Saturday, 20 September 2014

A winter's night in Greenland

On 1 November 2011 I sailed from Newfoundland for Trinidad to paint Iron Bark. Making a 4500nm round trip do a bit of painting seemed excessive, particularly as I would have preferred to spend the winter in Newfoundland drinking screech with the b’ys. But, drunk or sober, you cannot paint a steel boat in winter in Newfoundland.
The passage south took 24 days and was a rough one. First we (Iron Bark and I) ran before a northerly gale, making 115nm in a day under bare poles, then later, ENE of Bermuda, had a brush with tropical storm Sean. During this storm, a woman was lost from a yacht nearby and two yachts were abandoned. In March 2012, after three months in Trinidad refitting Iron Bark, I sailed north to meet Annie Hill for a summer cruise of the Maritimes. March is early for that voyage and it took 24 days, largely to windward.
Annie flew out from New Zealand and through May and June we coasted along Nova Scotia and southern Newfoundland, sailed 1281nm and anchored in 25 harbours before returning to Halifax. Annie returned to New Zealand and I gathered the food and gear for a solitary winter in Greenland. This was easy with only one person’s taste to consider but provisions for 16 months without resupply is a bulky load. Most of the gear necessary for a polar winter was already aboard, this being Iron Bark’s third winter in the ice. I bought a new pair of snowshoes and a few other oddments and sailed from Halifax on 14 July 2012.
The circles are noon positions

My abiding memory of the passage north is of fog. For ten days we dodged fishing boats in fog on the Nova Scotia fishing banks and the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The Labrador Sea was just as foggy but there were no fishing boats or, I hoped, ice, making it easier to get some sleep. The final 600nm up Davis Strait to Disko Bay took eight cold, wet, weary days. There was enough ice to need a constant lookout so I starred into the mank until I could stay awake no longer, then let Iron Bark drift and slept. Scattered bergs loomed out of the murk as we entered Disko Bay, no surprise as Disko’s glaciers produce them by the thousand. A line of grounded bergs appeared ahead, then a rocky shoreline. I nosed around the ice into Fortune Bay and anchored, 23 days out from Halifax.

The next day I went on to Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn) where the harbour master was welcoming and blessedly uninterested in any formalities. A minke whale, one of the local quota of four, was being butchered on the foreshore and I was given a chunk. I did a bit of shopping, bought some fuel and went back to Fortune Bay then sailed north on 14 August with a fair wind. A gale warning was issued as we approached the north end of the Vaigat, which separates Disko Island from the mainland. There is always a lot of ice in the Vaigat and it is no place to be in a gale and fog. The only anchorage within reach, near the abandoned settlement of Nuussuaq, is open to the southwest but would probably to do as the gale was forecast to be from the south. As we approached Nuussuaq the fog lifted revealing several hundred icebergs and, thankfully, the entrance to the anchorage. The recommended anchorage was choked with ice but the next cove north was open and I anchored there for two days waiting on weather. There is a stone ruin ashore called Bjørnefælde, ‘the bear trap’, supposedly a thirteenth century Norse chapel. It looks like a bear trap.
Bjørnefælde, an unlikely chapel

There was a strong, fair wind and no fog as we continued north on 18 August, still dodging ice. When the wind failed I motored up Sondre Upernavik to anchor in Uvijoq Uluâ. The chart of the area is devoid of soundings and this cove has a narrow, rocky entrance that I had lead-lined it in 2004. It was now high summer and I was glad to have an engine as we continued in calm, sunny weather to the village of Kangersuatsiaq. I bought fuel, entertained twenty exuberant children aboard then motored around Kangeq Peninsula (Kangeq means peninsula) to the Nordre Sunds.
The Nordre Sunds are a maze of protected channels between Laxefjord (72°30’N) and Upernaviks Isfjord (73°00’N). They are uninhabited except for Upernavik, with a population of 1000, perched on an island on their seaward side, and nearby the hamlet of Augpilagtoq. The Sunds have spectacular scenery, several bays suitable for winter quarters and are almost ice-free in summer. The most detailed chart of the area has a scale of 1:400,000 with almost no soundings but I had sketch charts from our 2004 visit.
That night, or the brief twilight that is night there in August, I anchored in Winter Cove, where Annie and I had spent the winter eight years earlier. In this latitude, 73°N, the year divides into four nearly equal parts. In early August the midnight sun sets for the first time in three months. Over the next three months the days get rapidly shorter until in early November the sun does not rise and 80 day long winter’s night begins. The sun reappears in early February, the days lengthen until in May the sun rises and does not set again until August.

After three days poking around the Nordre Sunds, I sailed north to investigate Upernaviks Isfjord. It was cluttered with ice ranging from large bergs to brash but it was possible to weave and barge through it. The bleak shore had nothing that looked promising as winter quarters. This was burning more fuel and knocking off more paint than seemed worthwhile so I turned back to the Nordre Sunds.

In the Sunds my first choice for winter quarters was a bay that we named Capelin Cove in 2005. I shuttled fuel from Kangersuatsiaq and Upernavik until by 25 August I had eight hundred litres cached in Capelin Cove, enough for the winter. So far no one had asked me what my intentions were in Greenland so it seemed easiest to lay low and say nothing. Rather than advertise my presence in Capelin Cove, I moved on.
I spent September pottered around the Nordre Sunds expanding the sketch charts we had drawn in 2004/2005. The days got shorter, the dwarf willows turned brown, puddles froze and snow advanced down the hillsides. On 1 October, I returned to Capelin Cove and ran mooring lines ashore. There were hundreds of moulting, flightless eider ducks in the bay as well as cormorants and gulls and ashore there were still a few redpolls, snow buntings and ravens. By mid October there was ice around the boat most mornings, the eiders had fledged and were leaving and the only birds left ashore were ravens. An arctic fox began visiting after I fed it some cod.
Autumn colours

On 15 October a man and his son arrived in Capelin Cove in a small motorboat and came aboard Iron Bark for coffee. They were from Augpilagtoq out shooting eiders. No one in Augpilagtoq would mind me being in Capelin Cove, but it would only take a day or two for word of my presence to get to Upernavik where there were various authorities that might preferred me to be under their eye. It seemed simpler to shift camp than discuss the matter. I reloaded everything stored ashore, retrieved the mooring lines and retreated to Winter Cove on Nako Island where I knew I would not be disturbed.
Winter Cove was covered with eight or ten centimetres of hard freshwater fast ice. This is the maximum that Iron Bark’s eighteen horsepower engine can break and then only if rammed at speed. Turning meant backing into the ice using the rudder as a battering ram. The fourth or fifth time I did this the tiller’s relieving tackle parted allowing the tiller to slam into the cockpit coaming, breaking the tiller. I made a temporary repair and limped off to anchor.
It took a week to run mooring lines, land the deck cargo of winter fuel and establish a dump with camping gear and food to give me a chance of survival if anything happened to Barky. It was slow work: the lanolin on shackle pins was frozen immovably and mooring lines were stiff with ice. I installed the double-glazing, bulkheaded the fore cabin and aft peak off from the saloon with foam and let the ends of the boat freeze. The engine is keel cooled with a dry exhaust so I left it in commission but shut down the domestic electrical system to prevent discharging the batteries. A flat battery is will freeze and spit its case.
I let the ends of the boat freeze. Looking aft from the galley with the foam barrier removed.
On 21 October there was thick snow on deck and the sun shone through the portholes for the last time that year. On 4 November I climbed a hill for a final glimpse of the sun. The lakes were frozen but the sea ice was still thin enough to break a path ashore by hauling the dinghy down a mooring line and chopping away with an ice axe. After burning the last of my firewood, I dismantled the wood burning heater and installed the oil fired one. There is little driftwood in northwest Greenland and dwarf willow is too scarce to use for heating, hence my reluctant reliance on oil.

On 9 November the ice was thick enough for a fox to walk out to the boat. The next day I walked ashore - winter had arrived. Although Upernavik was only 45nm away, there was too much open water to walk there and too much ice to row. I was isolated for the winter. I do not carry long-distance communications or a distress beacon because I believe that anyone setting out on this type of venture has an obligation to succeed or fail without asking for help. If I spend another polar winter I will build a survival craft that can be pulled over sea ice and paddled across sheltered water. A 2.1m pulk with a watertight fabric cover with on hoops, the cover having a manhole with an apron like a kayak, should let me manhaul and paddle my way to safety. 
As the sun sank lower below the horizon and the twilight around noon got shorter, my mood became gloomier. This happened when I spent a winter alone in Antarctica but not during the winter Annie and I spent in Greenland. Having a companion makes a huge difference mentally. The food is better and the bed warmer, too. Although Saturn and the six brightest stars were visible at noon in midwinter, it was enough light to work outside for two hours each day without using a lamp.
Self portrait
Each morning after breakfast I put windproofs on over three layers of wool and fleece, then gloves, mittens, hat and snowshoes and went out into the gloom to empty the slops bucket, clear the mooring lines of ice and feed the fox, who answered to Blue. Blue waited curled up in a snow hole in the cockpit for breakfast. When I came out she stretched, yawned and trotted after me to get a portion of rice and beans put aside from my evening meal. Most days I made an excursion. I snowshoed along the coast, skied down the lake in the centre of the island and made forays on the sea ice. These were curtailed after I broke through the sea ice twice in a week. Each time I was able to throw myself on to firm ice and only got wet to the thighs, but I know from experience how difficult it is to scramble out on rotten ice and how quickly clothes freeze once you do.
Blue waiting for breakfast

I spent the evenings cleaning, doing domestic chores and reading. It is difficult to clean things properly by candlelight and the candles themselves made the deckhead sooty. The cabin became grubby despite my best efforts. Once a week I spent four hours with pick, shovel and ice auger digging a water hole through a 1.5m of ice in the nearest lake and hauling water to the boat. Not having to melt snow for water saved a lot of fuel.
Once completed, the igloo kept the boat a lot warmer
In November I started shovelling an insulating snow cover over the boat. This part of Greenland is a near desert and there was little snow around the boat.  I only had the job half done by Christmas when we had the strongest gale of the winter. The gale broke the fast ice into floes but thankfully they did not raft and drive us ashore. This gale packed the snow ashore into drifts firm enough for igloo building. I hauled snow blocks cut from them across the ice, converting Barky to a gaff-rigged igloo. After building the igloo the inside temperature rose 5°C and there was seldom ice in the water bucket or frost flowers on the deckhead.

Sunrise is the big event of winter and long anticipated. I calculated I would see the sun on 31 January if I were higher than 200m. The day was clear and from a hilltop I briefly saw half the sun’s disk over the mountains to the south. You probably need to spend a polar night alone to understand the feeling of joy the first sunlight brings. I found the eighty days of polar night hard on mind and body.
Sunrise after 80 days of darkness
The sun rose perceptibly higher each day and on 21 February shone into the galley. In early March, although temperature was still below –20°C, there were signs of the approach of spring. Six strange foxes visited us and they, along with Blue, yelped mating calls from the ridge tops. Blue was a grumpy, mangy old fox but counted as a friend so I was worried about territorial conflict when another fox took up residence near Barky in March. Blue and the new fox took to arriving together to be fed and did not fight if I fed Blue first. They exchanged low clucking noises and were probably mates. 
An igloo with a fox sunning itself in a porthole
Blue's mate, Imp
One March morning they arrived together as usual but Blue was acting strangely. She repeatedly attacked me as I walked across the sea ice. This astonished me as Arctic foxes are about the size of a rabbit and usually as timid. I belted Blue a couple of times with the bucket I was carrying and drove her off. Both foxes then set off across the ice, Blue zigzagging behind, and neither ever returned. Fortunately Blue was unable to bite through the multiple layers of my outdoor clothing as she almost certainly had rabies, which is endemic through much of the Arctic.
A misty spring morning
In the last days of April the temperature briefly reached freezing and on 2 May the first snow buntings arrived. With the return of the midnight sun on 6 May I began turning Iron Bark back into an ocean going vessel. I demolished the igloo, overhauled the rigging and bent on the sails. 
All dressed up and no where to go
A couple of days after I finished removing the igloo the bow jumped up 25cm. The rudder was still frozen in, pulling the stern down a similar amount. I ran the engine to get water flowing across the rudder and hacked away at the ice until the stern bounced free. The propeller hit the ice and stalled the engine, mercifully without damaging the shaft or propeller. We floated with a narrow moat all round.
In late May I excavated steel and wood from the ice in the aft peak to repair the tiller and some rot in a hatch. The bilge pump thawed in early June, saving me the hand-chilling daily task of bailing meltwater. The first trickles of water appeared ashore on south-facing rocks. Then an ice dam in the valley above Winter Cove burst, sending a torrent down the valley and breaking the ice around the shore. This allowed the floe in Winter Cove to drift out, carrying Barky with it until the mooring lines were twanging taunt. I did not want to use her keel to stop a floe weighting over 1000 tonnes from drifting ashore so hung on to the lines. They dragged the bow up on the ice until it cracked under the boat’s weight, allowing the floe to move out a little, forcing the bow up on the ice again. This repeated for ten hours until we eventually broke clear of the floe. I used the dinghy to get ashore for the first time in seven months.
On midsummer’s day we headed north from Winter Cove. There was a lot of ice outside the coastal islands, but not enough to stop us. After plugging north for 63nm miles, a fog bank rolled in. There was too much ice to heave-to for sleep so I turned back to the shelter of Nordre Sunds where I anchored after 30 hours at the tiller. On 26 June I set out to see if there was an inshore route northward with safe anchorages where I could rest. I threaded north through islands and ice across Upernaviks Isfjord to Gieseckes Isfjord and on to Sugar Loaf Bight. None of the bays I looked into were safe from all winds. The best prospect had a narrow entrance obstructed by boulders. I hit several trying to get in. North of Gieseckes Isfjord the weather looked threatening so I turned back. By the time we reached Upernaviks Isfjord we were dodging ice in thick fog under staysail and motor, making little headway into a F7 headwind. An engine failure in these conditions would be disastrous so I bore away for open water. Four hours later we were clear of the coastal islands but there was still plenty of ice to worry about. The wind then veered allowing me to fetch Upernavik, but I kept the engine running for manoeuvrability. With visibility of 100m there was about a minute between seeing one of the numerous bergs and hitting it. When I eventually anchored I had been 37 hours without sleep.
There was clearly too much ice north of Upernavik for single-handing so I started south and three days later reached Kangersuatsiaq. No one there spoke English so my first conversation after eight months alone was in sign language. I bought fuel and sailed to the nearest safe anchorage to await a fair wind. On 3 July I continued south with the wind in the north and fog that froze to the sails, sending sheets of ice sliding to deck. For the next six days, until south of the Arctic Circle, I hove-to for sleep. Thereafter there was little enough ice to leave the sails drawing while I slept. Apart from two days hove-to in a gale, the rest of the passage to the Labrador coast was uneventful.

We were 25nm off the Labrador coast beating into SSE4 under full lowers and had just seen the first ice since the Arctic Circle when a blast from a clear sky laid us nearly on our beam ends. Within a minute it was blowing NW9 and was Barky would not pay off until I got the main down. I got everything down and secured without losing a sail at the cost of torn fingernails, fragile after a year without fresh vegetables, and bloody sails. I had had enough of this so motor-sailed in to anchor at the abandoned outport of Bateau Harbour on the Island of Ponds, 18 days out from Greenland. After resting there for a day, I coasted 150nm south to St Anthony. St Anthony, Newfoundland’s northernmost port with a population of 3000, was a bit overwhelming and I got a sore throat from talking. Lack of practice probably. 

How to make a sketch chart

This post an article originally published in the magazine ‘Marine Quarterly’. Marine Quarterly is published by Sam Llewellyn and is fascinating, available only by subscription, but easily found via the web and any search engine

Any literary polish this article has is Sam’s work, as are most of the commas and all the semi-colons.

How to make a sketch chart

The joy of owning a small ocean going sailing vessel is that it allows me to cross oceans then poke into coastal byways that I could get to in no other way, carrying my home with me all while. A vessel for this sort of voyaging must be large enough to carry supplies for a long voyage and small enough to be sailed and maintained by her crew without outside help.

My compromise is Iron Bark, a thirty-five foot steel gaff cutter. She can be sailed by one person, and can carry enough supplies and equipment to be independent for many months and thousands of miles. She has a comfortable motion in a seaway, moderate draft and a strong hull. Her anchor gear is substantial and the rig capable of taking a great deal of abuse. I can repair anything critical that breaks with spares carried aboard. She is a fine vessel for exploring the less-travelled corners of the world.

A voyage from New Zealand to Chile and a winter exploring Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego promised to combine all I like most - a challenging voyage of 5000 miles through the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean to a wild coast with a multitude of channels and bays to explore. I cleared from New Zealand for Chile in November 2009 and arrived in Puerto Montt, Chile, after a rough passage of fifty-four days. Annie Hill, my frequent sailing companion, joined me in Puerto Montt for a two-month cruise. We pottered around Gulfs of Reloncaví and Ancud and as far south as Ventisquero (Glacier) San Rafael, the lowest-latitude tidewater glacier in the world. It is a fascinating place, pushing down to the sea through heavily forested hills alive with kingfishers, woodpeckers and humming birds.

After Annie left to fly back to New Zealand in early May, I set off for the canales, the wild glaciated channels that stretch 1800 miles south and east to Cape Horn. There is no road access to this part of Chile, and few settlements. The scenery is spectacular and the anchorages are deserted. Although the Chilean authorities restrict access to some areas, there are still a gratifyingly large number of blanks to explore. 

The canales are generally protected from ocean swell but are tormented by rachas, violent squalls tumbling down from high land. I hoped the colder weather of the approaching winter would bring calmer weather. The canales are deeply indented and it is usually possible to find a cove where a small vessel can lie snugly close under the trees with bow lines ashore and an anchor astern and sometimes stern lines ashore.

Chilean charts are of excellent quality considering the length of the coast and limited resources available to the Chilean Armada. There are accurate charts of all the channels used commercially; but off the main routes the charts are often little more than rough outlines, with few soundings and no detail of the smaller coves.  There are two good privately produced pilot/guide books for southern Chile, the Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation’s Chile Guide and Rolfo and Ardrizzi’s Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego Nautical Guide. But there is still plenty left unexplored for anyone with visions of being a latter-day Cook.

We (Iron Bark and I) generally only travelled twenty or twenty five miles a day. There were many days when there was too much (or, more rarely, too little wind) to be worth moving at all. The low mileages were due to the short midwinter days and because it took me over an hour to get underway in the morning and the same to secure for the night. On arrival at an anchorage I launched the dinghy, motored in slowly, let go stern anchor, then let go bow anchor on short scope to hold the bow steady. It then became a race to get lines ashore before Iron Bark dragged the bow anchor ashore. I would leap into the dinghy with the end of a hundred-metre line tied around my waist 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 undergrowth to find a strong tree to tie to, then back to the boat and get tension on the line. Repeat the exercise with the other bow line, then warp forward into the berth and run lines ashore from the stern if necessary. By this time the dinghy was filled with twigs and I was wet, scratched and in need of a whisky.

On departure I started retrieving shore lines in the first cold grey of dawn, leaving the windward bow line until last, then hauled up the bow anchor from underfoot and warped back and broke out the kedge anchor. Once clear of the berth I pulled the dinghy on deck and lashed it on its chocks, coiled down several hundred metres of ice-stiffened rope and headed out.

As we pushed south, winter came in. The tree line became lower and lower, the weather colder. The rain turned to sleet, then snow. There was often a thin skin of ice in protected coves. As we travelled south this became too thick to break with a dinghy and difficult to break with Iron Bark. The general trend of the channels is south and east and the wind usually from the west, so we often had a fair wind even if it was mixed with snow or sleet. I tried to get to our night’s anchorage early enough to sound it for a sketch chart and to get ashore to cut firewood. Every five or six days I took a day off to do other domestic chores - water, washing and so on.

There is a huge satisfaction in finding a way through a rock-strewn passage into an uncharted nook where you can moor safely, protected from the worst gale.  But finding a passage is only half the job. Drawing a chart of it is the other half and few sailors will do this.

The first requirement for a good sketch chart is a base map with scale and geographic co-ordinates. Many modern charts have a reasonably accurate outline of the coast, even if they lack soundings. In this case all one needs to do is to enlarge the appropriate section of chart and fill in depths from the echo sounder. There are various ways of doing this, including scanning the original to a computer, enlarging to the appropriate size, then tracing it off to form the base map. With the base map on a clipboard, I note depths and coastal features as I go.  Each evening I make a clean copy of the day’s work and prepare a base map for the area I will cover the following day.

There are days spent puttering along in calm seas steering with one foot and sketching in details on the clipboard. There are others when sleet mixed with spray is whipping in horizontally across the cockpit. It is hard to use a clipboard in these conditions and impossible to use a computer. 

Some places - Canal Harriet in Patagonia for example - have no accurate base map and the only option is to use GPS-derived positions as a framework for a running survey, but this is slow and less accurate. The coast outline from a running survey can be improved using satellite photos such as those on Google Earth, but this requires internet access that Iron Bark lacks.

Poking along an uncharted passage requires a degree of caution, but with experience in an area you develop a feel for where the safe water is likely to be. I try to sound the safe water from Iron Bark and only use the dinghy in the really dodgy bits. The underwater topography is much influenced by the geological history of the area. Glaciated terrains like Patagonia or Greenland are quite different to Kimberleys of Western Australia, which is estuarine; but you soon get a feel for the differences. If the water is clear a lookout high in the rigging is useful, but this is a limited option with a crew of one or two; so I only con from aloft in thick ice or coral. 

A few years ago Annie and I did a running survey of the Nordre Sunds in Greenland. These are about 100 miles of unsurveyed fjords and sounds in about 72°N. Sometimes we could motor or sail at three or four knots, sounding and sketching as we went. But in places it took a week of patient sounding to make twenty miles. The water of Laxefjord, for instance, is milky with silt from the nearby icecap and the numerous banks are invisible. Here we nosed ahead until the water got too shallow for comfort then anchored; or Annie motored in circles while I went ahead sounding from the dinghy and buoying the channel. We sometimes made less than a mile in a long day before turning back to a safe anchorage to rest and draw up the day’s sounding. At that latitude in summer it is never dark so the only reason to stop was for rest.

There is a hand-held echo sounder that looks like a flashlight that is excellent for dinghy work. I have never been able to afford one so still use a lead-line from the dinghy. This is not ideal as it either tangles around the oars or I drift out of the channel before getting bottom. Sounding ahead from the dinghy is impossible when alone unless there is an anchorage nearby; so I did seldom did it in Patagonia.

Each evening I transfer the day’s sounding to the base chart at the same scale as I intend to make the final chart, and write up the notes. Omissions or gaps become obvious and can be filled in from memory or by going back before leaving the area. A hand-drawn chart is quicker to produce than one on a computer unless you have specialised software and experience using it. (Annie transferred all our Greenland surveys to computer-drawn charts, and found it a slow job.)  If the charts are intended for use in a guidebook, the publishers will redraft it into their own format and would probably rather work from a hand-drawn chart, which is a generation closer to the original survey.

Every chart should have:
  • A scale, preferably yards, metres or nautical miles. Avoid cables; surprisingly few people know what they are.
  • A north pointer. Do not assume that north is up - put it on the chart.
  • A geographical reference. Now we all have GPS, latitude and longitude is the obvious one, but distance and bearing to a prominent point is often better. When giving latitude/longitude, give the datum. If it is WGS 84, say so.
  • The units of depth and height (metres, fathoms, feet)

Every chart should have, in a title box or in a corner where it will not be reproduced if the chart is to be included in a guide without redrafting:
  • The source any outside data. Eg “Outline adapted from Chilean Chart 10372”
  • Who compiled it
  • Date of survey

A good sketch chart will tell most of what there is to say, but a brief set of written notes is worthwhile. Apart from navigation data - “leave the drying rock in the centre of the channel to port on entry” - this is the place for information that is not apparent from the chart: quality of holding, susceptibility to williwaws, availability of water and firewood and so on. If your notes are intended to supplement a particular guide or pilot, it is sensible to use their layout and style. A high-level oblique photograph of an anchorage is useful and easy to get in places like Labrador or Greenland where the vegetation is sparse, but nearly impossible in much of Chile or the New Zealand fjords, because of the dense forest.

Although there is nothing intrinsically difficult about any of this, it does require preparation and persistence, especially if the weather is bad. As an example, to produce a sketch chart of Seno Pia in Tierra del Fuego took me two days. Fiordo Pia runs into Beagle Canal and has two large glaciers flowing into it, and several anchorages that sounded feasible. I decided 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. After preparing a base map by enlarging a Chilean chart, I motored into the fjord and fixed a waypoint to safely cross the old terminal moraine. The unnamed bay was covered with hard ice about 50mm thick, near the limit that Iron Bark can break. We crunched slowly through it to the head of the bay taking soundings, then turned back to find an unfrozen anchorage for the night. The ice was too thick to break from a standing start and turning around took a while and cost a lot of paint.

The pilot books described a possible berth in the western arm of Fiordo Pia. This proved to be a bleak, rocky slot but would have to do as it was too late and too windy try elsewhere. There was insufficient swinging room to anchor and getting lines ashore before Barky was driven on to the rocks required quick work. Both the dinghy and I were knocked about, one leaking the other bleeding. That night the wind backed to the southwest and eddied into the caleta as violent squalls, bringing in large amounts of glacier ice. Most of the ice was no more than large brash, but there were some rafts weighing as much as Iron Bark. These snagged on the mooring lines, imposing large strains on them, as well as being noisy and hard on the paint. To borrow a quote from Tilman, in bad weather it is ‘a berth to be chosen from necessity and not with any expectation of tranquillity’.

After a worrying, uncomfortable night the wind eased and the ice dispersed. I took the opportunity to leave and motored over to the eastern arm of Fiordo Pia. This appeared to be a better berth, but I had had enough of Fiordo Pia so after taking soundings for a sketch chart, made use of a fair wind to sail along the Beagle Canal to Caleta Olla. I secured there with three lines ashore and two anchors astern and spent a pleasant week making final drafts of the sketch charts and notes and catching up on the domestic tasks of wood, water and washing. Some of the most enjoyable times when cruising in remote places are in a safe haven with the stove glowing and the wind howling outside.

When dealing with South American bureaucracy became too wearing, I left Chile and sailed to the Falkland Islands, then on to Trinidad. Only a small, seaworthy vessel gives its own the sort of freedom that the gods should envy.