Map Display

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dive Day Agenda

We got up early yesterday … I got up to write a few emails as time at the prime computer is limited. Its major uses are as a moving map for navigation and to track weather information. Since we don't have internet down here (no-one else does either - unless they're fabulously wealthy!) we usually only send and receive emails once a day. I was quite surprised when the Captain emerged at 5:30 - just as it got light. He looked around a bit and said "we'll have to move the boat closer to the divesite". So I got my coffee, prepared my hot water bottle, got on my 'oilies' (weather-proof oilskin pants), wool hat and mitts and I waited for my jobs to begin. To start the main engine these days, we have to run the generator for a while because the alternator is broken and can't be fixed until we get parts ordered to Valdivia (in January). Soon I heard the roar of the generator being answered by the roar of the main engine. Out I went to lift the anchor - the washdown pump had been turned on and the control to activate the anchor windlass (which pulls up the anchor chain) was also ready. But I'd forgotten that first we had to get the inflatable dinghy (stored on top of the deck) in the water.

So I did that job. I turned the crank and the halyard rope lifted the dinghy over the side and we dropped it in the water. Then I hauled in the anchor, spraying the chain and watched the captain get rid of all the kelp gathered on the chain and anchor. Next we cruised around looking for the perfect spot really near the rocks but not so close as to hit them. When he found the perfect spot, he estimated a distance perpendicular to where the boat should end up, and he had me start dropping the anchor about 300 feet from the shore - I called out the distances the anchor had run out and when he gauged we were close but not TOO close to the rocks, he told me to stop. He left the engine in reverse tugging against the anchor chain, I ran to the back and he got in the dinghy with one of the two long ropes we have coiled onto spindles attached to the back of the boat. He rowed the dinghy to the shore, clambered up through the slippery rocks, circled the rope around a sturdy tree trunk, carried a long rope end back to the dinghy and tied the end in a knot which would hang out over the water once I tightened the remaining rope at my end. I tightened it by pulling in the slack using another winch at the back of the boat. Meanwhile he came back to the boat, got the other long rope and attached that to a companion tree triangulated from the back of the boat. These two triangulated lines angled from the anchor would keep the boat in a secure position once they were both tightened.

We did all of that in short order. Now we had ropes ashore leading to a prime rocky location for us to do our dive.
I started to get my dive gear on. Unfortunately, when the Captain turned the key the main engine wouldn't turn off. My first thought was "why don't we just turn off the fuel?"; but diesel engines - once starved of fuel - are very reluctant to start again. Many thoughts raced through our minds as the engine labored on and on - we remembered that we couldn't even order parts until we got hi-speed internet. If we ran out of fuel here in the wilderness, it might take weeks before someone could get to us. What if we had to leave the boat there … etc etc. Anyway, after searching the engine manual for a period of time, the Captain discovered an alternative way to turn it off which he'll use until we get to Valdivia and he gets the spare parts needed NOW for both the alternator and the engine.

We proceeded to get our dive gear on - with him assisting me to get the tank on in the water. I was finally going to get some exercise myself after watching him do most of the work! We set off to the nearby rocks and had one of the best dives in Patagonia that we have ever had. After that, because of the storm forecast for today, we had to untie all the lines, haul the dinghy up on deck and pick up the anchor to move the boat - a 5-hour trip - to our new location here at Isla Amita.

Now all I have to do is edit and identify the animals in the 108 photos Larry took yesterday, to write our photo-logs and to start assembling the data about what we've seen in our three dives at the Pozo Delfin divesite (February 2007 September 26 2017 and yesterday). Tomorrow we'll dive again here at Isla Amita.

At 2017-12-14 00:44 (utc) our position was 44°05.06'S 073°53.22'W

Friday, 8 December 2017

Summer finally!

Our cruising guide to this area says that once we are north of Golfo de Penas, summer is actually a possibility. It has been so! Five days out of the week since that passage have been blessed by sunshine, warmth and reasonable winds. We rarely even feel the need to run the furnace any more.

The desire to make a few memorable SCUBA dives is now able to occupy more of our attention as survival and safety demand a bit less.

Of course it is still not easy! We wanted to dive a site immediately next to a current-swept channel. The current generally promises more vibrant life as the sessile invertebrates have more food delivered to them.
Our cruising book promised a secure tie-up amongst the trees just next to the channel we wanted to dive.

The first problem was that the aforementioned current swept laterally across the opening to our little mooring cove with such gusto that there was no way to line up to back in to the spot. We waited about an hour for the tide to reverse at low water and tried again. The nook was so narrow that the plan was to anchor and reverse to a point just outside the opening, run several lines ashore and winch ourselves into the opening under perfect control. We needed the anchor to hold firmly to the bottom until we were all the way into the protected cove and had four lines securing us to trees. That would leave us immovable and out of wind and current.

After the first line was secured ashore and the rocks very close, it became clear the anchor was not holding to the rocky bottom. The hurried disconnect from our first tree went well and we escaped unscathed just before the tidal current returned sweeping in the opposite direction. On to plan "B". Of course, there is always a plan "B"!

We secured ourselves deeper in the bay with anchor and shore lines but, alas, too far from the desired current-swept channel to dive the site we wanted.

But, of course, we dove anyway along the rocky shore we could reach. We had been a bit tired of dive sites dominated by only one life form - typically the galatheid crab or squat lobster - and we entered the water hopeful of change. There WAS change but no real variety. In thirty minutes of swimming about in depths of six to twelve meters, the bright pink rocks were carpeted with fluffy white metridium anemones. They were far thicker than summer wild flowers on an alpine meadow but, alas, there was little room for anything else in this rather magic scene. The for-sure, though, is that the next dive will be different; that's why we go down and take a look.

The bonus of the day was not underwater but above. A large colony of sea lions graced a rocky islet just outside our bay. Every bay or channel offers something to see!

At 2017-12-07 23:08 (utc) our position was 45°24.96'S 074°01.65'W

Sunday, 3 December 2017


SAILING: Yesterday and today we've sailed across the Golfo de Penas and we're now motoring along Bahia Anna Pink towards our anchorage. We'll reach it after a 32-hour trip. Larry chose the departure time really wisely as we've sailed most of the way and haven't needed to use up much of our precious fuel.

In another and quite different display of the Captain's brilliance, a VERY LOUD ALARM warned us that we had changed our course more than 10 degrees. Sailing headings are chosen on points of a compass between 0 degrees (North) clockwise around to 360 degrees (North again) so a change of 10 degrees wouldn't really endanger your boat in a large Bay such as Anna Pink (shown in photo). This short explanation of how headings, our compass and the alarm works is very simplistic and only explains one facet of a complex situation.

We really needed this alarm because of our 'finicky' auto-pilot. Otto (the pilot) has been acting up for quite a while. Failures have occurred at the worst times, such as when we were sailing past Leopold Island on the NW Passage, up north of Svalbard and while we were passing through a gap in the reefs in Australia on the Barrier Reef. The boat making a large turn, after steering straight for hours and hours, is exactly how an autopilot failure manifests itself.

Larry had tried several times to get the 'source code' for the auto pilot. Since it's nearly 20 years old, and the original company for all our instruments has changed hands, useful information was not forthcoming. If we wanted to buy a new Otto, we'd have to buy a complete and costly set of new instruments. They're all formulated to work together and the new auto-pilot would not work with the other older instruments.

With an unreliable autopilot, Larry simply added the alarm 'fix' to the compass which he designed and built. His compass has worked perfectly now (for us anyway) for over 25,000 nautical miles. This was just another one of his software additions to the already competent little device.

DIVING: I've been spending many hours of the trip trying to correlate the 3 dives we've done in the identical location at Caleta Ideal into useful statistics. There are 3 steps. One is to turn the MS Word list into something useful for Excel. The first step is to itemize all the animals according to our Donna/Charlie Gibbs/ Andy Lamb-inspired 'take' on Linnaeus into a list. So here's my way of listing items.
1 Flora … kelp and algae
2 Porifera (sponges)
3.1 Hydroids
3.2 Anemones
3.3 Sea-whips, Pens
3.4 Corals
3.5 Hydrocorals
4 Jellies Ctenophores
5 Worms
6 Molluscs
6.1 Polyplacaphora Chitons
6.2 Gastropods limpets snails
6.3 Brachiopoda Lampshells
7 Nudibranchs
7.1 Dorids
7.2 Aeolids
7.3 Tritonia
7.4 Dironids
7.5 Bubble shells
8 Bivalves
9 Arthropods - Barnacles
10 Shrimps, Isopods
11 Crabs
12 Bryozoan
13 Echinoderms Stars
14 Urchins
15 Sea Cucumbers
16 Ascidians, Tunicates
17 Salps
18 Fish
19 Mammals
20 Overviews
Of course, I keep track of which animals are not yet identified in the Chilean Guide (published 2009), and state the name in NA (North America) if applicable. I also state if the animal has not yet been identified anywhere. At least anywhere that I can find with my limited resources. That way divers in future can go in and find new animals or (at least) note range and habitat changes for known species!

At 2017-12-02 18:11 (utc) our position was 45°48.33'S 074°35.83'W

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

A Pretty Glacier

A friend of ours recently mentioned in an email "Nobody sails Patagonia for the weather".

Following our relatively benign week in Ultima Esperanza - only one dragged anchor - we have only been able to travel north on one day out of two. The "rest" days have been forced on us by strong north winds raising waves in the channels against which we cannot make any progress.

Our friends remaining in Puerto Natales have fared worse. For about a week now, that port has been closed to any movement of small vessels (like ours or the many fishing boats). On some of those days, the fierce winds have caused the port to be closed even to large freighters and ferries.

Sometimes the weather, rather than forcing us to stay in a place, forces us to leave it. This has happened in Natales, Eden and the anchorage immediately after Natales. It's like the ice forcing our decisions during the Northwest Passage.

Most of the places we choose to stop are very sheltered and secure against any weather. Oddly, the inhabited places are often an exception to this. The bay in front of the small community of Puerto Eden is sheltered from north winds but open to the south. Thus, after a day of sheltering there from strong north winds - and enjoying the unusual availability of internet - I felt the need to leave because of forecast strong SOUTH winds.

Progress against the dying north winds was painful in the final open stretch before a well sheltered cove, Caleta Yvonne, at the junction of Fiordo Iceberg and Canal Messier, the route north. Nonetheless, Caleta Yvonne where we stopped a couple of days ago presented the possibility of a bit of sightseeing.

Eighty miles north of Caleta Yvonne is Golfo de Penas - the Gulf of Sorrows. This represents a difficult 175 mile passage in the open Pacific exposed to all the weather the Southern Ocean can muster to torment a sailor. At this point, we have been looking at long range forecasts for several days to find the most benign period in which to tackle the crossing. Establishing that December 1 would be a good day to set out left us with a few idle days.

Following an engine oil change in the Caleta during one of those spare days, the weather perked up and the sun came out for the first time in a week and a half. At the eastern end of Fiordo Iceberg, three hours travel from our anchorage, lies a beautiful glacier. The winds were still blowing quite strongly but that would aid our trip to the glacier - and the winds were forecast to die away enough so as not to impede the return.

We hurriedly disconnected ourselves from the shore, got the dinghy aboard and hoped the sunshine would last. It did! At one point along the route Mary Anne counted fourteen waterfalls in sight at one time coursing down the valley walls. And the reward at the end of the fjord was a perfect glacier of such an impossible shrieking blue color that it seemed someone must have dumped a tanker load of blue die onto its surface.*

Now we wait again for better weather to move along. Caleta Ideal, our last anchorage before crossing Golfo de Penas, is only forty-five miles north of us. November 29 should see us there.

* The one lo-res picture we are able to send by short-wave radio does not do justice to the place; we'll replace it when we have internet access in three or four weeks.

At 2017-11-28 00:27 (utc) our position was 48°20.31'S 074°33.49'W

Friday, 24 November 2017

Puerto Eden 2007 and 2017

Shell midden - Puerto Eden 2009
When we were here in 2007 & 2009, the major fishing industry - the shellfish industry - was bustling ... there was a huge 'midden' next to the boardwalk which encircles the town. Only a shadow of it is left, and the shellfish are again proliferating in their natural environment. We donated some books to the school library and bought some handicrafts from the local Alcaluf native group whose land this is.
The familiar story to all of us (and particularly to North and South Americans) of land "grabs" and diseases brought by the European colonizers are also -sadly - familiar here. In the south the Chono, Alacaluf, and Yámana Indians occupied the whole Chilean archipelago southward to Cape Horn. Now only a fragment of those people remain - mostly here in Puerto Eden.
 We were advised by French cruisers Isabelle and Ariel on 'Skol' that all cruisers who come here should ask for permission to anchor from the Alcaluf community. As we're only staying a short time, we complied only with the Armada regulations and those governed by international maritime law. Ariel and Isabelle are giving back as much as they can to the community here - teaching French cookery, taking kids on sailing trips and - in return -  learning to weave baskets.

Where the shellfish are in 2017
In 2007 we got to know some of the residents. Louisa was running a wood-fired Pizza Place out of her little house. Her husband Miguel, an engineer, was constructing a new dock in the town centre. They're gone now and the town has seemed really diminished with few children running up to us, fishing from the dock and racing around with their dogs.

But this town is just waiting to TAKE OFF! A civil works project to finish rejuvenating all the old houses in the town is giving employment to some of the local Alcaluf population. A new ferry terminal has been built, and ferry service has been doubled with a new ferry running to Tortel and Puerto Natales providing connections to busses and airlines. For 'Cruisers'there's  a new Boat Haulout in Natales so you can get boats repaired and the hulls repainted. Keri-Lee Pashuk and Greg Landreth have relocated their business here and bought a house which will act as a scientific research center with lodging and trips. They hope to include dive trips. To read about their current scientific work in monitoring the deaths of the many whales lost along this coastline look up

Aboard Traversay III: Louisa, Miguel & family with Louisa's sister 
The fishermen here have had to re-adjust to  a complete abandonment of the shellfish industry because of the Red Tide threat and they've taken up capturing Centolla (the lithodes santolla crab). These are hand-packed, frozen and most are flown directly to Europe and the U.S. Other companies offer the meat re-packaged. SeaTech's ad reads as follows:

A Beautiful Delicious Crab MeatOur Chilean King Crab Meat (Lithodes Antarcticus / Santolla) is packed from crab caught in ice cold pure ocean waters off the coast of southern Chile. The brilliant bright red and pure white colors of the meat, its naturally sweet briny succulent flavor, and wonderful texture is an epicurean delight. Chilean King Crab Meat is packed with merus meat layered over, claw meat, broken leg meat and large whole pieces of shoulder meat in our one pound vacuum packed tray. Our pack is single frozen which maintains the top quality of fresh picked meat. For additional information download our spec sheet, send us an email or give us a call.

Larry's photo of: Lithodes Santolla

Thursday, 23 November 2017

A Mystery

ascidia paratropa - Glassy
When you have dived in Northern Europe and on the West Coast of North America, you more or less expect to encounter similar species, and even for amateurs like us we are not surprised that Alaska’s Giant King Crabs are roaming westwards, pulverizing less aggressive species and taking over in Russia and Norway. These animals share familiar habitats and it’s not surprising that Northern climates feature very similar species – especially those that move around. BUT – when you encounter a glassy tunicate (pictured) you have to wonder: “How did it get here?”

How did it make it through the equator? How did it make it through the torrid waters that stretch so far on either side of the equator? We certainly didn’t see any Glassies in Australia’s Coral Sea or even in the temperate waters of New Zealand.

 In our last dive at Caleta Damien, we saw not just a glassy tunicate (or ascidia paratropa) but another ascidian or tunicate called halocyntia aurantium or Sea Peach. They’re both quite amazing – the Glassy looking just like something that could be a distorted but lovely water glass – and the Peach quite the opposite – gnarled and mis-shapen like a plastic Halloween face that has first had ears and nose pulled out of place and then been left forgotten in an oven to partially melt. Both of these animals do not have the ability to move. So how did they get here?

David Behrens gives us a clue about all invertebrates when describing the dispersal of certain nudibranchs (- his specialty-) “the overwhelming majority have been distributed by natural means”. Some species of animals have a much greater tolerance for variety of temperatures and of prey animals. They can flourish while other similar creatures are excluded. “Phenomena such as El Nino events (when the ocean experiences a drastic increase in temperature) can provide … distribution of the species.”

Sometimes, it IS our influence that brings new animals from across the equatorial divide. The prey of some species can be organisms fouling the bottom of a boat, or in the bilge water of ocean-going vessels.   If the animal being brought into new water can survive, find appropriate prey and reproduce, it will have found a new home. Some are unwanted, so every country has strict regulations to reduce any impact a vessel like ours can have on their territorial waters. Neither the Glassy nor the Sea Peach are shown in the ‘Benthic Fauna of Chilean Patagonia’ but no doubt they find the climate, water and food here as agreeable as the waters across the equator and up North.

REFINEMENTS of the Tunicate/Ascidian family:

Eating and excreting with the same orifice? UGH! The glassy tunicate and its family are quite remarkable. They’re a more complex form of life because they have TWO orifices - unlike the anemone and most other marine invertebrates which have only the one. This earns it a higher number (16) in our Linnaeus-based numbering system as compared to the anemone (3.2) Andy Lamb explains:  “Each solitary tunicate has two siphons: an in-current one that brings in the food-laden water and an ex-current one that expels the filtered product.”

halocyntia aurantium - Sea Peach

Sex: Andy continues: “Nearly all tunicates are hermaphroditic, meaning that each adult specimen has both male and female organs. However, the Peach avoids the disadvantage of self-fertilization by releasing the eggs and sperm at different times.”

Saturday, 18 November 2017


Our last night in Puerto Natales was quite delightful. We had moved from our "secure" anchorage at Puerto Consuelo into town - or a mere half mile from town by dinghy - mindful of a good forecast for the night and the anticipation of a shared restaurant dinner with Martin and Patty of "Otra Vida", Mark and Rosie of "Merkava" and Greg of "Saoirse". Then we really wanted to get out of town as 1) the calendar was continuing its relentless progress and 2) the forecasts promised a lot of trouble with forced relocations and dragging anchors if we stayed.

Our departure the next morning was on a typically difficult Patagonian day with extra strong headwinds delaying us at a tidal pass and nearly preventing our getting through - a six hour delay; not a disaster. Our very safe planned destination for day one turned out to be too difficult to enter under the prevailing conditions so on we went for four more interminable hours to a spot we would have to leave if the wind shifted. It did! So we left!

A few days later, we find ourselves in Caleta Damien on Isla Whidbey. In conventional terms, we have made abysmal progress to date but the weather here only presents a decent day to the northbound small-boat sailor on one day in three.

This spot is a bit open to the southwest winds blowing at times at thirty knots but the waves are not traveling far and have no force to them. I know the anchor holding us off the beach is well dug into the gravelly sand fifteen meters down because I looked at it earlier today on an otherwise uninspiring dive. Four ropes to the most lively-looking trees I could easily reach from the shore add to our feeling of near-security. Our main concern is, of course, the strong gusty winds. The snow and five millimeter hail (on different occasions) earlier today are more in the way of entertainment.

We will get going again tomorrow or, more likely, the day after. The strongest squally winds have a way of flipping the dinghy and dumping the precious oars in the water while we are winching it aboard after using it to untie the shore lines. If you have seen small boat sailors towing a dinghy in your home waters, that is not good practice here as the fierce winds soon turn it into a kite and/or find some other way of depriving you of its further use. So we wait for weather at least good enough to safely get going.

All this aggravation, I must mention, is taking place while we are surrounded by unparalleled beauty.

Enough complaining ...

Mary Anne is playing Debussy on the piano, filling the boat with sound and beauty. I think I'd rather listen than write more.

At 2017-11-18 17:52 (utc) our position was 51°18.47'S 074°08.75'W