Saturday, May 30, 2015

Family Affair

The last time we picked ice out of the water was in the very first two weeks after we left Kodiak - perilously close to eight years ago. Someone gave us the local knowledge to get through the sill into the upper part of Northwestern Fjord in the Kenai Fjords. What did we know back then of using a laptop as a plotter? In front of the glacier, I used our landing net to pick some ice out of the water for G&Ts that night. Elias watched from the cockpit in his snow suit, gumming on the end of a sheet.

We just spent two days knocking around the floating ice of Estero Peel. This time there was no need for me to do the ice netting. Elias was mad for the sport - patiently waiting on the bow with his net, and then charging along the side decks to chase down any small piece that came alongside. He and Eric ate the stuff - bit right into it and chomped it on down. I couldn't watch. They also had some glacier ice in a celebratory juice, and Alisa and I had scotch on the rocks for two nights in a row.

Not incidentally, both boys were ecstatic with our experience of being around the ice. "This is the best day of my life" has a certain honesty to it when it comes from the mouth of a five-year-old. They can presumably remember most of them at that point.

Many of the anchorages so far have offered zero walking opportunity. The terrain is too steep, and the forest too thick - this is something that we expected based on our experience with fjords in Alaska. But enforced time on the boat has really weighed on the boys over the last few weeks - especially Eric, who has a younger kid's need to run and scream, and less of an eight-year-old's ability to cerebralize his way through a day spent inside.

But when it's good for the kids - when there's ice in the water, or when the clouds part to reveal glaciated peaks above us, or when Caleta Tilman gives us the terrain for a walk - at those times, near-freezing rain is no barrier at all to their enjoyment. The revel in the moment, they scream out the news of their happiness. After Estero Peel we came into Puerto Bueno, which gave us our first taste of real upland walking, a close view of culpeo, the fox, and our first taste of centolla, the king crab of Patagonia. (It was a female and we ate it anyway. Standards are slipping.) We seem to be on an upwards trajectory in terms of getting off the boat, and we expect that to continue all the way south.

And, during all the long days that we've spent together, we've hit a certain sweet spot in family life. Lots of games of Uno while the diesel stove heats the saloon, lots of time for me to listen to Elias go on and on about his make-believe world, No-Cars Planet, time for me to look at Eric across the saloon and to notice how his face is maturing and how tall he is getting, and to remember how recently it was that I was telling Alisa I was enjoying the experience of having a three-year-old again. Except that now he's five.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

The Old Man Was Here

We could see where Amelia cove lay but as there was no getting there we had to anchor in another small cove short of it.
-Bill Tilman

On the day we crossed into the 50s south latitude we saw our first ice. Floating bits that had calved from the glaciers at the head of Seno Penguin had just made it to Canal Wide before melting away completely and they gave the boys no end of delight. I jibed to get us a closer view before calling them up to deck. They oohed and ahhed and then after they went back to their lessons I hand steered through the field of little floaty bits that the jibe had brought across our path. I realized that a crew more used to ice would likely have just let the autopilot steer a ruler's course through this inconsequential scattering but I was happy with the novelty and also happy not to find out how big a "thump" these little things might make if we hit them.

One of the delights of our trip is the number of giant petrels that we've found in the canales. I wonder if that isn't just a winter occurrence. Not vast flocks of them but often a single one wheeling around the ship, three or four or five of them in the course of the day. These improbable-looking giants have become my favorite pelagic seabird and their presence in this inland setting gives the canales an extra touch of grandeur. As if they needed it.

On the day we saw that first ice we sailed down Canal Concepción in the company of blowing whales. There appeared to be two species, both with strongly falcate dorsal fins and one of them very small - much shorter than Galactic, for instance. We were near the open sea and the weather was coming in waves, clear followed by sharp and foul. The mountains around us were cyclically revealed, gauzed over in the mist, and hidden completely. On our starboard we had an island called Madre de Dios which should give an idea of the scope of the scenery. Each one of those islands might produce an enjoyable fortnight of exploration for a yacht in no hurry to be somewhere else.

We came screaming around Isla Canning going ever so fast as we chose, the acceleration where the wind funneled by the canal made the turn around the island giving us all the breeze we could need. Running backstay set up firm, jib half rolled in. We saw our first honest-to-goodness williwaw lifting water off the surface of Canal Andres just downwind of our selected anchorage and elected to make the final approach under engine alone. The anchorage was perfectly snug, a little slot in the rock not much wider than a marina berth. We ended up with a comfortable four-point tie though not without the exertion of myself scrambling up slopes of mixed moss and branch to make the tie onto a stout trunk and Alisa finding herself in command of the ship when it very nearly laid up against the trees at the side of the berth, ten meters of depth being available directly below the outermost dripping branches.

We took a weather day and on the morning we left sighted a full-grown centolla in about four meters of water on the rocky bench just next to us. We have yet to taste the king crab of Patagonia and so, scarce propane be damned, Alisa and Elias set out in Fernando to effect the capture with a landing net lashed to a boat hook for the event.

It was a close thing, but in the end all they caught was long faces.

As we continued southwards I became convinced that I could see the snow line coming closer with every mile we traveled. We are on half rations of propane and so a warm breakfast and lunch and endless cuppas are not among our consolations in the wet and cold. Alisa though is a champ about giving the on-deck crew the lion's share of the hot water from the thermos and Elias is very delighted with himself for being the first to give voice to the idea that we might heat water on the diesel stove while at anchor. Which we are, quite successfully, and short diesel is not a problem that we are contemplating. Alisa has reacted to the propane shortage by doubling or tripling the amount of bread she makes on each baking day, reasoning that the increased production takes little or no more propane than her normal two loaves. She also has produced pigs in a blanket on her last baking day and has promised them for today - hot dogs wrapped in extra dough. So we have a hot lunch to look forward to. All sorts of food that are normally "just in case" rations - hot dogs and canned fruit most notably - have become staples. No one is grumbling about the shortage and though Alisa is occasionally at a complete loss when meal time arrives she has expressed the upside in the form of not feeling her normal remorse and responsibility if a meal falls short of expectation. Which of course they never do. We'll all feel the luxury of living with no limits to the propane whenever that happy day comes again.

The final end to all propane on board and the end to our visas - both these events are far enough in the future to allow us the chance to explore a bit around Estero Peel, the fjord that gave Bill Tilman and crew access to the Patagonian Icecap on Mischief in 1956. We are at this moment anchored in a little cove that the monumental Italian Guide refers to as "Caleta Tilman". The old man would have likely found this a comic appellation, as he only anchored Mischief here because he couldn't reach Caleta Amalia, where he really wanted to be, due to all the floating ice about. See the quote from Mischief in Patagonia at the top of this post. Or, on the other hand, the old fellow might have found that if some place was going to be named for him, it might as well be as inconsequential a place as this.

The boys quite enjoyed our arrival at Caleta Tilman because low tide revealed a scrap of open land that might more or less reasonably be called a beach, and with it the attendant chance to walk a few hundred meters before turning around. Eric has in all the innocence of extreme youth asked Alisa why we came to this place (meaning Patagonia), anyway? He feels the enforced confinement more than Elias who can read Harry Potter over and over. Eric has been pining a bit for Polynesia, where at least he could swim, though his inability to swim at the ripe old age of four, and now five, has attracted quite a bit of negative attention from management on board Galactic. On the bright side he is just now learning the basics of literacy, though he takes greatest delight in reading (and writing, in a surprisingly clear hand) words like "scream", "stinky", "fart" and "butt".

On the beach of this caleta where Tilman and company found bugger all we found a pair of Adidas trainers, a smart phone and a Becker beer can (empty). Alisa found a substantial stream for doing laundry and now the laundry is hanging in the rigging to "dry" at the same time that our rain catcher is hanging in the rigging, doing its job. This is either a setup for ineffectiveness or a situation where we'll win one way or the other.

It's all how you look at it.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Alisa Wants To Know

Alisa wants to know:

Did we pass all the hot springs?
No. No way.
Did we?
We did, didn't we?
Um. No.
We did! All the hot springs are north of us! I knew it!


So Alisa wants a hot spring.

I don't know why, since she spends most of the day downstairs where it's warm, with the boys.

Oh. That's why.

The boys need to get off the boat. They could really, really use a day off the boat.

That's not happening any time soon.

Today we tried to see a glacier. Earlier in the trip, we had just sailed past our first two chances. Whatever! we said. Ice floating in water, who hasn't seen that? But today we gave into the spirit of the thing. The Ventisquero Pío XI was right around the corner! It has a face three and a half kilometers wide!

Kids, we announced when they woke this morning, we're going. Elias, the theme for school today is "Glaciers".

We didn't make it.

The wind was in the north, and the glacier was in the north. Too.

Look, everyone! I said. Look at that waterfall way up the mountainside. It's blowing straight uphill. See it? It's blowing uphill, but it's so calm down here.

That didn't last.

I should add that I am having so much fun. Alisa is dreaming of hot springs and the boys really need to get off the boat, but I am just having the time of my life.

Even if I am completely knackered at the end of each day.

Estero Peel and the area explored by Bill Tilman in 1956 are just down the track.

We'll get another chance to see ice floating in water.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Switch

Galactic at anchor in Seno Pico Paico, Península Skyring.  No picture could be more emblematic of our pre-Gulf of Sorrows experience of Patagonia.  This southern winter stuff, it's no bad!

(Skyring was an officer in the British Navy, and if I'm not mistaken, was the commander of the Beagle before Fitzroy.  His perfectly evocative name is scattered around the chart for the south of Chile.)

Alisa looked at this scene...and decided it was a divine invitation to do laundry.  So she scampered off to the nearest creek and hung to dry before sunset.

The clothes were still drying the next day as we pressed southwards.  Our plan was to make another daysail to Caleta Suarez before we tackled the overnighter across the Gulf of Sorrows.

Look at those conditions!  The full genoa poled out, and we're rolling down at a comfortable pace.  Swell about two meters.  You could sail these waters for a lifetime's worth of Mays without seeing such good conditions for crossing the Gulf.  But instead of grabbing the chance, we put into Suarez for the night.

And it's good we did, as the five days in Suarez turned into one of the best getting-down-with-the-people experiences we've yet had in Chile.  The weather was turning, and the whole longline fleet was coming into Suarez for shelter.  At this point we're rafted up with nine fishing boats - at the peak it was eighteen.

I love the dueling hand gestures in this pic.  I wish I could remember what I was trying to get across.

We were somewhat popular.

The weather cleared long enough for us to explore the beach in the outer bay - Seno Cono  - described by the cruising guide as the best walking beach in Patagonia.  But it didn't clear for long enough to give us a chance to cross the Gulf.

When our break came, it wasn't great weather that was on offer, but more of a case of us recognizing that a better chance was unlikely to come along.

We were expecting reasonably strong northerlies and a big swell.  Once we entered the Gulf, we wouldn't be able to easily turn around if we didn't like the way the day was stacking up - we'd be largely committed to carrying on, towards the entrance to the southern canales on a lee shore, with the tide and currents doing what they would with the swell.

It was a hard decision to leave a safe anchorage with the forecast that we had.  We very much like to be driving events when we're sailing with the kids, and coastal sailing like this makes us nervous.

But it was the right call.  The conditions were as much as we would want, but things were never close to out of control.

We started motoring in no wind and a four meter swell, then went to staysail and three reefs in the main when the wind came up on our quarter, then to jib alone when it veered to our stern.

Yeah, that much jib will do.
We ended the day motoring in with the staysail to steady us, pleased to be making Caleta Ideal before dark, and generally relieved that the crossing had gone well.

"What happened?"
But as soon as the Gulf of Sorrows was behind us, a whole 'nother set of questions presented itself.

The weather forecast was from a different world from the one we had been inhabiting in the northern canales.  If you just looked at the forecast without squinting and imagining, it was hard to see us traveling at all for the next week.

Which would be no biggie, of course.


Except that our visas for Chile were going to expire in less than a month, and Puerto Natales, the next place where we could cross into Argentina in a single day to renew our visas, and therefore not have to leave the boat unattended overnight, was still far away.

And, there was this thing with our propane.  We left Puerto Montt with a stockpile of propane that would last us three or three and a half months in the tropics.  But we have somehow gone through three quarters of it in about five weeks.

We weren't using that much more with all the mugs-ups that were seeing us through each day.  Were the tanks under-filled in Puerto Montt?  We don't know.  But the idea of being stuck in some caleta days from anywhere, listening to the sleet on deck, with no propane to facilitate the cooking process, was not an outcome that I wanted to entertain.

And the next place where we could hope to fill our US tanks was...that same Puerto Natales, still so far away.

Back when I was an ambitious Alaskan mountain climber of mediocre ability, my ambitious-if-mediocre climbing friends and I would occasionally meet climbers coming up from Outside with plans to climb Denali (Alaska's 6,000 meter peak) in winter.  We'd roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders.  Living in Alaska was proof against being so silly as trying to climb the highest peak on the continent in winter.

I've long ago decided that sailing to the Land of Fire in winter is not the same thing as trying to climb Denali in winter - i.e., proof that you are both clueless and a show-off.

We have so many friends and acquaintances who have sailed here - some of them in winter - and they're such normal people.  Better sailors than us, for the most part, but still complete amateurs and everyday people, just like us.

For us, sailing south in the winter was never a goal.  It's more or less that we frittered the summer away on one thing and another, and it seemed a better idea to get going south when we were ready, rather than to sit in the marina in Puerto Montt all winter, waiting for a "better" season.  And besides, if those people we knew had done it, etc., etc.

But, in the dark night as we were dashing around at the end of the anchor chain in Caleta Ideal, it was all starting to seem a bit...adventurous.

We took more than an academic interest the next day when we shoved off to sail down Canal Messier.  Could we, you know, travel in the conditions that presented themselves?

That was one of the most stirring sailing days we've ever had.  Nine knots through the water under staysail alone isn't our normal sort of outing.

It was such a stirring day that we didn't get any pictures at all...

The weather was supposed to go from nine-knots-under-staysail-alone to completely shitting itself mate, to quote one of my better-spoken Tasmanian friends.  So we were very happy to execute this four point tie-in before dark.

After coming to grips with conditions, rather than wondering what they'd be like, Puerto Natales didn't feel so far away.

Elias was very happy to provide a fish for dinner.
And, my fellow North Pacific marine biology geeks - doesn't this look all
the world like Sebastes?
And so we've established something of a rhythm.  Some days we don't travel, but we're happily surprised that we are able to most days.

And though I've decided that people who sail to Patagonia and then talk about the weather are in the same category as those people who live in Alaska and complain about the cold winters, it is hard to escape the physical conditions if I'm trying to give some impression of the place.  How dark it is when we wake up.  How the rain is cold enough to feel like a different element from the water we're used to.  That sort of thing.

We're also getting well into the routine of tying into shore every night.  We know some other Patagonia newbies who express various degrees of skepticism about tying in, or who try to tie in only when they are forced to.

We figure that until we know what the hell is going on, we're going to act like our friends who know a lot more than us and tie in every night - with four shore lines if it feels like at all a good idea.  Weather surprises do happen, and I figure the night will come when we're very glad to be defensively set up.  And the practice of doing this every night can only help when we come to a situation when finding a safe berth isn't straightforward.

Elias has been lending a hand with the lines.  And - news flash! - he's real help.

The lines make the trip ashore tied around my waist.  Why do I get to do all the fun parts? I ask Alisa.  (Photo credit - Elias Litzow)

Meanwhile, a parent's concern over safety is ever-present.  Elias is completely clueless about what a vicious thing a line under load can be.  Here I'm giving an impromptu safety lecture.  That's my "no shit, pay attention to this" face that the boys will likely soon be making fun of when I'm not around.

Galactic on the armada buoy at Puerto Edén

Today we made Puerto Edén, the very small, very optimistically named village that is all that there is in terms of settlements in these parts.

It isn't much, but it is giving us a cell tower for me to upload these pictures.  (Though is it my imagination, or are they being uploaded in worse than usual quality?)

Tomorrow we hope to move on.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Single Piece of Petrel Down

At the anchorage where we finished the crossing we met Patrick, a singlehander on Cephalais II. He had been sitting in Caleta Ideal for a week, waiting for a chance to cross to the north, with only the short-range forecasts relayed by the San Pedro lighthouse to guide him.

Patrick was finishing a tough trip from the south. In Punta Arenas a wind shift left his boat exposed to the full fury of the Straits of Magellan while he happened to be ashore dining with a friend. Repairs took two months.

Our second night in Ideal felt insecure. The rig shuddered and the boat swung. Although we have a very good anchoring setup, we would prefer to be tied to shore in some little nook rather than swinging in the gusts.

Leaving Ideal was a difficult decision. We were conscious of our inexperience in these waters, and the golden rule of never leaving a secure anchorage in bad weather. After we picked the hook Patrick followed, acting on his decision to go wait in the village of Tortel for a while.

We fairly flew down Canal Messier, the main north-south route in this part of the canales. Nine and ten knots through the water, with the opposing tide bothering us not at all. Alisa kept me company under the dodger with its made-for-Patagonia back door/rain shield. No school, and the boys were for (literally) the first time in our sailing career abandoned to the electronic nanny of the iPad. They watched the French cartoons that I downloaded in my failed campaign to turn them into little Francophones.

That was last season. This season I'm concentrating on my failure to turn them into Spanish speakers.

I haven't seen this many shades of gray since the Aleutians, said Alisa.

Giant petrels swooped behind us. A single piece of petrel down went scudding across the waves, passing us in the wind.

We declined the offer of the first three good caletas we came to. We're out here, traveling fast, I reasoned. No reason to stop. We came to rest in Caleta Morgane, a little nook surrounded by absolutely primeval rainforest. A creek pours foam and tannin into the ocean just off our stern and four shore lines hold us exactly where we want to be.

Elias helped with the lines, pulling out slack for me while I rowed them ashore. He shouted not-quite-to-the-point questions and misheard my replies. The diesel stove warmed us all up and Alisa made green chicken curry.

After the boys went to sleep we recapped the day. We just need to keep making good decisions, I said. We're learning so much every day.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Through the Door

In these waters the rule to never waste a fair wind applies with singular force.
-Bill Tilman

"The Gulf of Sorrows" is the most compelling English rendition that I've seen for the Spanish name Golfo de Penas.

The secret to seeing Patagonia from the decks of your own boat is los canales - the intricate fjords that give you protection all the way from Chiloé to the southern tip of South America and the Land of Fire - about a thousand nautical miles of this spectacular coastline.

There's only one break in the fjords that requires an overnight sail in open-water conditions - the Gulf of Sorrows, more or less a 95-mile crossing from Caleta Suarez to Caleta Ideal.

Among our friends who have preceded us to Patagonia, the Gulf of Sorrows enjoys a reputation that nearly lives up to its name. A perennially big swell, unreasonably strong winds, and a shoreward-setting current make it the full meal deal for sailing at 47°S.

For our southbound journey on Galactic, the Gulf of Sorrows is the door we needed to step through to gain access to the "true" south.

The two day trips along the outer coast that carried us to Caleta Suarez were emblematic of the weather we had experienced in Chile up to that point. Blue sky, flat water over a two-meter swell. Postcard weather. A quick look at the three-day forecast as we approached Suarez showed a day of poor weather, followed by more of the good.

Five days later, we found ourselves still in Suarez, rafted up to 18 weather-bound longliners. The Don Adrian II, the big Patagonian toothfish longliner next to us, was talking about spending another week waiting for good weather.

In the Gulf, it was blowing 40, with a swell up to seven meters. Some other crew without our stern outlook on the vicissitudes of the sailing life might have regretted our decision not to just get across the Gulf when we had such benign weather. We Galacticans, on the other hand, have long since gotten used to learning from our own mistakes. I figured that an enforced wait after throwing away such good conditions on sleeping at anchor was a good lesson on the road to becoming savvy Patagonia sailors.

The forecast showed breaks in the weather, but they tended to offer brief spells of fairly marginal conditions.

The other night, after the boys had gone to sleep, Alisa and I looked at the forecast over and over, wondering if we should make a break for it the next morning.

Uncertainty over the reputation of the Gulf and the paucity of bail-out options finally gave way to spirit of "ain't never gonna get perfect conditions, and we won't know if we don't go." When I went over to the Don Adrian II to tell the crew that we would leave in the morning, I felt confirmed in our decision to learn that 12 of the longliners with nearby fishing grounds were planning to go out to the day before returning to Suarez.

So we went.

And it was just about as gnarly as we would care for, thank you very much. We like the feeling (illusion?) of having everything under control.

Which it was - under control, that is. The swell was big, and the breeze was a bit more than we would like when the squall lines came through. But the wind was behind us, and we picked up a ridiculously strong current - up to four knots at times - that saw us complete the crossing in 14 hours.

The entrance to the southern canals was alive with seabirds - petrels (diving, storm and giant), black-browed albatross, and Cape pigeons, those Southern Ocean favorites we haven't seen in any number since the New Zealand sub-antarctic. The mountains of Península Larenas and Isla Wager appeared out of the mist as the waves stacked up behind us. And, thanks to the current, we managed to anchor up in Caleta Ideal in the daylight, a real treat after groping out of Caleta Suarez in the pitch.

And so, we're here. Puerto Edén is suddenly only a few days' travel away from us. And our hope to reach Puerto Natales in a month to renew our visas is looking more reasonable.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tick on an Elephant

There are at 16 longliners rafted up here in Caleta Suarez. Galactic is boat number 17, on the far side of the front row, right up against the side of the caleta. During a brief break in the weather all of the fishing boats save one went out to jig for cierra, the barracuda of southern Chile. Then they all returned, and a crop of new boats making the dash from the canales of the north followed them. Boat after boat stacked up in ranks behind us, and we are well and truly trapped until boats start leaving. Which is fine, of course, as we can't go anywhere in the theatrical weather that's prevailing right now. But it's also a tiny bit disconcerting for us to ever give up our ability to move at will. Self-volition, and the ability to move where and when we want, are so much the keys to the game that we play.

So after everyone stacked in, the gale resumed in earnest during the night, and Galactic felt a bit like a tick on the side of an elephant. We were stuck to one side of this massive body of lashed-together boats, at the mercy of the elephant's movements. Fishing boats are designed to be heavy and strong - to bash into stuff and carry heavy loads and to be driven by massive engines. Yachts are designed to be strong but light, to be fleet before the wind. Incidental contact that is no big deal for a longliner can be a very big deal for us. And moving up from a group of eight longliners in one rank, which we were rafted to for the first three days, to 16 longliners in three ranks, felt like a big step down in control over the situation. We were more tick, and the elephant was more elephant.

Luckily, we are steel, and stronger than average for a 45' yacht. During that first night when there were 16 of us it was blowing 40 knots on the outside and gusting in the caleta. I was up on deck off an on through the night, and we were so glad to have our six massive stainless-steel mooring cleats welded into the hull.

And I've been so glad to have the little Spanish I have. I can row over to the far side of the stack to explain that we're close to shore, and ask that boat to tighten up their shore lines to give us a little more security against swinging into the shallows. And when I do that, the crew of this boat that I just met will immediately offer to set another shore line. I'll talk weather with the captain while the crew digs out a line, then I'll row a deckhand ashore with the new line, and they'll send me back to Galactic with a couple fish for our dinner. We have friends who have sailed here with no Spanish, and of course they've gotten along just fine, but I think that interactions like that one would require a lot more force of personality on the part of a non-Spanish speaking yachtie.

That interaction with the boat on the other side of the stack was typical, by the way. Throughout the five days we've been here every fisherman we've had dealings with has been solicitous and helpful. I've had some fun chats, as well, though my conversational ability in highly vernacular Chilean Spanish sets very strict limits on these.

If the rain lets up today I think I'll take Eric and make the rounds of the boats.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Five (or Six or Seven or Eight) Day Blow

It's a funny thing when some place is described as the best in its category. South Pacific Anchorages refers to Ra'ivavae as possibly the most beautiful anchorage in the South Pacific. Predictably, we were a little underwhelmed when we arrived, though we had a wonderful time there.

Caleta Suarez, on the outside coast just north of the Gulf of Sorrows, is described by the authoritative Italian Guide as "one of the safest and most beautiful coves in Patagonia". So of course we were left a little flat when we arrived. Nothing can compete with unrealistic expectations.

However, we didn't have long to worry about the difference between reality and an uninformed ideal, as we found ourselves immersed in an unexpected social experience. A northerly blow was forecast and we found ourselves rafted up with eight Chilean longliners that had also sought out protection in the caleta.

So we're getting down with these forty new best friends of ours, as best as our Spanish will allow. (It can't be rusty, I figure, if it's never been shiny.) We are something of a novelty to these fishermen for whom the tedium of waiting out a blow is very much part of the routine. Gifts of fish and cake and loans of age-inappropriate Anime movies for our kids are flowing from their boats to ours, and gifts of cake and smokes bought for just such an event are making the reciprocal outbound journey from Galactic.

If we were the types to think retrospectively, we would realize that the two days of calm that we saw on the outside coast prior to getting here constituted a rare chance to get across the Gulf of Sorrows and to regain the shelter of los canales on the other side. The weather forecast promises poor conditions ever further into the future.

But of course, it's all a part of the adventure, this sort of unexpected encounter. And, as a friend of ours says, a sailor with time always has a fair wind.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

Monday, May 4, 2015


Always the farthest peaks appear the fairest.
-Rockwell Kent, Voyaging

My alarm goes off at 0630. After preparatory rounds of galley (instant coffee), computer (weather download), and engine room (oil, coolant, transmission fluid), we pull the anchor more or less at first light. In the pre-dawn gloom I can't use my normal hand signals from the bow to guide Alisa's use of throttle and wheel while the chain is coming in.

I wear thermals and jumpers and rain gear and xtra-tuffs (the Alaskan deck boot) and a goat-roper (the Alaskan deck hat). The weather isn't too cold yet, but I dress to spend the whole day on deck, rain or sun.

It's Sunday, so after we're under way Alisa hands a plate of pancakes and fried eggs up to the cockpit. Instead of a day spent on schoolwork, Alisa reads out loud to the boys, they draw and play. The wind is light and in our face, it's a motor-fest. The bus heater pumps hot air into the saloon and aft cabin all day long.

Los canales slowly reveal themselves to us, turn from the abstractions of the chart into the actual, penguin- and sea lion-porpoising narrows that carry us south.

And that is the answer to all our questions right now: south.

We want to know what the Land of Fire will be like. We want to find the mystery and behold the splendor. To do those things, all we have to do is go south.

We're passing fewer salmoneras, and the chatter on the VHF has dropped to almost nothing. Snow is starting to collect on the peaks of the closer mountains. Since we've left Quellón we've been the only boat in all seven of the anchorages that we've used.

We have a list of promising spots that we could explore here in the Chonos Archipelago. Given a leisurely summer, and a few months to be anywhere at all, we could have a wonderful time knocking around these islands and discovering the wonders that a leisurely examination would doubtless reveal. But the list of places that we don't visit is always so much longer than the places that we do. And, to have lots of time in another place, we will spend little here. We have established the rhythm of traveling. We push it down the track each day.

At the end of the day we arrive in Caleta Millabú with enough time in hand for me to walk the boys on the beach for an hour while Alisa cooks. It's the first place that we've seen that you might call spectacular: glacier-polished cliffs narrow overhead, high-capacity waterfalls. Next up will be the Gulf of Sorrows, a place that is fairly notorious among our friends with experience of threading the canals of Patagonia. The question we'll have to answer is how many of the wonderful anchorages of the outside coast we'll visit, versus how quickly we'll want to scoot around to regain the protection of the fjords that will then lead us all the way to the Land of Fire.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.