Following our inland explorations from Puerto Natales, we started our long, wet, windy, and cold leg north thru the myriad Channels/Canals of Patagonian Chile. This country is very similar to the inside passage thru British Columbia and Alaska. Lush green hills with snow-capped peaks – mostly in the distance, but sometimes just above the boat. We’ve seen scores of playful dolphins, a few otters, and plenty of whales – mostly hump backs.
One of the biggest differences is that Patagonian Chile has no tall trees, only short, scraggly ones. In some places we find very large, stout trunks with bushy tree tops. This is because the wind blows very hard here – usually from the NW. When trees get tall enough, a wind storm either blows them right over or breaks off the tree tops and/or upper branches. Hence, stout stumps with new growth above… until the winds blow that off too.
The ground is either rock or very thick moss of 100 varieties. Hiking/walking can be done only in gum-boots. This is the wettest place on earth with streams, bogs, swamps, puddles, and lakes everywhere we look or step. Nevertheless, whenever we can find a way thru the brush, we bush-whack our way to higher ground where the trees can’t grow because of the wind and hiking is easier.
We’ve found exactly zero land mammals, aside from domestic cattle and sheep. Fortunately, Cindy is excited to photograph the many birds we find everywhere: mostly ducks, cormorants, albatross, and petrals in the South, adding pelicans and oyster catchers further north. We’ve found humming birds (pica-flor) wherever we find late season blooms.
Progress northbound is slow because of the strong and sometimes violent NW winds. The currents, too, can be very strong, but mostly it’s the wind that results from a constant parade of depressions moving eastward off the south Pacific. Sometimes we have to hunker down in a small and secure cove for several days while waiting for the depressions and related cold fronts to pass over. Then we usually find a couple of days of either light wind or sometimes even southerly wind. On these days we make progress. The sun makes a rare appearance from time to time. These are special times when we can open up the boat to dry out a bit.
We are in the southern hemisphere fall now. Days are getting shorter and the rain is getting colder; sometimes we find frost on the decks. All of the boats we’ve been cruising with moved ahead of us when we had our transmission trouble. Still, we are in
good company with “Pinocchio,” a Canadian yacht with 7 children and a big dog and “Mutine,” a French yacht with Bernard and Allison aboard.
We are very fortunate for the written company of Giorgio and Mariolina, two Italian sailors who wrote the definitive guide on cruising Patagonia. This incredible guide book covers all aspects of cruising this area including a rich history of the area, detailed instructions for hundreds of anchorages, notes on flora, fauna, weather, and tips for dealing with Chilean and Argentine officials. Our profound thanks to Giorgio and Mariolina for documenting their 10 years of experience down here!
Puerto Eden is the first sign of civilization after departing Puerto Natales. We spent 3 weeks in the canals covering the 250-ish miles between the two ports. Cindy did a splendid job of provisioning the boat in Ushuaia (frozen meats) and topping up fresh fruits and vegetables in Natales. Indeed, we are eating very well!
Caleta Mousse, our first stop after taking leave of Puerto Natales offered a new experience. As we were securing the boat ahead of an approaching cold front, we noticed a man wearing a 12 mm wetsuit (very thick) walking along the desolate shore, waving to us. He swam to Pazzo and explained that his fishing boat was anchored around the next headland with a dead battery. Could we give him a jump-start? We hoisted our anchor and took him with us around the point where his very rough old boat was precariously anchored in shallow water. We came along side but our jumper cables offered too much resistance to start his engine. So, with Victor’s boat tied securely along side, we motored both boats to the protection of Caleta Mousse and re-anchored Pazzo. Victor helped with our shore lines. Then we removed Pazzo’s starting battery and took it across to Victor’s boat where his engine immediately roared to life. We gave him two beers to celebrate before setting him (very gratefully) off to weather the oncoming storm in Puerto Natales.
We spent our 35th anniversary secure in Mousse while the wind gusted at the mast head to 59 knots.
April Fool’s Day dawned calm for a long day of motoring to Caleta Themele where we secured the boat with a well set anchor and four shore lines in anticipation of another brisk NW blow. We spend a couple nights enjoying the protection of Themele before setting off again, sailing and motoring to Puerto Mayne where, once again, we hunkered down for a few days with constant rain and winds gusting to 50 knots. Cindy is doing very well with shore-line duty, rowing, motoring, and poling our little dinghy thru the kelp and between the rocks to scamper up the slippery shores where she secures our lines to strong trees.
Finally, on April 7, the weather broke for a few good days of northward travel. We frequently find ourselves in the company of curious and playful dolphins. They seem
particularly interested in Cindy’s shore-line excursions, often swimming under and around her dinghy!
Our expensive and heavy AGM ships batteries have been slowly sulphating and deteriorating due to improper charging. These batteries like to be depleted to 60% of their capacity before being charged back to 100%. Because we sail whenever we can and try to motor as little as possible (to save diesel and our environment) the batteries never get the recharge they need for a long life. Hence, they are suffering a premature and slow death. So much for high quality batteries! Nevertheless, they will hold on till Puerto Montt where we can find replacements.
On April 11, only a stone’s throw from Puerto Eden, we secured the boat, once again with four shore lines, in very well protected Caleta Stella Maris in preparation for another nor’wester. On the 12th, the barometer fell to 980mb (34 mb in 12 hours) as the wind aloft gusted into the 50s. In Giorgio we trust! Stella Maris offered perfect protection.
Despite our safe refuge, swirling winds were still sufficient to rip a large log to which we had secured a shore line right off the steep bank. As the boat swung around, the water-logged brute threatened to jam itself under the boat between propeller and rudder. Quick work avoided a potentially vexing problem.
Each morning, we start our day with our diesel forced-air furnace to which John so kindly added a boost fan in order to drive more hot air into the cabin and overcome the long ducting run thru the boat. When the boat warms sufficiently, we struggle out of our warm nests to make coffee (instant) and download the latest weather forecasts over our satellite or HF radio connections.
While Uncle Sam wonders on April 15 where our tax return is, we are exploring the micro-community of Puerto Eden, population 67. This popular stop-over along the route between Puerto Montt and the South has no road or airport access. Supplies are delivered occasionally by the ferry boats that ply the channels. Diesel can be had, although we are doing fine. Cindy scored some nice tomatos, onions, and cucumbers – as well as a laundry machine. On Sunday, we walked to the church at the appointed hour, but found it locked up tight. Instead, we invited the local Caribinero (Policeman), Bastion and his wife, Estepania, to the boat for a cup of tea.
A few days later, Cindy snapped some nice shots of Pazzo drifting in front of the rich blue glacier ice at Seno Iceburg. As you can see from her photos, she’s really enjoying her cameras!
We spent Easter Sunday (April 21) in Caleta Tortel, a charming board-walk pueblo, population a few hundred. Road access was recently added to this quaint village … and changed it’s character significantly with increased population and the attendant
problems. We found friendly villagers and charming Armada staff – who – like always – insisted on issuing us a new Zarpe to Puerto Montt.
Zarpes are effectively permission slips issued by the Armada (combination Coast Guard and Navy) for navigation between two ports. The Zarpe specifies the route and requires yachts to submit daily position reports – either by email, phone, or HF radio. We are not sure what happens to these reports, but on the few occasions where we forgot, we received a prompt from the Armada the following day. When we left Puerto Williams on the Beagle Canal, we were issued a Zarpe to Puerto Montt. In theory this should have sufficed for the entire trip northward. Every port of call, however, insisted on issuing a new Zarpe. Seems like a genuine make-work program.
Caleta Tortel is the last village before north-bound traffic face the notorious Gulfo de Penas (Pain-in-the-ass), a body of water about 100 miles wide separating the southern channels from the northern ones. Penas has a fearsome reputation for serving up nasty weather and seas which threaten even large ships. There are no navigable channels bypassing the Gulfo. Fortunately, the Armada maintains stations at the north and south entrances to the Gulfo and are happy to provide excellent weather forecasts.
Pazzo’s good fortune continued with a spate of calm weather for our crossing. So calm and extended was the forecast that we decided to venture E of Peninsula Tres Montes to search for a reported hot-springs. This 60-mile detour would require us to return southward into the Gulfo to round Peninsula Tres Montes to starboard later. Good news / bad news… The bad news is that we found the hot springs, but there was no provision for mixing cold seawater with the hot mineral water for a comfortable soak. A waste of 60 x 2 miles L. The good news is that the calm weather held for a safe (but slow) rounding of Tres Montes and northward to the protection of Caleta Pico Paico.
For the next couple of weeks, we meandered our way northward thru the labyrinth that are the channels of Chilean Patagonia. We enjoyed many of the anchorages recommended by Georgio and Mariolina as well as discovered and charted a few of our own. In Puerto Aguirre, we had the pleasure of meeting Jamie, the owner of the very small marina in this tiny village. Jamie introduced us to Diego (the transient doctor), Rosia, his girlfriend, Pedro, the paramedic, and Chilco, a very cute puppy they had rescued from under a fusia (Chilco, in Spanish) bush. Amazing hospitality is this sleepy place!
After mentioning our disappointment with the Hot Springs inside Gulfo de Penas, Jamie recommended another hot-springs, off the beaten path, north of Aguirre. We followed his directions to find a magical place with a well-protected adjacent cove. About 50 meters from the boat, under dense foliage, locals from a bygone time had constructed a rock pool to contain the hot water percolating from the ground and mix with seawater filtering in between the rocks. When the tide is right (4 times a day), the temperature
is delightful for a full body soak — so long as one continues to stir the water by gently waving arms and kicking legs.
After a couple of delightful days at “Caleta Agua Caliente” (Which we named for lack of a proper name in the Italian Guide or local charts), we continued our northward journey to reach “The Promised Land” of Chiloe. Chiloe is a large inhabited island at about 40 degrees south latitude (about 1/3 of the way up Chile, when starting at Cabo Horno). The Chiloe area consists of the island itself and the large body of water, divided arbitrarily into Gulfo Ancud to the north and Gulfo Corcovado to the south, that separates the island from the fjord-studded mainland. In the summer months of December thru April, this is a rich cruising ground for foreign and local yachts alike. Chiloe Island is home to many quaint and 3 large towns. Including the off-lying islands in the gulfos, there are numerous quiet and well-protected anchorages, although most are home to the ubiquitous “salmonera” salmon farms, generally controlled by Norwegian interests. As we arrived after the cruising season, we encountered very few yachts – only a few north-bound stragglers like ourselves and one boat southbound planning on taking advantage of Patagonia’s more gentle, though cold, weather.
The mainland side of Gulfos Ancud and Corcovado is cut deep with densly wooded fjords and islands, great for solitary cruising. The area is active with salmonera traffic supporting the many fish farms. We spent only a few days in this rich area but two of them were especially memorable. We navigated a few long arms and tucked the boat into a lightly protected nook in the steep-to coast to reach a recommended hot spring in Estero Cahuelmo. The abundant supply of hot but not stinky water seeps from the ground and flows across an expanse of very soft rock into which several deep bath-tub and hot-tub shaped pools have been chiseled. By diverting the flow of various streams of hot water, with stones and soggy moss, either into or around the pools, one adjusts the temperature. A primitive but effective system!
At the springs, we had the pleasure of meeting Antonio and Marisol, two Chilean park rangers responsible for maintaining the springs and surrounding wilderness. The following day, we worked with Antonio and Marisol on a new lookout station at a nearby lake, then returned for a well-deserve soak in the pools. We invited the ranger duo to sausage-pasta dinner aboard Pazzo. Dinner turned into a wonderful evening of story-telling and a sleep-over as the falling tide and darkness prevented a safe return thru the shallows to the ranger encampment.
During the course of the evening, Marisol used our VHF radio to connect with a nearby neighbor who conveyed sad news about her grandfather’s failing health. Pazzo became the communication center for Marisol’s ensuing evacuation to hurry to her grandfather’s side. Following Marisol’s hasty departure, we spent another day with Antonio, visiting a beautiful waterfall and collecting mussels to cook over a campfire for lunch. Again, we took Antonio to Pazzo for dinner, movie (Monty Python) and another sleepover.
The following morning it was time to bid farewell to our new friend, but not before treating him to a sail down the fjord. This was his first experience on a sailing craft so he came away with cell-phone full of selfies of “Captain Antonio.” Sad to say goodbye to such a rich encounter! Postscript: Marisol arrived home in time to spend a sliver of quality time with Grandpa. We were happy to have done our small part.
After sending Antonio off in his small inflatable dinghy, we set sail for Estero Bonito to hide from a passing front. The small estero was too small to swing on our own hook so we set our pick in the middle of the bay on the advice of some locals and backed close in to a tall cliff where local work-boats had secured strong stern lines. All looked like a fine arrangement until evening when a fleet of massive landing-craft-like workboats arrived to take up residence beside us. With the wind gusting at 25 knots – ON THE STARBOARD BEAM – and a raft of rusty workboats acting as a lee shore we passed an uncomfortable night. We rightly decided that Estero Bonito (pretty) was not so bonito!
Alas, with June rapidly approaching it was time to get serious about making Puerto Montt, a large city at the north end of Gulfo Ancud and the Chiloe area. This would be the hard-stand home to Pazzo for a few months while we escape the southern hemisphere winter. From (not-so) Bonito, we struck north, selecting a couple of well-protected, if salmonera-crowded, anchorages to hide from the incessant north winds. On the last day of May, we hoisted anchor and set out for the last leg to Puerto Montt. A frisky beat soon turned into 25-30 knot headwinds. Pazzo’s trusty crew tucked a 2nd reef and sheeted home the staysail for a few more tacks before finding refuge behind Isla Tenglo and a fond reunion with Ivar, Floris, and LuciPara2, our Dutch adventure companions in Puerto Montt.