Thursday, July 9, 2015

Still Alaskans

For the first time this morning, this place felt Arctic to me. The winter is locked in. The snow is down to the sea. The cold is here to stay. The mountainous islands we traveled through in Bahía Desolada were majestic, remote, polar.

But of course, it isn't the Arctic. Trees grow in sheltered dells on the mountainsides. We're only 55 degrees from the equator - our old home in Kodiak is nearly at 58°. And of course this is its own place. We see penguins on the water everyday. The sea lions this far south are much given to porpoising.

I've been wearing the flotation suit that a singlehander done with the South gave me in Puerto Montt, and it has been a godsend. There's no cold like maritime cold, and operating a boat involves long periods of inactivity that make the cold seem much deeper. When it's really cold Alisa hands hot water bottles up to me in the cockpit while I'm keeping watch. The diesel heater in the cabin is now on all day, and not just when we're at anchor.

And...we're completely loving these conditions. That must mean that we're still Alaskans, even after all our years in the tropics.

Meanwhile, we've been navigating through absolutely legendary waters. We have beheld Cabo Frorward, the southernmost point of continental South America. We've rampaged down Canal Cockburn, the back door to the Straits of Magellan that Joshua Slocum was blown in to. We, on the other hand, had the delightful luck of finding a rare east wind on the day we took that Canal out to the open Pacific before we could tuck back into the canales. We've traversed Canal Ballanero, named after the whaleboat taken from the Beagle's people by the Yámana. We sailed past Isla Basket, named to commemorate the basket of a makeshift vessel that the sailors stranded by the loss of their whaleboat constructed to regain the Beagle. "Fuegia Basket" and the other hostages that Fitzroy took to try to secure the return of the whaleboat presumably came from right around there.

You know - the Beagle. Captain Fitzroy. Deeply legendary stuff.

And the Yámana with their complex language that ran to what - 80,000 words (I don't remember) in Thomas Bridges' dictionary, the Yámana who lived all along these uttermost coasts in their canoes and their nakedness, summer and winter. They are utterly gone.


So today we decided that the spell of perfectly still bluesky weather that we've walked into was just made for glacier viewing. To whit, we headed up Seno Ventisquero - but! deus ex machina, the damn Seno was iced over. Greasy sea ice, but at least three miles of it to get through before reaching the glacier. So that wasn't on. There are some drawbacks to winter.

On the other hand, as we were driving up the Seno a fishing boat came charging up behind us, a deckhand waving a centolla over his head. They caught us up and handed over six of the lovely beasts - Lithodes antarctica, the king crab of Patagonia. All females, which made us wonder if they weren't meant to not keep the females.

Still, we respected the generosity of the act - the way they came charging along at full throttle to catch us up and hand over the crab, these guys we'd never seen before.

So tonight we found an ice-free caleta and stuffed ourselves on crab. It was sweet. And it was good.

As someone I once knew in Alaska used to say: I wonder what the rich folks are doin'?
We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

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