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Sailmithril - ocean cruising adventures



Through the Chilean Channels.

Once again we're tied up at the bottom of the world. Entering the western end of the straits of Magellan completed our circumnavigation by the roaring forties. We had a wonderful day for the milestone as we went to visit the Grand Cascada at Bahia Wodsworth which had been our destination 4 years ago when we were beaten back by the rising winds. At that time we decided to approach the Patagonian channels from upwind and continued round the world to do so; a decision that was actually well worth it as we really enjoyed doing the channels with the wind astern. But more of that later. When we left Puerto Montt we weren't certain what to expect weather wise after our previous experiences in the south and we were very pleasantly surprised. The area of Chile north of Golfo de Penas is one of the few places I've ever been that I want to tell everyone about as it is so good but at the same time I don't want anyone else to know or it will become overcrowded. The weather is as good or better than Scotland with some superb hot days when the skies are clear and you can see the distant Andes and closer snow covered volcanic peaks from every anchorage. The island of Chiloe is densely populated along its coastline and has lots of salmon and oyster farms but still plenty of anchoring space. Chiloe reminded us of Ireland with rolling green hills and an indented coastline of superb anchorages. It is famous in Chile for its potatoes and ornate churches - also familiar. The churches are made entirely of wood and many of them are in bad repair these days; but some of them are in the most splendid locations with wonderful views. Away from Chiloe the land changes completely to uninhabited virgin forest and 100s of islands in the Chonos archipelago. These have never been cleared and it is almost impossible to walk ashore as the dead trees lie criss-crossed on top of each other making a treacherous but very pretty moss and flower covered aerial walkway. Most of the anchorages are short on swinging room and you end up tied to the shore as well as anchored. We did this as often as we could to get in practice for the south when we would have to tie up in windier conditions. It was a bit strange at first to lie calm almost under the trees with the wind whistling past overhead. Wildlife was abundant in this area. We watched penguins stumbling up rocks to be greeted by mates braying like donkeys. They burrow into the soft peaty soil among the roots of the big beech trees. On calm evenings we often saw otters. These were often very curious about us and would swim all round the boat and even the dinghy if we rowed or stopped the outboard. We had 2 little ones examine us for about 15 minutes once, sniffing loudly and growling at us. There were dolphins everywhere who loved having races with the dinghy and soaked us with their splashing and breathing. We even had our own "rodent" type on board. We had heard stories of stowaway water-rats but hadn't believed them until Peter had a close encounter with a furry cratur early one morning. We were at anchor when it arrived so it must have swum out and climbed aboard. I know that no-one will believe that; I didn't myself at first but we can come to no other conclusion. Eventually we isolated it inside a walking boot which we shook over the side and it swam off. It could also dive and when it re-emerged its fur was bone dry. The highlight of this northern region is undoubtedly the San Rafael glacier where we sailed right up to the face of the glacier through chunks of blue white ice. It was spectacular and we were able to launch the dinghy and take it turns to go close to the bergs. No washing powder ad. ever had such perfect blue whiteness. The calved ice drifts at the mercy of wind and tide; southerly winds pressing it against the face of the glacier and across the entrance where the ebb sweeps it out in a surging mass of jostling, fizzing bergy bits to melt in the warmer waters of Estero Elefantes. Leaving the lagoon on the very first of the ebb it was eerie to look back and see the jagged white line of ice creeping slowly after us. We anchored in a nearby creek and even had bits of ice drifting past and clanging into the boat. From inside the steel hull the expanding air bubbles in the ice sounded like chips deep frying.  After these northern channels we had to come out into the Pacific to get round Cabo Raper to the Golfo de Penas. The ocean was a bit daunting after so many weeks of calm water - reefs like big black teeth fringed in white froth. The generator failed on us in this area and while it's not life threatening we do have a 240 volt anchor windlass so fixing it was an important concern. We were in a good anchorage and lifted the cockpit floor to remove it. Peter was able to fix it without any outside help which was a good job as there isn't a human habitation for about 200 miles. Once again the benefits of carrying plenty of tools and spares was obvious.
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Chilean channels
below the san Rafael glacier

 While Peter was working on that I took a long hose up the small waterfall astern and jamming it in a pool I was able to fill the main water-tanks by gravity. I'd always wanted to do that - a person of simple ambitions me!! Heading south from here the landscape got more like we remembered - bleak and windswept and below 50 degrees south the weather deteriorated dramatically with the snow and gales. We've ended up coming through the Patagonian channels in only a month partly due to visa restrictions and also because we've had good winds all the way. Scenery wise it's awesomely bleak and icy but going downwind we've had easy daily runs of 70-90 miles mostly using only a reefed main with north winds of between 30 and 45 knots - exhilarating at times, surfing along at 10 knots in calm seas. We hear the boats coming north on the cruisers' net each morning and they are lucky to make 15-20 miles any day and only one day in 4 fit to move at all. If we ever come back to Chile we will approach from the north or equip ourselves with a much bigger engine. 
Now we are in the south and are busy re-stocking for the passage back to Ireland. Ushuaia is in the Argentinean part of Tierra del Fuego on the Beagle channel. Since the peso has floated freely we are getting almost 2 pesos to the dollar and therefore prices aren't too bad for us with $US to spend. Not everything is available and some of the supermarkets have long rows of empty shelves. This may be because they can't afford to restock or because of distribution problems. If you see a thing you need to buy it immediately as by tomorrow it will be all gone and when new stock appears it is noticeably dearer so now is a good time to be here. We are tied alongside an old rickety jetty which is known as the yacht club. Apparently the owner is making loadsa money in Buenos Aires and couldn't be bothered running this so anyone can tie alongside and pay the caretaker for electricity only. We don't know how long we'll stay..... but probably less than a week. We'll be about 90 days to Norn Iron so this will be the last communication and victualling stop. 

copyright Geraldine Foley.