Sunday, 3 July 2011

Iron Bark in Chile


Iron Bark is an 11 m steel gaff cutter designed by Nick Skeates, built by Trevor Robertson and launched in 1997.

Chilean Channels

The joy of having a small seaworthy sailing vessel is the ability to both cross oceans and poke into coastal creeks. Combine the two with good company you have near to perfection. In late 2009 Iron Bark was in New Zealand ready for sea after a major refit. A voyage from New Zealand to Chile and a winter exploring Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego Chile fitted the first two criteria. The passage from New Zealand to Chile, a voyage of about 5000 miles in the westerlies of the Southern Ocean, promised to be challenging and the Chilean channels are new to me and are still wild and unpopulated, if no longer unexplored. Unfortunately my sailing companion of the last seven years, Annie Hill, wanted to stay in New Zealand so I was going to be single-handed, but you cannot have everything.

On the eve of my departure from Nelson we learned that Annie and I had been given the Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal for 2009. We arranged to meet in New York in March for the presentation then fly to Chile together for a month’s cruise before Annie returned to New Zealand. I left Annie to organise travel and sailed the 80-odd miles Picton to clear customs.

On 24 November 2009 I cleared outwards for Chile with NW15 knots forecast to increase to 25 knots the following evening. The customs officer gave warning of dire consequences if I anchored in New Zealand waters after receiving clearance. He was barely off the boat when the forecast for the following day changed to NW40 knots. The sensible thing to do was to get out of Tory Channel with its tidal overfalls while conditions were moderate and anchor around the corner in Port Underwood until the wind eased. Explaining that to a bureaucrat seemed more difficult than facing a gale at sea so I carried on. In light conditions we (Iron Bark and I) worked clear of Tory Channel and by the following evening the snow-covered Kaikoura Ranges were visible 35 miles off to the west. Radio NZ was warning high-sided trucks to stay off the roads which sounded ominous. I dropped the topsail, dogged the hatches and cursed all bureaucrats. The gale arrived late on 25 November, lasted 36 hours and only reached F9 in the squalls. We ran through it easily enough with staysail only but it would have been more comfortable anchored in a snug cove.

Five days out I was 450 miles off the New Zealand coast and clear of the Chatham Islands so could alter course southward towards 45°S where I expected to find steady westerlies and there to run down my easting. Although I went down to 47°S looking for wind, the westerlies were elusive and in the month following that first gale there were only 11 days when we made over 100 miles. If I had not been this way before I would have thought the stories of the Roaring Forties to be another example of sailor’s lies. On Christmas Day the westerlies filled in and the days’ runs increased and, except for three occasions when the wind was strong enough to reduce us to bare poles, never again fell below 100 miles. Generally we surged along in squally F6-F8 conditions under low, scudding clouds with deep-reefed main and boomed out staysail or staysail alone.
Running down her easting

At 0300 on 13 January 2010 I hove-to to wait on daylight and tide for the passage through Canal Chacao into Golfo Reloncaví and Puerto Montt. The tide runs through Chacao at up to 9 knots so we needed it with us. Landfall after a long passage is always an exciting time. Albatross, petrels and prions were replaced by penguins, pelicans, three types of shags, at least three types of gulls, terns, vultures, seals (two types) and dolphins. I had not seen a ship since leaving New Zealand but now the channel was busy with fishing boats and ferries, most of which altered course towards at Iron Bark, waving and tooting their horns. The extravagance of the welcome was pleasant but puzzling. It transpires that the much loved and recently departed working cargo boats of the area are lancha velas, gaff sloops of 9 to 12 metres, black hulled and trimmed in yellow and red with a jauntily shear. Except she is a gaff cutter, that describes Iron Bark and she was getting the sort of greeting the last Thames barge might when expect working up the estuary under sail.

I could not make Puerto Montt in daylight so that evening anchored off the small village of Puerto Abtao, 51 days out after a passage of 5440 miles by log. The following day I sailed the remaining 33 miles to Puerto Montt where it took eleven people, all very friendly, from five different departments several hours to clear me in. None were so crass as to ask if I had any firearms or drugs. After five days in Puerto Montt catching up on mail, laundry and reprovisioning, I sailed off for a month’s cruise of Isla Chiloé and the Gulfs of Reloncaví and Ancud. I pottered along making 20 to 40 miles a day and anchored in a new spot most nights filling in detail or drawing new sketch charts for the RCC Chile guide. The gulfs are a huge inland waterway with Isla Chiloé to the west and the mainland to the east. Isla Chiloé is a patchwork of fields separated by hedges and dotted with small villages each centred on a magnificent wooden church.

The mainland is wild and largely uninhabited forest and fiords. This must be one of the best temperate latitude cruising grounds in the world. There is something for all tastes and moods with numerous well-protected anchorages, good walks and superb bird watching. Chilean charts are excellent and there are two good guides for Chile: the RCC Pilotage Foundation’s guide Chile and Rolfo and Ardrizzi’s Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego Nautical Guide. It is worth having both.

Main street, Isla Quihiue off Chiloé

Most yachts keep to the Chiloé coast. On the mainland yachts are rare and passers by often rested on their oars (everyone travels by water, there are no roads) to look at Iron Bark and I usually invited them aboard for coffee. Few had ever been on a yacht before but my lack of Spanish limited conversation, which was a pity as the Chileans in general and Chilotes in particular are friendly, outgoing people.

Mainland fiords and forest: Estero Quintupeu

Returning from Seno Reloncaví, I was caught out in a NE8-9 blow and ran for Estero Huito, a large bay with whose narrow entrance channel looks as if it would provide shelter. The channel was sheltered but I could not get an anchor to hold on the rock and kelp bottom. Fishing boats were streaming in for shelter. They obviously did not trust the holding and were rafting up on the two available moorings until one mooring had a boat too many and began to drag. The last arrival was cast off to fend for himself. After two unsuccessful attempts to anchor he gave up and beached on the windward side of the channel. The tide, which there has a range of about 6m, had just started to fall and in a short time he was high, dry and safe. I could have done the same but Iron Bark lies over at 40 degrees when dried out which makes for a poor night’s sleep so I set tandem anchors in the main bay which was more exposed but has good holding.

Palifitos, Castro, Isla Chiloé

A few days later while beating up the north coast of Chiloé I saw a gaff cutter with tan sails including topsail off to windward. It could only be Andy O’Grady on Balaena. We spent the night anchored together in Bahía Hueihue, which we had independently decided needed a sketch chart for the RCC Chile Guide. As Andy is the editor I left him to draw the chart. Doubtless it will be in the next supplement to the Chile Guide. We had a fine evening together, not having seen each other for several years.

I returned to Puerto Montt on 20 February to fly to New York for the Blue Water Medal presentation. Two days before I was due to leave there was a major earthquake in central Chile that did much damage, including closing the airport at Santiago de Chile. The Chileans did a magnificent job of coping with the sixth largest quake recorded since seismographs have been in use but it was obvious that I was not going to be able to fly out as booked via Santiago in time to make the presentation. Eventually I got to New York with a few hours to spare by travelling overland across the Andes to Bariloche in Argentina thence by air to Buenos Aires and New York.

Annie and I flew back to Puerto Montt via Santiago. By that time the airport was fully operational using tents and portable computers set up in the car park, an impressive effort. We arrived in Puerto Montt in time to be turned back from the bus terminal because of a tsunami warning and spent four hours on the high ground above Puerto Montt together with most of the population of the town before the warning was cancelled and we could continue on to Iron Bark.

On 16 March we left Puerto Montt and for the next eleven days sailed south along the coast of Isla Chiloé averaging about 30 miles a day and using the motor when necessary to get our anchor down in good time but generally managing to do most of our miles under sail. Both sea and land birds were abundant, sea lions and fur seals common and we saw a number of blue and minke whales. One huge blue whale accompanied us for an hour, rising to blow close under our bow at regular intervals. From Chiloé we sailed overnight to the Chonos Archipelago and when the tide turned against us motored the last few miles to Isla Valverde in Canal Pérez Norte (44°20.1’S 73°46.2W). The Chonos Archipelago is a different world to Chiloé consisting of a maze of islands and channels, heavily forested and largely uninhabited. It would take several months to even begin to explore them.

Annie wanted to see the glacier that flows into the sea at Laguna San Rafael. This entailed a 300 mile round trip from Isla Valverde to San Rafael and back to Chacabuco, the nearest place from which she could to fly back to New Zealand. We had three weeks before her flight and could expect to lose a week to bad weather so pushed ahead, resisting the temptation to take side trips up interesting looking unsurveyed channels and using the engine when it was calm. We were on the obvious yacht route south and each night used an anchorage described in the two guides, drawing new sketch charts where necessary. A sketch chart, especially if it has a scale attached, is worth several pages of description but few cruising people will draw one.

The final 25 miles to Ventisquero (Glacier) San Rafael required threading through two old terminal moraines. On 3 April in calm sunny weather, we motored down Estero Elephantes and across the first of them, Paso Quesahuén, and into Golfo Elephantes. Paso Quesahuén is short and narrow and the tide runs at 6 knots or more. We shot through towards the end of the flood buffeted by eddies, turned and slid sideways through a 50m wide channel into the abruptly still water of Bahía Quesahuén (or Bahía Sisquelán, depending on which guide you are using). It would have been easier if we had known the time of slack water, which I later calculated to be 1hr30 to 1hr 45 before HW or LW at Orange Bay, the reference port for the area.

The anchorage in Bahía Quesahuén is a lovely one: well protected with good holding, surrounded by low wooded hills so that it is not subject to rachas (sudden squalls tumbling down from high land, a real problem, especially further south) with views of snow-covered mountains. There were many forest birds including a noisy woodpecker and a large group of friendly Chilean black dolphins, which puffed and bubbled around the boat all night. A small mink twice climbed up the anchor chain. He was unperturbed by being photographed and so was difficult to shoo off we called him Don Descaro (Sir Cheeky).
Don Descaro

We motored out the next morning in calm conditions. By the time we reached Rio Témpanos (Iceberg River), the 9-mile long channel across the second moraine the morning mist had burned off. Predictably, given its name, we met the first ice in Rio Témpanos. They were widely scattered bergy bits, enough to be interesting and not enough to be a problem. We motored into Laguna Rafael and had our first view of the glacier glistening in the morning sunlight. Ventisquero San Rafael flows down to the sea between forested hills and ends in an impressive 2-mile wide, 25m high, actively calving ice cliff. At 46°40’S it is the lowest-latitude tidewater glacier in the world (compared to 58° N in the northern hemisphere). This is a comment on the cool summers and amount of snow that falls on the Patagonian icecap rather than a sign that the area is particularly frigid.

Ventisquero San Rafael

In bright sunshine we weaved between bergy bits and pushed through brash ice to within 100m of the ice face. We opened a bottle of bubbly in celebration then turned back to Bahía Quesahuén and anchored with the setting sun turning the snow-capped mountains pink. We have sailed around other glaciers but none so jewel-like as this.

Dawn at Bahia Quesahuen

We got an early start the following morning to get through Paso Quesahuén on the first of the ebb then motored north in calm conditions for 41 miles to Caleta Lynch, a delightful keyhole harbour on Canal Costa. It took a further two days and much motoring to get to Fiorden Aysén which leads inland to Chacabuco where Annie was to leave to fly back to New Zealand.

Fiorden Aysén runs northeast for 15 miles then makes a right-angle turn to the southeast for about 20 miles to Puerto Chacabuco. The last 20 miles has a reputation for being windy. We drifted and motored up Fiorden Aysén in light conditions towards the right-angle bend where we could see a line of spray driving across the water ahead. When we got to the corner the wind went from 10 knots to 45 knots in a few boat lengths. Caleta Gato, a good anchorage, was less than two miles to windward but we could make no progress towards it under motor or sail so turned and scuttle eight miles back to Estero Arnoldo.

The following morning we tried again and found it was blowing SE30 knots when we got to the bend so motored the last two miles to windward and anchored in Caleta Gato at 0900. Later in the day the wind eased and we motored the last 22 miles to Chacabuco. The commercial port of Chacabuco has no place for a yacht to go alongside, poor holding and is tormented by rachas. The best (or least bad) place for a yacht is Ensenada Baja, which is separated from the Puerto Chacabuco by a low peninsula. The entrance to Ensenada Baja has a charted depth of 1 metre so although it was near LW neaps we thought we should get in with our draft of 1.6m. We grounded gently in soft mud but floated off an hour later and motored the last mile to the anchorage. Due to silting minimum depth is now 0.3m below chart datum so most yachts would need half tide or better to get in.

The anchorage is very windy but has good holding in stiff mud. It is downwind of a smelly fish processing plant and the village is dreary. The only reason to go to Chacabuco is to extend permits or for a crew change, both of which we needed to do. We made several trips to Aysén, 15 km by bus from Chacabuco, to arrange Annie’s travel and she flew out on 16 April leaving me single-handed again. Extending Iron Bark’s temporary importation, travelling to Argentina and back to get another 90-day visa in my passport and applying for a new zarpe took a further 10 days. I left on 4 May on my second attempt, having been driven back by 40-50 knot headwinds the first time. I motored all day against moderate headwinds to get as far from cursed Chacabuco as I could and anchored 57 miles on in Caleta Lynch.

After two days waiting on weather in Caleta Lynch I started westward through the Chonos Archipelago. It took two long days largely under motor and an overnight passage in thick fog to reached Caleta Suárez in Estero Cono, the stepping off point for Golfo Penas. Golfo Penas is the longest open water stretches between entering the canales from the Pacific at Canal Chacao and exiting into the Atlantic from Canal Beagle, over 1000 miles on, and has an evil reputation. There were two fishing boats moored in Caleta Suárez so I anchored and warped in alongside them. The weather forecast was bad and fishing boats streamed into Caleta Suárez until a huge raft of eleven fishing boats and Iron Bark filled the caleta, secured by stern anchors and bow lines to trees ashore. Four more who could not fit in tied up across the sterns of the boats in the raft. This 700 tonne jumble of boats crashed and bashed together for two weeks while we waited for a break in the weather. Twice we all streamed out, twice we were all back in a few hours later as the forecast NW15 knots was changed to NW45 knots.
Caleta Suaréz fishing boats waiting on weather

Two weeks in close company with 120 Chilean fishermen who spoke no English gave me an immersion course in Spanish and by the time I left Caleta Suárez I had enough for a reasonable conversation. The fishermen are generous people and I hardly ate aboard the whole time. The one thing they really wanted from me was booze and I could not give it to them. You would need tanker of wine and the skippers would not thank you so Iron Bark became dry for the duration. Iron Bark is finished more like a fishing boat than a fine yacht and my wet weather gear is standard fishermen’s heavy duty PVC similar to theirs so we fitted in easily. The boats have a crew of six to ten living in three-tiered bunks in the galley/saloon. They are unfailingly polite to each other and their table manners are impeccable. They liked my wood stove and often brought clothes around to dry in front of it. Once I said I would leave lighting it a while as I was short of wood. The enquirer, one of the rougher characters in the group, borrowed my dinghy and saw and returned with a sack of wood. Less predictably he also brought a bunch of flowers.

Eventually, on 25 May, with a forecast of settled weather for two days, the raft broke up and I motored most of the 120 miles across Golfo de Penas in a calm, so grateful to be away that I did not begrudged the fuel, which was going to be difficult to replace, or the need to hand-steer for 30 hours. Iron Bark has an Aries windvane but no electronic autopilot so motoring or sailing in light airs means hand steering. We entered Canal Messier late on 26 May and anchored in Caleta Ardevora on Isla Zealous. The bay had a thin covering of ice, which held Barky steady while I ran lines ashore.

Grease ice at dawn

It took eight days to sail the 85 miles to Puerto Edén, four days of which were spent at anchor with either too little or too much wind to make it worth moving. A day’s run of 20 or 25 miles was usual. The low mileages were because the midwinter days were short and it takes me over an hour to get underway in the morning and the same to secure for the night. The procedure on arrival at an anchorage is to launch the dinghy, motor in slowly, let go stern anchor, snub up once in the berth then let go bow anchor on short scope to hold the bow steady. It then becomes a race to get lines ashore before she drags the bow anchor ashore. With the first line tied around my waist I leap into the dinghy and row to the windward shore with oars threshing like a steamer duck’s wings, heave the dinghy anchor into the scrub, scramble up the rocks and through apparently impenetrable undergrowth to find a strong tree and tie the line with a long bowline, then back to the boat and get tension on the line. Repeat the exercise with the other bow line then warp her forward into the berth and run two more lines from the stern quarters if necessary. By this time the dinghy is filled with twigs and I am wet, scratched and in need of a whisky. On departure I start retrieving shore lines in the first cold grey of dawn, leaving the windward bow line until last, haul up the bow anchor from underfoot and warp back and break out the kedge anchor. Once clear of the berth I haul dinghy on deck and lash it on its chocks, coil down several hundred metres of ice-stiffened rope and head out. This jilling about put a lot of hours on the engine.

Puerto Edén is a frontier outpost connected to the rest of Chile by ferry every 8 or 10 days. I checked in with the Armada and bought 170 litres of diesel, which filled the main tank and every container on Iron Bark. Normally we carry 150 litres in the main tank and another 40 litres in cans, but for this trip I had squeezed another 110 litres into the lazarette for a total capacity of 300 litres in anticipation of much motoring (and never needed it). A deck cargo of jerry cans is ugly and if it does not fit in the lazarette I do not carry it.

We left Puerto Edén on 6 June in sleety snow and a fair breeze and sailed south for the next three days down Paso del Indio, Canal Grappler, Canal Icy, Canal Wide and Canal Concepción, making 20 or 25 miles each day and getting in to our night’s anchorage early enough to sound it for a sketch chart and often time enough to go ashore to cut firewood.

The RCC Chile guide says that Seno Tres Cerros, although unsounded, is navigable and provides a more direct route between Canales Concepción and Pitt so I thought I would try it and draw a sketch chart as I went. This I did only to discover later there is a fine new Chilean chart of the route. There are two large islands on the north side of Seno Tres Cerros and one has a conveniently located but unsurveyed bay on its east end. I went in and found it well sheltered with several reasonable berths so I sounded it and drew a sketch chart. Being unnamed, convention would have it that I call the bay Caleta Iron Bark. This seemed brief to the point of being curt on an island glorying in the name Isla Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza so I called the bay Matriz de Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza. That should get two lines in the guide’s index.

The deadline for renewal of visa, zarpe and importation temporal was four weeks away entailing a diversion to Puerto Natales so we pushed on south for the next five days with fair winds though visibility was often poor in sleet and snow to Caleta Sadko on Canal Harriet. Caleta Sadko is within five day’s sail of Puerto Natales and is a lovely spot, of easy access, well protected with plenty firewood and good watering streams so I stopped there intending to stay four days.

The day after I arrived was calm and sunny, the first in several weeks, so I took a holiday and went for a walk up to the ridgeline to the east. After crashing through the coastal forest fringe the country opens out and there is easy going over heath especially as it was cold enough for the boggy patches to be frozen. Higher up was a more difficult section where the rocks were icy and I had no crampons but a little higher still there was enough snow to give a good footing. From the ridge there are unparalleled view of the snow-covered cordillera to the east.

Panorama from the ridge above Caleta Sadko.

In Caleta Sadko we had the first heavy snowfalls of the winter and ice in the caleta became thick enough to make rowing difficult. The barometer fell so low that I thought the linkage to the needle must have jumped off but the gale that followed showed it had not. With four lines ashore and an anchor astern we were comfortable and safe while the wind tore the surface of the outer bay into whirls of spray. Some of the most pleasant times when cruising in remote places are in a safe haven with the stove glowing and the wind howling outside.

Winter arrives in Caleta Sandko

Dinghy track in ice, Caleta Sadko

After 10 days waiting on weather I left Caleta Sadko on 2 July bound for Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales is on Golfo Almirante Montt east of the Andes Cordillera and is reached through narrows at Canal Kirke or Canal White. West of these passes are dramatic mountains, snow capped and heavily forested on their lower slopes. East of them is low, dry pampas. After four days with more motoring than sailing, we swirled thorough Paso Kirke with a fair tide making ten knots over the ground and anchored in Puerto Consuelo on 6 July.

Canal Kirke

Puerto Consuelo

Puerto Consuelo is an excellent anchorage but the only thing ashore is the homestead of the estancia of the same name. It is an inconvenient 23 km from the town of Puerto Natales by gravel road but safer than the open roadstead off the town. I spent 15 days attempting to get the Aduana in Puerto Montt to extend the temporary importation for Iron Bark. It proved impossible to get any sort of a reply, positive or negative, from them and eventually took the intervention of the Australian Consulate to sort it out. Puerto Consuelo is a good place to wait. There are excellent walks around its shores and the bay has huge flocks of black-necked and coscoroba swans, flamingos, coots and upland geese with condors, chimangos and caracaras in the thermals overhead.

On 19 July I left Puerto Consuelo and motor-sailed back to Paso Kirke and made the passage through easily, having got a copy of the Chilean tide tables which give the times of slack water. The next day was clear and calm so I motored up Estero las Montañas and spent the night there. The estero is as dramatic as its name with high mountains on either side and glaciers tumbling down into the sea as icefalls. It looks as if it could be very windy in bad weather. Another day of motoring took me to Canal Smyth on the main route south and I spent three days in Caleta Victoria doing the neglected domestic chores of wood, water and washing. It is as well I did as thick fast ice in the next two anchorages prevented me getting ashore and the anchorage beyond that was south of the limit for that incomparable firewood, tepu.

Estero Montañas
Estero Montañas

Canal Smyth leads into the western end of Magellan Strait, which is wide open to frequent bad weather from the northwest and I was fortunate to be able to cross the straits in quiet conditions. I moored for the night in a nook in Bahía Wodsworth that Maurice and Katie Cloughley had described to me. They used it in the early 1980’s during a voyage from British Columbia to Nova Scotia via Siberia and Cape Horn, one of a number of remarkable voyages they made over a period of 40 years in their 34’ ironbark ketch Nanook of the North. As it is unnamed, I propose calling it Pozo Nanook.

Running down Magellan Straits

Iron Bark in Magellan Straits on a rare calm day

Fair winds and longer days allowed me to make 80 miles in the next two days as I pressed east along Magellan Straits to where it is constricted by Paso Tortuoso and its continuation, Paso Ingles. These narrows have strong tiderips and overfalls and are bedevilled by squalls. Tillman and most other yachtsmen found this a difficult passage and so did Iron Bark. At least the wind was fair and after long day running before gale force winds, we tucked into the sheltered water of Caleta Hidden. I moored at its head and stayed for three days catching up on routine maintenance.

Caleta Hidden is across Magellan Straits from Cape Froward, the southernmost point of continental South America, and at the mouth of Canal Acwalisnan which is the middle of three channels connecting Magellan Straits with the channels to the south. Acwalisnan is the obvious route south being the shortest and having the best protection from wind and sea. It is however prohibited to foreign yachts (except in an emergency) for reasons only known to the bureaucratic Armada mind, the approved route being through Canal Barbara which is much more exposed and longer. There is no Armada presence for 100 miles in any direction so I declared an emergency and went through Acwalisnan unchallenged and moored that night in Caleta Cludo on Isla Clarence.

The next leg was 20 miles southwest (to windward) down Canal Cockburn and around the west end of Tierra del Fuego. This is open to the full force of the westerly wind and swell from the Pacific Ocean and I waited eight days for suitable weather. On 13 August the barometer was high and steady with light airs from the northwest so I retrieved my five shore lines and anchor, for Caleta Cludo is a windy place, and set off with everything up including topsail. Within an hour the wind was WNW8 and despite some protection from the offshore islands the sea was very rough. Tying in the reef points with hands numb with cold and the lee rail two feet under was an agonizing business. With the engine running to help the deep-reefed main and staysail we could just lay a course that cleared the multiple dangers to leeward so I pressed on until we could bear away and run through the chaotic breaking seas at the entrance to Canal Ocasión. Once into Canal Ocasión the sea quietened down and we motored to a spectacular berth in a flooded cirque called Caleta Brecknock.

Another two days with a lot of motoring took us 60 miles to the western end of Beagle Canal which is the dividing line between the forested hills to the west and the drier tussock and pampas to the east. It is also marks a change in the attitude of the Armada. At my first stop in Beagle Canal in Caleta Emilita on the east side of Isla O’Brien an Armada vessel sent a boat across to check on my papers, the first time that had happened to me in Chile. From here on radio control points were frequent, entry to prohibited zones taken seriously and reporting in daily by radio expected.

I needed wood and water so motored across to Bahía Tres Brazos and broke through 30mm thick fast ice to moor in a lovely protected pool called Pozo Caucane. Although it was nearly two months past mid winter, high hills kept the pool in shadow all day. The ice was much thicker the following morning and threatened to trap me. This would only have been for a week or so and would not have mattered except the same hills meant I could not call the Armada by VHF to report in. Two days later, on 19 August, I broke out and moved across to Fiordo Pia on the north side of Beagle Canal.

Fiordo Pia has two large glaciers flowing into it and several anchorages that sounded feasible. The sketch chart in the RCC Chile guide needed updating so I thought to spend a couple of days there starting off by getting a line of soundings down an unnamed, unsurveyed bay extending southwest from the main the fiord and spending the night there. I motored across Beagle Canal in calm condition, fixed a waypoint to get across the terminal moraine at the mouth of Fiordo Pia and turned into the unnamed bay. It was covered with hard fresh water fast ice about 50mm thick, which is near the limit that Iron Bark can break. I crunched my way through it to the head of the bay, which would be a feasible anchorage when not frozen then turned back, not without difficulty. The ice was too thick to break from a standing start or while turning. Breaking a pool large enough to turn took a while and cost a lot of paint. It was getting late, the wind was picking up and I needed to find an alternative berth for the night.

Seno Pia ice

Both the RCC Chile and the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego guides describe a berth on the western arm of Fiordo Pia, which sounded suitable. The caleta was a bleak rocky slot tormented by rachas but would have to do as it was too late and too windy try elsewhere. Getting lines ashore before Barky was driven on to the rocks was going to be difficult. I succeeded but it was a close run thing and both the dinghy and I were knocked about working in the rough water and rocky shores. The dinghy leaked and I bled. The wind backed to the southwest which the surrounding hills deflected so that it blew into the caleta as violent southeast squalls bringing in large amounts of ice. Most of the ice was no more than large brash but there were some rafts weighing at least as much as Iron Bark. Apart from being very noisy and hard on the paint, the ice snagged on the mooring lines imposing large strains on them. In bad weather it is a berth ‘to be chosen from necessity and not with any expectation of tranquillity’.

After a worrying and uncomfortable night the wind eased and the ice dispersed. I took the chance to get out and motored over to the eastern arm of Fiordo Pia to look at Caleta Beaulieu. This appeared to be a better berth but I had had enough of Fiordo Pia so, after taking soundings for a sketch chart, carried on. The wind eased to a moderate westerly which carried us along Beagle Canal to Caleta Olla where we secured with three shore lines and two anchors. I spend 11 days there bringing the pilotage notes and sketch charts up to date, cleaning and scrubbing the grime that the brighter days showed in the cabin plus the usual maintenance and wood, water and washing chores, interspersed with short hikes when the weather was kind.

A guanaco, a lovely, delicate creature, came down to forage on the beach at each low tide. It stood on its back legs to reach high branches with its front legs tucked up like a goat. Once a Patagonian fox that came by. It was huge, at least twice the size of a red fox and four times our pet arctic fox in Greenland. There were many condors, which are ungainly birds when seen close up. The turkey vultures leave when the condor arrives.

Caleta Olla

Fox in Caleta Olla

On 2 September I sailed from Caleta Olla 35 miles east along Beagle Canal to Caleta Segura Norte, a rather bleak but well protected anchorage. The following day I sailed the final 27 miles to my final Chilean destination, Puerto Williams. We spent 6 days lying alongside the Milcavi, a condemned Armada vessel grounded in a protected creek and used as a quay and yacht club while I caught up with the delights of civilization as available in Puerto Williams. The Armada refused to give clearance to the Falkland Islands unless the vessel had a permit from Buenos Aires to visit Argentina’s claimed territory so I cleared for Cape Town and sailed on 10 September.

The Straits of Le Maire have a bad reputation and the pilot talks of 10m standing waves with wind against tide so I was glad of calm conditions for the transit although it meant 19 hours of motoring in the first day. Once clear of the straits I waited on wind for a few hours and then had an easy passage mostly close hauled to the Falklands. I secured alongside Stanley’s Public Jetty on 15 September having sailed 475 miles in 5 days from Puerto Williams and 7867 miles in a little under 10 months from New Zealand.