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 Also – with new discoveries in research, my ageing books and information may now be out of date.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

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A Heteropod as art work?

Puerto Profundo has been the divesite in Chile we most wanted to return to. So far, on our two dives, it has not disappointed us - we've been able to see and photograph nearly all of our favourite species from 2007 and 2009.

The amazing-looking sea creature pictured is in the jellyfish family. It comes to us directly from the Pacific Ocean which is not far away. It seems to be a heteropod. We only know this because nearly 20 years ago we bought a book entitled 'Pacific Coast Pelagic Invertebrates' (Wrobel and Smith). From photos in the book we decided that the animal most closely resembles a carinaria cristata.

Jellyfish have come to have an undeservedly bad name - partly through TV programs like the 'Friends' episode in which Joey has to pee on Rachel when she gets stung by an un-named species of jellyfish. In 1998 when this book was published, it included photos of well over 100 different species and the authors stated 'we could not include all of the gelatinous animals from this region' (California up to Alaska). The authors address Rachel's problem: 'Jellies are often treated as a scourge, deadly creatures that should be avoided due to their venomous sting. In reality, gelatinous animals are among the most beautiful and stunning animals of the sea. Although a few types may present some danger to people, most are harmless.'
The most common jellyfish we terrestrial animals see are the moon jellyfish … hydromedusa. You can see them when they float into Bay areas - seemingly in their thousands - at the whim of currents bringing them in from the open sea.

We have also often seen hordes of physalia (Portuguese Man of War) offshore. They CAN sting you - and they do sometimes arrive on beaches. Usually warnings are posted by authorities, as in Australia where beaches with warnings about the dangerous 'Box' jellyfish (whose venom could kill you) should be avoided.
When you see moon or other jellyfish, you're advised to avoid picking them up especially if you notice red cells - these only occur during the breeding season. If you do feel a sting, you should avoid itching the area or apply some ice wrapped in a towel. Rubbing alcohol, fresh water and pee are not useful solutions as they will just encourage the activation of more nematocysts. A nematocyst is a tiny barb which can be affected by mechanical or chemical stimuli to fire into the epidermis of the prey. Divers in cold water (the water here is at 8C, 48F) are wearing divesuits of some kind (we have drysuits) so we would never feel the effects unless they touch some uncovered area of our faces.

Gelatinous animals can be beautiful to watch in the proper setting. If you're able to see an aquarium containing moon jellyfish, there are often crowds watching - mesmerized by the graceful movements of these animals as they're carried along by invisible currents. There's a story that in Japan, instead of having artwork or a television, some people have aquariums full of moon jellyfish. If true, we could all learn from this - it would be soothing to watch these harmless and beautiful creatures instead of worrying about North Korea and watching TV News.

It's impossible for us to collect specimens of this very rarely seen animal which Larry has photographed. I doubt that even Japanese millionaires could keep them as pets or replacements for artwork. That's because they cannot survive in standard aquariums. At the Vancouver Aquarium, a special system continuously brings fresh seawater directly in and out plus more machinery is needed to simulate water motion without also sucking the jellyfish out of the tank. The animals are delicate and consist of 95% water. Even if we had permission and the right equipment for collecting them, we could fatally injure them trying to scoop them up and out of the water.

Our book has taught us about the parts of the animal. At the very top of the creature is its mouth. It's been feeding on a sea whip - a 'convexella magelhaenica'. You can see that the lower part has been completely eaten away. This is another cannibalistic action as both animals belong to the class Cnidaria - but although the whip also has stinging cells, it can't fight back with its largely ineffectual nematocysts. Supposedly there are eyes, sucker, radula (a tooth-like apparatus which it's using to scrape away at the sea whip) and tentacle up near the mouth - none of which I could make out in the photo. The gorgeous long swooping diaphanous part is the tail, and the yellowish structures within it are the guts, gills, the penis and a vestigial shell - all of which I find difficult to identify individually. Perhaps with a higher resolution photo, you'll be able to see these parts.

**Please note that we have appreciated comments on our blog, but we're not able to respond to them while we're away on this trip.

At 2017-10-31 11:07 (utc) our position was 52°40.45'S 073°45.74'W

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Motherhood Strategy: for fish

female emerges from sponge

This is probably a one-of-a-kind photo. Larry took it on November 17 2007. It shows a fish emerging from an orange sponge having laid her eggs inside it to try to protect them from predators. We'd already heard about this - biologists in BC had observed this behaviour with tiny 'gobies' - a small darting fish emerging from the orange finger sponge - ' neoesperiopsis rigida'. To our knowledge, no-one else has captured it on film.

The photo was taken during a dive at Bahia Moore here in Patagonia, Chile.

How do you find an encouraging divesite? Travel here in Patagonia is difficult and sometimes impossible.
For navigating on all 3 of our trips here, we've been using the 'Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego Nautical Guide' (by Mariolina Rolfo and Giorgio Ardrizzi). Although not concerned with scuba diving, they've listed over 400 usually safe anchorages. Known as the 'Italian Book', this book is now used with gratitude by all yachts-people who travel here.

Once we get to a listed anchorage, we carefully study the chart in combination with searching the shoreline - hoping to find a steep rocky cliff near which we can tie or anchor Traversay III.

For identifying underwater species, the new (2009)and comprehensive book is 'Marine Benthic Fauna of Chilean Patagonia' edited by Vreni Haussermann and Gunter Forsterra. It supersedes the smaller Guìa de invertebrados marinos del litoral Valdiviano (Zagal, Hermosilla y Riedemann), Mariscos y peces de importancia comercial en el sur de Chile (Lorenzen, Gallardo, Jara, Clasing et al) and our guide about the similar BC species: Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest (Andy Lamb & Bernard P Hanby).

The Chilean book was compiled with the help of over 40 specialists, help from biological institutions around the world, and with many photographers, translators, divers and environmental groups here in Chile. The work load for the editors has been massive, and the resources have been slim. Time is limited to adequately identify let alone protect the amazing biodiversity still unexplored here in Patagonian Chile. More international interest and support from around the world would help these researchers get to these sites, dive them and quantify and properly investigate the species. What's needed is a modern 'Calypso'-type vessel. You can find out more if you look up 'Huinay Scientific Foundation'. It's based in Puerto Montt Chile which is where many vessels spend the Chilean winter.

myxicola infundibulum - slime tubeworm
We offered to take a Chilean diver (he would pay only for his food) when we dove here in 2009, but at the last minute he bailed out. It was too late to find anyone else and our Canadian identification mentors (who had also been invited) couldn't come.

Since the Benthic Guide is so international, we don't believe that divers and photographers from other countries would be prohibited from collecting here and the guide offers a complete PROTOCOL which must be followed by any interested divers to properly collect so-far uncollected species. For us: we're now at an age where guests aboard for an extended period is a huge drain on our energy. That shouldn't stop other divers and photographers from different countries from collecting here!

janolus sp. nudibranch
Here are just a few animals and locations we've seen so far in the same location which are not identified or pictured in the Guide:

myxicola infundibulum (slime-tube feather-duster). This rather unattractively named species of tube-dwelling worms lives in rock crevices. It's a filter-feeder and when you approach, it pulls in its pallid crown leaving a jiggling mass behind.
WHERE: Pozo Delfin (S coast Canal Baeza … Arch de Chonos) S 73 47.01 W 044 29.39

janolus rebeccae or janolus sp. (nudibranch) We identified this beautiful animal as 'rebeccae' on our previous trip here ... perhaps through the kind help of Dr Paul Brickle who worked for the Department of Fisheries in Stanley, Falkland Islands. The Chilean guide states that no Janolus had been collected South of the Golfo de Penas as of the publishing date.
WHERE: Caleta Ideal (N end of Canal Messier) S 47 45.4 W 074 53.5

For your own photo of the mother emerging from the sponge:
WHERE: Bahia Moore (E Coast of Canal Sarmiento) S 51 45.15 W073 51.9 But you may wait a long time!

At 2017-10-29 12:35 (utc) our position was 52°40.45'S 073°45.73'W

Friday, 27 October 2017

Southward: Challenging Days and Gentle Days

Based on the forecasts for the next week, we are trying to situate ourselves in well protected coves during serious storms and travel on the days when it is safe to do so. This travel plan is blended in with our desire to SCUBA dive - usually during the bad weather - in various spots along the way.

The day chosen for traveling from Bahia Tom to Caleta Paroquet looked acceptable. Twenty knots of wind from the north would provide a fast sail and avoid the use of some diesel fuel.

Our cruising guide, known as "The Italian Book" for the nationality of its authors, suggests that if your sheltered anchorage is windy, DON'T SET OUT!, it will only be worse. No worries there. Our anchorage was nearly calm.

Outside was different though than in our sheltered hideaway. The wind built and soon we were sailing along at eight knots (that is way faster than the motor can push us!). The wind varied from 35 knots in the squalls to only 15 in the lulls. We settled on little enough sail that there was no danger to our rig in the squalls and accepted the somewhat slower speed in the blue-sky stretches between.

The thirty-three miles went by very quickly. Just as we were closing with the intricate entry to our destination inlet, the biggest squall of the day hit with winds briefly touching 40 knots, the boat sailing over eight knots and hail pounding down on the deck. It was actually painful to be out in the open! Hail was even flying in the entryway hatch and landing on the galley floor.

Mercifully, the calm that followed the squall was just long enough for us to get the first couple of lines tied to nearby trees in the tiny nook that was to be our home for two nights of even worse weather.

When it came time to leave, it was clear, mirror calm and quite perfect - other than having to use fuel because of a complete lack of wind.

Nonetheless, there were some problems: it had been so cold during the clear night that there was ice on the dinghy seat as I rowed toward various trees to untie our shore lines. This ice was duplicated on deck such that when we went forward to raise the anchor and hoist the dinghy aboard, Mary Anne fell on the deck and I narrowly avoided doing so thanks to her warning.

The day of navigation, though, was as peaceful as the previous had been boisterous. As we get further and further south, the bare smooth stone mountains are testament to the forces of the glaciers that until so recently covered this wild land and to the fierce weather that - only reluctantly - **in sheltered gullies allows anything at all to grow.

In another day, we will be at the shores of Magellan Strait - the furthest south we plan to go on this visit to Patagonia.

**As an aside, if any readers write comments, we can neither reply nor access your email address to write to you until we get to civilization and have web access - possibly in another couple of weeks. These postings are made through a short-wave radio email facility, not through direct internet access.**

At 2017-10-26 23:14 (utc) our position was 51°53.33'S 073°42.25'W

Monday, 23 October 2017

Underwater Parents

 The photo shows the snail fusitriton cancellatus engaged in laying eggs - in its last 'cameo' appearance here this animal was practicing cannibalism so now we see that it does have parenting instincts. Larry took the photo here in Bahia Tom. We're safely weathering out the storm (blowing up to 60 knots - 70 mph) outside our anchorage. The anchor is laid out, and we're also tied to 4 trees with shorelines.

fusitriton cancellatus snail w eggs 
These safety lines have the added advantage of guiding us when we're scuba diving. We can use them to go straight over to the shore of our sheltered anchorage and straight back to the boat. The only disadvantage is that some of the dives are a bit pedestrian. You get both less security and more exciting creatures by diving out on open rocks.

dorid nudibranch eggs
The circular layout of eggs in the snail photo turns out to be a recurring theme for underwater egg-laying animals. Dorid nudibranchs favour a round-shaped spiral - normally coloured white - while the the Wellington nudibranch in New Zealand lays a bright orange eggmass. Other nudibranchs produce a white spring which you find hanging not far away on a kelp-leaf or on algae.

In North Pacific waters, it's quite shocking to see your first moon snail egg mass. It looks like a dun-coloured used tire cast off by some heedless boater. The colour is the result of eggs being inserted into a mass of sand which the snail has ingested and extruded into this amazing circular tire shape.
Wellington nudibranch egg mass
In all cases, very few of what must be hundreds or even thousands of eggs seem to make it to adulthood. Who eats them all, or how do they 'disappear'? In the case of moon snail eggs, it's hard to imagine another creature enjoying eating up all that sand along with the eggs!
A pair of Wellington nudibranchs mating

We humans find it difficult enough to bring up a couple of children - just think of the poor female octopus. After reaching maturity, she receives a sperm packet from a male, heads off over a period of time (up to a month), selects a suitable den, and - taking up to 42 days to accomplish the feat - lays up to 68,000 eggs. Then - in an act of complete martyrdom - she fans and tends her eggs for 9 months until they hatch. In all this time since her virginal act of accepting the eggs, she doesn't eat. Some time after they're hatched, she starves to death, having achieved maternity only once.

Moon snail
moon snail egg mass (in British Columbia)
Not all male sea creatures are uninvolved parents. In Vancouver, we got asked to dive with our Marine Identification teachers - Andy Lamb and Donna Gibbs - in a study sponsored by the Vancouver Aquarium. The Annual Lingcod Egg Mass Count was an attempt to monitor how all the fishes in the area were doing by using a Key species whose egg masses were (relatively) easy to use as a baseline. The aggressive, predatorial male lingcod waits outside his cave, leaning on his pectoral fins and looking 'muy guapo' as they say here. 'Hunky' would be the word for us Northerners. At any rate, he seeks to attract as many female passers-by as he can. They lay the eggs in his cave and he then fertilizes them and keeps away all predators as they hatch.

We often saw at least two egg masses (the varying colours of the eggs helped to distinguish how many there were). Each dive team left a distinctively coloured marble to alert other teams as to whether the particular cave had already been accounted for.

For the male lingcod, the female just takes off and leaves him to it.

For an even more engaged - and engaging - male, we female humans should point our prospective mates to seahorse males. They take in and incubate all the eggs in their own bodies until they're ready to hatch.

Seahorses are beautiful AND they make the most amazing fathers!

At 2017-10-22 13:58 (utc) our position was 50°11.64'S 074°49.39'W

Friday, 20 October 2017

Glaciers and Icebergs

Pius XI Glacier
Having missed seeing the tidewater glaciers in Laguna San Rafael and in Seno Iceberg due to weather issues, we really wanted to see at least one Chilean Glacier on this voyage. We have, of course, seen many glaciers that calve ice into the sea in previous voyages to Chile, Alaska, Antarctica, Norway and Greenland ... but memories are not the same as seeing something NOW.

The Pío XI glacier, named after Pope Pius XI, represented a diversion of some fifty miles round trip just south of Puerto Eden and, more importantly, a brief two day period of reasonable weather was available for the viewing. It involved a punishing slog up the fjord against twenty knots of wind and cold rain but this all cleared up, as expected, just as we arrived.

Pío XI presents quite a varied spectacle. First, it is immense, measuring around four kilometers across its snout which is fifty meters high above the sea. At first viewing from a distance of 30 km as we turned into Seno Eyre we could see the top of the glacier as it flowed down from the Patagonian Icecap. The concept of ice "flowing" downhill was obvious with two lines of dirty rocks ground from the fjord walls drawn along the upper surface along with other flow lines that gave the ice a bit of the appearance of white plastic from that distance.

As we got closer, the upper surface disappeared, hidden by the height of the forward face.

Glaciers on the land melt at their lower elevations in a much less spectacular way than tidewater glaciers. A glacier that ends in the sea is melted rapidly from underneath by the sea. It then loses support and large volumes of ice crash spectacularly into the water. This is accompanied by a noise like nearby thunder or an explosion and very large waves. We were able to witness this from a quarter mile away ... which felt quite close enough.

In order for a glacier to produce large icebergs, the water at its face must be deep enough to float them away. With two hundred meters of water at the face, very large icebergs can be calved from the glacier as in Greenland or Antarctica. Pío XI sheds a lot of ice into the water, as evidenced by the care and effort involved in dodging all the chunks while navigating to and from the glacier. Nonetheless, the pieces are not large - no more than perhaps six meters across or about 100 tons - because the depth at the face is only about 30 meters or less. In fact, as can be seen in the photo, parts of the face are out of the water now, having emerged onto a terminal moraine. While this is perhaps not as attractive as a completely tidewater glacier, the variety presents an interesting study.

It is difficult to put into words the incredible magic of the scene here. Fine days are rare enough that they are treasured. The sky is blue; the winds are light; dolphins play among the floating blocks of ice.
In places, the surface of the water is so calm we can see those dolphins playing three meters beneath our bow, so sleek that the smallest wiggling motion with their tails sends them along at the speed of our boat with its powerful diesel engine.

The walls of these channels are carved out of enormous single rocks reaching the sky - sparsely covered in their lower levels by forest struggling for existence against the typically fierce weather. The heights are snow covered. The bright sun shining through the very clear air shadows the fissures in the rocky shores with a sharp contrast. And everywhere you look, myriad waterfalls carve silver lines into the mountain sides. What a day!

But we must hurry on on a day like this. The forecasts show a fifty knot storm in the open ocean by tomorrow evening. While it is true we are in relatively sheltered waters, we need to tie ourselves to many trees in a tiny cove to achieve a measure of safety. This type of storm blows fierce and gusty through the channels and we must hide from it.

At 2017-10-20 17:26 (utc) our position was 49°52.20'S 074°22.79'W

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Murder, Sex and Drugs: The Underwater Reality

I helped contribute to an illusion in my blog about the undersea
fissurella oriens
world. When we look out over the placid sea and imagine the world down there as a beautiful, peaceful haven from which we humans could learn about a benign order of life, this is fiction and far from the truth. The animals we see are intent on feeding and eating each other. It seems perfectly normal to most of us to feed on other animals – we eat species like chickens, cattle and pigs. The snail you see here (fusitriton cancellatus) is happily eating the fissurella oriens (keyhole limpet) underneath it. But they’re both gastropods and members of category 6.2 in our Linnaeus ordering system. Cannibalism! This is considered to be dreadfully abnormal to us humans.

fussitron cancellatus
When John Rae found proof that members of Franklin’s 1840s Northwest Passage expedition had resorted to cannibalism (in a last desperate attempt to stay alive), Lady Franklin successfully campaigned to totally discredit him. His navigational discoveries were effectively buried for years. Only recently (and many years after his death) has he received due credit for his work leading to navigating the NWP.

Cannibalism is perfectly normal behaviour underwater.

comasterias lurida
There’s also plenty of ‘unprotected’ and highly visible sex going on in the sea if you know what to look for. These intertwined and aptly named lurid sea stars (cosmasterias luridae) are mating. You’ll find huge clusters of them ganging together for group orgies and they’re not shy about letting you look on. This is probably why most reputable dive schools won’t allow kids under 12 to take dive lessons!!

The Drug world is also an element in the underwater scene. The beautiful nudibranch tyrinna nobilis is rumoured to assist in curing skin melanoma. So far there are plenty to be found here. Perhaps its commercial properties have not yet lead to over-harvesting in Chile.
tyrinna nobilis
The drug potential of newly discovered organisms or discoveries of well-understood organisms in new locations are part of the discovery process. As soon as the animal has been immobilized, killed and stabilized in some type of appropriate solution, it’s sent for dissection and classification by the appropriate scientific expert. After that it goes for a chemical evaluation to see if it can be of use medically. My family included a mushroom expert. Shipments of newly discovered examples of cyathus olla (Bird’s Nest Fungus) arrived from all over the world for my stepfather to codify taxonomically. Some that he sent on to the lab were later discovered to contain new and helpful chemical properties.

squat lobster
Underwater pests: Unfortunately, the underwater world also contains pests similar to the mosquitos that live with us up here on terra firma. The galatheid crab is known in Norway as galatheaa nexa, in Canada as munida quadraspina, in Australia as munida haswelli and here in Chile as munida subragosa. It’s common name is ‘ Squat Lobster’. When you’re on a dive, squat lobsters bound around everywhere - ineffectually clacking their claws and interfering with photographs. They’re media-hogs and try to horn in on every photo. When you look hopefully down into the placid sea at night from the deck, you’ll find thousands of their unfriendly bright red eyes staring back at you. We’re happy because there are not nearly as many of them now that we’ve crossed the Golfo de Penas.

At 2017-10-17 22:51 (utc) our position was 49°07.66'S 074°24.74'W

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Nearly Eden

Caleta Point Lay
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 alpine 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.

At 2017-10-14 19:32 (utc) our position was 48°54.17'S 074°21.75'W

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.
sea star: henricia studeri

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 w
ere 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.
anemones: metridium senile

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

Traversay and fishing fleet sheltering from the storm
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!

Larry and fish boat crew
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 having 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

Isla 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