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Sequitur
Michael & Edi have headed out on a slow, thorough exploration of the globe.
South From Puerto Montt
Michael
12 December 2011 | Castro, Chile
We were up early to continue with our preparations for sea. Sequitur had been either alongside or on the hard in Puerto Montt for nearly half a year, and there were many details to attend to in insuring she was ready again to proceed. After breakfast I left Edi with the final details as I walked up to the marina office to pay our fees for re-launch, mooring and electricity. We would have done this the previous afternoon, when we had returned with our zarpe, but it was another holiday in Chile. The office had been closed as they celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Deception.

The office was still closed when I arrived, so I waited for about ten minutes for Alexandro to arrive. A little over an hour later, after the marina crew had finally given-up on finding the key for the electrical box on the float and had broken-into it to read our meter, I had our invoice completed and paid.

Edi had everything secured when I returned, so I flashed-up the engine, and at 1030 we slipped our lines and proceeded under power out of the marina and down the channel into Seno Reloncavi. We had enjoyed Puerto Montt. It is a rather pleasant city for the frontier town that it is, situated at the end of the road and on the edge of a vast wilderness that extends to Cape Horn. We used it well as our last opportunity for repairs, maintenance, spares and supplies. We were more than ready to leave, and we hoped Sequitur was also.

It was a clear and calm day as we motored out into the Sound. I called the Armada at Puerto Montt Radio on VHF Channel 16 to report our departure, as required. No response. I called again seven times, every two or three minutes we until finally received a reply.

By the time of our noon observations, a light breeze had come-up, 2 to 3 knots from the southeast. By 1230 it had increased to 4 to 5 knots, so I hauled-out the main and the jib and we motor-sailed on a port tack. By 1700 the wind had built to about 12 knots, and we had shut-down the engine and were making 4 to 5 knots in varying winds as we weaved our way past islands and around points, heading generally southwest.


Along the way, the foreshores and bays were filled with fish farms. In places, picturesque little rural communities had their previously wonderful pastoral settings marred by these modern factories. I suppose this is one of the many costs of progress.

As we crossed the 30-mile expanse of Golfo de Ancud, the wind came from the northwest at 16 to 18 knots, and we sailed for a while at hull speed of 8.9 knots on a beam reach. With the beam seas, the heel became a tad uncomfortable, so I rolled-in the jib and shortened the main, and we continued more comfortably with staysail and reefed main, making around 6.5 to 7 knots. It was great to be sailing again.


At 2000 I made the required call to the Armada, failing to receive any response from them on my three attempts. At 2032 we rounded the western point of Isla Mechuque and rolled-in the sails to motor into the small Caleta Mechuque. A wonderful double rainbow from a quick rain shower pointed the way to the anchorage off the tiny, isolated hamlet.


At 2109 we came to 45 metres of chain on the Rocna on a mud bottom in 9.9 meters of water in a very tight little bay. It was low tide, and with the level due to rise 5 meters overnight, our 4.5:1 scope would change to 3:1 as the tide rose.

We were in a very well-protected anchorage in calm weather, our batteries were at 100%, we had a tank full of hot water from the day's running, we had a boat full of food and supplies and souls full of satisfaction that all was well.


Saturday morning looked glum up through the hatches from our bed, so we were not eager for an early start. We decided to stay at anchor for another day and hope for a break in the weather to go ashore for a look around. In the early afternoon I re-commissioned the watermaker. I began by changing the charcoal filter and the two pre-filters.


Then following the manual's instructions, I opened the pressure relief valve half a turn and pushed the Auto Run button. The machine ran through its purge cycle, and when it was finished, I ran a further ten minute flush and then ran a water sample on low speed. It made water at a rate of 60 liters per hour with salinity showing < 100 ppm. Fully satisfied with its operation, I set it to auto-flush on a 120-hour cycle.


By the time I had finished with the watermaker and we had eaten lunch, the weather still looked iffy, but we decided to head ashore anyway. As we approached, a cow and a calf came down a trail and onto the beach and walked along it, followed by two dogs and a cow-herder and another cow. The beach was the trail from the pasture to the cowshed.


This was our first opportunity to use our new dinghy wheels, which we had brought back with us from Vancouver to La Punta last year and installed in Iquique in January. They worked wonderfully. I drove the bow onto the gravel beach, stepped out onto the dry, and then we rather easily rolled the dinghy up to the high water line with the motor still down.


The little village of Mechuque is very rustic and pastoral. It appears that forestry was once important, but the big trees are now mostly gone. Fishing is important, and there are several fish farms along the coast. Also, the rebuilding and repairing of fishing boats appears to be a casual and rather primitive pastime, with boats scattered along the shore in various stages of life and death.


We walked up the one-lane brick road and across the one-lane bridge into the centre of the settlement. Along the way we passed an assortment of very Germanic-styled houses, mixed in with a 60s back-to-the-earth architecture that would go unnoticed on Saltspring or Lasqueti Island back home.


Everywhere we looked was a rustic scene of real life being scraped out of a harsh environment and shaped with no purpose other than to make do with what was available. Houses, workshops and outbuildings were erected on stilts overhanging the water to take advantage of the steep waterfront and the six meter tidal range.


In the middle of the community of a few dozen is the church, and across from it a medical clinic. Around the corner is the office of the Carabineros de Chile.


Just down the street, next to the new waiting room for the ferry, is the local grocery and general store. Small patches of paper taped in the window showed they had bread, potatoes, hen, chicken, chicken wings, turkey wings and sausage. Since we needed none of these, we decided not to go in.


A few doors up a side lane, sitting on a hillside overlooking the slough that cuts the community in two, sits an abandoned and deteriorating house that looks rather noble in comparison to its neighbours. We wondered whether its size made it too much to maintain.


We encountered several edges of town, it being difficult to go more than a hundred meters in any direction without popping out one side or another. At one of these, were some goats grazing in an orchard. One of them seemed very intent on pruning the apple trees.


Dark clouds continued passing over and spitting the occasional shower on us as we wandered. However, we were fascinated with the beauty and genuine quaintness of the place, and carried on. After nearly two hours, we returned to the dinghy, easily re-launched it with its wheels and motored back out to Sequitur.


Sunday opened as a bleak and windy day. I called the Armada radio stations in the area with our mandatory 0800 position report, and received no response, which was not in the least surprising. Edi prepared a breakfast of pain perdu au jambon served with sliced tomatoes and chopped basil, and we enjoyed it with steaming fresh-ground Starbucks from our local source.


At 1008 we weighed anchor and motored out of the caleta and into more open water so we could roll out some sails. Our destination for the day was Castro, about 50 miles away along a course woven between islands, rocks, reefs and shoals all washed with varying tidal currents. The wind was initially from the northwest at 6 to 8 knots, so we motor-sailed to maintain our desired 5 knot speed. As the day progressed and the winds and our course shifted, we sailed every point from close hauled to dead downwind.


It was not only headlands, rocks, reefs and shoals that we needed to avoid. Along the way much of the shoreline was lined with shellfish and salmon farms.


Some of these are modern and appeared well-maintained, while many others are rather dilapidated. The beaches are littered with washed-up detritus from the farms; old floats, tanks and general garbage. There does not appear to be much regulation on the farms, if there is even any at all. They are often placed in navigational channels, and in some cases take-up entire bays.


At 1850 we came to 50 meters of chain on the Rocna in 11 meters of water at low tide in front of the Armada station in Castro. With the tidal range of 6 meters, we were just shy of 3:1 scope. Once we were properly secured, I called Castro Radio, the Armada station on VHF to report our arrival, and received no response. Two further calls had similar results. Our several attempts to give our required 2000 report also failed to elicit any response from the Armada.

At 2115, just before sunset and just as we were finishing dinner, an inflatable with two Armada ratings arrived off our stern. They asked to see our zarpe. I handed it to them and they were soon satisfied that all was in order. I told them we had received no response from Castro Radio after many attempts. They questioned whether our radio was working, and I assured them it was, and told them of hearing many other unanswered calls to Castro Radio. I requested they call us on their portable. They had none, but said they would call in a few minutes, from their office. They did. We replied. They said goodnight.


We awoke to a bright, clear day with a light southerly breeze. After breakfast we launched the dinghy and headed ashore to explore Castro.


We first putted along the shoreline to the northwest, looking at the long line of stilt-houses lining the waterfront. Many of these appeared to be well beyond their best-before dates; some are in the late stages of dilapidation. However; there is a new breath of life in the row, with two very modern and obviously upscale homes being built in the middle of the slum. We surmised that this will quickly spread along the row, transforming the little area into a better neighbourhood.


We headed back along the shore to the dinghy float below the Armada station, and secured Non Sequitur to a bollard. It being near low tide, the ramp was very steep, nearly 40 degrees. We wandered around in the base for a while, searching for the gate, so we could ask permission to moor at their float, as is suggested in the two cruising guides we have. Finally we were directed to the main gate, and we spoke with a rather stern Petty Officer, who told us it was forbidden for us to use their float.


For plan B, we took the dinghy over to a gravel beach, lowered the wheels and motored the bow up onto the dry. We rolled Non Sequitur about a dozen meters up and secured her painter to pier rail. I also looped a chain through the motor and dinghy eyes and around an upright iron I-beam, and secured the loop with a heavy padlock. Memories of our stolen dinghy and motor in Piata are still with us.


We walked along through the waterfront park, which is decorated with machines of a bygone era. There is a small, very narrow-gauge steam locomotive on display, rather nicely restored and maintained, which unfortunately seems to be a recurring target of local graffiti artists.


There are also several steam engines, both stationary and wheel-mounted. The region has a rich agricultural and forestry history, and these engines would have been a welcome replacement for both horse and human sweat.


We spotted across the road a ferreteria, which seemed to specialize in marine hardware. As we were looking around inside, I spotted a chain of a dozen or so pelican hooks hanging from a post, and noted they were all stamped 316. We needed two to make slinging our outboard engine to and from the dinghy easier. The basic swivel-eyed one I wanted with a 2cm bight was priced at 4400 Pesos, a bit less then $8.80, seemingly less than wholesale back home. When our ticket number came-up at the service counter, I asked for four more like it, and was told the chain was their entire stock. I picked-out the five 2cm bight hooks from the chain, and the clerk offered them all to us at 4400 each. The bargain improved.


We walked up the steep hill to the centre of town, which is sited on a plateau. Facing the Plaza de Armas is Iglesia San Francisco de Castro, which was completed in 1912 as a replacement for a church destroyed by fire, which had been a replacement for an even earlier fire-ravaged one.


The interior of the church is completely finished in shellacked wood, which the signage proudly proclaims is the height of the local Chiloe artisan craftsmanship.


We walked back through the town to the brink of the plateau, and found a staircase that descends the steep embankment to the waterfront. The view down and to the north was of old and peaceful settings; but sprinkled across the skyline behind us were the cranes and derricks of new construction. Castro appears to be in a boom cycle, the place looks prosperous and the energy we sensed is upbeat.

Castro, the capitol of Isla de Chiloe, has a population of about 35,000. Until we arrive in Puerto William, this is the last settlement we will visit that has a population requiring more than three digits to record. Our intention is to continue south on Tuesday morning. Again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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