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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Nearly Eden

A day after the fish boats left Estero Cono, we decided the weather had settled enough for us milder-mannered sailors. As we've gotten used to, the period of fair winds would only last JUST long enough for us to cross Golfo de Penas and arrive at a sheltered anchorage on the other side.

Our welcome back to the open seas was heralded by the immediate return of the five meter southern ocean swell but the fair westerly wind soon had us surging along at seven to eight knots. Soon after leaving shelter, we passed our fishing friends on the 18 meter long "Don Nestor" of Quellon. Most of the time, their boat was hidden behind the waves, occasionally picking itself up to full view on a crest. Their work certainly didn't look easy with all that motion - and we must have been quite a sight for them too.

The timing of our passage to take advantage of the winds led to an arrival in Caleta Ideal in the black of night in the pouring rain just before the wind shifted contrary. I yelled steering instructions from the radar inside to Mary Anne outside until we were in position to let the anchor out.

Caleta Ideal may actually be as ideal a cove as it's name suggests but it's openness led me to hunger for a more confined space in which to weather the next actual storm (as opposed to the equally common simply contrary winds). Caleta Point Lay proved perfect for this: it was more like a tiny mountain pond surrounded closely by mountains rising up forever and bathed in the sounds of all the nearby streams and waterfalls.

But now we have moved on again. Isla Vittorio keeps out the waves but not the howling winds. When you start tugging trees this way and that with your lines, the noise of the wind makes those trees seem suddenly less substantial. Thus I was out this morning adding lines to different trees as a sort of backup. Don't worry ... the new line ties the dinghy to "Traversay" as I head through the gusts to the shore - thus there is no chance of blowing away.

In case all this arrival and departure rope work seems not enough to keep us busy, on the way from Point Lay to Vittorio, our high-output alternator failed. This is similar to an automobile alternator in that it charges the batteries when the engine is running but is about twice as powerful and is more carefully regulated to maximize the life of the large batteries (200 kg - 440 lbs) that power our boat. This was more an inconvenience than a catastrophe as we have a number of different ways of charging the batteries.

Investigation yielded a failed cable terminal that had led to overheating, melted insulation and a minor (but hidden) mess. A few hours with a cable terminal, wire terminals, crimpers and wire of various pretty colors led to it all looking as good as new - and, more importantly, functioning again.

We'd rather be here during the unsettled weather rather than in nearby Puerto Eden. In the little town, we would worry about our anchor dragging in a storm (there is nowhere for us to tie up) and we would have to visit shore and the Armada (navy) offices in our not-extremely-windworthy rubber dinghy. We expect October 17 might dawn quiet enough for us to untie all these shorelines and cover the last fifteen miles into town.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Underwater World

As a solo sailor, Larry took a scuba course thinking it would be a handy way to solve some underwater hull problems on Traversay II. I came along as a dive (and life) buddy, and when the time came to build Traversay III we knew we wanted to be able to dive almost anywhere we could anchor safely. We had a list of necessities which were communicated to and understood by Waterline Yachts in Sidney British Columbia. They constructed not only a marvellous dive boat, but a wonderful all-round steel vessel. So far, we've dived together around 500 times - mostly in cold water.

Practically from the start of our diving life 26 years ago we attended marine identification courses. I ended up as a docent at the Vancouver Aquarium shepherding young children through sleepovers with whales as well as helping Grade 11 students learn about the animals in the Wet Lab.

Somewhere along the way we borrowed the graded Linnaeus-based Species List used by our two marine I.D. teachers. When we were in Patagonia 10 years ago, we put together a systematic list under the heading of '14 Dives'. Now we're trying to re-visit those divesites with the same list and methods. Larry takes somewhere between 49 and 73 pictures on each dive - afterwards, I edit the photos, identify the animals and we publish a photo-log of each dive. We're trying to work out whether the animal life here has changed. However, this can only be a rough measure. We've found that even diving the same site at night or returning the next day to the same site, there can be enormous variety.

When I first started diving, I couldn't believe that 90% of what we saw were not flora but fauna - animals. You too might find this hard to believe. A notable and welcome exception to this is the bright pink-coloured algae which greets you every time you leave the surface of the (usually cold, rainy and dismal) places - like Norway, Patagonia, BC, Alaska or New Zealand. You can see it in this spectacular photo of a sea star. The green colour is certainly supplied by a green algae. However, the vivid pink colour on the wall behind it is an algae called 'styletheca'. It takes various forms including little tree-like variations. All told, when you enter the water from a cold and rainy landscape in BC, Washington, Greenland, Alaska or Patagonia and discover the fabulous underwater colours, you instantly see this bright pink colour and can forget the cold and isolation. And although the cold-water places mentioned have their own endemic species, this pink coralline algae is common to all.

It's a new world when you start 'getting wet' in scuba gear. There's an added boost to that 'New World' feeling. It's the sensation of being able to move in novel ways. Ways you've never experienced aboveground. You can go around, over and under things as if you're in a self-contained little airplane.

We've found that the colours underwater in cold-water venues are among the most varied and spectacular in the whole world. We've also found animals that fit into most of the species we first learned to I.D. in BC. Like this star - 'henricia studeri' here and 'henricia leviuscula' at home. But I admit we can't even make a secure identification with sea stars!

That's because we are only amateurs. To completely define certain species, you need to be able to preserve and dissect them or even have a handy electron microscope handy to differentiate between them!

At 2017-10-08 12:16 (utc) our position was 46°36.78'S 075°27.68'W

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Caleta Suarez

As October 6 approached, at first it seemed it would offer a long enough period of good sailing weather to allow the 180 mile passage to Caleta Ideal on the other side of the dread Golfo de Penas (Gulf of Sorrows). After Caleta Ideal we would be once more in sheltered waters as we move further south.

Because the weather here is very perverse though, the window of acceptable weather shrank until it would only allow half the passage - and only if we started as the previous period of bad weather was playing itself out. Happily there was somewhere (sort of) to stop at the half-way point. And so, not totally enthusiastic about spending another week in the same pretty though deserted spot, we set off in the pre-dawn hours.

The gentle breezes wafting the drizzle about our dark anchorage gradually segued into a strong persistent breeze from dead ahead as we entered the more open waters of Bahia Anna Pink on our way to the open sea. We felt discouraged by our abysmal progress against big waves, contrary winds and currents but were buoyed up by the encouraging forecasts that suggested that all would improve shortly.

A small passing cargo ship left us in the dust (spray?) as he shouldered aside the big seas and forged on to his distant destination far to the south. Nonetheless, as we neared the open sea at the mouth of Anna Pink, the wind DID shift to a more favorable angle, we DID deploy more sails and our speed increased from four knots to five or six. Soon, as we were able to turn off the wind and parallel the coast south, we reached eight knots and sometimes more in the fitful sunshine that had replaced our earlier drizzle. By late afternoon, we had significantly reduced the distance to that cargo vessel that had earlier smoked past us!

By evening, the expected bad weather with its increasing wind was beginning to make itself felt but our half-way destination, Caleta Suarez (Suarez Cove) in Estero Cono (Cone Fjord), was only a few rapidly diminishing miles away. The rock-bound coast of the Taitao Peninsula is imperfectly charted but our book confidently asserted that the approach was easy with an obvious cone-shaped mountain immediately north of the entrance. With four to five meter seas crashing on a vertical landscape in increasing proximity, we worked at reconciling the various clues into a navigationally useful picture of the coast ahead.

The cone-shaped mountain was unhelpfully obscured by low cloud but an island in the entrance to Estero Cono, visible both by eye and radar, gave us confidence we were in the right place. The chart plotter showing us passing across the middle of an island was just a reminder of the limitations of GPS and the importance of using your head.

Inside the fjord, the awesome height of the waves outside rapidly diminished and, with the distance to our remote and deserted cove quickly disappearing, we downed the sails and continued with motor. In the process of dousing the sails, I stupidly tripped over a rope and, grabbing at the nearest support, managed to put a thirty centimeter tear in the mainsail. This later gave Mary Anne an opportunity to display her sewing talents by putting all right again!

Rounding the final corner into our "deserted" cove and preparing for our anchor and shore-tie procedures, there was a surprise: it was not deserted! Three fishing boats from Quellon on Chiloe Island were taking shelter from the coming storm. As we contemplated how to deal with this disappearance of our planned anchorage, the crew of one of the boats gave us hand signals to tie up along side them.

After a hurried installation of fenders and lines - docking have replaced anchoring - we began to experience the delightful hospitality so common in Chile. After a couple of days, we have had help tying up, with the sail repair, installing sail covers, information, dessert. We, in turn, have tried to reciprocate with wine, cheese, olives.

We'll be here a few more days exploring the beaches and awaiting another patch of good weather. In the meantime, what a special and unexpected surprise!

At 2017-10-07 21:39 (utc) our position was 46°36.79'S 075°27.69'W

Monday, 2 October 2017

IIsla Prieto

The only real problem in this manner of traveling is deciding what to do with each tomorrow.

Laguna San Rafael and the tidewater glacier that tumbles into it constitute one of the scenic gems of southern Chile. The Chilean small boat sailors seldom take their boats to the far south of Patagonia but take pride in their voyages through the relatively sheltered inside waters to that special place. I'm not sure if it is more or less beautiful than the myriad of tidewater glaciers further south or if it simply better known by dint of being more easily accessed. At any rate, we wanted to see it to find out what the fuss was about.

A relatively good day, wind-wise, was available three days out of Puerto Aguirre - just when we would get there. On the flip side though, the weather after that would present an ugly trip back up the channels to access the route further south. Additionally, forecasts suggested the skies would be gray and rainy. I finally decided a break from all the traveling would be nice and a fine glacier visit didn't seem enough of a sure thing.

So off we went instead to this spot on the south shore of Isla Prieto. We are just short of where Bahia Anna Pink opens up into the 180 mile ocean passage we must make to access the sheltered waters on the other side of Golfo de Penas. Our initial plan out of Puerto Aguirre was to divide the Isla Prieto voyage into two days. Nonetheless, arriving at our planned overnight anchorage at the end of a long blustery day, we found it offered no shelter. An unusual easterly breeze was blowing wind and waves right into the anchorage. So on we went for another three hours before settling for the night.

Our spot here at Isla Prieto is contained by high green mountains that block the fierce Patagonian gales. Waves cannot enter our sanctuary because of the collection of tiny islands that surround it. In addition to all that, Traversay III is almost immovable with four strong lines to stout trees suspending us in the middle of a tiny elongated cove. In the mornings, the occasional shaft of sunshine illuminates the mist clinging to the tops of the surrounding hills. Whitecaps in the channel outside our sheltered bay give clues to the strength of the winds outside.

My first punishment for passing up Laguna San Rafael was the dawning of October 1, the day we would have been at the glacier, clear, calm and very sunny. Oh well, there will be other glaciers to tour further south and, in the meantime, we can SCUBA dive to pass the time.

They say that the best way to make the gods laugh is to tell them your plans. As I assembled the stowed SCUBA gear, I found Mary Anne's buoyancy compensator, an important piece of equipment, had failed. This was no doubt additional penalty for my having passed up one of Chile's scenic wonders. Various increasingly invasive attempts at repair finally revealed that a small air valve in the inflator had become irretrievably corroded. It's amazing how little of what you buy these days will give more than ten years of trouble free service!!

Finally, I gave up on the valve and replaced the whole inflator/deflator assembly with a spare carried aboard for years for just this possibility.

Eventually, somewhat late, we got into the water. The dive was excellent and yielded up many fine photos. A dinghy excursion later in the day showed us some early spring flowers being visited by a hummingbird. The flowers waited for a photo; the hummingbird did not.

There will be more diving for sure because the weather forecasts promise totally unacceptable weather for an open ocean passage until at least the 6th of October.

And so here we wait.

At 2017-10-02 18:28 (utc) our position was 45°48.01'S 074°23.47'W

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Our first days in Patagonia

There is no cheerfulness like the resolution of a great mind that has fortune under his feet. He can look death in the face, and bid it welcome; Open his door to poverty, and bridle his appetites; This is a man whom Providence has established In the possession of inviolable delights.

When Roman philosopher Seneca wrote these words back in the first century, he certainly didn't imagine that some twenty centuries later it would resonate strongly with a septuagenarian offshore sailor, let alone a North American woman on a little boat, far from home and from customary friends and family. Yet I often feel gifted with those delights – they are mine through the delights of voyaging. The last few days we’ve had gentle winds and seas and dolphins have accompanied us in and out of our anchorages. Breaks in the scantily clouded sky allow beams of sunlight to make a beautiful path through the azure waters. Morning and evening clouds of seabirds take off at our approach and one wonders if their paths of navigation are as carefully plotted as those which Larry construes every day. Today we have spent the entire day gazing at a snow-white volcanic cone within a chain of mountains off towards the east. I’ll be able to include a few photos with this blog as we have hi-speed internet for a few hours now while we’re in Puerto Aguirre.

We lifted a stone with the anchor
Not every day starts idyllically - yesterday after surviving the many other bad experiences Larry described in the last blog, we hauled up a rock (see photo). We eventually freed ourselves.

Later ... we went ashore – thought about getting a few groceries and perhaps eating a meal … but the two small restaurants were closed as were the grocery stores. I had a small package to mail but there’s no regular mail from here and it would cost $100 to send express. Businesses and schools close from 1-3 every day. Everyone goes home for the big meal of the day and (probably) a short rest. We’d already eaten lunch and all we really wanted to do was check in with the Armada office and to buy more fuel – we did both of these - so we’re back on Traversay

Tomorrow later in the day, a spell of bad weather is on its way, so we’ll leave here early in the morning and head towards a safe spot to anchor – perhaps for a few days.
Bad days are not a problem for me – there’s exercising and piano playing. We’ve been able to scuba dive twice so far and Larry’s underwater photos take a lot of time to edit and to classify. I could also write a lot more about our experiences, and I have books I want to order for my e-book. We have various series of movies and tv shows which friends have recommended – we’re quite tired at night and we watch ‘tv’ series on the computer – just like millions of other folks our age!

pelicans flying away at the approach of Traversay III
There’s a joy in the wilderness which is almost an addiction. Even though I very much miss individuals, there’s nothing as ‘freeing’ as being away from PEOPLE – no dinners to reciprocate, no need to obsessively clean this little space, no real need to communicate apart from writing in the blog … no reason to go shopping. In fact, there’s no requirement to prove one is a contributing member of society. What a relief!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Welcome to Patagonia

Isla Chiloe is a beautiful land of gentle rolling fields. The nearby smaller islands are similarly covered with small farms and little villages. Aside from the satellite television antennas, you could imaging the Hobbits of Middle Earth living there.

Nonetheless, Patagonia was for us one of the major attractions of Chile. It was time to head south!

In fact, the mainland coast across from Chiloe is very different from Chiloe itself - a tree covered mountainous wilderness. Only a day's travel from Chiloe, we found ourselves in Bahia Tictoc, part of that wilderness. The one to two meter waves of Golfo Corcovado faded as we rounded up under the shelter of the outer islands of the bay.

Memories of our last visit to Puerto Tictoc ten years ago involved a dragging anchor and having to reposition ourselves in the middle of a black, black night. Hoping to avoid a repeat of this, We chose to settle into Puerto Juan Yates, an island encircled pool in the outer part of the bay described in our yachting guide as "one of the prettiest and safest in the area". Holding - an indication of the tenacity with which an anchor will cling to the bottom of the sea - was described as "good" in sand. We were planning to stay through a storm system that would sweep the area in a couple of days so the description was certainly appealing. We got our anchor down and, in an attempt to prevent any movement and benefit from the shelter of the nearby land, ran lines to two trees on the shore. When the mooring work was done, we noted a sunlit, snow-capped mountain peeking at us from between two of the surrounding islands. It was certainly as pretty as advertised!

Dorid Nudibranch on Pink Coralline Algae
The next day, we donned dive gear to see if the underwater life was as we remembered it. In our last dive in New Zealand, Mary Anne had injured her knee and surgery was required in Valdivia to repair it. The dive was a bit of an experiment to make sure we could still enjoy the underwater scene together. To prevent a repeat knee injury, we decided to place the heavy tank and weights in the water ahead of time and have Mary Anne put the gear on in the water where it is more or less weightless. Similarly, everything heavy could be taken off again before climbing up the ladder at the end of the dive.

This all worked out fine and made it a totally knee-friendly dive. We even got pictures of a dorid nudibranch (in this blog), urchins and of a few of the unlimited number of squat-lobsters that frequent the area. An ominous result of the dive though was the discovery that the bottom was not the good-holding sand of the guide book but mostly smooth rock. I moved the anchor into a patch of sand but not with a lot of confidence in its storm-proofedness.

The dive was made on what was supposed to be a stormy day but the day itself was actually quite pleasant. By evening though, there seemed to be a few gusts - mostly from the land where we were tied firmly to trees, but occasionally from the side. This was all accompanied with a grating sound of either chain (or worse yet) anchor moving across the rocks.

We have an excellent anchor alarm which will wake us if the boat moves. I stayed up quite late to develop a degree of confidence that the boat would not move and then went to bed trusting in the alarm. Morning saw us only a few feet closer to the rocks than the night before.

Today, the weather was supposed to be improving but, while I was in the middle of doing an oil and anode change on the generator, a big gust hit from the side and the incredibly-loud anchor alarm sounded. A quick glance showed us to be MUCH closer to the rocks astern; clearly the anchor was dragging across the rocks.

Immediate use of the motor held us away from the shore while we got on our rain gear against the deluge that was now falling. We then moved out the full length of the shorelines - one hundred meters - and re-anchored hoping the anchor would now find that promised patch of sand.

Less than a hour later it became obvious once more that the holding was definitely not good. Plan B involved running a very long line from the bow straight forward to an islet conveniently located 150 meters off the island behind us (to which our two stern lines are attached) and suspending Traversay between three shore lines. I had more confidence that three stout trees would stay put than an anchor on rock. Anchors are really for sand and mud.

A digression on running a line: This simple sounding operation involves tying the dingy to yourself on a very long line, placing the shore line in the dinghy in a way that it will not tangle, then rowing toward a distant tree. Outboard motors tend to get tangled in weeds and ropes and are thus not used. On arriving at the shore below the tree, you try to climb onto the slippery (or sharp shellfish-covered) shore and make your way through dense underbrush with the shore line until you come to a tree you would trust your boat to. The long dinghy line is so that you can forget the dinghy floating in the water without having to tie it. Just make sure the oars don't fall out!

The best way to tie to the tree is to go around it and tie the knot where it will be accessible from the water. This avoids another climb up the rocks when it is time to leave.

Rightmost of two shorelines is tangled in rudder
Of course, while one crew member is performing all these gymnastics on the rocky shore, the other is trying to keep the boat from coming to grief in the gusty winds. This is done by using the motor in forward or reverse and using winches to apply tension to each rope immediately after it is made fast to the shore.

All of the above went well and we now feel safe for the night. Securing in this manner, and later the process of leaving, seem to occupy an hour or more at each end. A further minor problem resulted from the anchor dragging: One line became so slack that it tangled in the rudder such that only a SCUBA dive could free it. More work!

This is a difficult part of the world for cruising and one cannot expect the writers of cruising guides to have visited every anchorage in every possible type of weather to tell you realistically how each anchorage will be in a storm. Similarly, most cruising guide authors do not visit the bottom of the sea to assess its quality for anchoring - they just describe how THEIR anchor held on the random piece of seafloor on which it fell.

Having learned all this ten years ago, we're learning it all over again. Future days will, no doubt, be easier.

At 2017-09-24 20:47 (utc) our position was 43°38.38'S 073°00.71'W

Wednesday, 20 September 2017


Our Extra Large National Day Chile Flag
Fish Market Roof
I wanted to seize the opportunity to post lots of pictures before our rare access to high speed internet is replaced by our usual glacial-paced short-wave radio and satellite in a few days.

We made our way from Marina Quinched the short distance to Castro, the provincial capital, in order to take part in the national Day celebrations.  It seemed that the capital city would also allow us to top up any fuel we had depleted before our foray into the wilderness to the south.

The Cueca
The National day celebrations did not disappoint!  There were bands, marching assemblies of firemen, navy and police personnel, endless nearly-understood speeches and lots of couples doing that colorful and romantic national dance - the cueca - which involves a lot of teasing moves with handkerchiefs. To add to the general merriment, the many little children were dressed in oh-so-cute national costumes - and even some of their pet dogs! Those firemen by the way are unpaid volunteers - like all firemen in Chile.

A foray to the grocery store put off the day (for a bit) when we have to switch from fresh food to tinned and frozen.

Dressed for the Day
Also Dressed for the Day
Fueling was not as straightforward as in Valdivia where a truck came down to our dock and stretched an incredibly long hose from the parking lot to our boat at the end of the dock.  While trucks are sort-of available in Castro, they don't like to appear for a sale of less than three or four hundred liters.  So just like years ago in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, we set off for the shore with eight 20-liter jugs.  A phone call summoned a taxi who took me up the hill to the service station while Mary Anne waited with the dinghy.  After returning to Traversay in the dinghy, four of the jugs were siphoned into the tank and a return visit to shore refilled them (with the help of another taxi) to serve as a reserve. With a seven meter tide range and no floating dock, the dinghy had to pulled up a long launching ramp and rolled back down it with each trip ashore.
The Bomberos (firemen)

The visit to Castro finished up with rather long visits to the Navy to receive our permit for the next portion of our voyage south and to the post office where all the correct procedures were followed to send two vital letters on their way to Canada.

Time seems to be slipping away very quickly and we must now be on our way south!