Feliz Navidad! Evans and I have enjoyed another challenging and rewarding year. Since last year at this time, we have sailed almost 12,000 nautical miles, visited four countries and, upon reaching Puerto Montt in Chile in October, closed the loop on our second circumnavigation. Since we were here five years ago, more than 40,000 nautical miles have passed under Hawk's keel, a third of that in the Southern Ocean. We have now sailed more than 100,000 nautical miles on our two boats, almost two-thirds of that aboard Hawk in the high latitudes.
We spent last Christmas in Bahia Magdalena on the west coast of the Baja peninsula with a wonderful group of new-to-cruising couples who have become good friends. From there, we rounded Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the southern end of the Baja peninsula and entered the Sea of Cortez. We reached La Paz, the largest town on the peninsula, just after New Year and stayed there several weeks while Beth took an intensive course to refresh her Spanish. After that, we enjoyed a six-week winter cruise in the Sea of Cortez, and then we went on an inland trip to visit the Mayan ruins in Chiapas, the southernmost Mexican state. In April, we left the Sea of Cortez and headed for Costa Rica. We took the offshore route with one short stop in Zihuatenejo to clear Customs and top up with fuel, water and produce. Crossing the dreaded Gulf of Tehuenepec, known for strong winds and big seas, we motored through a flat calm surrounded by pods of dolphins, dozens of sea turtles and hundreds of seabirds. Upon arriving in Bahia Santa Elena in the north of Costa Rica, we were serenaded by flocks of Scarlet Macaws morning and night.
We had planned to spend a month or so in the country and then move on to Ecuador where the climate is much cooler and drier in the summer months, but the authorities changed the regulations there, making it exceedingly difficult to visit by yacht. So we spent three months, from the end of April to the end of July, in Costa Rica. The wonderful wildlife experiences we had more than made up for the unbearably hot and humid weather and the almost daily thunderstorms. Ecuador's new regulations affected the Galapagos Islands as well, so when we left Costa Rica we sailed nonstop to the Gambier Islands. This is a small archipelago located about 800miles southeast of Tahiti in French Polynesia. We had always wanted to visit these remote islands, but they had never been within reach of any of our sailing routes. This time we sailed a few thousand extra miles to reach them. It took us 24 days to sail close to 4,000 nautical miles from Costa Rica to the Gambiers, and we spent a month enjoying the coral atoll. From there we sailed another 3,800 nautical miles in 24 days to Puerto Montt, Chile, weathering two gales during the last four days of the passage.
We left Hawk in Marina del Sur, the marina where we wintered the last time we were here, and returned back to the States for short visits. While we were there, Beth got notice that her book, Blue Horizons, had won a National Outdoor Book Award in the outdoor literature category (see www.noba-web.org). This is only the second sailing book to win in any category and the first to win in the literature category. The book now gets to carry a handsome gold medallion on the cover to commemorate this achievement.
We have just applied for our cruising permit and, weather permitting, will begin a three-month voyage from Puerto Montt to Puerto Williams (about 60 miles north of Cape Horn) at the end of this week. We plan to spend the southern winter in the Beagle Channel at the very bottom of South America, and in October or November make the passage to South Georgia Island where we hope to spend a month or more. Then we'll be heading back up the Atlantic and what will likely be the end of this voyage. We hope that this note finds you in the holiday spirit and getting ready to enjoy time with friends and family. Have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy and happy 2008.
The last few months have been an example of the kind of planning we must engage to live in aboard a yacht. While sailing, we have to think in terms of seasons and plan a year or more ahead of time, and a small departure from the schedule has big consequences. When we arrived in Puerto Montt in October, we had planned to be on our way south within a month. We had intended to reach the Beagle Channel at the bottom of South America in early January, and then to take the first good weather window to sail to South Georgia Island before returning up the Atlantic, reaching the Caribbean just before hurricane season in 2008. That plan required us to keep moving at the same pace that has brought us 12,000 nautical miles in the last 12 months.
But circumstances dictated otherwise. At the beginning of November, Beth flew to the States for a week to be with her father who had just had hip surgery and, after she went through the normal round of physicals and tests, discovered she needed surgery of her own. Evans flew back to be with her in mid-November, and each of us got to spend Thanksgiving with our families. The surgery went very well, and we returned to Chile on December 10th. Beth is still under some restrictions, which will be lifted at the end of this week. We have applied for our cruising permit for the channels, and we hope to leave on Thursday, assuming the weather cooperates.
All of this would have been a problem had we not changed our plans shortly after arriving in Puerto Montt. But within a week of being back in Chile, we knew we could not rush through what will likely be our last cruising in this fascinating and challenging area for many years. We also didn't want to miss the opportunity to spend time with many good friends we will not see again for a very long time. Before Beth flew back to the States, we had already decided to spend the winter down in the Beagle Channel and save South Georgia for next year, adding a year to our schedule and delaying our return up the Atlantic until the end of 2008 or early 2009.
This has also allowed us a little more time to enjoy summertime before we head south to where it can and does snow year round. While we spent five months here in Puerto Montt in 2002, from April to September, that was wintertime when it was perpetually gloomy and dark, and we had cold, rainy, miserable weather. Now we're seeing Puerto Montt in all its summer glory for the very first time, and we can hardly believe that it is the same place. The sun is our constant companion. It rises hours before us, and its rays still lighten the horizon an hour or more after we have climbed into bed. During the day, temperatures reach the seventies, and at night we sleep deeply in the cool air. The flowers and trees are all blooming, and a riot of color lines the road into Puerto Montt where vines climb the fences in front of the houses, and trees gaily decorated in their summer finery shoulder their way up above the rooftops.
Our Chilean friends, Arturo and Sonia, who spend four months every summer cruising in the northern part of the channels aboard their Nauticat 35, took us on a driving tour north of Puerto Montt to Puerto Varas and Volcán Osorno this week. The whole area, like Puerto Montt, is booming, and around Puerto Varas there was much construction going on to improve the roads and quite a bit of land was for sale around the lake shore. The area is quite beautiful with low rolling hills of pasture and woodland backed by snow-capped peaks. Because of the volcanic nature of the land, there is very little in the way of foothills, and many of the peaks rise right up from the lush plain. Osorno in particular resembles a child's fairytale mountain, with a perfect pyramid shape capped by snow and a large lake called Llanquihue (pronounced Yankee-way) at its foot. Though we only drove to the lodge at the base of the ski lift about halfway up the 8,500 foot mountain, from there we had an incredible view of the lake surrounded by the lush, green land with brooding ranks of mountains in the background. You'll find a few photos of Osorno in the Chile photo gallery.
But further south the weather is the same as we remember. Friends of ours on a sixty-foot schooner got knocked down with just a headsail up in sixty knots of wind a few weeks ago. A few days ago, we got an e-mail from other friends who had 66 knots of wind in their anchorage, admittedly not a particularly good anchorage but the only one available in that area. As we ready ourselves for the next leg of our voyage, we have to remind ourselves that the summerlike weather we are so enjoying will end once we cross the Golfo de Penas (Gulf of Sorrow) about three hundred miles south of here.
When we leave here later this week, we will be leaving behind most comforts and conveniences and head off into one of the most remote and uninhabited parts of the world. The coast from here to the Beagle Channel resembles the coast of the Pacific Northwest from Seattle to Glacier Bay, Alaska, but with almost no settlements. Past Golfo de Penas, there is only one small fishing settlement with 400 people in 700 miles of coastline. It will take us three months to get from here to Puerto Williams about 60 miles north of Cape Horn, and in that time we will have no internet connections or mail or supermarkets or news... The only people we will run into will be Chilean fishermen (who earn an average of $400 per year for six months of back-breaking, dangerous work away from their families) and other crews on the occasional sailboat.
We're really looking forward to heading back to this beautiful area though these are the most challenging waters we've ever sailed. There's something utterly magnificent about a landscape that has never been shaped by human hands, that is as it was at the dawn of time and has been influenced only by nature. In the sunken valleys flooded by the sea and lashed by Southern Ocean storms, the forces of nature are brutal, and totally unforgiving. It's incredibly humbling but also exhilarating to be there, a feeling something like having the hair stand up on the back of your neck when a wolf howls or a great cat screams while you're sitting around a campfire in the dark.
We hope that you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy 2008.
Beth and Evans