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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

South and East to Pto Natales

January 15, 2017

We are continuing to make our way south as the weather permits.  As previously noted, bad weather rules here and patience is the sailing virtue.  The distance between Puerto Eden, a fishing village of about 250 hearty souls and Puerto Natales, a tourist center of 20,000 people, for visits to the gem of Chilean national parks, Torres del Paine, is about 260 miles without any diversions.  This is an area pretty much without people but lots of exhibits of raw nature from whales to goofy steamer ducks.   We saw our first foreign boat, other than our British Columbia friends on Heart and Soul, since starting this leg of the trip  while anchored in Puerto Bueno (S50 59 and W074 13).  She was a expedition type big powerboat out of New York named Argo.  What a shock!  It also looked pretty comfy.

Keeping in mind that it is summer down here, we’ve been a little surprised at the almost continual rain and the few days where wind drops enough for a comfortable trip even though the wind is almost always behind us.  If the gribs are showing 30 plus knots, you must always be careful to account for gusts that can come roaring off the sides of the fjords that can pack a real wallop.  Our schooner has two hoyt self-tending booms from which we fly a jib and a staysail.  We normally can go “wing and wing” and clip right along. We do not put up the mainsail here due to our worry about gusts.  

However,  the real problem is the rain!   We like to be able to see where we are going.  Yes, we have radar and we use it but in driving squalls, I doubt we would see the small wood Chilean fish boats or bergie-bits (pieces of ice in the channel from the numerous glaciers).  This does not mean we sit in an anchorage waiting for the sun to come out but we do try to avoid the real messy weather days.

For all you sailor friends, for the weather we download primarily four weather models from Predictwind via our Iridium Go satellite modem.  We then stir the tea leaves to figure out what to expect.  We’ve heard many reports that the grip files do not accurately portray what is happening in the channels but we’ve found to the contrary that Predictwind GFS and the GFS models are pretty accurate.  The Euro model doesn’t work so well as it always is over-predicting  the amount of rain and under-predicting the amount of wind.  

We also have an expensive ($500) electronic barometer, an ASI Aquatech Scientific Instruments, that has an amazing ability to forecast coming spells of wind, rain, etc.  The common lore here is the wind precedes the barometer but once again, we have not found this to be the case.

Speaking of weather, we go and travel for days with  barometer readings below 1000 mb.  After all, it is summer.

Our Heart and Soul friends claim summer down here is like winter on Vancouver Island.  They might have a good point since we are running our Antarctic diesel heater pretty much non-stop to keep the temperature in the boat around 67 degrees (19C) in the day and 60 degrees (15C) at night.  The heater on low setting uses about 1.2 gallon (US)  or roughly 3.78 liters, a day.

Before ending this blog, Marja is insistent that I mention something about anchoring and tying ashore in each new anchorage.  Many of the caletas are small and deep and require you to take lines ashore.  The trick is to drop the anchor close to shore in reasonably shallow water with the stern facing the direction of the wind and then get out a couple of lines (God Forbid but sometimes more than two).  This all sounds easy but believe me Barnum and Bailey could not come up with a better clown act than the two of us often going through this maneuver.  The reasons are simple, our dear schooner Motu likes to head directly toward the nearest obstruction when in reverse, the wind normally blows the yacht away direction of the wind where you want to tie the boat, and then on top of all that, you risk life and limb attempting to scramble over slimy rocks and a desperate search for a tree or something you can tie to.  

Entering Caleta 

Buying Centolla (king crab) in Pto. Eden

Sailing down the canals, lines for tieing ashore ready to go!

Fast sailing down the canals

Doesn't look like 30 knots, does it?

Finally anchored in Puerto Consuelo near Natales, and finally sun!  And  WIND!!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

into the Southern Channels of Patagonia

Belated Merry Christmas from Pto. Aguirre
And Happy 2017!!

In Puerto Eden at S 49 08 W 074 25            

The area south of the Gulf of Penas is the real start of the Southern Patagonia Channels if going from north to south.  This is the area of the rugged scenery, bad weather and almost a total lack of people, In short,  it's you, your boat and the wilderness.  This special area is also where you can sail west around the world and your next landfall can be the same place you started from---Patagonia.  Now that would be a challenge way too far for M and I.

We left Castro, the large city known for its houses on stilts and big wood church, as mentioned in last blog, to head south across the Gulf Corcovado.  This area is nice cruising.  You can stay on the west side of the Canal Moraleda and stop at delightful anchorages such as Isla Amita, Isla Jechica---which even has a small marina, and Puerto Aguirre to name just a few but ones we enjoyed.

Anchored in Pto Aguirre with snow-covered
Volcano in background

Further south we started aiming toward Bahia Anna Pink, which has anchorages on this very large bay  and close to the jumping off to go through the Gulf of Penas.

Pto. Millabu, with many waterfalls, and "Rachas" (williwaws)
Bahia Anna Pink

Baking bread while waiting to go South!

Lines out to Shore in Caleta Suarez

Tied in at Caleta Suarez

There are three so-called "choke points", meaning areas of bad weather that need to be transversed, on the way to the end of Patagonia.  The first is the Golfo de Penas, which is a big relatively shallow gulf  that is wide open to thousands of miles of the Pacific.  The distance for a yacht, depending upon which anchorage you leave from, is about 110 miles to 130 miles.  This is also an area  where you sit and wait for good conditions unless you tend to have a masochistic streak or are just plain crazy.  (The  other "chock points" are Magellan Strait and  Canal Breaknock)

Whale Bones discovered in Estero Cono, Caleta Suarez

And wait we did for almost two weeks for a decent weather window allowing us to leave on the 28th of December, along with our Canadian friends, David and Margaret, on Heart and Soul.  We left the protected anchorage of Caleta Suarez, which is used by fisherman.  It is a lovely spot and appears to be free of "rachas" (williwaws) that rocked us in Caleta Cliff.  As is typical in many anchorages, you drop a bow anchor in Suarez and then tie a couple of lines (or more) to shore.  Very Secure.

This anchorage can get crowded with small but seaworthy fishing boats awaiting good weather but we only saw one Chilean fish boat, and this was over Christmas, with four young friendly guys onboard. Christmas dinner was aboard Heart and Soul, whom we have more or less been sailing with.  Margaret made a fantastic traditional Christmas dinner with turkey and everything else.  It made the four of us feel closer to families and friends far north.

Christmas in Caleta Suarez on Heart and Soul
with Dave and Margaret

After a wait of two weeks, we got a decent weather window and motor-sailed across the Gulf of Penas in lumpy but otherwise excellent conditions.

The photos will show some of the beautiful anchorages going down the Canal Messier Channel, including Seno Iceberg, and currently, the small village of Eden, with its colorful houses and boardwalks connecting inhabitants around the bay.  A young German singlehander aptly described the town and area as the "end of the world."

Calmer conditions - Messier Channel ahead

We made it!

Stephen's handy improvised kelp cutter.

Glacier at Seno Iceberg


Anchorage at Puerto Eden, Heart and Soul and Motu

The boardwalks of Pto. Eden

Shopping at Lolo's store in Pto Eden