Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Back to Valdivia----the hard way

20 June 2017
Valdivia, Chile  (S39 50.953 W073 19.077)

Moon over Valdivia River

Our previous blog mentioned how we got stuck in Chiloe at Quinched Marina, about 200 miles from our final destination to put  Motu to bed for the southern winter at the Alwoplast boatyard in Valdivia.  That is where we spent last winter.  The area is considered one of best or perhaps the best place to leave a boat if planning to do some travel on land in the winter months.  Other favorites are Puerto Montt a rather large city located somewhat near the location for exiting the protected channels before heading into the Pacific.  The third location is Puerto Williams at the extreme end of southern Chile in Tierra del Fuego.

In our opinion, Puerto Williams is way too far south to spend the winter and has this white stuff that floats down and makes us long for the tropics.

Club Nautico in a very tranquil Pto. Montt

Pto Williams - too cold for us! (Heart 'N Soul photo)

There is nothing wrong with Puerto Montt and it is probably the most popular choice among cruisers and the only place in southern Chile where it is fairly easy to haul out a boat and leave on the hard,   but we much prefer the university city of Valdivia with its good restaurants, nice walks, and student atmosphere.  The temperatures require the diesel heater to be on  some hours of the day but the rain---there is lots of it--- defines the area in winter.  Think Seattle.

Patience is everything when it comes to weather but our patience really got tried as it took about 19 days for a break from the almost constant northers for heading the final leg to Valdivia.  The first issue is that the final 120 miles to Valdivia is out in the open ocean with a very inhospitable coast.  The second is the notorious Chacao Channel with its swift currents of eight knots plus.

The night before leaving to enter the Chacao Channel we dropped the hook in a big bay called Caleta Manao  about three miles from the eastern entrance of the natural canal.  We left at  1130 to catch the ebb current as it started flowing out to make the 12 plus or minus miles toward the entrance to the Pacific Ocean and leaving the last protected channels of Chile.  (When heading south, you are pretty much, with some exceptions, inside channels that can take you all the way to Puerto Williams in the far south.) The good news is that while you go out in the ocean to points north or northwest,  you are climbing in latitude.  Valdivia is just out of the "Roaring Forties."

The ride out the infamous Chacao Channel was fast with dear old Motu going between eight knots and 12 knots.  In other words, we were getting up to six or seven knots of current.

There is a short cut that is used by local yachts, called Paso Chocoi, that allows you to exit the canal and stay in relatively protected waters to make some northing before going out into the Pacific as opposed to heading straight out the channel into rough seas beyond the lighthouse Punta Corona and an anchorage near the lighthouse called Puerto Ingles.

Not stopping at this anchorage proved to be a mistake that added a little excitement to our exit.  We entered Paso Chocoi and noticed that it was rather rough but certainly not alarmingly so.  The big surprise we got was that  the further we went north, the rougher it got.  We banged and crashed our way through the turbulence, feeling a little stupid about not going first to the lighthouse anchorage and waiting for the current to abate, but soon we were out in the Pacific heading north.  We initially had some nice wind but soon we were doing our all too usual motor-sailing.

We proceeded through the afternoon and then night with light conditions and continually dropping seas.  The morning was lovely but with only about six knots of wind.  We were heading right for the river entrance at Valdivia and suddenly  BANG AND CRASH!  We hit something with the prop and the vibration was terrible above 1100 rpm.  At this point we were 42 miles from the nearest anchorage and we were making about 2 knots under sail.  We kept thinking this is going to get interesting when the current runs out from the river system upon which Valdivia is located.  It did.

We've traded penguins for pelicans!

Capt. Steve's Birthday

Our 0800 morning arrival turned into 2030 at night and we entered a commercial harbor, called Corral,  under radar and dropped the hook.  The final chapter of that passage may turn out okay as we discovered that once we tied to the dock at Alwolpast, whatever caused the prop problem disappeared in the current.  We suspect we picked up a heavy plastic bag of the type used by fishermen here or a polyprop rope.  The GoPro showed no damage to prop but we will know more when we haul the boat next spring.  Now work has begun to prepare the boat for her winter stay.

Stephen cleaning the bundle on the Beta
Heat Exchanger

Motu is snug in her slip, the rain has arrived, and we are getting ready for a glass of Carmenere wine with our very dear friends from Erowal Bay, Australia, Alan and Cindy Nebauer.   All is good in Valdivia, Chile.

Stephen, Marja, Cindy and Alan with Vulcan Osorno behind us. 

Ah, Chilean wine

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Always the Weather

Sunrise in the Gulf of Ancud

April 25, 2017

As the saying goes, "bad weather rules" in Southern Chile,  and  once again we have found this to be the case.  We mentioned in the last blog that we have had almost incredibly good weather for the motor-sail from the Cabo de Hornos area to Marina Quinched, Chiloe,  which is about 180  miles from our winter destination of Alwoplast Boatyard outside of Valdivia.  How things change.

We've been here a week now and have been able to take advantage of the off-season rates at this nice little Chilean marina located on Chiloe Island, near the city of Castro.  Unfortunately, the weather has been terrible for going to Valdivia.  We appear to be in the near center of a big high which funnels the winds of depressions sweeping across the Pacific from the west.  The boat is quite secure here but the wind can howl.

We need just a two day weather window to be able to get through the infamous Chacao Canal where the currents can run around eight knots and create huge seas if  wind is against the current.  Big ships respect this canal.  We then need a further 24 hours to go the 120 n miles out in the Pacific up to river system of Valdivia.

The area is really our first re-introduction to "civilization" since the small town of Puerto Williams or perhaps the villages of Puerto Eden and Aguirre.  Castro has people, hotels, restaurants, super-markets and of great importance, hardware stores.  We mention the latter since yesterday the welds broke on the dinghy davits and the whole contraption including antennas, lights, solar panels, and, of course, the dinghy almost ended up in the drink.  Of course, if we had to have this failure, we are more than pleased it occurred here at the dock, near a big city.

Tomorrow we will walk 5 km down the country road from the marina and then take the bus into Castro,  where we will hunt down stainless u-bolts as a quick fix for where the welds failed.  When we get to Valdivia, we will look at a more permanent and stronger fix.

We understand why people say cruising is being able to work on your boat in exotic places.

People who read the blog mention they want more pictures of Southern Chile so here goes:

Poor Stephen after tiny biting flies attacked his
eyes and face while taking lines ashore

Solution to bug problem . . . BUGMAN!

Feel like the only people on Earth

A beautiful hiking day in Southern Chile

Caleta Pindo
The lovely little village of Chonchi and the many
types of Chiloe shingles

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Heading North

Leaving Pto Williams March 9, 2017
While it can be safely argued that going down the Patagonia Channels is no laid back sail, going north is another matter completely.   Usually! This is because you normally have wind on the nose and a lot more wind than you need or want. Patience and lots of diesel fuel are your best friends if you want to go north, in our case, back to Valdivia, at about 40 degrees S.

We got a nice weather break in early March that allowed us leave Puerto Williams, about 100 miles from Cape Horn, and go down further south and around Cape Horn.  We arrived back at the Micalvi, the old Chilean munitions carrier, that serves as a "yacht club" to get settled in for another blow.

Anchorage at Coloane, off the Brazo Sudoeste.  Eventually had  seven lines out for the blow! 


Our philosophy for the return journey was based upon watching the fall weather both last year while we were in Valdivia preparing to go south and reading some blogs.  While the old Patagonia hands will recommend that you make the north  trip in the winter because, baring storms, you have a lot less wind since it is cold and you don't have the temperature differentials that cause "rachas" or williwaws  that can scream off the mountains that often are on either side of the channels.

Stephen was born and raised in California and Marja was born in Texas and raised there and later in Phoenix.  In other words, we were not looking forward to winter temperatures and short daylight periods while going north.

We saw last year that the weather often had periods of high pressure systems settling over large areas of Patagonia in late February, March, and even into April.  The OCC boat,  Joyant, with Tom and Dorothy Wadlow, aboard ,went north two years ago at this time and made it to Valdivia in a month.
We decided to give it a try.  We said our good-byes to our friends David and Margaret on "Heart and Soul" and Dominique and Carole on "Hippos Camp" who had elected to leave their boats in Puerto Williams for the winter.  Burr! Our intrepid young friends, Max and Laura on "Tortuga",  went to the Falklands (rough trip).

Bundled up in THE COAT.  

We got our weather window on March 9th and proceeded north under a beautiful high pressure that allowed us to motorsail 600 nautical miles north as far as Pto Eden at S 49 08 arriving on March 31st.

Atracadero before the NE blow and anchor drag.

Steamer Ducks of Atracadero (flightless birds that use their wings like paddlewheels!)

Our Anchorage buddies at Atracadero

Now in the interests of full disclosure, we did have to sit out some strong winds for a short period, and had two nasty little encounters.  The first occurred in Atracadero.   Took a great hike in the mountains behind the boat, photographed the goofy steamer ducks, and just after returning to Motu for a cup of tea, a strong Northeasterly caused the anchor to drag due to a huge ball of kelp and some old fisherman's foul weather gear, all wrapped nicely around the anchor!  Extracted ourselves from that mess, got away from the rocks, reanchored and sat out the westerly blow the next day with up to five fishing boats all rafted together off our starboard stern by a little islet.

The bad bow line that flipped off the rock in Pto Riemann - don't know why?!?!

The next fiasco was in Puerto Niemann when a line we had tied to rocks off our port  bow pulled out.  Other than elevated heart rates and a little scratch in the boot-top when a racha blew Motu onto a rock wall, only our pride was damaged.  We also had a rather unpleasant experience crossing the Straits of Magellans with a hat full of wind.

Beautiful and dramatic Bahia Wodsworth, on the Magellan

HUGE waterfall behind the boat at Bahia Wodsworth

Now we are anchored at Puerto Eden and it is blowing out of the north.  We are hoping to continue north tomorrow and are waiting for our old friend, the HIGH, to return.

Gorgeous weather on Canal Sarmiento

Massive ice blocking entrance to Seno Penguin - in the fall can  even block main channel, Canal Wide

Back at Pto. Eden, in sun!!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Cape Horn to Port


We left Cape Horn to port on Saturday on March 4, 2017 on a rather windless and cloudy day in fairly rough seas.  "We" being Stephen and Marja and our faithful schooner Motu.  Cape Horn is rather more than just another big pile of rocks out in a forsaken stretch of water what with history made not just by  the likes of Slocum, Shackleton, Magellan, Drake and Darwin but rather all those ordinary seamen over the centuries who fought bitter cold and terrible seas making the rounding.

The Captain and Cape Horn
We can't really count ourselves in the same league  with all the advantages of modern electronics and weather forecasting  but it was still a big and emotional deal for us since it was something we've wanted to accomplish for many years and after many thousands of miles of blue water sailing.

Micalvi Yacht Club on a rare sunny day

Some of the inhabitants of Pto. Williams

Most of the yachts going around the Horn do so via Puerto Williams, the southern most city in the world.   Some hard-core sailers find this to be less than a genuine Cape Horn rounding as opposed to having arrived directly from the Pacific or Atlantic oceans and continuing onward.

We found our way just fine.  We made our rounding with two other yachts,  "Heart and Soul" out of Vancouver island, Canada, with David and Margaret and Hippo's Camp out of France/America with Dominique and Carole.

Waiting for weather window

So time for a BBQ!

We all sat in the Puerto Williams for a couple of weeks watching for a weather window.  There was one that opened up for just two days but the weather was forecasting this window to be slammed shut  by a gale.  This forecast was  too tenuous and also predicted a northeast wind for the trip back to Puerto Williams.

One reason for the reputation of Cape Horn besides the shear latitude is the Bay of Nassau that lies north of Cape Horn.  It is shallow and can generate horrible and dangerous seas.  Some yacht crews off of charter boats told us that a northeast wind could just stop the boat in 20 kts on the nose.  We waited.

Motu with Hippo's Camp and Heart and Soul rafted together in Pto Maxwell

Our rounding took three days with the first night spent at an anchorage called Puerto Maxwell, which is the best you can get in the area since it is surrounded by three islands and offers good protection.  The downside is the ton of kelp that comes up with your anchor in the morning,  We rounded the cape from there and then made our way toward a a day anchorage where you can sometimes get ashore at the lighthouse on Cape Horn.  The landing looked just short of suicidal the day we were there.

Landing at Caleta Leon, Cabo de Hornos.  Doesn't look bad but there was a big swell.  Photo Heart and Soul

The three boats then turned north into another anchorage,  Caleta Martial.  This was the site of the celebrations among the three boats, along with the young couple Laura and Max on Tortuga, a Westsail 32, preparing to go around the next day.    Pizza and champagne.  Does it get any better?

Opening of the Champagne!

Laura, Carole, Dominique, Stephen, Margaret, Marja and Max.  Dave took the pic

The weather remained good when we left the next day for another anchorage further north and finally back to Puerto Williams.  Fantastic!

Now we are getting ready to head north again through the canals on to Valdivia where we will spend the winter.  It is a little too cold for us to consider Puerto Williams.  Indeed, when we awoke to snow on the foothills this morning, our decision was to GO!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Heading South to Puerto Williams, Patagonia

Heading South to Puerto Williams

Torres del Paine 

We left Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres Del Paine National Park on 30 January after getting a taste of the magnificent the park and also the windy anchorages in or near Puerto Natales.  Sailor types are never allowed much time not to think about the wind down here.  To give you an embarrassing example, one day we hauled our dinghy about 70 feet up a beach and put it beside a building only to discover later that the dingy was going past Motu, down the bay without us, in 30-40 knots.  Bad dinghy!

The Anchorage at Pto Consuelo, near Pto Natales

The trip to Natales is really off the main channels that continue south and east toward Puerto Williams and Cape Horn and it was good to finally get free of these channels and back on track since we fought the gusty wind (rachas) and rain on the way to Natales and got the same treatment when we left. I suspect we paid our dues for the beautiful days in Natales and Torres del Paine National Park.

After the "rachas" of Pto Natales

Since we left Valdivia, where we spent much of the last (southern) winter, the scenery has been getting nothing but more dramatic the further south.  We've again been traveling with our good Canadian friends David and Margaret, on Heart and Soul, a Scepter 43.  They are also new members of the Ocean Cruising Club.

Threading our way through kelp into narrow anchorages

Morning in an anchorage off the Magellan

Sailing the Magellan Straits

Our course led us along the waterways that lead to Puerto Williams, the most southern city (big village) in the world.  Puerto Williams is basically a Chilean Navy Base that allows visitors and yachts.   The Navy, called the Armada, also keeps a very close watch on all vessels down here.  It also is the administrative center for their Antarctica claims.

Once out of the channels leading to and from Natales, we entered Canal Smyth and then into the Estrecho de Magellanes (Strait of Magellan).  This big strait begins in the Atlantic and is well known.  at least the eastern stretch, for its history and bad weather.  It is basically one of two ways to get into Southern Chile from the Atlantic, with the other being the Beagle Canal.  Both can be described as "attention getting" for sailors on small boats.  This general area is where the winds can really blow and where sits a big pile of rocks called Cape Horn!

After Canal Smyth we began investigating ways to get out of the Straits of Magellan and into the Beagle as soon as possible to get into a small channel with less chance of seas and wind.

One such Channel was Acwalisnan which is a pretty Channel with a nasty narrow spot at the south that funnels the current at rather alarming rates.  There is not much of a problem when going thru this area at high tide since predictions are good, but going through at low water is another issue.  Much is written about how to calculate slack at low water and none of the models worked for us.  Neither did asking local fishing and work boats.  We stuck our nose into the narrow bits and it didn't seem impossible so we just nudged a little more and soon found we were in five plus knots against us.  The Beta, our engine, got a work out and Marja was a little annoyed that I wasn't a little more patient.  Lesson learned.  You can teach an old dog new tricks - wait for slack!

Anchorage at Caleta Cinco Estrellas - definitely five stars

Hiking with our buddies Dave and Margaret off the Beagle

Eventually we got out of Magellan and into the Brazo Noroeste de Canal Beagle, also known as the Avenue of the Glaciers.  Our pictures below don't really do the route justice.

Brazo de Noroeste

Italia Glacier

It was finally after about 1750 miles traveled, lots of adventures and many unforgettable anchorages, that Puerto Williams pulled into sight and we tied up at the Club de Yates at the Micalvi.  The Micalvi is an old munitions carrier that was grounded by the Armada and now serves as the dock for yachts to raft outside her.  There are a lot of tales about nights at the Micalvi, but I guess there were too many tales because now no alcohol is allowed.  What do you do with a drunken sailor?

The entrance to Micalvi Club de Yates