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Beth and Evans
Christmas near Cape Horn
12/16/2001, Puerto Hoppner, Islas de los Estados (Staten Island)

Merry Christmas! We are anchored about 120 miles northeast of Cape Horn on the north coast of the rugged and uninhabited Islas de los Estados, the island that, together with Peninsula Mitre at the toe of Tierra del Fuego, creates the notorious Straits of Le Maire leading to the Beagle Channel. Hawk lies in a small pool, with five lines to trees ashore, behind a small islet in the inner lagoon of Puerto Hoppner. To get here, we entered a narrow gorge in the back of the outer harbor and squeezed through the tiny slot between a large rock in the middle of the channel and the wall of the gorge, no more than thirty feet wide. Except for that channel, this inner anchorage is completely landlocked and surrounded on all sides by 3,000-3,500 foot high glaciated mountains, their peaks and faces eroded by tempestuous Cape Horn gales. A waterfall plunges a thousand feet from a sheer cliff a few miles opposite us into an alpine lake that lies in a bowl behind the shoulder of the slope below. A tangled forest of tortured beech trees and low conifer vegetation hugs these lower slopes, and in the bay itself thousands of mussels cling to every surface exposed at low tide. Steamer ducks, Kelp geese, Imperial cormorants and Magellanic penguins abound, along with a host of other bird species we have not yet managed to identify.

The weather has been warm and pleasant (especially compared to Iceland), with highs in the mid-sixties most days and lows in the fifties overnight. We both find it hard to believe Christmas is fast approaching and that winter has already arrived for our friends and families in the Northern hemisphere. We are only just recovering from our almost non-stop run down the Atlantic from 60 degrees north to 55 degrees south. Since our last update, we have sailed another fifteen hundred miles south along the Argentinean coast, stopping in a handful of anchorages along the way. This coast proved almost as challenging as our passage from the Cape Verdes with weather patterns moving through the Drake passage and the Straits of Le Maire every two to three days, bringing gale force northerly winds followed by gale to storm force southwest winds in quick succession. Ports are few and far between, most accessible only over shallow bars at the mouth of rivers with large tidal ranges and very strong currents. We were fortunate to end up beating to windward only one night, a most unpleasant 12 hours in 30+ knots of true wind sailing 30 degrees off the wind and making good 6 knots into nasty, steep waves. For the rest of the time, we managed to hole up in acceptable anchorages while the southwest winds blew - which they did about one day in three.

Our favorite stop on the trip south was Puerto San Julian, the port 180 miles north of the entrance to the Straits of Magellan where both Magellan and Drake put down mutinies on their circumnavigations (in 1520 and 1578). Punta Gallows (no interpretation needed) was just off our beam. The entrance is very tricky with submerged reefs and rocks and three turns that have to be dead on or you're aground. The entrance was carefully marked with 5 pairs of leading marks, but the sandbars have shifted since the marks were placed, and two of the leading lines now lead over sand bars. Five knots of current through the entrance formed dangerous standing waves when opposed by more than 20 knots of wind. Yet Magellan discovered the sheltered estuary within by coming in under full sail chased by an easterly gale threatening to wreck him on the pitiless Argentinean coast!

Through the narrow channel and down the seven miles of estuary to the town anchorage, we were surrounded by the most beautiful dolphins - Commersons - about half the size of a normal dolphin and wearing a tuxedo of black and white. We also had Magellenic Penguins swimming around the boat, also dressed in black and white, and Imperial Cormorants, the shape of a slender, long-necked goose with a big comb on their heads and a black and white suit. Once anchored, the Prefectura (the officials we have to check in with in every port in Argentina) came out and picked us up in a 20-foot RIB with a big outboard manned by four young guys in international orange survival suits - boy, were they happy to have an excuse to use their toys! The Commerson dolphins particularly enjoyed playing around the RIB as it blasted through the waves. In the Prefectura's office, we asked how many sailboats they'd had visit, and the five officials who were dealing with us looked at each other and finally said, "Ninguna" - "None." They had great fun typing out the eight copies of the clearance and departure forms.

Now, after six years of dreaming and planning, and after building Hawk for exactly this place and these conditions, we have begun our Patagonian adventure. Puerto Hoppner has proven an excellent place to stop and savor that accomplishment, and to slow ourselves back down to cruising pace after the pressure of miles and seasons that drove us so quickly down the length of the Atlantic. We expect to leave here near the end of the week and make our way to Ushuaia for Christmas, but if the winds don't cooperate and we spend Christmas in this lovely, isolated spot, neither of us will mind in the least.

We wish you all a joyful holiday season, and many blessings in the coming year. Thank you for your kind thoughts and good wishes over the past year!

Beth and Evans s/v Hawk

2001

 

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