December 31, 2020
Tacking the 24 miles to Caleta Julia was a wake up call. We were alarmed by the time and effort required to make so few miles. Reviewing our charted track line, Brian estimated the angle of our course to the wind had been 70 degrees. In other words we sailed three miles for every one mile of progress. In several years of sailing, never before had we had to pay serious attention to our windward sailing performance and our technique has suffered. If we could somehow sail just 10 degrees closer to the wind, we would only need to sail two miles for every mile towards our goal. We would cover ground faster and have more time to rest. With a long stretch of miles against the prevailing winds in front of us, the subtleties of sailing our boat upwind became central to our thinking. We made a goal to sail an improved course of 60 degrees to the wind. To meet our goal we did what we do best, we stared blankly at the wall and thought about it. We also brainstormed about making possible adjustments and created a performance spreadsheet.
We had a long nine day layover in Caleta Julia. We waited for better weather, celebrated Christmas, and walked the surrounding hills. Higher up we enjoyed panoramic views of the Beagle Channel, and we reflected on the last 10 months spent there. The 200 mile waterway inspired our imaginations with its silent mossy forests, countless hidden coves, ice ancient and alive, mountains, and myriad citizens: dolphins, seals, songbirds, and the ghosts of the people who came before us. We looked to the west and could see Canal O’Brien, a narrow pass between Islands that marks the end of the Beagle Channel. We would soon be sailing through that pass, leaving the Beagle astern.
Our time in Caleta Julia came to a close when we set out in a calm for a quick nine mile motor to Isla Chair. The weather forecast showed some good conditions for moving in the next couple of days, and this small move forward gave us a jump on the upcoming section. As we entered the close-walled horseshoe anchorage of Caleta Cushion, we saw the tiny rounded fin of a Black Dolphin. That afternoon, we walked west around the hills of the small island, before turning back, away from a strengthening headwind. We found a sheltered place to sit with our backs to the wind. The conditions built due to a low pressure system. We faced east and watched wind gusts sweep over the water at high speeds and carry spray up into the air. We thought again about sailing against the wind and wondered if we could become more capable.
By the next morning the system was gone and we were ready again at o4:00. We motored out of the anchorage and faced West. We were prepared to take advantage of a predicted calm. Although it never materialized, we still motored against a light headwind with a mind to delay tacking. As we left Isla Chair, and the pink and grey clouds of dawn behind us, a Sei whale approached and passed distant from our port side. As we rounded the corner into Canal O’Brien, we saw the whale blow once more astern, before leaving him and the Beagle Channel behind. It was a tough moment. We knew we had to press on, but we also felt the anguish of departure from an enchanting place.
Motoring is far less fuel efficient when against the forces of a headwind, but Brian turned off the motor more reluctantly than usual and hoisted the sails. We prepared our spirits for another long day of tacking. I guess we were dubious of our spreadsheet and small adjustments. We steeled ourselves as we began tacking through Canal O’Brian. We sheeted in main and jib both more than normal. We adjusted the lead of the jib sheet. We carried more sail. We pinched up, pointing a few degrees closer to the wind. Finally, we steered more actively, rounding up a little to pinch and then falling off a touch to keep the drive, over and over.
Our changes worked! In the light headwind through O’Brien and into Canal Ballanero we averaged a course of 60 degrees off the wind. This put us within reach of Caleta Silva on Isla Londonberry. We were not totally sold that our changes made a difference though. The shelter of O’Brien made for calm seas and ideal tacking conditions. We also thought we might of had an assist from a favorable tail current. Despite our skepticism, the results of the day were promising.
After 26 miles we reached the shelter of the Caleta Silva. Brian manned the outboard motor and tiller, and I dropped the lead line to test the depth. We found a spot between the kelp, and I dropped the anchor in 18 feet. We ran shorelines and were secure in our spot for three days. One day we rested, one day we walked, and one day we gathered over 30 gallons of water. There was a pretty waterfall behind the boat, and we carried, rowed, and filled bottles and jerry cans until our 65 gallon tank was topped up. With so much fresh water and rain in the channels, we have never worried about our water supply.
The day of our departure from Silva, we were slow in preparing to leave. We were up again at 03:00, we readied quickly, but then we stalled. We dawdled, made coffee, and ate some bread before starting our preparations outside. A howling wind had us moving in slow motion, and we delayed in charging out to meet it. However, we kept in mind a good thing about sailing upwind here: if the conditions are too rough to make progress, you can always turn and run back to the sheltered anchorage that you came from. So, we had a backup plan, and although we hesitated, we did go. Dawn Treader was bashing onwards by 05:00.
In this stretch we turned to the northwest in wide and windswept Canal Ballanero. We tacked through a scattering of islands and skirted past openings to the Pacific Ocean where the ocean swell could be felt. The wind was most fresh in the morning. First at the helm, I was startled by the strength and splash range of the small waves. I had been spoiled by inland waterway sailing. The waves were only a few feet tall, but, because we were beating, the spray was flying. We were well protected though, in waterproof floatation suits, which are like full body life jackets with good insulation. This piece of gear has proven essential when hand steering all of our Chilean miles. Brian and I alternated at the helm and focused on the course for the next 12 hours.
Again, 60 degrees! This time against a fresh breeze and choppy seas. There was not much current on this stretch either, so it looked like we had made real improvements. Staring at the wall worked! We made 20 tacks to go 28nm, much better than the 70 tacks to go 21 miles in the Beagle. Although the comparison is not completely fair, because there was more room for tacking in Ballanero and the wind was slightly off a true headwind.
The fewer tacks did not mean an easy day. We had to repeatedly manage the sail area to accommodate the fluctuating wind strength. Reefing is a job I am capable of, but I am much slower and fatigue more quickly. Brian has a lot more practice and is fluid. He furled, unfurled, reefed, and shook out reefs all day. The wind was fresh, moderate, fresh, light, gusty, fresh, moderate, light… you get the idea.
Towards the end of the distance, we used full sail in light winds, and then motored the last 4 miles as the waves flattened. These were blissful moments, porpoising seals followed Dawn Treader and a humpback whale crossed ahead of her bow. Making Caleta Atracadero seemed sure, and we relaxed. Entry to the caleta under engine power was simple, and we took our time deploying shorelines. Atracadero is surrounded by a few small islands, tiny dots on the chart, and the larger Isla Brecknock. Approaching the anchorage, we used eyeball navigation to weave through the kelp, rocks, and islets with the aid of gps waypoints from guidebooks. The Navionics charts on our iPad are inaccurate and often show us crossing over onto island shores or well on top of land. In this Caleta they showed that we were located near the center of Isla Brecknock, not anchored off its shores. This idiosyncrasy is something we have gotten used to cruising the area. Like beating to windward, navigating these channels has required a degree of adaptation and improvisation.
Distance Made Good: 65 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 144 miles
Distance To Go: 1,107 miles
Average Miles per Day: 6
Fuel Remaining: 46 gallons