Monday, November 30, 2015

Plenty Convivial

The weather was a big part of our crossing from Chile to the Falklands.  The biggest.  We bought ourselves a little luck by leaving when we did and taking the chance to move fast when we could and found ourselves just south of a little low pressure system.

All day on the second day of the crossing we could watch the edge of the low (above).  On the south side we had gentle southeasterlies, and then when the low had passed us by we finished with southwesterlies.  Perfect.

Cape petrels
 It was also a great trip for pelagic seabirds.
Giant petrel
Elias is mad for photographing them.  He stands in the cockpit for an hour at a time, wielding a point and shoot set to maximum zoom.
Royal albatross
 Needless to say, these are not his pictures.
Antarctic fulmar

Royal albatross and giant petrel

That picture above would be when the southwesterlies found us.  We have some spare 10mm wire set up as our aft lower on the port side (thank you, Jonathan!), so we were happy to be on port tack when the breeze came in.

Above and below - approaching Stanley.

And below - the town itself.

And we came to rest here - tied in behind some local draggers at the Falkland Islands Company jetty, in company with a handful of yachts.  The sailing scene here is about an order of magnitude smaller than the scene at the Micalvi in Puerto Williams.  Plenty convivial though.

Time's Up

La cena
I suppose that it's inevitable that we would find ourselves leaving Puerto Williams, and Chile, with a few things undone.

I had really meant to take a picture of the family in front of the Yelcho, the boat that rescued the crew of the Endurance from Elephant Island - the bow of the Yelcho is set up as a sort of monument in Puerto Williams.  Never got around to it.

Likewise, Alisa had meant to make empanadas with Francis and Mauro (in pics above and below) before we left.  We almost made that one, but then the right weather for leaving put us in final departure mode and we had to cancel.

The Micalvi
I meant, too, to write at some point about some of the social nights at the Micalvi.  The bar is closed, but the ship is still open to sailors for socializing, and we had some great nights there, rubbing elbows with sailors from a great swath of nations who were all united in some vision of the same quest that had brought us all to that point.

Those get-togethers were a phenomenon of the winter.  When summer came around people started to come through on a quick schedule, and the social cohesion of the scene disappeared.

Nick's 60th
I never got around to taking a picture of the Alaskan flag that we left, either.  Elias and I put the flag, with our name and home port on it, up on the wall of the Micalvi on our very last day there.  It joined a host of strangers' flags, and a couple flags with familiar names (below).

If you stop by the Micalvi, make sure that it's still hanging there for us.  It's the only Alaskan flag, and in our haste we could only find three tacks for hanging it on the wall.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


It was our first passage since we arrived in Valdivia, Chile, nearly a year ago.

I took most of the night watch, with Alisa giving me a break between midnight and three. When I took over again at three it was already light on the horizon. She was glad at my seeming selflessness at taking so much of the night, but I explained that I was happy to do the lion's share of daytime sleeping and let her ride herd on our over-rested, antsy kids.

All day, two days ago, we watched a small low pressure system moving from west to east across our path, just as predicted by the weather model.

We were well at sea. Out of sight of land and enjoying steady southeasterly winds on the south side of the low. The sun did its best impression of shining - quite a good effort for these latitudes. We were visited by a steady parade of swooping tubenoses: Cape petrels, black-browed albatross, giant petrels, the occasional storm petrels, the truly massive royal and wandering albatross.

After the low passed we found ourselves in the southwesterlies in its wake, driving us strait towards East Falkland. We had stumbled on the completely perfect weather pattern for the passage. We couldn't have planned it better.

Elias was the first to sight land. He got to choose which packet of cookies we would open for our landfall celebration.

We notified Stanley harbour control of our intention to anchor for the night. A drive through impressive kelp beds brought us to the head of a sandy cove with all the wind you could want. Alisa spotted our first-ever gentoo penguin before the pick was down.

Alisa and I were up again at four to make the 80 miles to Stanley. We had a fast sail, and got to fly the spinnaker in the lull before a front caught us up and had us down to three reefs. We had to remind ourselves of how the weather changes arrive in the South - suddenly and hard.

And just like that, there we were, tying up at the jetty in Stanley next to our mates on Lille d'Elle, who had come out from Ushuaia on the same weather window as us. The customs officer was extremely helpful and cleared us in quickly. We all had a meal and Alisa and I knocked back a celebratory bottle of Chilean wine. Outside, the landscape was so different from the grandeur of continental South America. The town, Alisa noticed, was so neat and litter-free. And now, we have it all to discover.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A New Ocean

In our last frantic days of getting ready to leave Puerto Williams I thought of how leaving port is just a little like dying.

I'm not talking about a metaphor here, but simply about the practicalities - namely, how many things will be left unfinished when we shuffle off this mortal coil.

When you leave port, you are faced with all the seemingly-important tasks, for boat and work and general life, that you were quite sure you'd have finished before leaving, but are actually all half-finished shambles.

I can't help but think that this is a preview of the grand disorder in which we'll bring our lives to conclusion.

(But, I must stress that I didn't find this at all a gloomy thought. Just something to think about when rowing jugs of diesel out to Galactic.)


We have been watching the weather closely ever since we got back from Cape Horn, waiting for a good chance to leave Chile via the eastern end of the Beagle Channel.

The forecasts changed quite a bit from day to day, and we told anyone who asked that we would make the final decision to leave only when we were 24 hours out from suitable weather.

So today was the day. Yesterday we said goodbye to some remarkable people we've gotten to know in Puerto Williams, and some remarkable yachtie friends as well. Most of these will join the list of remarkable friends who we'll never see again, that ghost army of great chance acquaintances who are the result of life in this loose tribe of nomads.

We left Puerto Williams at first light, which is 0400 this time of year.

After we got going we were surprised by two things. The wind was in the southeast, which was unpleasant in that it put us on starboard tack, which is vulnerable just now due to some damaged rigging. I had been hoping for a trip entirely on port tack given the prevailing westerlies. And we caught a ridiculously good current out of Beagle Channel, which swept us far beyond our planned anchorage in Puerto Español, Argentina, which was just as well, as the southeasterlies had made that untenable. We saw the chance to make it all the way through the Straits of Le Maire on the evening tide.

Those straits, between the eastern tip of Tierra del Fuego and Isla de los Estados, have as fierce a reputation as any body of water you'd care to name. I'm glad to be leaving Le Maire behind so easily.

We had thought of anchoring at Isla de los Estados as well. But we have as good a spell of weather ahead of us as we could hope for, so we've decided to press on.


With our Old World/New World view of history we think of the Atlantic as old - know to the ancients - and the Pacific as relatively new and recently discovered.

But the Pacific is in fact the older of the two. Which is why it's so much bigger. It's just had more time to spread. Consider as well the various taxa - your auks, your sculpins - that are so diverse in the Pacific and so depauperate in the Atlantic.

They simply evolved in the older ocean first, and then secondarily invaded the Atlantic via the Arctic and haven't had time to do much radiating in their new home.


The Atlantic is also new to us.

After eight years of knocking around the Pacific (sometimes literally!), we are, as I write this and the family sleeps, sailing into the Atlantic for the first time.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cape Horners

The picture above (two giant petrels) is by Elias.  

The pictures of his parents below are also by Elias.  He achieves a certain documentary authority from his perch under the dodger. 

Yes, I'm afraid that's how we really looked.  We were trying to get into Caleta Martial, on Isla Herschel, in the Wollaston Islands.

The Wollaston Islands are the archipelago where Cape Horn is found.

We had a forecast for 20 knots of wind on this day, but got much much more at the end of the day.  We ended up going to windward under three reefs and staysail to make Bahía Arquistade and our anchorage at Caleta Martial.

We put up some points on the Unintended Drama Board (I won't go into details) and also managed to strand another aft lower shroud.  Sigh.

But everything ended up OK.  Meanwhile, Elias was as cool as can be, watching his parents at work - see the selfie below:

Visiting Cape Horn was never something I was particularly interested in doing during our time in Tierra del Fuego.  I figured that rounding Cape Horn meant going from 50°S to 50°S in the open ocean, taking whatever weather came along.  Ever since I heard a motorboat owner at a beach potluck in the tropical South Pacific, talking oh-so-casually about his time at Cape Horn, I figured that the modern version, of harbor-hopping down to the Horn and sneaking around on a fair weather day, wasn't something that I needed to do.

Our track around Isla Hornos
But then Alisa (all praise!) said that she wanted to leave Chile behind without any regrets over things that we'd left undone.  And maybe it would be kind of fun to go see Cape Horn?

Elias latched on the idea, and I was very easy to convince.

So last Friday, with a reasonable forecast in hand, we made tracks for the Horn.

It was a fast trip, as we were eyeing the end of our visas and the time needed to prepare for the passage onwards to Uruguay.  The Wollastons are beautiful, and we could have spent a long time happily knocking around the area between Puerto Williams and the Horn.

But the summer is on, it's going to go quickly, and it's time that we want to be a bit goal-oriented about things.  So we came away with a quick visit to the Horn, which was good enough for us.

And, to whit, here are some crew portraits in front of that most famous landmark in the whole aqueous sphere:

Eric, meanwhile....We had very light tailwinds on the morning we were approaching the Horn, with a respectable swell running.  Which meant that Eric was seasick, and not too keen to get out of bed.

Alisa finally rousted him, held a bowl while he vomited, and put his raingear over his pajamas so that he could come up and collapse under a blanket under the shelter of the dodger.

So Eric rounded Cape Horn in his PJs.

The Cape Horn monument from seaward.  The wind had come up from the
northeast by this point, and made the anchorage at Cape Horn untenable,
so we couldn't have gone ashore even if we wanted to.  (Which we didn't.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

But Wait...

...there's more!

After a bit of a jaunt down-country, we find ourselves once again in Puerto Williams, tied up to the Micalvi (the Uttermost Yacht Club in the World).

The pace of the summer season is gaining steam, with the million-dollar, Antarctic-going charter yachts awake and beginning to do their thing.

Next to us is a Big Green Sled that has been chartered as support vessel for some guy who is famous from the America's Cup (Never heard of him.  Barely heard of it.) who is going to be the First Person In The World To Sail A Tiny Little Hydrofoiling Catamaran Around Cape Horn.

(To which we think: that's nothin'.  Our five-year-old did it in his PJs.)

We haven't met him, but the Lucky Winner of the contest put on by the Sponsoring Sunglass Company, who is going to accompany the Famous America's Cup Guy on the Hydrofoiling Catamaran - we did meet him.  Lovely guy, from "Southern Bavaria" (is there any other kind?), who seemed to learn quite serviceable Spanish just for the trip.  He helped Elias and me launch our dinghy.

The crew of the Green Sled are from Tassie, and know some of our peeps.  Plus the Famous Guy and his support team are all French, which gives the Bold Endeavor just enough of Je ne sais quoi to keep it from being laughable.

We're starting to see what all the old Patagonia hands were saying back in July and August when they explained how much more they like winter...

But anyway!  We're enjoying the energy.  And now that we're back in internet world I can finish up with our calendar-worthy photos from our month in the Beagle Channel.

So, we pick up the narrative after the sensory delights of Seno Pia, east arm, and find the Galactics in the west arm, where the skies are grey and the sunshine is interrupted by a surprising amount of SNOW.

The boys love shoveling the decks.

But I wonder if they'll still love it in Alaska, when it's an everyday thing?

We finally got to use the ski goggles that we've been
carrying around...just the thing for keeping watch
in the driving snow...

Captain and cabin boy getting a line ashore, Estero Coloane.

I think that's a look that says he's happy to see beaver sign
- the fresh woodchips on the ground.

Family-friendly terrain in Coloane.
Eric!  It's right over there...
Magellanic horned owl!
Elias afterwards: Can you see how nervous I was in the picture?

Family and glacier snout.

The sun finds us again.

It was such a nice day that we are dinner in the cockpit for the first time
in a long, long time.
Estero Fouque.

Caleta Nutria, Estero Fouque.  An all-time favorite.

We got the perfect hiking day.  Alisa and Eric went up the hill partway.

Elias and I kept going up the ridge behind the anchorage. 
He was over the moon at all the icefall that we saw.

He's a great hiking companion.  We saw four "lifers" (new bird species) on this day, including the seed snipe he was gunning for.  You have no idea of the excitement.

Our high point.  Galactic is way down there in the lower right.
At the high point.
The Mothership

The next day in Estero Fouque.  This is the same shot that everyone gets.  But I'm glad we got it, too.

Shortly after this picture was taken, the crocodile went overboard.
Recovery was successful.
And, that was more or less our month in the Beagle.

Being distracted now both by the question of how we are riding against the Big Green Sled in the gale that has visited the anchorage, and the long list of tasks that awaits before we leave Chile, I think I'll let the pics speak for themselves.