Passage Through Patagonia Day 80

February 26, 2021

When we left Puerto Eden we had Golfo de Penas on our minds. There were 100 miles to travel before we reached the gulf. Our strategy was to push it north quickly, find a secure anchorage adjacent to the gulf, and then wait, as long as it took, for rare, optimal weather to cross the gulf. We would then venture out into the Pacific Ocean for an overnight sail, leaving the shelter of the channels for a short while.

We had enjoyed a stretch of surprising dry, warm weather. It was good for everything and everyone aboard save the jib sheet winches. As we tacked upwind towards Angostura Inglesa, yet another narrows with a difficult current, the winches groaned and squealed with each tack. Sheeting in the jib was challenging.

Tacking was laborious, but we felt optimistic. We passed on our planned anchorage and sailed on into the narrows. Our timing wasn’t perfect: the current would be against us for another hour, the wind was increasing against us, and our winches were protesting. The narrows thinned. Our tacks were good but incredibly short.

Two seagulls sat atop a bright red channel marker, idly watching us work. Brian hauled in the sheets every time with hard-earned speed. I was at the helm; the tacks were too close together for my slower timing with the sheets, especially with the winches as they were. Over 40 tacks and 8 hours later, we were 15 miles from Puerto Eden and through the narrows. We crossed Canal Messier to drop anchor in Caleta Saubada.

During our four day layover, we did a number of chores and greased the jib sheet winches. As it turns out, we didn’t need them much for the next 70 miles in Canal Messier. We motored most of the canal over two days, stopping overnight in Caleta Point Lay.

We transited Messier in glittering sunshine; it was often so calm that we glided atop the reflection of a steady cerulean blue sky. The blue marbled beautifully with the changing green shades of the water. We were surrounded by cliffs, hills, and mountains and we saw a show of wildlife on the flat seas. Seals played and porpoised, shy magellenic penguins ducked quickly underwater, and thousands of black browed albatross sat on the sidelines of the canal.

Near the end of Canal Messier, the wind picked up and we finally saw the albatross in flight. The wind filled our sails and we began to tack when 15 miles from our goal. We plowed through rafts of albatross. Their slow, driving waddle and flap pushed them up off the water; in the air they became endlessly graceful in flight.

We ducked amongst a grouping of statuesque islands before Canal Messier ran out into Golfo de Penas. Between the islands, the wind was inconsistent and the currents were powerful. We motor sailed to make good forward progress in Canal Kruger and Paso Cronje to reach Isla Zealous.

We tied into a new shore at Caleta Lamento del Indio. We took a long pause to appreciate our surroundings. We had pushed far enough, now we would wait 9 days for a weather window to cross Gulfo de Penas.

As we prepared to cross the gulf we thought about the 650 miles behind. There has been no perfect balance between exploring and transiting along the way. Long island layovers have made us feel more like we are getting to know the Chilean Channels, and while underway we have felt absorbed in our journey through the wilderness. However, after months of sailing, there is still so much area that we have not covered, and that we will not cover on this passage. After crossing the gulf, we would leave behind our easy access to scores of wild anchorages, fjords, and diversions that we have not yet experienced.

The space is incredible here. We could go down this rabbit hole forever. North of the gulf would be much of the same landscape. Still, Golfo de Penas seemed a boundary between the uncultivated maze we had been exploring and the still remote, but more reachable places to the north, where the world of commerce shows itself more readily, as an increase in salmon farms, traffic, and eventually towns. We thought things might feel different there, more tame. Even so, we were focused on the passage at hand. We were content to have been where we have been and to go where we are going.

On this long stay in Lamento del Indio, there were many days of rain. In the breaks, we explored the large bay. We landed strategically amongst the low hills and tall cliffs. We tried to find the best clearings in the vegetation between beach and hilltops, but regardless we always had to bushwhack our way through wet dense forest to find good walks above the tree line.
The locals were curious about us. Hummingbirds emerged from the trees, darted over, and came within an arm’s length to examine us. A mysterious otter came aboard at night, when all was dark and quiet. We would listen to him scramble into the dinghy and on deck, and then watch his silhouette as he walked past the port lights. If we popped our heads out for a better look, all we would see was his tail as he disappeared over the side and into the water.

The day that we left Caleta Lamento del Indio, seals and dolphins swam into the bay following schools of fish. It seemed everyone was on the move. We had a slow daysail to an anchorage nestled between two islands to the west. We sailed in a refreshing mist and light winds, skirting the edge of a low cloud that obscured the northern end of Canal Messier. We chose to move to Caleta Ideal to gain a few miles on our next leg and to simplify the following morning’s departure by stowing our dinghy and shorelines.

Dawn Treader floated peacefully with plenty of room around her. It felt significantly different, open and gnat free, swinging to anchor far from the shore. The sky and water shared an evening grey and then a morning blue. We motored out towards Golfo de Penas in a calm, under partly cloudy skies.

We gradually passed out of the shelter of the land and into the Pacific Ocean. We motored over small swells until we reached a point where we felt a gentle breeze on the fronts of our cheeks. We raised the sails and the wind built, to 10, maybe 15 knots.

The swell grew, bigger and bigger, to 10 feet as we made progress. It was tricky, timing this passage. We needed enough wind to sail. We also wanted wind abaft the beam, and settled weather, so that we could avoid the potential washing machine effect of cross swells that often plague the gulf. We had waited for the optimal conditions.

Dawn Treader climbed each swell easily, first on a close reach, then on a broad reach. We had to reach out into the ocean before we turned north to run downwind. The swell made it difficult to whale watch, but we still saw dozens of blows between us and the coast. A long, horizontal cloudscape hovered over the land to our East. It slowly drifted up to reveal the snowy peaks of one of the largest Patagonian Icecaps. With heights between 6,000 and 13,000 feet, the mountains were visible from far away.

The light Southwesterly increased to moderate as daylight began to run out. It was our first foray into the Pacific Ocean, and the birdlife was exciting. A Wandering Albatross approached, circling the boat. His wingspan was as wide as Dawn Treader’s beam. He dwarfed the multitude of Black Browed Albatross, Giant Southern Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, and tiny Wilson’s Storm Petrels. These little guys are a favorite of mine. In the first days of any passage with waves, I feel queasy and helpless for a while. When I look at the tiny storm petrels out in the waves and the winds, I think, if they can make it out here, maybe so can I.

Near midnight, Brian put up the jib pole. He also managed the night watch as I dropped into my bunk, eyelids drooping and heavy, feeling the rolling movement of the boat from side to side. I was more adapted in the morning. The sunrise was beautiful and the skies were clear. I stood on deck amidst the soaring birds and let Brian rest. It was only for a short while, our return approach to the continent came quickly. We did not have much time to adjust to the ocean before we were out of it again, entering Bahia Anna Pink.

We were welcomed enthusiastically. A honking fishing boat passed, and the men waved cheerfully. We had a pleasant dinner in the cockpit while steering our way in. There was traffic headed out into the calming gulf; we passed a big tanker ship and a few smaller boats.

As the sun sank low in the sky, we aimed for a shadow on the southern side of Isla Clemente. The shadow was cast by high mountains and it marked the entrance to an inlet. It was cool and quiet in the sea filled valley when we motored in, two miles between tall mountains, to an anchorage called Caleta Millabu. We anchored across from a Navy ship that evening, but we did not make contact. Brian slept so heavily that night, he did not hear the ship’s horn blast in the wee hours when they left.

It was 16 days later. We had left Puerto Eden, powered north, and sailed across the Golfo de Penas. In the coming miles we would continue on our track towards civilization. We were curious about the people and places ahead, and wondered how they would receive two strangers on a little boat emerging from the wilderness.

Distance Made Good: 244 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 817 miles
Distance To Go: 483 miles
Average Miles per Day: 10
Fuel Remaining: 26 gallons

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