Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Happened Next

Caleta Brecknock
It would take some real writing to get this part of the trip down.

After we left the Straits of Magellan we cut down Canal Cochrane, took the briefest look at the open Pacific, and ducked back into the protection of the canales - Canal Ocasión and Canal Brecknock - the road to the Beagle Channel.
Brecknock - see the mast?

And Brecknock again

Love that deck stack on a cold morning
Now we were in Fireland - Tierra del Fuego.  And it was our own Tierra del Fuego.  There were some centolla boats around, and every morning we came up on the Patagonia cruisers' net and emailed our position to the armada.  But we seemed to be carrying our own envelope of solitude around with us.  From anchorage to anchorage.  Through crystal day after crystal day.

Winter came in for real on our second morning in Caleta Brecknock, and it never left.

IDing something in the marine mammal field guide.  You can tell who's spending their day on deck and who's spending their day down below

We approach the whole undertaking with humility - we are confident, but we assume nothing.

We have a four-point approach: be well prepared, make good decisions, make it look easy, have a blast.

So far it's worked out.  The kids had a blast, I had a blast, Alisa had a blast.

I can't say enough about choosing winter for our first visit to the far south.  Winter makes everything lonely and mysterious, the way Patagonia should be.

And, well.  The feeling of moving through these places independently?  The feeling of choosing our pace and taking responsibility for everything?  The feeling of dreaming about a trip like this and the doing it, and finding yourself equal to it?

It's no wonder that people find the sailing life so hard to give up.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

After Natales

The view from Caleta Mousse at dawn

Classically, the thing we did first after we left Puerto Natales was that we waited for the weather to improve.

We were very glad not to be waiting for the weather to improve in the indifferent protection of Natales itself.  Caleta Mousse is a fine place.  Even if we did find it very hard to leave.

Now that we've got poor internet access in Puerto Williams (what is it with traveling and getting online? Is it just me?), I'll share some pic from that time.  All these are from between Puerto Natales and the Straits of Magellan.  (Once upon a time I used to have time for making maps for the blog, but it's not going to happen again for the foreseeable future!)

A nice refreshing walk for the family - waiting for weather in Caleta Mousse

Galactic in Caleta Mousse.

Here and below - just before entering Puerto Profundo, our last anchorage north of the Straits of Magellan, and conditions have reached spontaneous liftoff.  That's a williwaw above, and just general windiness below.  Any wonder that we nearly planted the stern on a rock while tying into Profundo?

Above - Puerto Profundo.  A four-point tie and we're snug as can be.

We were holed up in Profundo for six days waiting for weather to get into the Straits of Magellan, but had the consolation of great walking during that time.  Above - something we completely missed out on by sailing away from Alaska - getting little kids rugged up for going outside on a cold day.

Here and below - once you're outside, it's worth it.

Sailing into the Straits of Magellan on a day worth waiting for.

The Straits.  Too good.

Stay tuned for next installment, when the pics get...better.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Poppin' the Dom

We drew a new line on our globe today.

That's the inflatable globe that hangs above the chart table on Galactic.

It has every one of our passages around the Pacific drawn on it - the Pelagic years in black and the Galactic years in red. Today we added the line from Valdivia, our landfall in Chile, to Puerto Williams, the southernmost town in the world. We're tied to the Micalvi, a half-sunk supply ship built in the 1920s that serves as the tie-up for yachts here - "the uttermost yacht club in the world".

And north of us - the entire length of Patagonia. Every line that we draw on the globe merits a celebration, is a little testament to another grand adventure for the family. This one is no different and we dug out a bottle of champagne from the bottom of the fridge when we drew the line.

Going south in Patagonia during the winter turned out to be a complete joy. We went faster than we would have over the last wonderful month, spurred on by considerations outside Patagonia. As always, we get what time we can.

If we're lucky enough, we hope to have another stint of sailing in Fireland during the coming Austral spring and summer.

For now, we're in that sudden transition of being temporarily done, having given up the dreamlike state of being forever on the move through fantastic terrain. We're starting to come to grips with what is on offer in this place, what it will give us and ask of us in return.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Sting In the Tail

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.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ice With Everything

That's been our theme lately - ice with everything. Ice in the anchorages. Ice in our dinghy Fernando, an innocent puddle of rainwater in the bottom of the boat transforming into a solid lump overnight and locking the dinghy anchor out of our reach. Alisa, stellar crew that she is, shovels the slushy snow off the deck of Galactic after we get going in the morning, using one of the boys' beach toys from our alternate reality of tropical sailing, lest the wet snow has a chance to transmorgify into an armor of deck ice. Some lessons from our life in Kodiak transfer.

Other lessons are more specific to winter in a sailboat in Patagonia, and need to be learned on the fly. After the anchorage at spectacular Seno Pia proved to be frozen solid we headed towards our backup anchorage of Caleta Voilier, on the other side of the Northwest Arm of Beagle Channel, and safely away from the freezing influence of tidewater glaciers. The days are short, and entering a strange caleta in the dark isn't in the cards, so we have to keep a backup plan in hand and our eyes on the clock.

Somehow, though, we talked ourselves into trying an alternate backup plan - Caleta Julia - even though the Italian Guide warned of ice in the winter. The promise of better hiking was enough to make us lose our heads. The recommended anchoring spot in Julia was iced away, but there was an ice-free area in the center of the caleta where we figured we could park it for the night. And that's where we had our first lesson about shorelines and shore ice. May the twain never meet.

It took time and effort to get Fernando through the ice so that I could tie into trees. The ice was much thicker than the stuff we had dealt with in our only other frozen anchorage, way up north in Puerto Consuelo near Natales. And we learned what happens when a shoreline inadvertently gets pulled under ice that is too thick to break by pulling on the line. (Someone has to break a path through the ice with the rowboat to pick up the line, and then has to row hard enough through the ice to pull the line out from under the ice. I was sweating.)

But we ended up with a fine three-point tie, the only drawback being that in the case of unforseen williwaws we would be counting on the holding power of our anchor, rather than the preferred solution of a line to a windward.

The next day much of the ice was gone, and we easily rowed ashore for a great walk in the hills. Much snowball throwing, much delirious downhill running through the snow. A fishing boat came into the anchorage while we were up high, and whistled and blew their horn to try to get someone to let them into the inner caleta that was blocked by our lines. What had been an anchorage in the only bit of open water in the middle of the caleta had turned overnight into a more open caleta, bridged by our lines.

That night was date night for Alisa and myself, and we snuggled in front of a movie on the laptop after the boys had gone to sleep. Spooky weather distracted us - moaning williwaws for twenty minutes, followed by an hour of dead calm. We wondered what the night might bring, and thought of our anchor to windward, and decided not to embark on heroic preventative measures (likely a second anchor rowed out to weather).

By the morning it was snowing heavily and the fluid beginnings of sea ice were forming around our lines. We sailed through a snowstorm into the main part of the Beagle Channel, where we were greeted by breaching humpbacks. Which are an arresting sight even if you don't happen to see them in a snowstorm in the Beagle Channel.

We tied into the miraculous anchorage of Caleta Olla - wide and dead easy for maneuvering, with a beach and trails for walking the crew, and a fringe of tall trees that gave us perfect protection from the building weather. We dropped the hook and tied in close to the beach with two stern lines. Condors and vultures flew low over the anchorage and great plumes of snow blew down the mountain above. After dinner when the wind really built we listened to our mast, sticking up above the protection of the trees, moaning and screaming in the breeze.

This anchorage is a little different from most, since it's fairly open and we're sharing it with two other boats. In many of our anchorages recently, when we're tucked into a little nook in the snow-encased shoreline in the middle of nowhere, I have a great image of Galactic as a little cabin in the winter woods somewhere. We get ashore every chance we get, and have been traveling when weather allows, but when we take a lay day we spend the day as a family entirely in the saloon - a space, at a guess, about four meters wide by six meters long. The boys (Eric!) have been better at getting along through the day without fighting, and there is something that is quite ideal about these days with so much concentrated family time. These are the good old days.

When we left Julia in a snowstorm - after we'd gotten the shorelines back, and after I'd thawed my hands on the stack of the diesel stove, and after we'd hoisted Fernando with a halyard and tied her in on deck, and after we'd set off with the full panoply of aids for navigating in low visibility - radar, AIS, navigation lights - and while I was peering to windward through the snowflakes that were caking on my lashes - right then I said to Alisa, who was shoveling the deck - "This is so much fun!"

"I'm so glad you keep saying that," she replied.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

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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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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Spray Was Here

We got the perfect day to enter the Straits of Magellan. And what a notable day it was, to reach this legendary bit of water.

The Faro Fairway lighthouse keeper was courteous and friendly when I hailed him on the VHF as we sailed by. I wished, not for the first time, that my Spanish was up to being chatty on the radio. When we first arrived at Puerto Profundo we heard him reading the weather over the radio while a kid made a ruckus in the background. How intriguing to sail by their island now and to see that they had quite a bit of room to run around, and to wonder what family life might be like in that remote place. It was calm enough for us to land and visit the lighthouse, but the winter days are short and we wanted to use every hour of good weather for getting into the Straits, so we traveled on.

The sun cleared the clouds on the horizon to illuminate the snowy mountains on either side as we made the turn into the Strait. Who couldn't feel the moment? This was the very stretch of water where Magellan gave the Pacific Ocean its name.

The sun was enough to get the boys in the cockpit, so I had the rare treat of their company as we motored deeper into the Straits. A passing container ship hailed us and asked, very nicely, just what the heck we were doing there in the winter, anyway.

And as a final touch, we tied in for the night in Puerto Angosto, where Joshua Slocum anchored the Spray on his second attempt to leave the Straits of Magellan behind him.

Slocum was here for something like a month, and made six unsuccessful attempts to set off from this spot before he finally got the weather to get away.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015


You'd be disappointed if you could just sail into the Straits of Magellan. What would the world be coming to?

We've been waiting in Puerto Profundo, just north of the Straits, for five days now.

When we were first tying in here, on a very gusty day, we toyed with the idea of parking Galactic on the side of the caleta, stern up on the rocks. Surely we'd be more secure in the gusts that way? But good sense prevailed, and we hastily enacted a plan to do what dragging anchor and inefficiently-angled shore lines could not, namely keep us off the rocks.

We shifted berths on the next morning, taking advantage of the calm hours to move to a caleta that had been too gusty to enter when we arrived, and which would give us a strait shot to the mouth of Puerto Profundo if we should feel like leaving in the dark.

For days now we've been watching the forecast promise high pressure and calm conditions for July first. The colors that go along with poor weather on the forecasts - the magenta of 30- or 40-knot winds, the puce-yellow of seven-meter seas - are nearly enough to make you seasick in the calmest anchorage. By contrast, good weather is depicted with the happy green of a 12-knot wind barb and the tranquil blue of a two-meter swell. Looking at that graphical promise of better conditions to come, I've started to imagine July first as a day of mai-tais on the lido deck, a day when we'll tie into palm trees in our chosen caleta.

We'll see what happens.

Meanwhile, we've been running the odd family experiment of spending all of our waking hours on top of each other in the saloon, which is quite cozy with the diesel heater glowing in the corner.

It would be easier if our boys (talking to you, Eric!) didn't fight all the time. Much easier. And it would be easier if, while they were squabbling, Alisa wasn't trying to teach them school and I wasn't sitting at the chart table, drowning out the family noise with the earbuds, and doing science on my laptop. But it's more or less always been thus for us. I'm very happy to have the science work, and we're generally quite happy with how the Tasmanian curriculum, as enriched by Alisa, is working for Elias. And when the boys decide to play nicely together and have an uproarious boy time, well, then we're in heaven.

We've also managed to get off the boat for a walk nearly every day, and for the boys to throw snowballs at each other, and at us.

That's one lesson I remember from mountain climbing in Alaska - weather days are much nicer if you manage to get out of the tent.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

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