Passage Through Patagonia Day 52

January 29, 2021

With Tierra del Fuego behind us, our strategy to make progress north shifted. In order to move through the difficult waters of the Straits of Magellan quickly, we had used the engine consistently. Now, in the shelter of Canal Smyth, we wanted to sail as much as we could. We simply did not have the fuel supply or the desire to continue motoring day in and day out. We felt we had reached an area where favorable Southerly winds were just frequent enough to warrant waiting for a fair breeze. And so we waited.

We settled into Caleta Teokita for 11 days as mostly strong Northwesterly headwinds settled over Patagonia. We lived the simple life at anchor again. We did laundry in the stream and topped up our water tank. We explored the narrow waters around Teokita in the dinghy. We scrambled up the surrounding hills for a look around. From an elevated perch we found a perfect view of where we had been and where we were going. Most of all we rested, taking time to heal aching backs and joints.

We felt completely isolated on planet Dawn Treader, immersed in our little bubble of existence. It seemed like a hallucination when, after a week, we looked up from our cockpit seats and saw another sailboat. We hopped in the dinghy and rowed over to say hello. We could hardly believe it, American accents! SV Madrone had sailed all the way from Oregon. We were instant friends with the West Coast sailors. We had a lot in common; we had sailed to the same remote spot at the same time and were floating together in the wilderness, far away from the crazy world. We spoke with an almost nervous rapidity as we became reacquainted with the art of chatting. It was glorious to be speaking English, to easily understand and be understood. Our new friends cooked for us, and even made us margaritas to inspire us towards warmer latitudes. They told us about cruising Alaska, French Polynesia, Hawaii, Mexico, and the US West Coast. It is lovely when people arrive in your life with perfect timing. We needed more information about the Pacific, and we needed some good company too.

We enjoyed our time with Madrone for a few days until SW and S winds finally dominated the weather forecast. Both boats left the same day. Madrone turned south, towards the wind, to bash into the Straits of Magellan. We zoomed off at 5.5 knots, beam reaching northward in Canal Smyth. We disturbed little storm petrels in the water, who fluttered away over the small waves as we approached.

The Austral summer is a windy season. We expected summer sailing in Patagonia to be difficult, and this day lived up to our expectations. The wind was inconsistent, and strong at times, but we made good progress. We saw a number of brief but violent squalls called Chubascos. We watched them approach from a distance. We studied the dark gray clouds as they dragged big draping sheets of moisture across the landscape. As they closed in we would brace ourselves for their effects, the wind gusted up, rain or hail fell fast, and then they quickly marched on. In addition, williwaws would reach us with less warning, so we were cautious of carrying too much sail. Williwaws, or violent gusts, are a product of the topography of the land. They funnel down or through the mountains before accelerating across the channel. They texture the water as they blow over, and when they are strong, the spray of the tormented water appears smoke-like above the surface.

Sailing in these conditions was more difficult when tacking. At the end of Canal Smyth, our fair SW wind turned against us as it funneled into the canal. It reached us as an unsteady NW headwind. Williwaws swooped in from random directions. As a result, in one dramatic moment, a gust broadsided our deeply reefed, but tightly sheeted sails and the boat heeled to the greatest degree we have ever seen. Water rushed over the rail, and then over the cockpit combing to briefly fill the footwell. We quickly swung Dawn Treader’s bow into the wind to reduce her heel and the water disappeared down the drains.

After some time caught in this squall pocket we decided to use our handy outboard motor to push us the last 3 miles, out of Canal Smyth to tie in at Caleta Victoria. We were pleased, 42 of the day’s 45 miles had been covered under sail. We had been able to move the boat well in volatile conditions.

During two nights and one very windy day of rest in Victoria, Dawn Treader tugged on her lines as gusts swept the anchorage. The wind flattened a dilapidated Fisherman’s shack ashore, one of the many shelters that dot the channels. The Chilean flag out front still flew, proudly attached to its makeshift pole, but the shack was in ruins, scattered about by the blow.

We wondered if more difficult and erratic winds lay ahead. As we left the anchorage, we raised the sails. Dawn Treader twisted and turned through the canals, and we had different, but progressively more manageable conditions with each turn. First, we had moderate WNW winds and some williwaws. Then, as we curved around through Harriet, we tacked in light NW winds, occasionally using the motor in calm patches.

Although surrounded by a gray day, the low rolling hills of Canal Harriet were beautiful. The crooks and craggs of the big rock surfaces looked like the deepening lines of friendly old faces. Where Harriet ends and meets Canal Sarmiento, the landscape to the west is very low and continuous. Here, we finally found access to a steady westerly wind. We made a few tacks against it until we had a good angle for reaching down the fairway of Sarmiento. After one last tack, we sailed a straight course for over 20 miles to Caleta Damien. The sailing was perfect.

As we turned towards Caleta Damien a pod of Dusky Dolphins joined us. They were curious, they swam close by the stern, flashing their bellies and looking up intently at us as we leaned over to see them more closely. They guided us to the caleta, and we looked forward to dropping anchor (without the work of running shorelines) after another 12 hour day.

As we came within view of the pretty little spot, Brian took up the binoculars as I watched the dolphins. He pointed out a rope that was strung across the small bay; it barred our entrance. Fishermen often leave ropes behind so that they can easily tie in when they return. We motored up to the line, grabbed it with a boat hook, and tied off our bow and stern to it with rolling hitches. The rope looked new, and we felt comfortable with the unusual arrangement for one night because the conditions were light and settled. Tying off to the line saved us some effort over anchoring. Our Lofrans manual anchor windlass is easy to use, but we only use it to haul in half of our anchor chain. The other half has deformed with age so that it slips in the windlass. We haul that section in hand over hand in what has become an under appreciated morning workout. We hope to find a replacement soon.

After a good night of rest and an easy start in the morning we sailed on with what remained of the moderate westerly. It was cloudy, but pleasant, and so we kept going when the wind ran out. We motored into Canal Pitt, and gazed upward at the statuesque rock faces along its borders where waterfalls and vegetation stream from the heights.

We motored back into the beautiful basin of Caleta Rachel. The big bay was gorgeous, but we could not find good holding for the anchor. I steered us to the reported waypoint for a sandbar location, but Brian found mostly rock as he tested the bottom with the lead line. He tried dropping the anchor in one hopeful spot, but it dragged when we tried to set it by pulling back with the motor. To avoid the risk of entangling our ground tackle in the rocks and smooth boulders of the bay, we raised anchor and moved on. We went to the charming Otter Pool, an anchorage 5 miles further in Canal Pitt. The few extra miles and two line tie-in were tiring at the end of a long day, but simple. We felt we had done well: making way 3 out of the last 4 days, adapting when our anchorages had unexpected features, and using wind power to cover 100 of the 138 miles from Teokita to Otter Pool.

Distance Made Good: 138 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 470 miles
Distance To Go: 781 miles
Average Miles per Day: 9
Fuel Remaining: 37 gallons

2 thoughts on “Passage Through Patagonia Day 52”

  1. Another great account of your travels. One minute you have me relaxed as I think about y’all making new friends and enjoying time spent relaxing. The next minute I am remembering scenes from the Perfect Storm as I read your harrowing (to me at least) account of the williwaws that swept through. What an interesting name for a storm. Is that where the saying “ it gave me the willies” came from. Well your account did give me the willies! Stay safe. Love y’all. Mom/Nancy


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