December 10, 2020
We left Puerto Williams on December 9th in the afternoon with a light southerly breeze. Gradually, it snuck around to the northeast as we continued sailing in a drizzling rain. Four sail changes kept us moving with the fickle wind. In the distance we noticed what we thought was a Sei whale; we saw it blow twice and then dive. Later when the wind stopped, we took down our jib pole, stowed the headsail, sheeted in the main, and started our 6 horsepower outboard engine that hangs from a bracket on our stern. It took us the last 10 percent of the way, and we maneuvered, through a short maze of kelp, into our stop for the night, Caleta Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa is a cute circular nook on the northern coast of Isla Navarino, 25 nautical miles from Puerto Williams. Shoreside, there is a small farm and a dirt road. Just before we dropped the anchor, we saw a bus depart and disappear over the hill towards town. It likely represented the last person, or at least the last land vehicle we will see for the next few months. From our only 6-pack aboard we both drank a celebratory beer to mark the commencement of a long anticipated voyage.
The next morning, in the pre-dawn light of 4am, we raised anchor and headed back out into the Beagle Channel. It was a beautiful morning with clearing skies, but the wind was calm. This stretch of the Beagle Channel is typically difficult with strong headwinds, adverse current, and choppy seas. On many days, if not most, progress would be impossible with our little sloop. So, we chose our day carefully, and with our sights on Caleta Olla 35 miles to the west, we decided this was a good day to burn precious fuel and to motor.
These days, there is typically a strong element of motoring in any vessel’s journey north through the Channels. Some boats even motor the entire distance. In Puerto Williams we increased our fuel stores from 15 gallons to 55 gallons by scrounging jerry cans and storing them on deck. Two sit lashed into our cockpit footwell, three small cans are lashed together on the stern, and rest of our new collection sit to the port side of our companionway hatch. At first, it was strange to have bulky things on deck, but we’ve become accustomed to their presence. The 55 gallons gives us a range under power of 300-400 miles in average motoring conditions, well shy of the 1250 miles to Valdivia. Despite the increased stores, we will have to ration our gasoline carefully and sail as much as possible.
As the morning became established, so did the magnificence of the day. The sunny calm deceived Tierra del Fuego’s wild reputation. We felt like we were on holiday as we motored along at 4.5kts. We peeled off layers of clothing and took time to snap pictures of the jagged snow capped mountains. We approached and then passed Ushuaia, just as the rising sun reflected from the city’s buildings, shining in silvers and golds in the morning light. We motored on, past Canal Murray, the forbidden pass to Cape Horn (currently only open to Chilean traffic), past Puerto Navarino, and past Alcamar Yamana. We talked with the Chilean stationed at this lighthouse in slow Spanish, waiting to call until the fishing boats ahead of us finished their more fluent exchanges.
Before approaching Caleta Olla, we needed first to pass Isla Diablo and the tide was against us. The Island creates a bottleneck in the channel which increases tidal forces. We viewed the phenomenon from above when hiking up a nearby mountain on our previous trip. We witnessed the waters around Diablo swirl and churn with current. As we entered the pass we felt our steerage slip and we increased throttle to gain more control. It was interesting to watch the water boil with vortices around Dawn Treader. We managed to slowly move through the powerful forces against us, but we burned some excess fuel in the process.
After exiting the narrows of Isla Diablo, it was only a mile or so to Caleta Olla. We saw two proud looking guanaco, sentries on the hill, just before entering the anchorage. They looked glorious in the sunlight. We passed Glacier Hollanda, sun drenched and bright blue. Near lunchtime, we dropped the anchor in front of the beach and maneuvered the stern toward the shore. We quickly put Junior, our nesting dinghy, in the water and assembled the two halves together. I rowed two stern lines ashore, tying off to large trees, while Brian held Dawn Treader in place with the engine. Once the lines were secure, Brian turned off the noisy motor and finally the soundtrack matched the imagery of the day, peace and quiet. We would stay in Caleta Olla for a few days, resting from the frenzied voyage preparations and tiring Puerto Williams departure.
We used more fuel than we hoped on the leg to Caleta Olla, but we were pleased with our progress. We were satisfied to have started our journey. We were 55 miles west of Puerto Williams, and that was a good start.
Distance Made Good: 55nm
Total Distance Made Good: 55nm
Distance To Go: 1,196nm
Average Miles per Day: 28
Fuel Remaining: 51 gallons
Hello friends! Thank you! We appreciate the comments and encouragement! It is lovely to hear from you guys, especially since we are out sailing in remote areas. We will share pictures, but not until we have internet again, which will be a while from now (We post this blog via email and a satellite phone). Thanks for reading our sailing story! All the best, Brian and Deb