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

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