V-Berth Insulation, Part 6, New Plywood Headliner

This job was a break from grinding, sanding, and sticky epoxy work. It felt like a vacation, making templates and cutting plywood.

Project Notes

The v-berth overhead was made from two sheets of 1/4” Okoume plywood. There are a couple of small, but usable offcuts leftover. The Okoume is lightweight, but pricy. One 1/4” sheet weighs in at 18 pounds and cost us $88 plus tax and transportation. It has been a nice material to work with. The swirls and patterns on each sheet are beautiful.

We made templates for each headliner section from plastic cardboard. We cut strips of the plastic from a big sheet, and then cut smaller pieces as we need them. We taped some pieces overhead, and then used hot melt glue to add more. The plastic frames were strong enough to hold their shape until we marked and cut the plywood to match. We gave ourselves plenty of data points to work with in tricky areas by adding more pieces. 

Brian used each template to mark the plywood, and then cut the wood with a jigsaw. After we fit each plywood section to the overhead frames, the plastic template was easily pulled apart and reused, again and again. 

Next steps are: to cut out port lights, to seal the plywood with paint or varnish, to countersink for fasteners, to add trim at all the seams, etc. The finishing details will take time, and we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to gain momentum and work faster. But for just a moment we paused and looked at the panels, and how they fit together, and Brian said “If it were any more exact, it wouldn’t be our boat.”

V-Berth Insulation, Part 5, Epoxied Frames

This is a large scale project. We may be in the boatyard for up to a year. We have worked on Dawn Treader for long periods before, but this time our projects seem bigger and more numerous.

Dawn Treader has been in the boatyard for 13 weeks. We have worked solidly for 9 of those weeks. The time has passed steadily. The days have stretched, allowing for long hot days of work. If our year long refit plan becomes a reality, than we should be 25% of the way through our projects. Have we completed 25% of our to do list? Hardly. But, we are optimistic that we can increase our pace.

Last week, we made our first lasting addition. We used epoxy to coat the frames for the overhead in the V-Berth, and then used thickened epoxy to attach the wood pieces to Dawn Treader. The framework is strongly fixed in place. We cannot move the frames, even if we push and pull with all of our force. With the framework overhead, Dawn Treader feels like a tank, an armored or reinforced vehicle ready for combat. 

The framework is strong, but it is also as light as we could manage. Where there are larger panels, there are smaller cleats or foam hiding underneath. Light furring strips act as spacers for stronger heavier douglas fir. The plywood is either 3/16 inch thick teak or lightweight 1/2 inch okoume.

With the frames in place, we have sufficient room to add an inch of insulation overhead. Although we are not finished working on the frames, they want a bit of epoxy, some sanding, and a coat of paint, they are ready to act as supports. We will cut and dry fit a new overhead liner, 1/4 inch okoume plywood panels, to the frames in our next steps. 

Project Notes

We removed all the frames and coated them with epoxy. We made a mistake when mixing one of the pots of epoxy. We mixed Part A with Part A instead of A with B. The sticky pieces coated with this pot of epoxy had to be scraped and sanded, and then coated again. We continue to make mistakes. It is hot, our heads are muddled, and we still feel rusty when it comes to boat work.

We added thickened epoxy to each piece and glued them to the overhead. Screws and clamps held each piece in place until the epoxy set. Layers were laminated together and we were almost done. But, the awkward curved space on the upper cabin sides called for a more times consuming, unique approach. This is the only place where plywood will be fixed over a small volume of space, a space that we will not be able to access and insulate later. To insulate this gap, we used XPS foam and spray foam. We then epoxied 3/16 inch plywood atop the cleat that bordered the foam at its lower limit. 

Unfortunately, the polyurethane spray foam grew and pushed the tops of the plywood pieces out of place. Having never used the foam before, we thought it would expand and flow out of the gaps at the top of the plywood. Instead it expanded more uniformly, and its growth displaced the plywood. Brian made the quick decision to take the panels down before the epoxy set. The next day, he trimmed the foam, we sanded down the epoxy, and then we successfully installed this third layer, the second time around. 

We added frames to the tricky area, the overhead around the hatch, last. We used douglas fir around the hatch and installed easy to shape furring strips for six other frames: three to port, three to starboard. All of these pieces were installed to create an even support system for the new headliner panels. The frames were made into variable shapes to absorb the irregular surface of the overhead, so that the plywood can be placed overtop in a single plane. 

We also added wood around the port lights, to completely border them with wood. Brian then cut the blocks to shape using a jigsaw. Next, we will sand and epoxy the port light frames. We will do some finish work on all the frames: epoxy filler, sanding, and painting. But for now, we are going to move on to the next step in the project.

V-Berth Insulation, Part 4, Building Overhead Frames

There is a dead spot in the boat, in the forward v-berth, where the air is still. We plan to add vents to create more air movement there, but for now we added two box fans to the space. These fans make it bearable to be inside the v-berth on hot summer days in the boatyard, in Puerto Penasco, Mexico.

It took us a couple of weeks to figure out how to keep inching forward, to keep making progress in the v-berth, in the heat. But, now we gain a little in the v-berth every workday. We set our alarms for 0400 Monday – Saturday, and we walk to work during twilight. We spent the early hours working in the v-berth, and if it gets too hot to continue, we move outside to other jobs. We have hit our stride with this schedule. It is a slow stride, but it is a stride nonetheless. We were slow to design and execute our plan for the overhead frames too, but now we have some progress to show on this puzzling project. 

Project notes:

We took a step backwards and examined the fiberglass on the forward bulkhead. When we tabbed in the v-berth bulkhead, the thick 1708 fiberglass did not adhere well. So, Brian ground off parts of the 1708 fiberglass installation. With that out of the way, we laid up thinner, 10 ounce glass to complete the tabbing.

That done, we fiberglassed in foam along the hull where it meets the deck. We also fiberglassed in foam on the overhead along the forward bulkhead. The foam is a cheap, lightweight spacer. We intend to glue wood in on top of the foam where we need to attach the headliner and side panels in the future.

We narrowed our focus to the overhead for the next steps. We installed frames on two sections of the overhead.

First section: We added four framing layers on the cabin-top sides, where the port lights are. The layers include: 1/4 inch thick spacer pieces that were glued to low areas to create a level surface, two layers of 1/2 inch thick plywood that were dry fit in with screws, and one 3/16 inch layer that was screwed to the upper frames (not pictured, look for this in the next post). These four layers together are almost 1 1/2 inches thick. There will be space enough for insulation.

The widest piece of plywood overhangs the upright section by a 2 1/2 inches. This overhanging piece was key to helping us divide the overhead into workable sections. It will hide all the layers of the section below. We may trim it later in the project, but we left room to spare because we are dealing with uneven surfaces, and we are amateur joiners.

Second Section: The outlines of the second section were defined by the first (by the sides of the overhanging plywood). We dry fit two framing layers to this area: one layer of 3/4 inch whitewood furring strips and one layer of 1/2 inch douglas fir. The furring strips are lightweight spacers. They were installed in 3 pieces across the forward area. We cut them into pieces so that we could follow the shape of the overhead more easily and reduce gaps between the overhead and the frames.

The douglas fir is stronger, heavier material. We installed longer strips of douglas fir, intact, across the span of the forward area. These springy strips of wood give support to the deck above. Our deck is generally in good shape, but it does flex, just barely. These two layer frames will be multipurpose. They will create space 1 1/4 inch space for insulation, provide a place to mount the overhead liner panels, and support the deck.

We plan to remove everything so that we can coat all of the pieces in epoxy. Then we will laminate the layers together as we epoxy them to the overhead. When all these frames are firmly in place we will build upward and install frames on the last section of the v-berth overhead, where the overhead hatch is.  

Sailing Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego Archipelago

This short video is set to music by Lemont, “Take This Hand” from Songs of Our Friends EP. The images are from our year in Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Channel.

V-Berth Insulation, Part 3, Tabbing Bulkheads and Hull-Deck Joint

We completed our first fiberglass job of this refit. The job had two parts. The first was to tab in the V-Berth bulkheads. We removed the original 2 inch fiberglass tabbing when we cut out the headliner. In order to add our own 6 inch tape, we had to chisel the formica off of the bulkheads, so that our tabs could better bond to the wood underneath. 

The second part was to fiberglass the  hull to the deck joint. Brian glassed this joint together from the outside several years ago. This time, we are adding fiberglass on the inside. We removed sections of the original cleats on the sides of the hull to make room for the 6 inch 1708 fiberglass tape. Then we ground down the relevant areas and roughed up the surfaces where the grinder could not reach with a hand file.

The fiberglass will have two roles: to strengthen the boat and to give us a foundation. We will build our frames on this foundation. We have to add frames for a number of reasons. They will be borders for insulation. They will also be shaped to strengthen the deck. Their third function will be to provide a place for us to anchor our new head liner panels. After we add the frames, insulation, and new liner panels, the overhead in the V-Berth will be complete.

We cut fiberglass and set up epoxy stations before diving into fiberglass work one hot afternoon. The thermometer read 98 degrees when we started. First, Brian added thickened epoxy to the 6 inch sections of the v-berth where we would add fiberglass. Then, I started mixing epoxy. I mixed consistently, 3 ounces at a time. Keeping the epoxy pots small helped us manage in the heat. We both worked the station where we added the epoxy and peel ply to the fiberglass. When a piece of glass was ready, Brian installed it in the v-berth.

We had a good rhythm to our work, but fiberglass jobs can be tricky. This job showed how rusty we were, and it did not go perfectly. The thick 1708 fiberglass did not adhere perfectly to the bulkheads. The formica on the bulkheads caused problems. Wherever fiberglass overlapped the formica, the 1/8th inch rise from the bare plywood to formica proved too much. The glass did not take the rise well. As Brian says in the video, we should have known better. But, oh well. What’s stuck is stuck. We’ll make the best of it, grind down what we need to, fair with thickened epoxy where we need to and move on.

The fiberglass work on the hull to deck joint turned out better than the installation on the bulkheads. There is better adhesion along the joint. All in all, both parts of the job went well enough for us to continue with next steps.

The weeks of the refit are rolling on. These past couple of weeks have felt busy. During week 8 we spent a most of our time at the boat, and we were happy to complete this first fiberglass job. Towards the end of the week, we started to focus on plywood procurement. And somehow, we started week 9 in the United States! We drove to California for okoume marine grade plywood! And we found a cargo trailer to transport it with in Arizona. Now, with the plywood on hand, and with a new place to store our tools, we can make progress on lots of projects. But, we’re also making a point to slow down, to take stock, and to reorganize our work site before we move forward. This first fiberglass job was a reminder for us to balance speed with precision as best we can. 

V-Berth Insulation, Part 2, Headliner Removal and Surface Prep

Brian finished the headliner removal this week. First, we unfastened a couple of stanchions, handrail bolts, and trim that were in the way. Next, Brian used a chisel, a multi-max, and some muscle to pull out the remaining sections of the headliner. Some pieces were tabbed to bulkheads with narrow fiberglass tape. These were more difficult to remove, but he got the job done quickly.  

The next step was surface preparation. The resin used to adhere the headliner was applied in large blobs. These blobs are now brittle and sharp around the edges. They stand out in green because the weave of the headliner remained attached to them. Removing the headliner unearthed a variable surface; resin in peaks and valleys, bare spots where the deck core almost peeks through. 

Leveling this surface completely is difficult and unnecessary. But Brian has used the variable speed angle grinder to smooth over the area. We are left with a more undulating and friendly surface to work with. In the coming weeks, we will attach a support framework or webbing to this imperfect, but improved surface. The webbing will support the deck from below. It will also create a network or grid of material that stands out from the overhead. Insulation will go in between the grid, and cover panels will mount to the grid.

The refit is moving along now. We have taken steps to make things easier: our tools are ready to go, our workspace is clear, and we have what we need to move forward with our immediate jobs. It took a day to clean and organize our tools. Our Grandpa tools needed some tender loving care. All the tools are fairly young, but due to conditions in some of the storage lockers aboard, they have aged rapidly. The rented apartment has come in handy. We have pushed in as much as we can reasonably fit. Sails are stacked on bins. Buckets are stacked on boxes. Now that everything is off the boat, we have trouble remembering how all this stuff fit aboard little Dawn Treader. Added to the pile are some materials we had sent to Lukeville, AZ. With these, we now have all the items we need for our epoxy and fiberglass kit. We also made a trip to the big box hardware stores in the United States, and spent a few hours navigating the aisles.  

There are still big things missing from our supplies. We wish it were easier to find insulation and plywood, and we’ll need these and other things sooner rather than later. But, for now, at least we can keep going…

V-Berth Insulation, Part 1, Dismantle and Refit Plan

We spent the first few weeks of this refit period adjusting to life on land. We made trips away from the boat to see family. We gathered tools. We moved ourselves and everything off the boat. In week five, we took real action at Dawn Treader, and the boat was changed in a day.

Dawn Treader in the Boatyard

The V-Berth was dismantled. The side panels, insulation, port lights, and headliner were removed. The headliner was cut out with a multi-max. Roughly 70 percent of the liner now sits against the fence behind the boat. We were pleased that so much was removed so quickly. The liner was largely unattached to the deck above. We will remove the remaining sections of liner when we remove the thru-bolted handrails and stanchions on deck.

We found thin stripes of mold on the insulation when we removed the sealing strips of plywood on the sides of the V-Berth. We found mold behind the insulation when we removed the plastic panels and insulation above the shelves. We found mold on the backside of the headliner, around the border, the outside inch, when we cut out the liner in sections. Wherever air was able to flow a little bit, there was a little bit of mold. 

All of what we’re removing on the sides of the V-Berth, the insulation, panels, and sealing strips, we installed in 2015. This installation proved inadequate during three years sailing in colder climates. We made mistakes. We did not go far enough. We did not reimagine the V-Berth well for cold climates. As a result, we used this valuable living space for storage instead of sleeping. The mold in difficult to clean spaces was an issue, another was condensation. The original, uninsulated headliner created a large surface for condensation. Occasionally, we had rain inside. Big fat drops formed on the coachroof. We also had condensation problems on the overhead hatch, the hardware that held the side panels up, and on the metal port light frames.

Many sailors fight condensation and mold. We hope our time in the desert, drying out and refitting Dawn Treader, will better prepare us for these struggles. We have learned many lessons in the past few years, and now we are re ready to try again. Our efforts will be more complex and lengthy this time. Our plans include adding an insulation supporting framework under the deck, and more of everything: insulation, heat, ventilation, air circulation, and access (we plan to widen the opening to the V-Berth). We plan to install different port lights. We will also replace the V-Berth platform again. The plywood delaminated in the rainforest. Our primary goal is to make the V-Berth inhabitable in all climates. Let’s see how it goes…

Video: Sailing the Falkland Islands. Music “Songs of Our Friends” by Lemont.

We sailed to the Falkland Islands in December of 2019 from Uruguay. We were impressed with the people, wildlife, and the weather. Thanks to Lemont for loaning us their song (lemontmusic.com).

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

Passage Through Patagonia Day 121

April 8, 2021

A tiered waterfall ran down from shelf to shelf amongst rocks and trees, towards a long stretch of white beach. Our little white sloop bobbed peacefully between the mountain walls, underneath a low ceiling of white cloud. Millabu seemed the type of place to linger in, but we moved on quickly. Brian cautioned that stronger winds were forecast, and williwaws could sweep the wide anchorage.We sailed to and anchored amongst the forested hills of Isla Prieto for better shelter.

Northwest winds blew, and we waited in more anchorages: Jaqueline, Esteban, and Rosalita. We moved north in light tailwinds and calms: sailing or motoring at low throttle, maximizing our gas mileage, gaining 10 miles per gallon. We tried to play the tides, and occasionally succeeded in feeling the current with us instead of against us.

When we motored north in Canal Errazuriz it was incredibly calm and flat. So calm and flat, that when Brian’s favorite hat dropped overboard, a worn and torn hat my sister gave him from The Club years ago, he turned the boat around and picked it up easily from atop a glassy, mirror-like sea.

We passed salmon farms and their support boats, small ships, and fishing boats. There was more and more trash along the shorelines. Traffic continued to increase as we traveled north in the region of Aisen.

We paused in Caleta Esteban. It was a stop between here and there, between unpopulated and populated. Local boats came and went. Fishermen checked traps, harvesting crab. Divers from another, larger boat went overboard trailing hoses connected to air compressors. They brought up bags of octopus gathered from the shallow bottoms.

Walking the land that ringed the anchorage, we saw remnants of human habitation amongst new flora and fauna. Ferrets darted in and out of the rubble of a house and garden that belonged to an abandoned fishing camp. An exotic looking caterpillar wandered along a blade of grass at the edge of an old overgrown trail.

Alone as dusk settled in, we listened as the forest filled with the clicks and chirrups of insects. When we studied the night sky with binoculars, we were stunned by the number of satellites moving against the backdrop of glittering stars and dark black space. The water was alive with light as well, and so we rowed in the bioluminescent waters. Our oar blades trailed sparkles, and the dinghy left a glowing wake.

Finally, it was time to make contact. After waiting out a storm in Caleta Rosalita, we approached the small town of Puerto Aguirre. We talked with two men from the Armada, who came alongside in their launch. They were helpful, and put us in touch with the health department. After going to anchor, to exchange a few emails and awkward radio calls, we met a young woman with a clipboard at the dock. She took our temperatures, and we were given permission to go shopping for food. It was unclear if we were allowed to do much else.

So, we kept a low profile over the next week in Aguirre. We enjoyed the park next to our anchorage. After so much time anchored adjacent to bosque impenetrable (impenetrable forests), the manmade paths and wooden walkways were pleasant, even if they only amounted to less than a mile.We barely ventured into town twice, and chose a mini market on the edge of everything to do our shopping.

Interacting with the friendly shopkeeper balanced out the discomfort that lingered after our arrival to Aguirre. He was happy to see us, and we enjoyed the warm welcome. We got excited about shopping for beer, cheese, junk food, fruits, and vegetables. It was the first fresh fruit we had bought in three months, since Puerto Williams. After the ferry had come to town, we shopped again, and found lots of treats. The colors were intoxicating: deep purple plums and grapes, nectarines, yellow gold, orange, and red, crisp green bell peppers, and dark avocados. It was a pleasure to shop for such a variety of fresh food, and we carried off fresh eggs and a big loaf of homemade bread too.

Living at anchor, we felt distant from everyone, and we kept to ourselves for the most part. The sounds of cars, dogs, and music filtered over from the shore. We gradually adapted to sharing space again. Ashore, we were surprised by the wake of perfume from a passerby, and by the rumbling traffic along the narrow roads. Although we felt like awkward strangers in a peopled place, stopping in Aguirre was energizing and pleasant.

We began moving again by motoring several miles to Caleta Olea one afternoon. This cued us up to sail consistently for the next two days. The first day was powered by a fresh southerly. We surprised ourselves by reeling off 60 miles in the main channel.

We paused overnight in the picturesque Caleta Pozo de Oro. I remember it as our last truly quiet stop. A single house overlooks a peaceful lagoon. It is a beautiful remote homestead, one built gradually by a Chilean couple over the years. I thought, most sailors who anchor there probably feel a pang of desire, a wanting for this perfect type of place, an isolated, relaxing shoreside retreat where you can gaze dreamily out at your boat from the windows.

The second day, we set out in a boisterous southeasterly. It stayed with us until we turned into the larger Canal. As we turned, Dawn Treader wallowed uncomfortably in lighter winds, and we motored through an odd easterly swell at the beginning of crossing Gulfo de Corcovado.

Eventually, a light and steady southerly filled the sails and we slowly crossed the gulf overnight. We passed abeam of the lights of Chiloe and its adjacent salmon farms. At sunrise we closed the coast and began weaving between islands, underneath a power line, until we reached an anchorage in Estero Paildad.

Estero Paildad is a big comfortable bay located in southeast Chiloe. It’s shores are dotted with farms. We awoke to the sounds of roosters in the morning and heard cows complaining in the afternoon. Hundreds of snipes rustled and swooshed above us as we rowed between mudflats at low tide, and dozens of black necked swans squabbled alongside cormorants, ducks, and grebes.

We rowed in and out with the tide to help cover the miles to a few small shops that people kept alongside their houses. We enjoyed seeing the farm animals: chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, and turkeys. We breathed in the faint scent of apples while standing on a hill above an apple orchard. We paused at new tree smells, eucalyptus and pine had been planted amongst the farms. We tasted countless wild blackberries and enjoyed crisp apples from trees next to the local dock. We explored long stretches of flat and gently sloping dirt roads around the bay. There was a sparse population, but we met friendly people along the shores and a few Chilean sailors out on weekend cruises who were happy to see us.

In the first two weeks of our interlude, swinging with the tide in Paildad, there were glorious sunny, summer days. We relaxed and finally learned how to squander a few fair southerly winds. En route to Paildad, we had always using the fair winds to push ourselves north. We had hopped between 7 anchorages in less than 3 weeks. We had sailed rhythmically on, at the tempo of higher latitudes. During March in Paildad, we saw that fair winds seemed more frequent in these lower latitudes. It was possible that we could have budgeted our time differently and paused more along the way.

As we lingered in Chiloe, it felt like we had reached an oasis in the midst of Covid. We were happy with our freedom of movement. The people were friendly and relaxed. It also seemed we had reached a summer oasis in the Chilean climate.

Unfortunately, it was not long before that feeling evaporated. The months changed over, and there was a tiny chill in the air as the seasons shifted slightly. Amongst the dominant evergreens we saw a few yellow leaves turn, fall, and scatter across the dirt roads.

As soon as we felt ready to continue on, the southerlies disappeared. Fog hung low and heavy in the mornings. Cloudy days became more frequent. We bobbed in wavy waters and waited as a windy depression passed. The weather held us back for another week.

We were ready to leave our oasis. We thought it would be a process of change, of patience, as we island hopped quickly north towards the city of Valdivia. The coming miles would prove to be true to these expectations. We would need patience as we faced difficulty in executing our plans, because change was, as it always is, a constant.

Distance Made Good: 226 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 1,042 miles
Distance To Go: 258 miles
Average Miles per Day: 10
Fuel Remaining: 19 gallons