We pulled the sternlines in Caleta Olla in the dark and sailed east on a day that started mellow but quickly built into something different. A driving snowstorm, wind moaning in the rigging. But the wind was behind us, of course, and there were no seas to consider in the protected waters of the Beagle Channel, and we happily loped along under staysail alone, the sail rolled down to various degrees.
Southern right whale dolphins joined us and bow rode for nearly and hour. They are the strangest-looking dolphins: Panda bear black-and-white markings, no dorsal fins, and bodies that are dorso-ventrally compressed instead of the lateral compression of all other cetaceans. One of my fondest memories from the early days of this long, long trip of ours is of one-year-old Elias sitting in the cockpit of Pelagic off the west coast of Vancouver Island, pointing at northern right whale dolphins that were charging out of the waves just next to us and saying, "dog!".
He had so few words to choose from then, you see.
We threaded a path among the islands and kelp of Bahía Honda to gain our chosen anchorage, Caleta Victor Jara, but, old theme now, we found it iced up.
I eased Galactic into the mouth of the caleta to see if it might work for us, but then on cue the wind picked up to the point where we had to drop the anchor to turn around in the constricted space. The foot switch for our windlass is a casualty of condensation, and the jury rig that is getting us to Puerto Williams involves a hand-held switch on a long cable that needs to be connected to the solenoid in the chain locker and then led through the saloon, up the companionway, and thence to the bow.
Alisa, afterwards, told me how the whole thing ran from her perspective.
Herself, on the bow calling the path for me, wondering how much kelp we could run over with impunity: "I f***ing hate this s***."
Me, from the wheel: "We need to drop the anchor to turn around! Ready? Now!"
Me again (stuck at the wheel because I had to drive into the gusts for the anchor to hold): "OK, snub it there! Go get that switch set up, girl!"
Me again: "Ready? No! Not yet! Not yet!"
Me again: "OK, go!"
Poor Alisa had lost the plot on the whole exercise when we were still picking our way through the kelp. Afterwards, she said (not for the first time in a situation like this) that she appreciated the way that I kept saying that everything was fine. Which it really was. I re-learned an old lesson about poking our nose into tight spaces with the wind behind us, and got to play out a scenario from everyone's favorite reality TV show - "So You Think You Can Drive a Boat", and it was more hectic than need be, but not really a big drama.
We headed off to nearby Caleta Martinez and found that blocked by a fishermen's line across the caleta near the mouth. We got the dinghy in the water and dropped the hook and started backing in to tie into the line when the gusts started blowing, dropping williwaws right on the fishermen's line that we would have to tie to. The calm waters at the head of the caleta were out of reach, behind the line. While that setup obviously worked for the fishermen, we were pretty sure that we wouldn't spend a happy night there. So we went through the routine of pulling the anchor back up and getting the dinghy back on deck.
And what is the deal with the wind suddenly picking up when we're trying to go into these places, anyway? We must not be watching the conditions carefully enough beforehand.
We found a home for the night on our third try, in Caleta Santa Rosa, a landlocked place, nearly a lagoon, in front of an old estancia. The wind was howling again and after we were sure that we were holding well (no shorelines here) Alisa and I took a moment to reminisce about the marina in Alameda, California where we outfitted Galactic, and our neighbors who asked if our new anchor mightn't be a bit too big.
The caleta was ice-free when we anchored, but we were woken in the night by the familiar sound of ice grinding on the hull.
We've found winter in Patagonia to be thoroughly enjoyable, and with some noteworthy exceptions conditions haven't been too challenging. But Fireland itself - Tierra del Fuego - has given us a look at a different, tougher, Patagonia. It's like those climbs from my mountaineering days in Alaska, back in the 90s, when we would find the very hardest pitch on the summit ridge. "The sting's in the tail," we used to say.
So, I just want to finish by saying that I hope this doesn't read as over-dramatic, and I want to stress that these situations weren't really out of control or dangerous - just hectic.
And a few hectic situations, and three tries to find a suitable anchorage, can make for a long day.
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