January 15, 2021
Brian started the motor and raised anchor at 05:00, as I scrambled sleepily into my gear and on deck. Our noisy departure woke the neighbors and they emerged from their fishing boat shouting. Surely they were shocked to see us, there are few sailors for them to socialize and trade with in the channels this year. Our little white sloop had also snuck in overnight, masked by the sounds of wind and rain. The fishermen were instantly friendly and were shouting to offer us some of their catch. We thanked them, but could not delay. Like when transiting Paso O’Ryan the day before, timing the tide today was important, and we had to get moving.
Paso Ingles and Paso Tortuoso lay ahead, 25 miles west in the Straits of Magellan. Again, we hoped to use the calmer conditions of high slack water to navigate a difficult area. These two passes border Isla Carlos III, an 8 mile long island that sits stubbornly in the middle of the Strait. Water funnels around the island and into narrow channels. This elevates the current significantly. To complicate matters, tidal flows from multiple canals meet off the northern point of Isla Carlos III at Cabo Crosstide, a confused and tumultuous patch of water.
It was gloomy and a light rain persisted, but we were optimistic. We motored for a couple of hours, before motor sailing at up to 6 knots into light headwinds. The rain increased as we approached Paso Ingles, and the channel was obscured. What looked like a ghost ship appeared eastbound. It was a jigger, a squid fishing boat from the the other side of the world, perhaps China. One jigger after another emerged eerily from the murk, apparitions from the mist. Each one had a unique hog or sag; their hulls were bent into a frown or smile by a burdening load in a heavy sea. Atop their rust streaked hulls, the decks were covered with a complex system of lights that they deploy to attract squid. The 6 ships were spooky, alien. What was it like to cross the ocean in one of those? Life aboard seemed unimaginable, too different to fathom. It was possible the crews aboard thought the same of our experience. As the convoy proceeded through the Strait, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, we saw a whale blow near the northern shore. This set off an exciting series of a humpback whale sightings. Over the next few hours we saw them a dozen times in small groups: whale blows, low and wide, and giant tails rising, powering deep dives.
We were miles along the coast of Isla Carlos III when our speed slowed significantly. High slack water had come and gone. The current’s strength slowed our motor sailing progress. We sluggishly tacked on, and our speed made good stayed above 2 knots. We considered stopping in one of the anchorages nearby. Our forward progress could halt, up ahead at Cabo Crosstide. A salmon farm supply ship powered by at 8 knots. It was also heading West, and so we watched its speed on the AIS receiver to gauge the current at Crosstide. The boat slowed a knot, but we had no way of knowing exactly why. Maybe they had slowed with the current, or maybe it was just speed bleeding off from making the hard left turn. Maybe they were looking over their shoulders feeling sympathetic. We were slow, but we remained optimistic. The headwind was light and the waves were gentle. The spinning waters around us looked intense, but they did not stop us. If we chose to anchor and wait, conditions may not look this good for some time.
We continued on to Cabo Crosstide and Paso Tortuoso. With the motor we were able to point higher into the wind. Without, we likely would have compromised our course and tacked back and forth without gaining any ground. As it was, we made minimal progress in a sharp chop. A research vessel witnessed our struggle as they charged past, through Tortuoso towards Punta Arenas. We knew where they were going because we heard a voice from the ship over the radio, as he reported to the nearby Chilean lighthouse keeper. It was a voice from home, an American, and surely a southerner. We wondered if he had seen our tiny American flag on the backstay. We wondered if he thought we were crazy, two figures, out in the soaking rain, crawling onward in our little plastic sloop at the end of the world.
The weather forecast had shown a wind shift in the early afternoon, but we were wondering if we would ever see it as we continued against headwinds. Then, better late than never, a moderate southerly filled the sails as we exited Tortuoso just before 16:00. The new wind direction combined with a large course change took us from a beat to a broad reach. We had turned the corner. As the skies dried up, we stopped the motor, pointed down the barrel of Magellan, and began flying. Sailing against the wind and with the wind can produce widely different sensations. Imagine wading waist deep and upstream in a swift river. Now imagine kicking your feet up and floating downstream. The change was glorious. We passed dozens of Magellenic Penguins in the water. We passed one last ship on the day, a big cargo ship. Although it seemed to be an anonymous steel giant, we knew there were people looking down at us as we sailed by it in the sunshine. The sailing was delightful, and maybe it looked delightful. Maybe the ship’s crew thought we looked happy. Perhaps, like Brian aboard similar vessels years ago, one of them thought quietly that they might buy a sailboat one day.
The wind became inconsistent. When it gusted through the valleys of Isla Santa Ines to port, we wrestled with the helm. Across from the mountains, in the wind shadows, we slowed. We sailed on until the next good anchorage. After 71 miles in 16 hours, we turned into Caleta Playa Parda Chica. We had been underway from sunrise to twilight, and we were pressed to get in before dark.
There are two tiny, sheltered, nooks to choose from in Parda Chica. They flank either side of a tiny islet. We aimed for the eastern nook. I dropped the anchor in deep water just outside. Brian assembled the dinghy, and then tried to position Dawn Treader with the outboard. The wind gusts were too strong for the boat to handle well. So, he quickly decided to raise anchor and nose into the calmer, but rockier western nook instead. Tired and now flustered after dropping and retrieving the lead line a few times in deep water, I choked at crunch time, fumbled, and knotted the line when checking the depth. Brian, ever cool, told me to give it up and simply drop the anchor. We knew it was shallow on this side, and we needed to rapidly secure the boat. With anchor down and little scope out, I rowed a couple of lines ashore with haste. We were secure and stationary. I took a beat while Brian finished the four point tie in with no rush.
Distance Made Good: 71 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 276 miles
Distance To Go: 975 miles
Average Miles per Day: 8
Fuel Remaining: 46 gallons