken, was in the cockpit when we bestirred ourselves before dawn to retrieve shore lines.  It was doubtless brought in by our lights.  I passed up the chance to examine its plumage and thus to get a solid ID on these difficult birds, and instead just put him in a quiet spot on the bow to regain his wits.

The conditions that these tiny birds handle at sea just beggar belief.  Seeing them is one of the continual delights in the life of a marine biologist on a traveling sailboat.

The day that followed saw us down Canal Concepción in comfortably rowdy conditions.  Fast sailing in protected waters, the family staying cozy below in the rainy bits and coming up to stare at wildlife in the dry - it's no bad.

Watching whales, Canal Concepción.
Alisa getting in on the good sailing.
Giant petrel, Canal Concepción.

Every day, nearly every mile, the snowline seems to come closer.

Alisa at the laundromat in Caleta Tilman.  Gals, if your husband has some so-called "dream" about sailing away, know that this is where that dream will get you. 

Only kids could have such a fantastic time on such a wet day - Caleta Tilman.

Caleta Tilman itself.
Alisa motoring out of Caleta Tilman to next-door Caleta Amalia.  We wanted to see something different.  But the new Caleta looked much the same as what we'd just left.  We are 1) not ones to notice much; and 2) certainly not ones to sail to Patagonia and then go on about the weather.  But at this point we were completely used to being soaked by rain day after day.

Which is why so much of family life was happening downstairs, in the snug saloon of Galactic.  Too soon to crow, but so far I have been very happy with the way that the core living areas of the boat are standing up to the challenges of the climate.  We're dry and warm, which are all that counts in a cold place.

Chewing ice.  Hurts me to watch.
Leaving Caleta Amalia, we started to get into bits of glacial ice.  Estero Peel, the larger body of water that hosts Caletas Tilman and Amalia, gives access to several glaciers flowing down from the Patagonia Icecap, which is why Bill Tilman and crew were here in Mischief nearly sixty years ago - they wanted to access, and cross, the icecap.  Which they did successfully.

And how the world does change.  What Tilman would think of our family outing to the canales, in winter no less, I can hardly imagine.  What was a foray to an unknown corner of the world then is now a completely routine trip.  That said, Mischief ventured far up the Estero, far beyond the point at which we on Galactic started to think prudent thoughts.

Estero Peel.  At this point Alisa is thinking that it's time to have a meeting with el capitán about expectations, etc.

The boys, as always, are blissfully unaware of any considerations of operational conditions, like where a good anchorage might be, how far the backup is if we can't make our first choice, and when night will fall.

A Peales's dolphin, we believe.

On our third day in Estero Peel the ceiling lifted enough for us to get some views.  In the picture above you can see the line of ice that was the turnaround point for Galactic, and would have been the forge-ahead point for Mischief.

I don't think I'm the only one having fun
Eric, on the other hand, still occasionally asks to return to French Polynesia.
Estero Peel, on our way out
So, two things strike me at this point.  First, this is such a linear adventure.  It's not like crossing the Pacific, when you travel across incredibly open spaces.  Here you're always hemmed in on two sides, with only the decision of going forward or going back.  Which is no decision at all.  So it becomes quite intoxicating, this forever traveling southwards, waiting to see what the next day will bring.

The second thing is that this is such a democratic adventure.  A lot of boats come here, and from what we've seen they're pretty average sorts of boats for the most part.  Whatever the drawbacks of our age, we do live at a time when it doesn't take a Tilman.  Any Jane and Joe can come here and have their own adventure.

And if you want to escape the maddening crowds, you can just come in the winter.

1 comment:

  1. You guys are awesome! I know that you claim that it's a democratic destination, and I guess in a sense that is true of any cruising ground, but you know for sure that even those of us who aren't armchair sailors are really unlikely to get to sail through Patagonia. Wonderful stories.