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).
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
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
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
February 10, 2021
A gloom settled over Dawn Treader in Otter Pool. The boat was surrounded by a cloud of biting gnats. The crew were irritable and argumentative. We were tired. Although the boat was tied in and at a stop, we had a lot to do in a week before we sailed on in the next round of fair winds.
We had to adjust to the gnat latitudes. We did not sleep well until we found bug screens for the hatches. Even then, the little explorers found the tiniest points of entry by marching along the edges of the screens. Eventually we added duct tape to the borders where we could. While searching for the screens we did the condensation shuffle (a regular clearing out and cleaning of lockers that has been necessary since reaching the Chilean climate).
Our regular clearing and cleaning of cubbies had been on pause for the past two months. Instead we had focused on making forward progress and exploring, while doing more limited housekeeping on our layovers. The results appalled us. Mold was taking over, and worse, we found that several of our starboard lockers had been invaded by pests. Tiny worms were living in the damp along the sweating hull side. Perhaps the unwelcome stowaways invaded on a bag of potatoes. After we got over our disgust, we simply had to buckle down and deal with it. So, we cleaned almost every locker in the cabin over a few days. The task was monumental, but the mold had to go and so did the writhing little creatures.
The weather was rainy, damp, and still. It was difficult to dry the lockers after cleaning. To help, we built fires with dead Tepu branches that fishermen had left ashore. This wood burns very well, wet or dry. Smaller off cuts had been left ashore where bigger pieces had been taken. We gathered and burned the branches in our wood stove. This helped to dry out the cabin and gave us ample fuel to boil water for cleaning.
Close to midnight on our last day of intense cleaning, I looked up from my perch atop the open starboard bunk lockers to see a very cluttered cabin. We were swamped, surrounded by ziplock bags of food and miscellaneous items, but Brian continued steadily. He emptied the lockers underneath the galley, inspected them with his headlamp, cleaned, dried, and stowed them. I marked the moment in my memory as a low point. It seemed we were in the thick of our battle against the year’s moisture problems. We have examined our experience for lessons, and have lots of ideas about how to improve the situation in the future. It would be lovely to create an “all seasons Dawn Treader” that is more insulated against temperature changes. For now, we are simply focused on taking care of the boat and her contents as she sails through Chile with sweat constantly forming on the inside of her single skin fiberglass.
After we finished the marathon cleaning the tension in the air slowly dissipated. We relaxed, and everything that was bothering us came out in conversation. Uncertainty surfaced concerning our goals, destinations, passage timing, and Covid. Better out than in it seemed; we began to feel better. Our gloomy perspective faded as we remembered that the future is always uncertain. At least our boat was clean and prepared, we were in a beautiful place that we liked, and we had reached latitudes where fair winds were more common. We felt ready for whatever came next.
An uncle told me something I like to remember. As a goodbye last time I saw him he simply said “Be Happy.” After our difficulties in Otter Pool, we decided to make that our motto for 2021. On our last day there, a deep calm showed everything: the trees, the rocky hills and cliffs, and Dawn Treader, all reflected clearly in the peaceful pool. It was beautiful, and it gave us reason to appreciate the the gnat inspiring stillness. In the quietude, when we laid in our bunks that last night, we could hear faraway whale songs through the hull.
The morning after our peaceful slumber we went searching for a fair wind. As we motored Northwest in Canal Andres, gnats clung to the lifelines, to the sail, to anything. There was no breeze in the protected and winding arms of Canal Andres and Seno Tres Cerros. So, we motored through them towards Canal Concepcion. As we made progress, the white and gray clouds above us shrunk and receded to the edges of our view. Sunlight broke through, and great expanses of lush greenery were brightly lit all around us.
After several hours of seeking and 22 miles of motoring, we finally found the southerly! We approached a nonstop train of whitecaps in Canal Concepcion. At the edge of the wind stream we reefed down to accommodate uncertain gusts. Then we turned to the north and felt the wind steady at our backs. Finally, any remaining gnats were swept away. A repeated rushing swoosh from Dawn Treader, as she surged forward and then settled down onto the back of the waves was hypnotizing. We ran downwind wing on wing, one sail out to each side, for the rest of the day.
A seal surfed alongside. Mountaintops met blue skies in the distance, and bright white, snowy peaks of the Andes peeked out in the western skyline. To the East, Isla Wellington was sun-drenched and beautiful. We readied to stop there for the night. As soon as we left the channel for the anchorage, we left the effects of the wind and waves, and we used the motor to push us through the narrow entrance to Estero Dock. We dropped the anchor after 50 miles on the day.
We left early the next morning with a brisk southerly behind us. It was one of the best sailing days we can remember. We had fun steering our way downwind through a narrow passage, Paso Piloto Pard0, through Canal Escape, and into Paso del Indio. Finally as we approached our destination, we stopped short, and called Radio Puerto Eden to ask permission to anchor. We had sailed 52 easy miles along the coast of Isla Wellington in pure sunshine. Although we had read that Wellington long held out from being photographed via satellite by hiding in the clouds, we had seen the eastern shoreline clearly. In the background, some of the peaks still held snow, and the closer hills were covered with an enchanting dense green rainforest that was interspersed with waterfalls.
We made it to Puerto Eden. We were close to halfway through our Patagonian passage. A navy launch came out to meet us at anchor. They kindly arranged for us to access the town’s limited markets and the water supply the next day. It was the first town that we had seen in 60 days. After our temperatures were checked, we were allowed ashore and buy some supplies. We only walked along the boardwalk directly to the stores and back, no exploring. But it was nice to see a few people, maybe 7 of the supposed 176. We returned to the boat, had some celebratory beers after a couple of months without, and then waited aboard in the harbor for more wind. The next days the weather was calm, clear, and dry, the opposite of what we expected from one of the wettest places on earth.
It felt like a heavy damp burden had been lifted from Dawn Treader. We aired the boat, opening hatches and lockers. The solar panel fully charged the battery bank for the first time in a very long time. We had plenty of power and ample time, so I plugged in the sewing machine and repaired a couple of cushion covers. It was relaxing to swing at anchor for a few days in front of town, in little to no wind, without concern. We waved to local fishing boats as they passed by in the peaceful waters. Puerto Eden was a milestone. We were glad to be so far along in our passage, and it was nice to break our immersion in the wilderness by seeing a few faces in the most remote settlement in Patagonia.
Distance Made Good: 102 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 572 miles
Distance To Go: 728 miles
Average Miles per Day: 10
Fuel Remaining: 35 gallons
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
January 15, 2021
We waited through a gale. Dawn Treader held steady in her network of lines. While safe and comfortable inside, we cooked, watched movies, wrote, read, and dried our things by the fire. After a couple of days, we rowed to shore in lighter winds, and walked up a hill. We overlooked the bigger neighboring anchorage of Playa Parda, where centuries of sailors transiting the Straits of Magellan have dropped anchor. It was easy to imagine them here, in this unchanged place. We were compelled to picture the figures of explorers past; wandering the rocky hills, appreciating the waterfalls; sitting on the rocks where we now sat, looking out at the Strait, judging the conditions, and choosing their moment to sail again. We returned home to watch our next weather window approach on the satellite phone forecast. It was not long before we chose to venture out again.
On the fifth day in Parda Chica, I awoke to a light outside in the cockpit. Brian was shining his headlamp around the anchorage. He changed the light from white to red and came inside the cabin for a drink of water. At 02:15, it was early, too dark and too early, but we were wide awake and ready. The air was still, a calm spell had begun.
We managed to exit the tight anchorage in the dark. Looking back, maybe waiting would have been best, the rocks were close and the fairway was narrow. Nevertheless, we were in the Straits by 03:00. A ship passed us, red to red, port to port, and the long reflections from its lights stretched our way. Port wine is red, I thought. It had been a long time since I had used the mnemonic. It was almost a year since my last night watch. This was no night watch though; daylight reigns in the summer. Morning twilight was quickly upon us and the bioluminescence in our wake faded fast. The shapes of land became more distinguished as the shores and sky were lit in subtly different shades of gray.
As we motored on, the closely knit cloud cover unraveled at the western skyline, and pretty pastels colored the sky and sea. By midmorning it was sunny. We peeled off our heavy layers, wore wide brimmed hats, and stood in our bare feet. The calm, sunshine, and warmth felt amazing. Motoring in the pleasant weather, with the outboard at half throttle, in the Straits of Magellan, seemed incongruous, but we basked in it nonetheless. We felt like we were in big sky country as we shot out of the Western mouth of the Strait. Our sense of tunnel vision relaxed, and we enjoyed the broad sunny view around us. After weeks of focus, study, and strategic progress, we were peacefully wrapping up a difficult section. We saw tall columns appear and fade miles away, big whales blowing in the distance. We tried the sails a few times in the light airs, but they flapped as the motor pushed us on.
As we approached the entrance Canal Smythe a southwest wind tentatively filled the sails. With 50 miles under the keel by early afternoon, we killed the motor and were content to sail peacefully forward at 2 knots. In the quiet, a Sei whale approached and surfaced within 100 meters of Dawn Treader.
Eventually, we left a tranquil Straits of Magellan and Pacific Ocean astern. The big sky and open sea at the end of the Strait were a sharp contrast to the very small waterway that led to our next anchorage. We stowed the sails and Dawn Treader motored in, framed by rocks and low hills, through a narrow chute. There was little room to maneuver, sometimes only 30 feet. We were relieved when we found more space at the dead end of the alley. We turned around, anchored, and tied into the charming Caleta Teokita.
150 of the most difficult miles of Patagonia were behind us. The outboard had pushed us into and through the Straits of Magellan. We had motored or motor sailed 140 miles of the last 162! It had taken a week: 3 days of movement, and four days of waiting. Weather forecasts had been essential to the way we had chosen our outings, and we were pleased that we had seen the light conditions on the forecasts become reality.
Distance Made Good: 56 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 332 miles
Distance To Go: 919 miles
Average Miles per Day: 9
Fuel Remaining: 42 gallons
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
January 9, 2021
150 of the most difficult miles in Patagonia were in front of us. The waters in and around the Straits of Magellan have a reputation for challenging and gloomy conditions. Our first test was to transit Canal Cockburn, which is wide open to the Southern Ocean’s strength. Next, we needed to arrive to Paso O’Ryan at slack tide. Paso O’Ryan is a shallow, narrow bottleneck in Canal Acwalisnan, and the site of an impressive tidal race. Massive volumes of water move through the constricted pass between the Straits of Magellan and the Pacific Ocean. Imagine the gentle flow from a garden hose being turned into a jet by a well placed thumb. In this case, Paso O’Ryan is the thumb, and the current there reaches up to 8 kts. Slack tide, the interval between flood and ebb tides, is only about 15 minutes. Timing would be essential.
To move through this challenging section as quickly as possible, we decided to take advantage of light conditions and motor as much as needed to keep moving. The forecast showed two days of calm to moderate winds before the return of strong headwinds. Suspecting this was as good as we were going to get, we left Caleta Brecknock at noon in sunshine and light winds. We gave ourselves nine hours to cover 30 miles to Paso O’Ryan, high slack water was at 21:00.
We steamed north in Canal Ocasion towards Canal Cockburn. At the meeting of the two, we could see waves crashing in the milky way, a place where ocean swells meet a multitude of rocks and shallow depths. Isla Noir (Isla No Go) was a shadow in the distance. Gentle ocean swells, leftover from yesterday’s wind, rolled Dawn Treader from side to side, but the outboard engine’s propeller remained submerged and powered us forward.
We took a shortcut between canals through Paso Gonzalez. We wound our way through a narrow fairway, around small islands, kelp patches, and shallow depths. We passed a gigantic flock of terns, but instead of birdwatching, I focused on steering. I followed cues from Brian, who was absorbed in navigating by comparing the chart to our surroundings. Towards the end of the pass, the avenue opened and a half dozen dusky dolphins swam around us. Their enthusiastic bow riding and acrobatics took my attention as Brian took the tiller. Eventually, they dropped back into Gonzalez and we turned into Cockburn.
With our backs to the Pacific, we motored on. A group of over 50 Black Browed Albatross bobbed together on calm waters. Canal Cockburn is widest where it meets the ocean. Turning back to take in a view of the open sea several miles across, I considered how exhilarating and frightening it is, to sail out onto expansive waters-to sail out until a continuous horizon line surrounds you day after day, and the breath from your lungs exchanges with the air of one of the most vast, most open spaces possible on Earth. Maybe someday we will venture across the Pacific as we did the Atlantic, possibly when we reach lower latitudes, where the Ocean’s weather is more welcoming to small boats. The late afternoon sun was still high when we turned into the shelter of Canal Acwalisnan. We were delighted to have crossed Cockburn with relative ease, and we were looking good for a timely arrival to Paso O’Ryan.
By 20:00 we were motor-sailing at 4 kts and we could see the approach to Paso O’Ryan just ahead. As we closed in, our speed dropped a knot. We told ourselves it was the last of the adverse current before slack tide. We motored into the narrows right on time, but an unexpected thing happened. Instead of gaining speed, or at least holding speed, we came to a stop. We increased to full throttle between the south point of a small island near to port, and rocks and shallows near to starboard. The whining engine gained us a few feet, but then nothing more, as our speed dropped back to zero. The first five minutes in this spot were stressful. We were worried about veering into the rocky hazards to either side. But, we were incredibly stationary. If we averted our eyes from the rushing water around us, and ignored the high pitch of our laboring engine, we seemed peacefully at anchor. So, we relaxed a little and waited for something to give way.
The wind was a light headwind. We were trying to coax some speed with the mainsail, but we found that falling off a few degrees to fill the sail was detrimental to our station keeping. The current caught the bow and further overwhelmed the engine. We tried dropping the sail to reduce air drag, but that made little impact. So, we continued waiting. Finally, the breeze veered just enough for the sails to be useful without losing our heading. We began creeping forward with full main, genoa, and outboard. After only 50 meters of progress our speed jumped to one knot and not long after that we were making two. Soon after the pass we were motor-sailing at normal speeds and the effects of the current seemed to be negligible, but for about 30 minutes we were stuck in one spot, literally between a rock and a hard place in Paso O’Ryan.
Although the skies were darkening and the rain was increasing, we joked and relaxed as we sailed on. We were glad to have made it through O’Ryan on our first try. The currents are confusing in these waters, where a multitude of openings to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans complicate tidal predictions. The same tide can flow with and against you at different ends of a single canal. The current is also influenced by wind and barometric pressure. Our passage through O’Ryan was not easy, and we will never know exactly why. It is unclear if we were too early or too late, but we made it through and that was good enough.
As we sailed on, night fell and squally weather settled on us. Low visibility began to hamper my confidence. My glasses were covered with raindrops and sheets of rain obscured any outline of the ground ahead. It was shaping up to be a long night as we approached the Straits of Magellan. Just then, Brian popped out of the companionway with good news. He thought we should stop in Caleta Felix, a close by, wide bay with a simple approach. All we had to do was slowly steer in, guided by GPS waypoints, and drop the hook until morning. When we made our way into the anchorage, Brian turned on the high beam of his head lamp. Through the rain a shiny flash of reflective tape gave us a start. A small fishing boat popped out of the darkness and into our sights. It surprised us, but all we had to do was give the already anchored boat some space. We chose a spot, dropped our anchor, and were settled by midnight. We hung up our wet gear, made sandwiches, and an hour later we were dry and snug in our sleeping bags. After a few hours rest we were ready for the Straits of Magellan.
Distance Made Good: 35 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 205 miles
Distance To Go: 1,046 miles
Average Miles per Day: 6
Fuel Remaining: 49 gallons
January 6, 2020
Whitecaps, foam and spray poured out of Paso Aguirre and along the water’s surface. We could see them from Dawn Treader while anchored in Caleta Atracadero. Paso Aguirre is the southerly corner of Canal Brecknock, our next pathway to the north. A few days blew by in a gale with the wind gusting to 50 knots. There was rain, hail, wet snow, wind, and more wind.
The howl of the wind is the frequent soundtrack of islands intimate with the ocean conditions of the Furious Fifties. This spot reminded me of the Falkland Islands: the surroundings were weathered and worn, Black Browed Albatross soared by, and families of Kelp Geese and Steamer Ducks swam around in the anchorage. In Chile, and in Atracadero, the kingfisher also chatters onto the scene, announcing his presence before perching over the sheltered shallows. The birds kept us company in this remote spot. We watched them from our little yacht as she shifted and rolled, straining her shorelines in the weather.
We enjoyed ourselves, looking out of the port lights, and resting next to an occasional warm fire. One day the conditions seemed less severe and we walked up a hill to look out over Canal Brecknock. From our overlook, we could see the Pacific Ocean to the west, where storm force winds looked like smoke on the water. Sudden powerful gusts burst through the channel, agitating the water into the foaming whitecaps and spray that we had been seeing from the boat.
Overnight the weather changed completely, and after a 5 day layover we motored through Paso Aguirre in a calm. By the first turn of Canal Brecknock we were sailing. Light winds filled our sails and we began tacking through the zig zagging fairway. With each turn of the channel our angle to the wind and the wind strength changed. So, we tacked, beam reached, were becalmed at an elbow of the canal, and then finally, in the last section of Canal Brecknock, the wind steadily intensified. The fresh winds gusted strong, and we tacked with heavily reefed sails until we reached the entrance to Canal Ocasion.
By this point in our passage we have sailed upwind enough, that we have played with our method of tacking. We have a large cockpit, but regardless, we have to coordinate our movements to avoid stepping on each other, especially with two five gallon gas cans taking up some of the leg room in the footwell. We can avoid collision when one of us works the jib sheets and one steers. However, after experimenting, we have found it more fluid for us to divide the roles. One of us releases the windward sheet, we tack, and then the other hauls in on the leeward sheet. We pass the tiller between us. This means that we can each stay on our designated side of the boat. This seems to improve our tacks and protect us both from awkward jostling.
We maneuvered under sail through Canal Occasion and well into Seno Ocasion. We had tacked 20 times in 26 miles, and it was a great day of sailing. We dropped the sails and turned on the motor as we closed in on our next anchorage, Caleta Brecknock. The wind was still gusting strong, so we took our time, and hovered outside of the notch in the rock wall that was to be our berth. When we felt confident of holding our position with the outboard, we moored in with anchor and shorelines.
We looked up to contemplate the stunning surroundings. Gradually, as we had tacked into the Seno we had come closer and closer to the surrounding cliffs. Now, secure at anchor, we could relax and begin to absorb the drama of the place. High granite rocks surrounded us, and the runoff from them formed tall cascades. One of these free fell a few hundred feet; I was fascinated by the column of water surrounded only by air. It plummeted down rapidly before rejoining the rock and tumbling into a valley of shrubbery below.
The falls largely disappeared by late evening, having exhausted their supply of rainfall. But by morning they reappeared with a fresh rain. We rested in the downpour, made bread, and carefully planned for our next weather window. On our second day in Brecknock, sunlight streamed down between the clouds and raced across the surfaces of the high grey rocks. We enjoyed a walk around, and then afterwards, we focused on more planning, rereading our materials on the upcoming waterways; Canal Cockburn, Canal Acwalisnan, and the Straits of Magellan. We hoped to tackle these intimidating places soon; we had a promising forecast for the next day.
Our goal was to move through these waterways quickly, to limit our exposure. Both Canal Cockburn and the Straits of Magellan have wide western openings to the Pacific Ocean, and do not provide shelter from the often severe ocean conditions. Acwalisnan would be more protected, but we could face progress halting adverse currents. Our forecast for the next two days showed light or favorable wind. We planned to sail when we could, but also to burn fuel motoring as needed to make fast steady progress. This section deserves respect and caution and there is merit in getting through expeditiously.
It was perfect timing then, to fill our empty fuel cans. We received 9 gallons of gasoline from good friends on a passing boat. They topped up our supply of fuel, cooked for us, and passed us a few goodies too. There are only a few yachts transiting the Channels this year, and this was the first one we had seen. The isolation we experience here is wonderful, but seeing friends was refreshing after a month out on our own. It was an incredible morale boost, and we felt ready for the next leg.
Distance Made Good: 26 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 170 miles
Distance To Go: 1,081 miles
Average Miles per Day: 6
Fuel Remaining: 44 + 9 = 53 gallons