Thursday, April 30, 2015


Like a lot of other sailors of limited budget and broad ambition, we dislike marinas. To me, marinas resemble nothing so much as RV "campgrounds" - parking lots for expensive traveling contraptions that were supposedly meant to be off traveling, rather than paying rent for a space in a parking lot…

I think you get me.

Still, marina time is a fact of life. Our old favorite was the marina at Wé, in the Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia. We could clear in there, it was cheap, the interior of Pelagic was soaked in salt water when we arrived, and there was a hose on the dock for rinsing everything out. Plus there was enough flow-through in the marina for hard coral to grow on the pilings. Enough said.

Our new favorite, though, may be the "marina" that we currently find ourselves at - on Isla Jéchica, in the Chonos Archipelago. The joint appears to be a high-end eco-resort, now closed for the winter, which makes its single dock free for us to use. Plus! The winter caretaker will turn on the internet upon request.

This morsel of information - free wifi! in the Chonos! - has swept through the little community of yachts operating in the area during the off season. Internet access continues to be the double-edged sword of modern travel. It allows us all to take care of "important" business while we travel, just as it makes it impossible for us to truly get away. We know nothing of the remoteness that travelers reveled in only a few decades ago.

In this instance, internet access has made it possible for me to send analysis results to a biologist from California with whom I'm collaborating, and thereby allows me to continue to earn a living, even from a yacht in Patagonia. It's a tradeoff that we're happy to accept.

This spot also conveniently has walking tracks that allow us to penetrate the thick vegetation that closes off so much of the Chonos. This makes it a fun place to celebrate Eric's fifth birthday, which was yesterday.

He's a very sweet kid, when he's sweet. At other times, he takes such a perverse and obvious joy in doing what he knows he musn't, that I wonder if we shouldn't throw up our hands and accept that a life of crime awaits him.

"If only we can steer him into white-collar crime," I say to Alisa. "Payoff's so much greater than retail crime. And the penalties are so much less."


Alisa recognized it as a teachable moment.

"We saw the worst of people," she explained to the boys, "when someone stole the Little Dipper. And then we saw the best of people when Fernando gave us his dinghy. He didn't want to sell it, those other people asked him just before we arrived and he said 'no'. He told us that he just wanted to help us out, he wanted us to have a hard dinghy for you boys to row."

We always name our dinghies, though we tend to be very casual about doing so. No champagne, no christening or ceremony for something as humble as a dinghy. We just come to a consensus on what the cantankerous thing will be named.

Alisa's suggestion stuck in this instance - we're calling the new-to-us dinghy Fernando.

(As an aside, old Patagonia hands may recognize the provenance of the newest member of the Galactic fleet. She comes from Pelagic - not our deal old Pelagic on which we set forth from Kodiak, but a motor yacht that was campaigned extensively in Patagonia in years gone by. I don't have her information handy, but I seem to remember that this other Pelagic was from Oregon and was crewed by a husband-and-wife team. Fernando [our benefactor and not the dinghy named for him] now owns her and keeps her in Puerto Montt.)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hello from Sunny Patagonia

We made the jump south from Chiloé Island, across the 20 miles of the open Boca del Guafo, and came to rest at the Caleta Momia.

"Patagonia" is something like "the Arctic" - a well-recognized region without a hard and fast boundary. Had we been in Patagonia all the weeks we'd been knocking around Chiloé? Perhaps, by some definitions. But over time we had come to the conclusion that this "wasn't quite it." The area we reached south of the Boca, though - the Islas Guaitecas and Chonos - that's it, definitely. We're there.

The mummies are long gone from Caleta Momia, as are the people who made them. We pushed south in classic conditions - driving mist interspersed with rain, wind strong behind us, visibility less than you'd want when pumping south at eight knots with wind and tide in your favor, traveling through somewhat intricate <<canales>> completely unknown to you.

We had the modern conveniences. The laptop downstairs displayed our choice from a selection of Chilean and US charts, which were generally in agreement about our position. The iPad in the cockpit plotted our position on Navionics - we bought their South American package to have triple charting redundancy with the plotter and the bound Atlas Hidráfico de Chile kindly given us by Phil and Julia on Illawong, and we're very glad we did - the Navionics package fills in some gaps in our electronic charting nicely. We had the radar warning us of traffic, of which there was some, as well as telling us where the land was in reality, rather than on the chart, and the AIS telling the bigger boats where we were, and us them, and an autopilot steering the boat while I monkeyed with the jib and staysail.

Such a different setup from what Bill Tilman and crew used on Mischief when they visited the canales in 1956. Lead line and a set of photos from an airplane survey and a hand on the tiller.

Any idiot could do it with all the help we have. I remind myself that our eyes will be our best tool for staying out of trouble. We have to engage with the environment, not with our screens.

I ordered a copy of "The Totorore Voyage" when I was last in the US - Gerry Clarke's hair-raising account of Southern Ocean sailing on a small boat. But it didn't reach me in time. So we don't have it on board. But a friend mentioned that the Totorore had explored a hidey-hole anchorage in Chaffers Island. That was enough to send us that way - the chart showed Estero Huanas running the length of the island, with a tiny channel communicating with Canal Alanta outside. None of our charts offered any information about the depths we might find.

In the event, the entrance proved too exciting for us - poor meteorological conditions, a rapidly shoaling bottom, and a tidal current pushing us into the entrance.

We carried on through narrow canales - all charted - and driving mist. The fjords were choked with black-browed albatrosses and Magellanic penguins - when did we get so accustomed to seeing albatross and penguins? And we came to ground at a caleta on the north side of Isla Rojas, un-named on the chart and beautiful, dropping the anchor in 10 meters of water near high tide at 44°21.39'S, 74°04.16'W. If you come this way yourself, consider it a recommendation.

That first day of travel in the canales was rich in lessons - the swirling of fjord-bound winds made sailing occasionally surprising, even though they were fair.

The larger lesson for us to learn, and this one seems much less tractable - how do we keep the boys content when they're boat-bound for days? Especially too-young-to-read-a-book Eric.

Monday, April 20, 2015


We've been in Chile since Christmas Eve, and we've been enjoying wonderful weather throughout.  Is it El Niño?  Just a particularly favorable position of the South Pacific high this season?  I dunno, but it's been great.

A few days ago, though, this beauty to the right rolled through.  That little green icon is the position of Galactic, at the southern end of Chiloé Island.

We were hoping to get a final round of fruit and veg at Quellón, the southernmost town on Chiloé, and then to use the northerlies ahead of the blow to cross the Boca de Guafos, the 30-mile stretch of open water between Chiloé and the start of Patagonia proper.

As it happened, the blow arrived a little too soon for that plan to work.  We consulted the graphical forecasts that we get via the radio, and thought we probably wouldn't try to beat the approaching low.  And then we saw the armada forecast and decided we definitely wouldn't.  They were calling for winds up to 50 knots, with gusts of 80 to 100.

That made sitting still seem the height of sensibility.
The magenta lines are our various tracks around
Chiloé so far.  Puerto Montt is at the top, and
the red target is where we are now, at Quellón

As the blow came through, we began to suspect that the armada forecast was dramatically over-calling the winds.  We hate to be dismissive of the local take on conditions, but we also began to grow skeptical of the numbers we were seeing.  Which is a shame, as we have/had great hopes for those forecasts as a source of info down south.

We left after the blow passed.  I fielded a long, mostly incomprehensible radio/phone conversation from the local armada, which involved a read-back of the now very out of date forecast, which was still calling for storm-force winds even though the low was long gone.  This armada radio operator was especially hard for me to understand, but it slowly dawned on me that the port was officially closed, and we weren't meant to be leaving.  Oops.

We got as far as Canal San Pedro, the southern-southernmost anchorage on Chiloé.  But the leaking transmission fluid that I noticed before we left Quellón turned out not to be a mirage.  We seem to have a bad lip seal, which means that we're glad that we didn't cross the Boca de Guafos after all.

So we're now back in Quellón, laying as low as we can re. the local armada, with whom we have had much lengthier interactions than I have recounted here...all of them convivial, I hasten to add.  I have some local knowledge indicating that we might be able to get a new seal here...I'll go ashore right now, and then we'll know.  We of course need to do whatever we can to ensure our self-suffiency down south...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bad Math

 The game is afoot.

A stop in the Chiloé fishing town of Quemchi produced a welder who could fashion us a pair of chumaceras, oarlocks for our new dinghy.  Any gear needs that occur after that, we'll have to satisfy with whatever we have on board.
Setting the crab pot for the first time
Our path south along Chiloé has taken us through waters that are familiar from our February cruise.  We stopped again in Mechuque, one of our favorite spots, and had a great catch-up with our mates on Windora, who are a few weeks behind us on the path south.

We anchored again at Isla Talcan, though at a new-to-us anchorage, where all of these pictures were taken.
And now we find ourselves back at Quellon.  It seems that Alisa made a math error in Puerto Montt and came up with the answer "six" when she was tackling the question of "how many kilos of potatoes do we need for the winter, or at least until we reach Puerto Natales?"

This is not the right answer.

And I, when I was telling the armada guy in Puerto Montt the date when we would get to Puerto Natales, answered "el siete de mayo."  

Somehow that seemed much much further away than the seventh of May, which would not be nearly enough time.

So we couldn't let Quellon pass us by without 1) taking the chance for our last supermercado visit for weeks and weeks, and 2) to visit the armada station and let them know that el siete de junio would be a better bet for expecting us in Natales.

(I'm struck that I should post a map of all these places we're visiting in Chile, as that would doubtless make the plot easier to follow.  Well.  I'll have the combination of free time and adequate bandwidth to do that just as soon as I'm back in a government job in Alaska.)

The boys, meanwhile, have such fond memories of our last visit to Quellon that they've told us they will refuse to go ashore there.

We could make them, of course.  But we have planned a lightning-quick, two-pronged, staggered maneuver involving a public mooring, the handheld VHF, and sequential visits to supermercado and armada.  Doing those kids-free is just fine with us, thank you very much.

Patagonia beach picnic
And today we sailed all day from Talcan, with the Andes sullen behind us, and termination dust, which everyone knows is Alaskan for the first snow of autumn, on the closest peak.  The cordillera was glowering beneath a ceiling of complex cloud shapes in pearl-gray, smoke-gray, and gray-gray.  When we left the anchorage at dawn I looked back at the shore and felt that replacement of banality by wonder that marks the best of the life afloat.

No bad weather has caught up with us yet.

I'm alive with the adventure of it all...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Real Travel

My Spanish is improving.

It could have only gotten better, I suppose.

It is still a very utilitarian form of the tongue of Pablo Neruda that I employ.  I can go to the ferreterías, the hardware stores of Chile, and get through the multiple transactions involved (more on this below) without falling into the abyss of mutual incomprehension that so often plagued my earlier efforts in Valdivia.

It helps that these commercial interactions are so ritualized.  In the wide-open arena of conversation I am still an awkward player at the very best, though I have my moments of triumph when I can struggle through a little small talk with someone giving us a lift into town.

Now that we have left behind the practicalities of Puerto Montt and set out on the grand adventure that brought us to Chile, I'm struck how much the real travel is what occurs when you're preparing for something else, just like that old saw about life being the thing that happens when you're planning for what you think you're going to do.

The hardware stores here, like the wonderful Weitzler of Puerto Montt, are confusing dens for a visitor.  Most everything is behind the counter, so there's no browsing to see what might be on offer.  You have to ask for things by name - you know, in Spanish.

And then there is the way that the three floors of the larger store are divided into an array of sub-units, each with its staffed counter selling one class of goods - plumbing supplies, or hand tools, or fasteners, or whatever.  It's a picture of inefficiency to those of us who have been trained to expect US-style commerce.  The counter selling plastic sheeting will be out of favor, its two staff leaning on their elbows, bored, while the poor sods selling power tools are swarmed by a pocket of customers, each seeking their attention.

After you get to a clerk and order the things you want, you go to the caja to pay, and then to the empaque to pick up your goods.  If you're buying something big, you might have to go to the bodega out back.

Elias was my partner on these missions, and we'd come back to Galactic with a great assortment of odds and sods for a boat heading south: galvanized thimbles, plastic mesh to make deck containers for our shore lines, dielectric grease, acrylic to make the galley portlight double-paned, bungie cord for Elias' slingshot, a blowtorch to help the Perkins come to life on cold days, fifty meters of line for our crab pot, heat-tolerant fiberglass insulation to pack around our heater chimneys.

We searched for these items in stores where all the other customers knew the drill, knew where to go and how to ask, and if we came out of a store with two or three items from a list of ten we felt pretty lucky.  And then we'd wade through the streets of Puerto Montt to search out the little specialty shops that might fill out our haul before hopping on the Chinquihue bus back to the marina.

It doesn't sound like much, but these forays were a perfectly unstaged look at daily life in Chile.  Throughout it all we would never deal with someone in the tourist business.  And that, I would maintain, is the difference between tourism and travel.  In the short holidays of the former, it can be incredibly difficult to interact with someone who isn't in the business of dealing with foreigners - hotel clerk, tour guide, waiter, taxi driver.

Leaving Puerto Montt gave us an incredible lift of spirits, just as we knew it would.  An hour of being on your own boat, with your family, sailing to somewhere on this aqueous globe that you've never seen before - an hour of that goes so far to making the effort and expense of boat work seem worthwhile.

The endless sunshine of our February in Chiloé is gone, replaced by the more dramatic weather of autumn.

The barky set out to the south with a few obvious additions on deck - crab pot on the stern, replacement hard dinghy forward of the mast, and shore lines clustered around the granny bars.

The dinghy doesn't have a name yet, though there is a strong contender.  More on that soon.

Now that we're away, we're quite keen to get south - it will be the rare north wind that doesn't see us traveling.

All of the sailors in Puerto Montt who had come from the south seemed to agree that one of the great sailing adventures of the world lies before us.  We're heading to the Global South!  The southernmost towns in the world, all of the legendary destinations - Torres del Paine, the Land of Fire, the Falklands and South Georgia and Antarctica.

Many of those places we won't visit, but some of them we surely will.  We really have no idea how long we'll be staying in the south, though I proposed one idea to Alisa - maybe we should stay until the boys can speak Spanish.  That should give us a good year.

Meanwhile, we've stopped in the little port of Quemchi, on Chiloé Island, to find a welder to make us some oarlocks for the new dingher.  When we pulled in last night the local armada station hailed us on the VHF to quiz us about our intentions and various details about the boat.  This sort of thing is routine in Chile, where the armada has complete authority over all vessel movements in the country.  It's very easy to put up with as a visitor if you just think of it as a part of the cultural experience, though I'd find the same intrusiveness from the authorities completely insufferable in Australia, where I consider myself at home.

The good part, though, was the reaction I got from the armada officer.  I came back to his hail with "radio Quemchi, aqui yate Galactic, adelante," delivered in my best imitation of a Chilote fisherman's booming radio voice.

The armada officer couldn't keep the chuckle out of his voice when he told me to go to channel 14, already.  And in a funny way, that made my day.  He could understand me, but his laugh told me just how silly my accent must sound.

Monday, April 6, 2015

First Thing Smokin'

Everyone wants to go to heaven.  No one wants to die.

In a somewhat less dramatic vein, everyone on Galactic named Mike wants to keep moving, wants to go somewhere new every season, wants to avoid that awful fate for boats - sitting still.

But every one of these seasons that we stack up imposes an expense in terms of a frenzied period of prep beforehand.  In the three weeks since we've been back from the States, we've had a taste of what inescapable obsession must feel like.  Everything has been boat boat boat.  No Spanish lessons, no getting to know Puerto Montt outside of its hardware stores, no writing for me, nothing else to speak of.

So we've acted obsessed, albeit without the inner motivation of the truly obsessed.

Julia and Phil from Illawong, old Patagonia hands, give us the low-down

Yeah, there's a cruising guide.  But information
still flows from sailor to sailor via handwritten notes

We manage to keep Galactic in pretty good operational shape, I believe, but the demands of preparing for the trip south during the coldest part of the year, with complete self-sufficiency required, has put plenty of jobs onto our "do it now" list.

All that, I hope, is now nearly behind us.  The boat is disorganized, and we still have a list of jobs as long as my arm.  But there are precious few tasks that would keep us from moving.

So, a north wind is forecast for tomorrow, and that's our first thing smokin' (ahh, the vernacular depths and delights that are available to those who draw on the American experience).  We'll get the heck out of here, get to the closest anchorage, and put things together.

Dyeing Easter eggs
Hunting for Easter eggs
Some time later I'll write about the very amenable group of traveling yachties we've met here in Puerto Montt, and I'll certainly say something nice about the local boat owner who gave us a hard dinghy to replace the Little Dipper.

For now, though, I've got a few jobs to attend to.

In a less frantic time, this certainly would have gotten a post of its own.  The boys - Elias especially - are mad for pets and livestock.  Can't wait to get to Alaska and start up a menagerie.  But what sort of pets to have on a boat?  The answer was four snails, collected from David Tideswell's garden.  The snails are free now, after enjoying several snail lifetimes' worth of fresh cucumber dinners.