Monday, November 2, 2015


Miles Smeeton, in his classic sailing account Once Is Enough, talks about getting an officer evaluation during his time in World War II that read in part: This officer shows great skill at getting out of situations that he never should have gotten into.

I am not going to compare us to the Smeetons, one of the founding couples of the "life is short, and the world is big" philosophy of going down to the sea in your own boat. Nor am I keen to compete with them in terms of getting out of situations that we shouldn't have gotten into. Read Once Is Enough if you get a chance.

But that bit of the book did come back to me yesterday afternoon.

"Heaven!" I thought I heard Alisa say. Which didn't make sense in the context.

"What?" I asked.

"Heavens!" she clarified.

That made more sense.

Perhaps the problem came from planning ahead, an idea that should be resisted in certain circumstances.

When we were sitting out a day of poor weather back in the southwest arm of Beagle Channel we planned our return to Puerto Williams. One day to the anchorage at Caleta Victor Jarra, and the next day back to the Micalvi (the Uttermost Yacht Club In The World), where we would prepare for our next jaunt.

We had a ripper sail to Victor Jarra. Running under staysail alone at seven knots. That sort of thing.

But then we sailed into Bahia Honda and rolled up the staysail and Alisa and Elias got Fernando the hard dinghy off the deck while I held us in place by motoring into the wind. It was blowing hard enough to make maneuvering in tight quarters difficult.

And then we motored into Victor Jarra itself and the flaw in our plan became apparent. That caleta has no trees for tying into and only a low skerrick of land to windward to keep out the waves, and nothing to keep out the wind.

We were keen for the security of tying in, not wanting to spend the night swinging around the little anchorage in fifty-knot gusts. But there were no trees to help us out, and there was no question of backing into the little cove to windward in those conditions.

So we ended up motoring bow-first into the cove and dropping the fairly massive Rocna, which did us the great favor of holding well on 20 meters of bar-tight chain in three or four meters of water. There was also a bit about me motoring into the gusts at full throttle inside the little caleta while Alisa ran up and down the companionway to free the chain that had fouled itself during the ripper sail.

But eventually we did get the anchor to hold us while I started the process of getting lines ashore. Happily, the boys forwent their normal indulgence of screaming and fighting while we were dealing with a tricky anchoring situation.

We ended up with a cat's cradle of five lines holding us perfectly in place, each one tied off on a bit of cable slung around a boulder or a knotted length of chain jammed into a crack in the rocks. It took a long time to get it all in place. Alisa was getting blown off balance while she handled the lines on deck, and rowing Fernando ashore was more dramatic than normal.

I had the strangest deja vu at one point, wandering around on a rocky section of coast, with a shoreline tied around my waist, looking for a crack that might take a knotted chain and hold a yacht in a gale as well. Just like some alpine route with rock gear, wandering around at the end of the rope, looking for a belay.

The fishermen, meanwhile, were tucked up against a cliff out in Bahia Honda, out of the wind. We'll learn. But the process isn't over.

We slept completely, knowing that we were secure no matter what kind of wind blew. And woke to driving snow, and the shoreline around us gone white, and slush balls falling off the rigging and landing on deck with an impact that would wake a dead sailor to say, "what's that?"


  1. Can totally relate to your Victor Jarra travails. We just arrived in Tonga. Windy had to bend over at the bow, gripping the boat hook tightly to grab the mooring lines and bring them aboard, all the while hoping the spliced eyes would fit over our large bow cleats. And me, at the helm, t-shirt and lava lava, focused on keeping the bow in place while the wind howled at Force 1. but we did it, by golly.