Passage through Patagonia Day 140

April 26, 2021

A partially submerged rope caught and strangled the propellor as we left Chiloe. Brian balanced his hips on the stainless steel tubing of the pushpit, lifted his feet into the air, and seesawed his torso down over the outboard. He cut away the rope with a knife.

He restarted Too-Hot-Sue and we resumed motoring in a calm, without pressing the outboard, to Isla Quehui. It was an easy 27 miles. We were anchored on the outskirts of dozens of moorings by the time the sun set. The sky turned orange behind the small town’s silhouette in which the church steeple stood out above the other small buildings. It was a busy bay until just after dark, ferries came and went, fishing boats found moorings and ran up on the beach to dry out, and little go-fast boats zoomed across from one side of the bay to the other.

We got used to the traffic as we waited a few days for our next opportunity to move north. Shoreside, we walked along dirt roads, between small orchards, farms, and ranches. It seemed April’s weather was difficult for sailing north. We only saw moderate to strong headwinds or calms/very light tailwinds on the forecast.

A friendly hello floated in through the companionway one sunny day. Our friends aboard ParPar, who departed Puerto Williams just 10 days after us, had finally caught us. After spending over 4 months apart and many days and miles on our own we were happy to see each other. We first met ParPar in the Azores in 2016. Since then we have sailed very different routes south. ParPar traveled through the Panama Canal, into the Pacific Ocean. They made landfall in Chile at Puerto Montt and sailed south through the Chilean channels. Our path took us to Puerto Williams from the Atlantic, and we were surprised to see ParPar arrive there late last summer.

We had a lovely time visiting with our friends, but we were off only two days after they arrived. It was a calm day, and we motored along in an early morning fog. We predicted that the fog would dissipate as the sun rose, but instead it thickened. It thickened until we were surrounded by a soft wall of white. We motored on at low speed. I kept a bow watch, straining my ears. I stood as far from the noise of our outboard motor as possible so that I could better hear other boat traffic.

As we approached Canal Hudson we could hear other boats. We heard the sounds of their motors and their calls on the radio. With no radar to tell us just where they were and no visibility, we slowed our progress even more. We heard the hum of a salmon farm’s generator nearby. Instead of venturing out into the traffic, we stayed close to the farm and drifted between it and a small island. Between drifting, and occasionally starting the motor to reset our position, we waited 5 hours for the fog to clear. Eventually the fog became patchy. In the breaks we would catch glimpses: glimpses of the salmon farm, of horses grazing on the island, and of the giant 6 foot long jellyfish drifting alongside.

These glimpses gradually lengthened. The fog slowly cleared and we had visibility back in the late afternoon. We made a quick trip across Canal Hudson to drop anchor for the night at Isla Alao. We had moved a scant 9 miles on the day.

We had not pushed the engine in two days of moving. We had only needed a quarter or half of the throttle. That evening, when we powerfully reversed the motor to set the anchor, it suddenly revved higher and the propellor lost its bite in the water. In the morning it was the same; Too-Hot-Sue had lost her thrust above idle speed, about 1.5 knots.

We forged on without the aid of the motor. There was enough wind for sailing, and we tacked 20 miles to our next stop, Isla Anihue. We tacked until we lost the wind. Then we puttered in. It took an hour to motor the last mile to the anchorage. 

We spent the next days identifying the problem as a spun prop hub and waiting through stormy weather. Brian tried pinning the prop with screws. We planned to sail our next leg because we were unsure if the repair would help or hold.

To compensate for our diminished capability to motor, we looked for ways to improve sailing performance. Dawn Treader had significant growth on the hull. It was a result of us moving north to warmer waters. It was the most that we had seen in two years. A foul bottom causes substantial speed reduction through friction. So, we scraped the waterline from the dinghy, and then Brian donned his dry suit. He attached a long handle to the scraper, dropped into the water, and cleaned the hull. I kept a lookout from the dinghy for the big jellyfish that often drifted in the waters around the boat.

Our next opportunity on the forecast looked good: south winds at 10 knots. We ventured out. First we motored in sheltered waters, a little faster now because of Brian’s temporary repair and hull cleaning, at 2.5 knots. As we left the shelter of the islands, we hoped for the forecasted wind, but it never materialized. With no wind, we kept motoring, and the temporary repair proved essential to our next 20 miles of progress. Unfortunately, the repair failed after 20 miles, and we slowed in the middle of Gulfo de Ancud.

Our destination had changed over the course of a week, from Valdivia to the closer city of Puerto Montt. We would stop to find a new hub or a complete propellor replacement before traversing the racing waters of Canal Chacao and sailing for Valdivia. Some sailors who use high horsepower diesel engines have told us that we are “almost engineless,” but we know that our outboard alters parameters significantly. We are accustomed to and content with the options that the 6hp Tohatsu provides, especially in inland waterways. With the outboard crippled, we started to feel almost engineless, and it changed our tactics markedly.

So, we were crossing Gulfo de Ancud in the rain, hoping for good progress towards Puerto Montt, towards a repair or new propellor, when we slowed to 1 knot. We kept going until we found the lightest of tailwinds. It barely filled the winged out sails and our speed was still only 1 knot.

The day ran out. We were not expecting to sail overnight, and we readied ourselves for the impromptu all nighter. A strange swell popped up out of nowhere as night fell. Then we lost the wind again. Dawn Treader wallowed and rolled. 1 knot of progress seemed better than none, and so we started the motor again. It struggled, and Brian was getting nervous that we might not overcome the shoreward set of a cross current. He anxiously peered into the blackness to port, knowing an island was not far away. The poor engine did what it could and we kept way barely at 1 knot. We eventually moved out of the swell, out of the gulf, and back into the shelter of islands.

It seemed we watched the lights of the same salmon farms forever as we inched forward. Brian’s apprehension about our proximity to land evaporated when a light wind from the north filled in. We began to tack against the wind, and we felt more confident under sail and in good control. Dawn Treader glided softly in the darkness with full sails and a clean hull. We were glad to have scraped off the drag, it may have been necessary to our continued progress.

We tacked into Canal Calbuco, aiming for an anchorage on Isla Puluqui. At least, after months of practice in the channels, we could easily tack in the dark. Our movements were fluid underneath an overcast sky. It was difficult to decipher the lights of the waterway at first, but our tense eyes and minds adjusted as we spotted little boats motoring between the brightly lit farms and towns. Occasionally, when boats passed closely, we would flash a headlamp on our sails to make ourselves more visible.

We approached the entrance to our anchorage after midnight. After a long day in the rain, I had somehow soaked through two sets of “waterproof” gear. I retreated inside to get dry and out of the wind. I shed a few layers and a few tears from sheer exhaustion. I bundled up again in thick soft clothes and made coffee and food as Brian sailed in circles in front of Estero Chope. The bay is riddled with unlit hazards that we did not want to navigate in the dark. So, it was a long morning of active sailing, back and forth, back and forth, prowling outside of the anchorage for hours.

After first light we clearly saw the obstacles in the anchorage: a salmon farm, the raft up of floating salmon farm support buildings, miscellaneous boats, and the multitude of mussel farm buoys that filled the estero. We sailed and then motored in slowly with the light as we gradually lost the wind. After two sluggish miles of passing buoys, I dropped anchor at the head of the bay, hung all our gear out to dry with the rising sun, and slept soundly for a few hours.

The town ashore looked inviting. The day we arrived, Brian watched a wedding celebration spill out of the yellow-gold church as I slept in the cabin. We wanted to explore and interact, but we had arrived just a day before weekend quarantine. In the next days, we walked along the beaches and up the hill away from town. One evening, we crested a hill just in time to see a full moon rise from a pink haze next to a snowy peak of mainland Chile.

Estero Chope was a pleasant place to rest and work. The friendly, local farmers brought us a gift, a sack of mussels that weighed over 30 lbs. They told us the mussels would make us strong, and, to be clear they were not only talking about the English name of the mollusks, they tapped and flexed their upper arms to demonstrate what sort strength we could hope for.

We did feel strong after cleaning, steaming, and eating loads of mussels over the weekend. We were also optimistic. Brian had pinned the propellor again to ready us for our next push towards Puerto Montt. The last repair had only been temporary, but it had helped us gain 20 miles when the winds had been too light for sailing.

Alas, after just 5 minutes of motoring, the screws pinning together the propellor hub lost their grip. We were back to idle speed only. We thought about turning around, but we had set out to go sailing. We patiently motored the two miles out of the sheltered bay, so that we could at least see what the wind was like. This time out, we were hoping to find enough of a headwind to fill the sails.

We crawled forward and found our first cat’s paws. There was just enough wind to raise the sails. We tacked in slow motion across and up Canal Calbuco, after pausing to give a large ferry and ship free reign over the channel, and then tacked north and through Paso Tautil. The wind veered northeast and steadied. We sped up and close reached due north at over 5 knots. Not wanting to waste the unexpected fair wind, we bypassed the next good anchorage, Bahia Huelmo.

Heeled over and driving hard, we thought we had a shot at making it to Puerto Montt. There were a few boats out sailing in the pleasant weather, and as we closed on Paso Maillen, we made radio contact with ParPar who we saw sailing ahead of us. After we talked for a bit, they offered us a tow into busy Canal Tenglo, to our Marina of choice in Puerto Montt, Club Nautico Reloncavi.

Closing the pass, the wind lightened and backed north. As we tacked through Paso Maillen, we considered our options. It was lucky that we had ParPar close by for support. Once in narrow Canal Tenglo, there would be less room to maneuver under sail, and very likely no wind. Thumping diesel engines powered a few passing boats as we continued sailing into Seno Reloncavi. Amidst the noise, we wondered if 1 knot of speed with our motor would be enough to get us through the traffic in Canal Tenglo and to the dock. We would have less options than usual: no wind power, no reverse propulsion, and no powerful forward thrusts for easy positioning into a slip. However, we had a backup plan, we could always drop anchor just across from the marina, and make our way in later.

With that assurance, we motored into Canal Tenglo and the breeze disappeared. Kindly, ParPar followed us in, watching over us as we made our approach. A variety of commercial traffic passed us in the channel. I worried as we hobby-horsed in the wake of passing boats. I was concerned that we would lose our barely adequate momentum if the propellor popped out of the water. We kept as close as possible to the shallows of the eastern shore, trying to keep out of the way. Slowly, slowly, we covered that last mile. We came alongside the face dock in slow motion, and then found our way into a slip where friendly marina staff welcomed us, caught our lines, and tied us off.

Distance Made Good: 120 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 1,162 miles
Distance To Go: 0, change of destination to Puerto Montt
Average Miles per Day: 8
Fuel Remaining: 14.5 gallons

4 thoughts on “Passage through Patagonia Day 140”

  1. whew! I’m exhausted for y’all. Hope the motor repair is going well and you are able to get the parts you need. Love you both. Mom


  2. I can read your blogs over again, searching the locations and navigation charts, you are taking me on an awesome journey. I have a 8 meter yacht with a 8 hp outboard, you have become my mentors. Thanks.


  3. I just watched your video “Sailing Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego Archipelago”, and it made me cry with joy for what’s possible, if we will but try.
    It’s by far the nicest, most authentic, original, human and creative representation of love and adventure that I’ve seen in a long time.
    Keep going, keep doing your thing. You are both full of the wonders of the world and are clearly “wonderful”.


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