Sailing Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams

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Boat rocking cradle-like in sea of tranquility. The sea comes with a switch to an instant storm with gusts of wind and rain. There is a battlefield of albatross attacking seals and wind blowing waves forcing the sailboat dead into the wind at a standstill. Coves, bays, channels and passages lined beautifully with jagged mountains varying in colour, shape and snowfall. As nighttime falls, it gently grips me into a deep healing sleep as the neon black sky light up the stars to shine enough for vision.

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Life is all around and untouched by humans leaving a pure sense of energy and peaceful reflection.

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Stillness, rivers talking, full moon glowing and tiny droplets of aguaditas steaming my face gracefully playing with my sensations. Crispy cold fresh air yet I am warm as I am swarmed with a deep sense of connection. These glimpses of untouched land give me a sense what explorers must have felt when they first chartered these untameable waters. Fierce joy in the wind, music in its touch, twirling, spiralling, and running through my mind and entire body. It is cleansing.

Time lasts for eternity yet creeps into existence as the sky changes from dirty pink electric sherbet to soft jet navy lined with a twist of light blue.

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We sailed from Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Williams, Chile, through the stretch of Magellanes and Beagle Canal on the boat called “Northanger“. Northanger is a 54 foot Damien II, lifting keel, steel ketch New Zealand owned.

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The strait of Magallanes is “the stretch links the pacific and Atlantic ocean through an S-Shaped 310 miles cut through the South American continent. It’s waters give access to countless channels, inlets, and bays, a unique feature of the area. The stretch is a feature cut in the Andean Range, the vertebrae backbone of the S.A. Continent. Deep cuts were created by result of the last ice age 20,000 years ago, with effects still lasting another 10,000 years. Before the area was covered a huge ice cap more than 1,000 meters thick in places countered on the cordillera Darwin. From here a long series ice tongues spread in all directions downwards into the ocean giving birth to the wide and deep glacial valleys and rolling hills of Patagonia. The big last change happened 15,000 years ago when the ice caps began to melt, there were tons of sediments, rocks and deposits shifting the land into Tierra del Fuego. As time passed and water eroded the natural forming dams and opened the valley to ocean waters thus creating the large Tierra del Fuego.” (Rolfo and Ardrizzi).

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My journey started before the water, while the boat was still on land in Punta Arenas which is about 116,000 in population, pretty industrial. I worked a couple weeks preparing the boat, cleaning and making the boat come to life after 8 months of sitting in the ship yard. The boat was located 8 km outside of town so we did a lot of hitchhiking back and fourth.

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Here is Duncan and Renee who helped prepare the boat with us. They were visiting form Newfounladn, Canada and had some time to spare to help! We enjoyed making food and drinking coffee together. I am glad they joined the journey.

The Armada or “navy” of Chile is quite controlling and specific about sailing on the waters and makes all boats fill out paper work and check in everyday via radio. You must go to the port captain to get cleared to leave and once stamped you have to wait for approval. This became quite the process.

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Finally on January 11th we moved the boat from from its cradle with the big boat moving machine (never found out the proper name for it) and ready to be moved into the water. We had one more night until it was going to happen.

There I met Eduardo had a tiny machine linked around his neck that he loved being in control of. He was telling me to stay in Chile and work with him at the ship yard, I passed.

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We went “provisioning” which means getting all food and things necessary for sailing a week. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and cans. There is one thing for sure since being on Northanger and its that I had never ever been hungry. We eat delicious vegetarian food and are always trying new recipes and eating together. I’ve really come to appreciate and love the simple act of eating a meal with others. It doesn’t take too much time but the quality of life improves and you are in charge of what is put into your body. I’ve been vegetarian for almost a year now and since then, I love to cook!

On January 12th we launched the boat into the water at night, 10:30 pm from the cradle with a big rope and greased planks as Eduardo and his team pushed it off the stand and shot it into the water as we all stood on deck. Eduardo shouted to me a couple time to stay with him in Punta arenas saying “no te vayas!” Which means, ¨don’t go!¨ Funny. Greg had his friends in the dinghy the whole process ready to dive or help out in case anything happened.

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We anchored in the port Punta Arenas and I have to admit the boat transformed into a different creature as it slide into the water. The waterline surprised me the most, as it was within reach of the deck. I was surrounded by water on all sides and willingly forced into a subtle back and forth motion that gives me sea legs when I go to land. The hatch that we had to go through to get to the galley reminded me of the TV series ¨Lost¨ everytime. Could not get over it. Above was my bunk!

On January 13 there was wind, wind and more wind; I had never seen wind in Punta Arenas like that. We took the dinghy to land and can’t believe how the strong breeze can make one fall over into your Neighbor and not have enough time to say excuse me because you are trying to not be blown away. The navy closed the ports because it was so strong but this didn’t make sense as outside of the ports were much safer for us to be in then in. In this time I learned how to tie some knots- clove hitch, stopper knots and the bowline. We ultimately decided to wait another day before heading south.

 On January 14 at we motored to Cabo Froward against the wind to almost a stand still and had to turn around as it was too rough. We anchored at Sani Ciedro in Aguila Bahia (Eagle bay). The bay was named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville after her ship “L Algile”. We encountered three Israeli guys on the beach who flagged us down. They were on the well known Cabo Froward trek and needed help because own guy was super sick. Wasn’t much we could do but I think they thought we were going to rescue them or something.

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On January 15 what a windy night! We waited till the wind was to doe down by visiting the lighthouse where I had previously been before. There we met the beautiful couple living there that made us coffee and big doughnut type treats. Rosita even put my name in one of them!

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My friend Marcello radioed us to give us a weather report and say hello as he sailed past us in the strait. The boating/sailing world is surprisingly small and can be a comforting place where other boats soon become friends and you look after each one another.

We went for a hike through the muddy forest and onto beaches lines with whale bones showing remnant of a processing plant for whale oil. The plant was open from 1906-1907 and just in that year killed over 449 whales.

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We took off at 5:30 pm and sailed through San Pedro Canal. Mind you here it is summer so the light starts at 4am and lasts till sometimes 11:39 pm. The canal is named after Pedro Sarmientro de gamble who sailed his ship called “our mother of waiting” in 1580. We put out our first shorelines to the beach around trees in the most calm water I have seen yet. We anchored in “Caltea Cluedo¨ a large long bay on Isla Clarence opposite of Isla seabrook and we collected water from a waterfall in the cove via practicing driving the zodiac.

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I practiced driving the zodiac going fast and reversing as a brake when you get to a certain spot and holding it long enough for someone to tie a line. This has become one of my highlights of sailing. I got to take it out to get water from the waterfall near by!

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We went for a hike later that night, it was raining but it was beautiful! Saw the lake where the waterfall came from and this is where I wrote the entry for the blog. If I had to chose a favorite spot this would of been it.

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On  January 16 it was the birthday of one of the woman on the boat, Renee. We made a pancake, plantain and fruit smoothie breakfast while along the way sailing. We did have to motor a bit because there was no wind at all, leaving a reflection of the landscape on the water mirror like. Above is a shot of the sky on the water and below is the panoramic view we had, just like a calm lake.

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Sailing is turning out to be much more tranquil and slow paced than I imagine. The boat only goes 3-7 knots an hour so you’re not flying any means. It forces you to be present and really take in the scenery. Sometimes you can see a mountain and and hour later still be staring at the same range and horizon. I can’t imagine what it’s like to sail in the middle of the ocean without the landscape. The land you greet sailing really for me is one of the best parts. We sailed through San Pedro passage and Canal Acwalisnan (Paso o Ryan).

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On our arrival to the cove where we were to anchor there were. 1, then 2, 4, 6, 8 dolphins that played with us dancing and moving friskily through the jetting water off the boat. They are called ¨Peale¨ Dolphins.

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On January 17 we sailed all day 10am to 10pm.There were dolphins all the day again this type is called a Peale dolphin which are known to be slow and quite playful with the boat. Grey with a white underside. Oh how I love the dolphins! We had dinner late and on the way I made lentil burgers with honey Dijon mustard!

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We anchored at Caltea Laguna (Lake Cove) with again, shorelines. This day I learned how to the steering works on the boat, practicing zig zags and circles getting a feel for it.

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On  January 18 we were in the Beagle Canal, full on 7am-5pm sailing day. The Cordillera Darwin Mountains show signs of the once melting ice cap through fingers of glaciers. The range towers to the North at elevation of 2,000 meters (6,574 ft). Rivers, ice crumbling into the sea and electric neon pastel glaciers named Roncagli, Bove, llaha, and Frances.

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You could see storms roll in far away and when the catch up with you how the energy changes and becomes alive. I learned how to take down the anchor and at night we anchored in Caleta Olla (Wave Cove).

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On January 19th we left at 10am from the cove and came out into the beagle canal. Passes through the town of Ushuaia where we saw cars and planes for the first time in a week. East winds and sails were up. I learned how to drive while putting a sail up, timing it into the wind and holding it while the sail rises. I learned how to make some homemade bread!

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20 miles later and we arrived in Puerto Williams that had a nice yacht club with bar and maybe 20 sailboats. Met lovely people and got to stretch my legs! I never thought I would of made it this far south, let alone in a Sailboat. Its been a special experaince. You can also see the picture above is of a little Seal friend. There were many of them who met the boat along the way, so curious.

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Below you can see the view of Puerto Williams from us pulling in, it is super small. The mountain range is called ¨Navarino de los dientes¨ and is a well known trek you can do for a couple of days.

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What a stunning journey. Couldn’t of asked for a better trip! It was full of beauty, challenges, new experiences, and constant lessons to be learned. I feel super grateful to Greg and Northanger for letting me come along. It created a reality I didn’t know to exist and I feel fortunate.

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I want to give credit to a book I received tons of information from that was on board of Northanger called “Patagonia Tierra del Fuego” by Mariolina Rolfo and Giorgio Ardrizzi. I paraphrase a lot of their information in this post but it’s a phenomenal book about the channels. If it wasn’t for their book I wouldn’t of been able to understand all the history of Tierra del Fuego or the specifics to each anchoring.

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One response »

  1. Hi Molly,
    What an experience!! Thank you for taking the time to write it all out & explain this journey!! I loved the beginning of this blog, which honestly sounded more like poetry 🙂 As you continued on your trip, your detail was excellent and gave us helpful description….as well as the pictures. Loved it! You are becoming quite the cook, as well as an accomplished sailor. Will you continue to work on Northanger? Or is your journey going to bring you back to land? This has been wonderful, Molly, to experience with you. Thank you!! We love you and always miss you! xoAunt Susie 🙂

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