Map Display

Friday, 17 November 2017

Caleta Damien

At 2017-11-17 12:20 (utc) our position was 51°18.47'S 074°08.75'W

Monday, 13 November 2017

Hits and Misses

tritonia odhneri in 2007
errina antarctica 2017

It’s with a feeling of relief that I’ve been able to remove a glaring and prominently placed mistake in one of my previous Blogs. I was feeling quite happy with my blog-writing ability, having a bit of a swagger about being able to bring some of the underwater creatures to ‘life’ for some folks who have never encountered them before.

I’ve now removed that source of embarrassment. No need to say more (particularly if you hadn’t noticed it!)

The ability to make huge errors is never really vanquished. Particularly in a Blog … we rarely have more than an hour to write these. And we both check them over – but we rarely seem to catch the big errors when we proofread each other’s blogs. Possibly Larry has an exaggerated idea of my writing ability because he sees me reading and reading …

errina antarctica fan coral 2007
I’m also very much aware that without a ‘real’ biologist’s skills and tools for dissecting and closely examining the animals, I can very easily be wrong in the identifications and information I give here. Also – with new discoveries in research, my ageing books and information may now be out of date. Even with Larry’s help in checking the data, there’s a huge margin for error.

The temptation to assign a cause for missing animals we saw 10 years ago would be very wrong. For one thing, we are not experienced specialized divers so we may just not have seen what was plainly there to be seen. In fact, I was brought to an awareness of my own deficiencies as a diver when I read David Behrens statement in ‘Pacific Coast Nudibranchs’ that “on a single dive, the inexperienced observer should be able to find 6 to 12 species of opistobranchs without too much difficulty”.
sunflower star - in British Columbia 2014
We rarely find more than 2 species. Also - the fact that we missed seeing any of the spectacular orange tritonia odhneri nudibranchs could be because 9 years ago we saw them in the middle of summer (January 6, 2009) and it’s still too early in spring. Or that their primary food source (the octocoral fan errina antarctica) didn’t seem as flourishing as on our previous trip.

latruncullia ciruela a new type?
Behrens shows several other reasons for our disappointment. One is as follows: “Many species have been observed to come and go from local habitats, disappearing for years at a time where it was once abundant, and then reappearing once again … biogeography is one of the most speculative aspects of the biology of organisms.” So the fact that we didn’t observe the the orange nudibranch may just be one of environmental fluctuation rather than loss. Similarly, one hopes that the same reason can be attributed to the losses of beautiful sunflower stars (pycnopodia helianthoides) in British Columbia and Washington.

latruncullia ciruela sponge
Some of the wonders of the trip have been that - with the help of the ‘Benthic Fauna’ book - we’ve seen some new animals and been able to properly identify some whose picture we took 8 or 9 years ago and could not identify earlier.

Newly identified for us: latruncullia ciruela.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

More Puerto Natales

The Scene from day to day near Puerto Natales is so striking that we can't help but share some of the images.
The emu like flightless bird is a darwin's rhea or lesser rhea.  He seemed quite large enough so we had trouble imagining the larger greater rhea.
Guanacos, the wild relatives of the llama are everywhere in the wild in large numbers.
We are anchored off a historic estancia (ranch) about 20 kilometers by road out of Puerto Natales.  Cowboys ride along the road herding their cattle in a most picturesque manner against the mountain background.
The estancia itself is always pretty with the everchanging light and cloud. Where we land from the boat, there are always horses wandering about.

Friday, 10 November 2017

A Day Complete

… complete with Heaven and Hell. Yesterday we took Highway 9 North to visit the famously beautiful Parque Torres del Paine. We were fortunate to start out around 0730 with the most peaceful and sunny day possible. Every 'local' we met during the day told us how lucky we were to be here: "such beautiful weather - NO WIND!" Every viewpoint from which Larry took a photo - familiar from the many tourist advertisements of the area - contained a glass encased little hut from which you could snap your picture without danger of being swept away by strong winds. Of course, he took these photos unimpeded by an enclosure.

My only problem with our day as tourists was the fact that I was driving. Apart from the main highway #9, travel was mostly on very poor and narrow roads composed of gravel alternated with tarmac. This pavement was made more interesting by large potholes. On these roads, we met few vehicles like ours. Alas - we'd followed our usual plan and I had sought the smallest and cheapest vehicle I could rent. The helpful people there DID warn me that many folks had accidents on the roads around here. Perhaps I should have taken heed at that point, and noticed that my little car was already covered in dust. Everyone who passed us - that is everyone going in the same direction - roared by in big 'Expedition' vehicles. Luckily, I grew up when Alberta's farms were mostly serviced by gravel roads. I'd learned to drive out on Uncle George Penner's farm. The advantage of gravel roads was that we could always tell when someone was coming to visit us because the cloud of dust announcing an arriving vehicle could be seen for miles across the flat countryside.

So now I knew when a car was coming towards me or coming up from behind. Most of the roads here are 1 or 1 ½ lanes. I could find a bit of wider road and pull over a little as the tour busses or large expedition vehicles cruised by. Of course, we'd have to close our windows (it was warm out) to wait for the dust to settle while I proceeded along slowly and in 2nd gear. In the low areas of road, the surface resembled corduroy. Being shaken to bits seemed a possibility. By my second driving day, we'd already had to take the car back to the Rental Agency because of a nearly flat tire. They seemed very accustomed to the problem and sent out an employee with a portable inflator. But it now seems flat once again.

After 9 hours of driving, we were ready to relax when we got back to the boat in the dinghy. We had just eaten a meal of wraps and had a drink when Larry warned that the winds were building up. About 1 minute afterwards, our anchor alarm blared and we both rushed out to find we were rapidly moving into the shallower water. The dinghy was bouncing around on its leash and there was no way of getting down to ease its troubles. Luckily we'd taken our usual precautions and secured it with double lines including a steel cable - but a constant worry was that it could turn over, fill with water, lose the oars or flood and ruin the engine (it didn't). I rushed out to lift the anchor (my job) but it came up with a meter-wide ball of tangled weeds and mud attached. Of course, without being grounded, the strong winds (35-40 knots) were blowing against the hull and driving us even faster into shallow waters and it was pure luck that we hadn't already 'grounded' and stuck. Larry got us into somewhat deeper water and came forward to finish dealing with the messy anchor, and I went back to steer - driving back and forth under his directions for the best course and the deepest water within a very narrow possible range. This would continue - until (1) he could get the muck off the anchor and it would be able to 'dig in' (2) we could find a deep enough spot to hold the boat with secure depth all around so that it couldn't start moving again and (3) it calmed just enough for the anchor to sink through the weeds into the mud below before the wind yanked it free.

The water is not much deeper in any direction and this is a far from an ideal anchorage, but there are few anchorages here and it's the one the Armada (Navy) directed us to.

Luckily our emergency only lasted for about 2 hours. Today, I'm having a 'rest' and editing photos while taking the antibiotics I got from the dentist on Tuesday. I have a problematic molar. Poor Larry is spending the day fixing the water-maker. Luckily, he thought ahead and has all the tools (including an impact wrench) that he needs.

At 1899-12-30 00:00 (utc) our position was 51°36.54'S 072°39.59'W

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The Big City

Along the way
Puerto Profundo on the edge of Magellan Strait was our actual turnaround point but we needed to r
esupply with food and fuel to provide for our trip back north.  Puerto Natales, being the only inhabited port around here, was the only choice.

The way this normally works is that you arrive in the city, tie up in a marina berth for some expenditure of money and eat out a lot while going to supermarkets movies and concerts to mix the essential with the enjoyable.

It's different here!

We left an anchorage a few miles from Puerto Natales early on a calm morning to try to get as much done as possible mindful of the likely but unknown difficulties.  There is no a) secure (from weather) and b) available  - tie-up for a "pleasure boat" in Puerto Natales.  There is no anchorage either that doesn't get regularly beat up by the Patagonian winds. Needing around 600 liters of diesel fuel though, we really wanted to tie alongside something a fuel truck could park on.  Everything else we could solve from an anchorage using the dinghy.

A phone call established that the fisherman's dock would allow us to tie up no longer than necessary for the fueling ... and the paperwork the navy required to allow us to fuel. So in we came between two boats unloading fish and loading supplies. I headed off to the Port Captain office for the papers and a short time after I got back, the fuel truck appeared.

Puerto Consuelo
The Navy people - who had appeared almost as soon as we had tied up - confirmed that there was nowhere for us in town and "suggested" we should really head off to the secure anchorage at Puerto Consuelo about 2 hours by boat out of the city.  Mary Anne quickly digested all this and suggested that, since we would need transport from there, she could rent a car and meet me there.

While the day was evolving under light winds, brilliant sunshine and world-class scenery all around, the following problems emerged in no particular order.  These are the sort of things cruising sailors deal with that regular tourists cannot even imagine.

1) in front and behind our boat, various other boats tied up two-deep (a kind of legitimate double-parking).  It took the help of three or four fishermen on the dock to extricate Traversay from her position on the dock to the open water outside this considerable thickness of parked boats.

2) Everything, of course, takes place in Spanish

3) lots of docking paraphernalia (lines and fenders) for one person to put away while steering through unfamiliar waters.

4) very shallow water on the way to Puerto Consuelo.  On the best course there is only 10 centimeters of water under the keel - on the wrong course: none at all.

Meanwhile ...

5) the fact that Puerto Consuelo is an obvious location on a nautical chart does not mean that the highway people give it any thought at all.  Mary Anne toured a very scenic part of Patagonia getting no closer to where I had anchored for the longest while. Several of the roads which went to the water were closed for repairs, so she kept seeing the water far below, and no apparent way of getting to it.

6) Roads were gravel, dusty and slow.

The road to Puerto Consuelo
7) Mary Anne's ultimate arrival was delayed a considerable while by a large hole in the road and several large pieces of construction equipment attempting to fill it.

8) during these separate travels, there were no cellphone signals thus I had no idea of Mary Anne's progress and she had no idea of mine.

9) Did I mention that everything takes place in Spanish - including any helpful directions Mary Anne was offered along the way.

10) Her roadmap didn't show Puerto Consuelo and my nautical charts didn't show the roads to get there so neither of us would have been much help to the other if we could have communicated.  This is a typical problem; many people living on or near a beach cannot describe how to reach their location by water.

But now, we have a car, full fuel on the boat and a secure anchorage.  The city is only a half hour drive away and we are ready for a week of adventure here.  The failed desalinator that makes our drinking water can be repaired another day.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Dive IV in Puerto Profundo

Yesterday in another of our Puerto Profundo dives, we came upon an old friend who has perfected a most fascinating disguise. We seldom see this character - it's only when a patch of background material starts moving in a certain way, and I pick it up and replace it on a very different background that Larry's able to get a photo. We don't know whether the disguise has been adopted as protection, but we think he/she are quite probably the predators. The disguise is used to keep their prospective dinners from suspecting that there's Danger nearby.

It's a crab species known as 'eurypodus latreilli' in Patagonia and as 'oregonia gracilis' in northern waters. Its common name is the Graceful Decorator Crab. It doesn't hurt to move him to another location. In the book Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest Andy Lamb states: "using virtually any material, this fastidious crab rips off pieces of its environment and then attaches them to its body. In captivity, if a specimen is moved to a different background, it will remove its old wardrobe and re-festoon."

If you like to walk ocean beaches and have that opportunity, every summer you may come upon all sorts of crab shells. Don't worry - if they have no meat on them, these are just abandoned shells that have been outgrown by bigger crabs. Of course, hard shells get too small as crabs grow, and they cast them off through a process called 'molting'. As GJ Jensen has written in 'Pacific Coast Crabs and Shrimps' "molting is a remarkable process. A molting crab leaves behind an exact and usually intact replica of itself, down to the surface of its eyes and gills and even the lining of its stomach".

If you see an abandoned crab molt, just imagine the complex manoeuvres the animal went through to get out of his shell. These shells are often used like recycled clothing by other underwater crustacean species. The propagurus fusitriton - pictured here - is wearing (in this case) a recycled fusitriton cancellatus shell.

propagurus gaudichaudi hermit crab 
A miracle of intricate timing occurs when a parasitic little arthropod living under the shell of a crab needs to grow a larger shell of its own. All shrimps and crabs (crustaceans) go through the molting process as they grow. So the parasite has to go through exactly the same growth cycle - losing a lot of musculature in its claw, building up a new exoskeleton under the old one - and timing all this to coincide exactly with the host crab's time of molting. Two co-joined arthropodic inmates I knew at the Wet Lab in the Vancouver Aquarium must have gone through this process together.

Since the molt itself takes very little time, preparation and execution for both partners in this duet has to be as perfect as a sonata performance at Carnegie Hall.

At 2017-11-04 10:00 (utc) our position was 52°40.92'S 073°46.30'W

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Puerto Profundo

the fishermen visit
When we planned this two-year voyage, due to various seasonal and time constraints, we realized we would have to forego some of our favorite spots on the Beagle Channel at the very bottom of the continent. Magellan Strait would be the furthest south we could reach in the time available.

Puerto Profundo is a relatively large and deep area of sheltered water situated where Canal Smyth at the southern end of Chile's "inside passage" joins Magellan Strait. The word "puerto" does not signify any sort of town or village - no one lives here at all - but only that vessels of various sizes might find shelter.

The center of Puerto Profundo is suitable for moderate size ships to anchor but is too open and deep for small vessels like ours. Nonetheless, the maze of waterways that constitute the puerto offer numerous little nooks and crannies where a sailing yacht can hide amongst the trees protected from all manner of nasty weather.

As a turn-around point, there is enough amusement here to last us at least a week and Puerto Natales, the nearest town, will provide refueling and provisioning for the return north a few easy travel days away. When we get there it will have been over two months since our last supermarket visit!

Mary Anne has described the phenomenal diving here (and will do so again) in the clear cold water. We have also wandered around the various channels and tidal lagoons in the dinghy. It is all outrageously scenic! We see a high icecap crowning the mountains in the distance to the east. Unlike further north - though not as much as further south - the bush along the shore thins enough in places to allow access over the sponge-like moss to higher ground where the views are more open. We have seen dolphins and steamer ducks (flightless) in the lagoons and large salt-water otters (Chungungo) on the shore.

A small fishing boat from Puerto Natales visited Puerto Profundo a few days ago to harvest Centolla, a tasty Chilean crab, from their traps. She came alongside us and we traded with the three fishermen aboard. One of Mary Anne's freshly baked cakes along with a bottle of wine netted us a few recently caught Centolla.

Yesterday, our instruments indicated a sailing yacht anchored in Caleta Teokita, one of Puerto Profundo's more distant coves. I visited by dinghy and met the Chilean owner from Santiago traveling with a number of his friends. The south of his country had so enchanted him on a previous visit with his wife and family that he decided to visit again in a summer trip from his boat's home port in Valparaiso to the Cape Horn area and back. It still being late spring, they were on their way southbound.

It amazes me that after weeks of rain and wind, our stay here in Puerto Profundo is blessed with unusual calms and abundant sunshine. We will continue to enjoy the memory of this place as we fight the contrary winds and currents on our way back north.

At 2017-10-31 12:41 (utc) our position was 52°40.45'S 073°45.74'W