Passage Through Patagonia: Day 24

December 31, 2020

Tacking the 24 miles to Caleta Julia was a wake up call. We were alarmed by the time and effort required to make so few miles. Reviewing our charted track line, Brian estimated the angle of our course to the wind had been 70 degrees. In other words we sailed three miles for every one mile of progress. In several years of sailing, never before had we had to pay serious attention to our windward sailing performance and our technique has suffered. If we could somehow sail just 10 degrees closer to the wind, we would only need to sail two miles for every mile towards our goal. We would cover ground faster and have more time to rest. With a long stretch of miles against the prevailing winds in front of us, the subtleties of sailing our boat upwind became central to our thinking. We made a goal to sail an improved course of 60 degrees to the wind. To meet our goal we did what we do best, we stared blankly at the wall and thought about it. We also brainstormed about making possible adjustments and created a performance spreadsheet.

We had a long nine day layover in Caleta Julia. We waited for better weather, celebrated Christmas, and walked the surrounding hills. Higher up we enjoyed panoramic views of the Beagle Channel, and we reflected on the last 10 months spent there. The 200 mile waterway inspired our imaginations with its silent mossy forests, countless hidden coves, ice ancient and alive, mountains, and myriad citizens: dolphins, seals, songbirds, and the ghosts of the people who came before us. We looked to the west and could see Canal O’Brien, a narrow pass between Islands that marks the end of the Beagle Channel. We would soon be sailing through that pass, leaving the Beagle astern.

Our time in Caleta Julia came to a close when we set out in a calm for a quick nine mile motor to Isla Chair. The weather forecast showed some good conditions for moving in the next couple of days, and this small move forward gave us a jump on the upcoming section. As we entered the close-walled horseshoe anchorage of Caleta Cushion, we saw the tiny rounded fin of a Black Dolphin. That afternoon, we walked west around the hills of the small island, before turning back, away from a strengthening headwind. We found a sheltered place to sit with our backs to the wind. The conditions built due to a low pressure system. We faced east and watched wind gusts sweep over the water at high speeds and carry spray up into the air. We thought again about sailing against the wind and wondered if we could become more capable.

By the next morning the system was gone and we were ready again at o4:00. We motored out of the anchorage and faced West. We were prepared to take advantage of a predicted calm. Although it never materialized, we still motored against a light headwind with a mind to delay tacking. As we left Isla Chair, and the pink and grey clouds of dawn behind us, a Sei whale approached and passed distant from our port side. As we rounded the corner into Canal O’Brien, we saw the whale blow once more astern, before leaving him and the Beagle Channel behind. It was a tough moment. We knew we had to press on, but we also felt the anguish of departure from an enchanting place.

Motoring is far less fuel efficient when against the forces of a headwind, but Brian turned off the motor more reluctantly than usual and hoisted the sails. We prepared our spirits for another long day of tacking. I guess we were dubious of our spreadsheet and small adjustments. We steeled ourselves as we began tacking through Canal O’Brian. We sheeted in main and jib both more than normal. We adjusted the lead of the jib sheet. We carried more sail. We pinched up, pointing a few degrees closer to the wind. Finally, we steered more actively, rounding up a little to pinch and then falling off a touch to keep the drive, over and over.

Our changes worked! In the light headwind through O’Brien and into Canal Ballanero we averaged a course of 60 degrees off the wind. This put us within reach of Caleta Silva on Isla Londonberry. We were not totally sold that our changes made a difference though. The shelter of O’Brien made for calm seas and ideal tacking conditions. We also thought we might of had an assist from a favorable tail current. Despite our skepticism, the results of the day were promising.

After 26 miles we reached the shelter of the Caleta Silva. Brian manned the outboard motor and tiller, and I dropped the lead line to test the depth. We found a spot between the kelp, and I dropped the anchor in 18 feet. We ran shorelines and were secure in our spot for three days. One day we rested, one day we walked, and one day we gathered over 30 gallons of water. There was a pretty waterfall behind the boat, and we carried, rowed, and filled bottles and jerry cans until our 65 gallon tank was topped up. With so much fresh water and rain in the channels, we have never worried about our water supply.

The day of our departure from Silva, we were slow in preparing to leave. We were up again at 03:00, we readied quickly, but then we stalled. We dawdled, made coffee, and ate some bread before starting our preparations outside. A howling wind had us moving in slow motion, and we delayed in charging out to meet it. However, we kept in mind a good thing about sailing upwind here: if the conditions are too rough to make progress, you can always turn and run back to the sheltered anchorage that you came from. So, we had a backup plan, and although we hesitated, we did go. Dawn Treader was bashing onwards by 05:00.

In this stretch we turned to the northwest in wide and windswept Canal Ballanero. We tacked through a scattering of islands and skirted past openings to the Pacific Ocean where the ocean swell could be felt. The wind was most fresh in the morning. First at the helm, I was startled by the strength and splash range of the small waves. I had been spoiled by inland waterway sailing. The waves were only a few feet tall, but, because we were beating, the spray was flying. We were well protected though, in waterproof floatation suits, which are like full body life jackets with good insulation. This piece of gear has proven essential when hand steering all of our Chilean miles. Brian and I alternated at the helm and focused on the course for the next 12 hours.

Again, 60 degrees! This time against a fresh breeze and choppy seas. There was not much current on this stretch either, so it looked like we had made real improvements. Staring at the wall worked! We made 20 tacks to go 28nm, much better than the 70 tacks to go 21 miles in the Beagle. Although the comparison is not completely fair, because there was more room for tacking in Ballanero and the wind was slightly off a true headwind.

The fewer tacks did not mean an easy day. We had to repeatedly manage the sail area to accommodate the fluctuating wind strength. Reefing is a job I am capable of, but I am much slower and fatigue more quickly. Brian has a lot more practice and is fluid. He furled, unfurled, reefed, and shook out reefs all day. The wind was fresh, moderate, fresh, light, gusty, fresh, moderate, light… you get the idea.

Towards the end of the distance, we used full sail in light winds, and then motored the last 4 miles as the waves flattened. These were blissful moments, porpoising seals followed Dawn Treader and a humpback whale crossed ahead of her bow. Making Caleta Atracadero seemed sure, and we relaxed. Entry to the caleta under engine power was simple, and we took our time deploying shorelines. Atracadero is surrounded by a few small islands, tiny dots on the chart, and the larger Isla Brecknock. Approaching the anchorage, we used eyeball navigation to weave through the kelp, rocks, and islets with the aid of gps waypoints from guidebooks. The Navionics charts on our iPad are inaccurate and often show us crossing over onto island shores or well on top of land. In this Caleta they showed that we were located near the center of Isla Brecknock, not anchored off its shores. This idiosyncrasy is something we have gotten used to cruising the area. Like beating to windward, navigating these channels has required a degree of adaptation and improvisation.

Distance Made Good: 65 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 144 miles
Distance To Go: 1,107 miles
Average Miles per Day: 6
Fuel Remaining: 46 gallons

Passage Through Patagonia: Day 10

December 18, 2020

Dozens of swallows swept along the shoreline, swooping and looping over the beach, catching insects. They flew within inches of our faces and then veered off at the last moment, as we stood still in a drizzling rain amongst the trees that grow over the crescent beach. They were not here during our last visit to Caleta Olla, almost three months ago. That time we saw winter give way to spring. We saw snow accumulate on deck over a foot high, and then melt in the space of a couple days. The land came alive and we explored as much as we could: up the hills, over the bogs, along the beaches, up to a waterfall, and to the different overlooks of the glaciers, Holanda and Frances. This time, however, we stayed closer to home. An intermittent summer rain drenched the land around us and we spent much of the time aboard. Our two week Puerto Williams resupply was behind us, and we settled back into the slower routines of life in the Channels. We did chores and thought about the miles ahe ad.

On our last time through here, we were on a two month tour of the Beagle Channel. We only needed to cover 200 miles in total compared to the 1200 we now had remaining. We set goals for the coming months; Caleta Brecknock by mid-January, through Magellan by mid-February, Puerto Eden by mid-March, and so on past the Golfo de Penas to Chiloe and finally on to Valdivia. We looked at the weather forecasts everyday for suitable sailing weather. We were at the beginning of a long voyage and we would need to establish our pace.

After a week the strong westerly wind moderated and the rain cleared. We pulled in two shorelines, weighed anchor, and sailed out of Caleta Olla. We were early for the tide change, and our first half dozen tacks, against a foul current and headwind, gained us precious little ground. As the tide slackened and then ebbed, we made more westward progress. However, the further we sailed from Olla, the less the tidal effects, and progress was consistently slow all day. Starboard tack, port tack, over and over again we turned the boat and moved the sails from one side to the other. We left Glacier Hollanda out of view, and passed Glacier Italia. Frances was out of sight as many of the mountaintops were covered with clouds. Over thirty tacks later, we found ourselves abeam of Bahia Romanche. The otherworldly Glacier Alemania was slightly less strange this time without its winter snow surround. Still, we thought the half spherical rock mound protruding from the ice looked like a UFO.
Near Alemania, on the northern side of the channel, a light green river of glacial meltwater ran within the darker saltwater of the Beagle Channel. There was a distinct line between the two. We crossed the line, leaving a trail of black in the green silty water. We tacked again and saw our trail turn and swirl as we crossed back to the dark side.

Everything that we passed, we passed slowly. Zigzagging upwind, we needed to sail about three miles to make good one. We saw the shores that border the Beagle Channel again and again. This was a blessing in such a majestic landscape. Both shores captivated our gaze. With each new angle, something new appeared. A mountaintop peeked through the clouds and layers of landscape were revealed. The Glacier Romanche had a spectacular summer waterfall. The cascade was wide and tall; it spanned the distance between the glacier and the channel. We tacked away, and tacked back. We saw a beautiful place, in a series of slightly different, but ever-changing views, as we moved slowly towards, away, and through.

The tacking fatigued us, but we did not stop in the first available anchorages. We sailed on from Bahia Romanche and aimed for Bahia Tres Brazos. The moderate westerly wind diminished and a passing shower lightly sprinkled on us. We shook the second and then the first reef from the mainsail. We looked up at a full mainsail, something we have rarely seen in the past couple of years south of 50 degrees latitude. The peaks of the Darwin Mountain Range glowed in the lateness of the day. The long light of summer kept us sailing into the evening. The clouds had dissipated, and we sailed directly towards the setting sun as the wind shifted to the northwest. Then, with four miles to go to the anchorage, the wind failed.

After 70 tacks to go 21 miles, we started the engine and motored the rest of the way into Bahia Tres Brazos. Dusky Dolphins swam alongside us at the entrance and one jumped well clear of the water to create space for an elegant dive back in. We crossed the bay to a protected cove named Caleta Julia. Once in the anchorage, we performed the usual Patagonia anchoring ritual. We dropped the anchor, deployed the dinghy, and ran lines ashore. The calm waters made the procedure relaxed. When I tied the last line to a stout looking tree, the arrangement was complete with one line fore, one aft, and the anchor off the starboard bow. We were snug and protected again. We cooked dinner, slowly relaxed from a strenuous day of tacking, and then went heavily into our bunks.

Distance Made Good: 24 miles
Total Distance Made Good: 79 miles
Distance To Go: 1,172 miles
Average Miles per Day: 8 miles
Fuel Remaining: 50 gallons

Passage Through Patagonia Day 2

December 10, 2020

We left Puerto Williams on December 9th in the afternoon with a light southerly breeze. Gradually, it snuck around to the northeast as we continued sailing in a drizzling rain. Four sail changes kept us moving with the fickle wind. In the distance we noticed what we thought was a Sei whale; we saw it blow twice and then dive. Later when the wind stopped, we took down our jib pole, stowed the headsail, sheeted in the main, and started our 6 horsepower outboard engine that hangs from a bracket on our stern. It took us the last 10 percent of the way, and we maneuvered, through a short maze of kelp, into our stop for the night, Caleta Santa Rosa.

Santa Rosa is a cute circular nook on the northern coast of Isla Navarino, 25 nautical miles from Puerto Williams. Shoreside, there is a small farm and a dirt road. Just before we dropped the anchor, we saw a bus depart and disappear over the hill towards town. It likely represented the last person, or at least the last land vehicle we will see for the next few months. From our only 6-pack aboard we both drank a celebratory beer to mark the commencement of a long anticipated voyage.

The next morning, in the pre-dawn light of 4am, we raised anchor and headed back out into the Beagle Channel. It was a beautiful morning with clearing skies, but the wind was calm. This stretch of the Beagle Channel is typically difficult with strong headwinds, adverse current, and choppy seas. On many days, if not most, progress would be impossible with our little sloop. So, we chose our day carefully, and with our sights on Caleta Olla 35 miles to the west, we decided this was a good day to burn precious fuel and to motor.

These days, there is typically a strong element of motoring in any vessel’s journey north through the Channels. Some boats even motor the entire distance. In Puerto Williams we increased our fuel stores from 15 gallons to 55 gallons by scrounging jerry cans and storing them on deck. Two sit lashed into our cockpit footwell, three small cans are lashed together on the stern, and rest of our new collection sit to the port side of our companionway hatch. At first, it was strange to have bulky things on deck, but we’ve become accustomed to their presence. The 55 gallons gives us a range under power of 300-400 miles in average motoring conditions, well shy of the 1250 miles to Valdivia. Despite the increased stores, we will have to ration our gasoline carefully and sail as much as possible.

As the morning became established, so did the magnificence of the day. The sunny calm deceived Tierra del Fuego’s wild reputation. We felt like we were on holiday as we motored along at 4.5kts. We peeled off layers of clothing and took time to snap pictures of the jagged snow capped mountains. We approached and then passed Ushuaia, just as the rising sun reflected from the city’s buildings, shining in silvers and golds in the morning light. We motored on, past Canal Murray, the forbidden pass to Cape Horn (currently only open to Chilean traffic), past Puerto Navarino, and past Alcamar Yamana. We talked with the Chilean stationed at this lighthouse in slow Spanish, waiting to call until the fishing boats ahead of us finished their more fluent exchanges.

Before approaching Caleta Olla, we needed first to pass Isla Diablo and the tide was against us. The Island creates a bottleneck in the channel which increases tidal forces. We viewed the phenomenon from above when hiking up a nearby mountain on our previous trip. We witnessed the waters around Diablo swirl and churn with current. As we entered the pass we felt our steerage slip and we increased throttle to gain more control. It was interesting to watch the water boil with vortices around Dawn Treader. We managed to slowly move through the powerful forces against us, but we burned some excess fuel in the process.

After exiting the narrows of Isla Diablo, it was only a mile or so to Caleta Olla. We saw two proud looking guanaco, sentries on the hill, just before entering the anchorage. They looked glorious in the sunlight. We passed Glacier Hollanda, sun drenched and bright blue. Near lunchtime, we dropped the anchor in front of the beach and maneuvered the stern toward the shore. We quickly put Junior, our nesting dinghy, in the water and assembled the two halves together. I rowed two stern lines ashore, tying off to large trees, while Brian held Dawn Treader in place with the engine. Once the lines were secure, Brian turned off the noisy motor and finally the soundtrack matched the imagery of the day, peace and quiet. We would stay in Caleta Olla for a few days, resting from the frenzied voyage preparations and tiring Puerto Williams departure.

We used more fuel than we hoped on the leg to Caleta Olla, but we were pleased with our progress. We were satisfied to have started our journey. We were 55 miles west of Puerto Williams, and that was a good start.

Distance Made Good: 55nm
Total Distance Made Good: 55nm
Distance To Go: 1,196nm
Average Miles per Day: 28
Fuel Remaining: 51 gallons

Hello friends! Thank you! We appreciate the comments and encouragement! It is lovely to hear from you guys, especially since we are out sailing in remote areas. We will share pictures, but not until we have internet again, which will be a while from now (We post this blog via email and a satellite phone). Thanks for reading our sailing story! All the best, Brian and Deb

Passage Through Patagonia

December 9, 2020

In our last post we had just arrived to The Falkland Islands in time for Christmas. In the two years between then and now, we sailed the Falkland Island Shores, down through the Straits of LeMaire, and into the Beagle Channel.

We cleared into Puerto Williams, Chile, the most southerly town in the world, in February. Located in the heart of Tierra del Fuego between the harsh meteorological realities of the Straits of Magellan to the North, Staits of Le Maire to the East, Cape Horn to the South, and the Pacific Furious 50’s to the the West, Puerto Williams is a oasis of shelter offering often sunny calm days, a friendly community, and old growth Magellanic forests. In short, a bit of a paradise. Shortly after our arrival we joined our friends for an 11 day whirlwind trip through part of the Chilean Channels, an intricate archipelago of navigable fiords, to Puerto Eden on their 60+ foot steel yacht. It was a great experience, and we appreciated the crash course in navigating the remote waterways of Chile. We had a tense trip back to Dawn Treader, mostly via ferries, in the early days of COVID-19 lockdowns. After that short separation from our boat, we were happy to spend many months aboard in Puerto Williams, enjoying a view of the Dientes de Navarino Mountains from an anchorage in Seno Lauta. We were there all through the winter, and we came to love Isla Navarino. We were part of a small community of sailors on the outskirts of Puerto Williams, and we were fortunate to be there together during confusing times. In September, although it was still winter here in the south, the anchorages and fiords along the Circuito Ventisquero (Glacier Circuit) had thawed of their of ice, and we ventured out for a two month trip. We circumnavigated Isla Gordon, making stops there, in Isla Grande, Isla Chair, and Isla Hoste. Along the route, we saw giant cascades of blue and white ice and sailed between towering mountains.

Now, again just in time for Christmas, we are beginning a new voyage. One that will take us from Puerto Williams, 1,250 nautical miles North to Valdivia. The mostly upwind passage will be through the Chilean Channels in one of the world’s great wildernesses, Patagonia. We feel absorbed by our spectacular surroundings. The sailing, the walking, and the sights have made our lives feel more full and we look forward to the next months of immersion in these tasks and in this place. We stated on our Zarpe, the passage permit issued by the Chilean Armada, an estimated arrival date in Valdivia of June 30th. We hope that we have given ourselves more than enough time on paper. 6 months to cover 1,250 miles would mean making an average of 6 miles of progress per day.

It is our hope that with patience and persistence we will have a challenging but uneventful passage north. There should be plenty of pauses along the way to update this blog, and we hope to use it as an opportunity to document the passage and encourage correspondence. Welcome aboard!

Piriapolis, Uruguay to The Falklands: Day 15 Arrival!

December 22, 2018
Days distance: 95 nautical miles
Total distance: 1246 nautical miles
Prominent Feature: In Port Stanley
1800 Position: Port Stanley Moody Brooks anchorage

We have arrived to the Falkland Islands. We are in a snug anchorage and Debbie is making hot soup with the last of our produce. Tomorrow morning we will motor to the town dock to complete formalities. The approach to the Falklands was a windy one. We had to beat into Port William sound and then motor sail the last 8 miles against strong katabatic winds. Our little outboard engine performed marvelously and we made it to the anchorage without issue. Debbie and I are incredibly excited, the town looks colorful and inviting and the wildlife is abundant. The skin on our faces feel stretched by the wind and we are thoroughly caked in salt but we are truly glad. Glad to be here, glad to be safe, glad to be still. Merry Christmas everybody.

Piriapolis, Uruguay to The Falklands: Day 14

December 21, 2018
Days distance: 95 nautical miles
Total distance: 1151 nautical miles
Prominent Feature: 89 miles to The Falkland Islands
1800 Position: 50-44S 059-43W

We experienced some light winds overnight so we have come up short on our anticipated daily run. However, the wind is back and we are still on track for an arrival tomorrow. We have emailed Customs and the Harbor Authority to give them 24 hours notice to arrival. Upon arrival to the islands it is another 30 miles to Stanley and there may be light winds. We are glad we saved our fuel! The anticipation is building in both of us. Landfalls are one of the most exciting parts of what we do and it has been a long time since we have had a big landfall. That, coupled with the fact we have been dreaming of the southern high latitudes for so long and we are finally here, makes for a pretty excited crew. It looks like we are just in time, the forecast calls fore some strong weather in a couple days and hopefully we are nooked into Stanley enjoying our Christmas in a new and exciting place.

Piriapolis, Uruguay to The Falklands: Day 13

December 20, 2018
Days distance: 89 nautical miles
Total distance: 1056 nautical miles
Prominent Feature: 172 miles to The Falkland Islands
1800 Position: 49-46’S 061-40’W

We never ended up motoring yesterday. We decided to be patient with the wind and save our 6 gallons of fuel for some other occasion. Progress was nil for the first half of the evening, but as expected a northerly breeze sprung up around midnight and sent us on our way. The wind is now northwest and slowly strengthening. We are sailing 6-7 knots dead downwind under single reefed main and genoa. We are sailing wing on wing with genoa poled out. The latest forecast looks great and if all goes well we should be approaching the Falkland Islands on the morning of December 22nd. The ocean is surprisingly turquoise and looks more tropical than high latitude. But the sea is cold, the air has a bight and we are definitely not in the tropics. In a few hours we will cross 50 degrees south latitude. The Roaring 40’s were unexpectedly benign and we hope for a similar welcome to the Furious 50’s.

Piriapolis, Uruguay to The Falklands: Day 12

December 19, 2018
Days distance: 67 nautical miles
Total distance: 967 nautical miles
Prominent Feature: 260 miles to The Falkland Islands
1800 Position: 48-40’S 063-08’W

We made unexpectedly good progress last night against a light southeasterly. The seas were small so we were able to harness the wind without spilling it each roll. This put us more than 60 miles on the day. We are becalmed now and drifting in the wrong direction. We may motor for a few hours to better position ourselves for the northwesterly wind expected sometime after midnight. This should be the wind to take us the rest of the way to Port Stanley. We only brought 8 gallons of gas and we burned 2 in the Rio de la Plata. 6 gallons gives us a range of about 60 miles. If we burn a gallon or two this evening we should still have plenty for maneuvering about Port Stanley. The forecast looks good with nothing heavy on the chart until Christmas which give us plenty of time, but we are ready for an ice cream and beer so we may motor a bit just the same.

To answer your question, Mom, it is hard to say how many fin whales there were yesterday. We saw two surface simultaneously so definitely at least two. I think there may have been four but that is just a guess.

Now, I think I am going to go ruin the serenity of this southern ocean calm with the racket of a 6 horsepower outboard engine….or maybe not, we just got a slight puff and we are moving again, perhaps the serenity is saved.

Piriapolis, Uruguay to The Falklands: Day 11

December 18, 2018
Days distance: 134 nautical miles
Total distance: 900 nautical miles
Prominent Feature: Heading out to open ocean, course set for The Falklands 1800 Position: 47-35’S 063-10’W

Today has been a wonderful day. We made great progress sailing 134 miles in a comfortable sea. Enormous fin whales came within 10 feet of Dawn Treader. One even exhaled some whale breath mist into my face. We saw another boat, a ship named Ben Rinnes. We have gone nearly a week since we have seen another vessel, so it was nice to see another dude out and about. Our biggest news though is that we have altered course for a straight line to the Falklands. We had been staying close to the coast to avoid the larger seas, to make westing for a better final course, and to stay in the vicinity of a number of different bail out harbors and anchorages. The latest forecast looks pretty good and we hope to cover the last 300 miles in 4 or so days. We are keeping our fingers crossed we will arrive in time to catch the Puerto Stanley Christmas Carolers. 134 miles! Great day!

Piriapolis, Uruguay to The Falklands: Day 10

December 17, 2018
Days distance: 65 nautical miles
Total distance: 796nm
Prominent Feature: crossing the Golfo San Jorge
1800 Position: 44-34’S 064-30’W

We were more or less becalmed most of the night. What ever breeze there was the sails spilled with every roll in the large residual swell from the previous day’s strong winds. At 2 am the wind picked up and the swell diminished and we were on our way. We reeled off 65 glorious miles in what is becoming a typical pattern of prolonged light winds followed by a strong breeze. We bounced around as we close reached in choppy seas at 6 knots. By noon the wind reduced to a gentle breeze, but Dawn Treader continued along comfortably on a close reach. The day was sunny and we took advantage by showering with our garden sprayer bottle filled with water from the kettle. Deb made veggie soup and we cleaned up the cabin. We are feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next 500 miles to The Falklands. Once across the Golfo San Jorge we plan to head out to open water with the prevailing westerlies. Hopefully we make better speed, since our course will be more downwind.