We paused in Stanley and luxuriated in a wonderful little haven of First World quiet, polite, organized and predictable society. Except for our two trips back home to Vancouver, this was our first taste of sedately civilized society since we entered Latin America in November 2009. This is not to say that we find no charm in the Latin American ways, it is simply stating that we are accustomed to what we consider better ways.
With our onward direction in mind, we assessed Sequitur's condition. We have nothing but high praise for the Hunter 49, finding it a wonderfully sea-kindly vessel, very comfortable and secure in all weather through Force 12. However; the poor quality of the installation work done during the fit-out by Specialty Yachts in Vancouver continues to jeopardize our safety and to impair our enjoyment of this wonderful boat.
The Raymarine chart-plotter continues to malfunction, losing the radar scanner input, rebooting, going back to factory default and erasing all data and settings. This happens randomly every few hours, seemingly the result of a particular, though as yet unidentified vibration. It began a few days south of Puerto Montt, after we had crossed the Buco de Guafo into the northern Patagonian channels. With this, we have lost the input from both of our AIS units, the Raymarine transceiver and the SeaCas receiver, so we can see no other vessels' AIS signatures. Fortunately though; our transceiver works, so we are visible to other vessels. I suspect some more of Specialty's poor connections are to blame, but so far through my troubleshooting up the mast and down below behind the system's components, I have not been able to track-down the cause.
The Icom 802 SSB radio, the antenna and the tuner installation that we had done by Specialty performed very poorly from the beginning, and for over a year now has ceased to work at all, so we have no access to weather information by voice nor through gribs by sailmail, so we need to rely on the satellite phone. While we were in Vancouver, I changed over from a Microsoft-based computer to a new MacBook Air, and I have not yet been able to get the Iridium satellite phone to work with it, although the program is designed to work with Macs. So while we have hundreds of minutes on our Global Marine Networks account, I cannot use the XGate email, web browser or weather applications.
The thought of venturing out on a three or four week, 3500-mile crossing to Cape Town without ongoing access to current weather information, without dependable radar and without being able to receive AIS data, did not sit well with us. Additionally, with our anchor windlass broken again, approaching a coast in unknown weather after a month's passage without convenient anchoring capability seemed imprudent if better options were available.
We thought of staying in Stanley and getting our electronics and windlass repaired; however, we were tired of many months in multiple layers of fleece, of wearing long underwear, of wearing double toques, of sleeping under two heavy duvets, all this with the Espar furnace turned up high. We were tired of the constant highly humid cold weather. We looked north, closer to the equator. Argentina was totally out of the question; we risked very heavy fines, even boat confiscation for having visiting the Malvinas without Argentine permission. We looked at heading to Piriapolis, Uruguay.
We had been watching the weather forecasts during our stay in the Falklands, trying to get a handle on the pattern of storms to the north. In reading various pilots and guides, I gathered that on the crossing northward, it is very difficult to miss being caught-up in a storm. Cyclones generate every two or three days from the interaction of the hot winds above the Argentine Pampas with the cold Antarctic waters flowing northward. These storms often arise very quickly and are difficult to accurately predict.
In reference to the passage between Tierra del Fuego and Rio de la Plata, one quote states: "sailors should be ready to deal with at least a couple of cold fronts, with many hours spent hove-to, it being senseless, if not dangerous, to fight against the steep seas raised, even if close to the coast." Another: "The approach of a cold front usually brings a rotation of the wind from NW to SW and a considerable increase in its velocity. When this happens, it is far better to heave-to than to beat close-hauled into 40 or 50 knots of wind." And another: "The average front lasts around 12 hours, though southwesterlies raging 3 days are not uncommon."
Piriapolis is 1025 miles and slightly east of north from Stanley, and I calculated that Including being hove-to for 12 to 24 hours, the passage should take us 7.5 to 8 days. On Tuesday the 21st of February, the gribs showed a deep depression predicted to develop on Saturday off the Argentine coast 500 and 600 miles north of the Falklands and to deepen further as it tracks eastward across our intended path. The gribs have shown winds over 70 knots on Sunday, and we wish to avoid being in them.
By Sunday midnight the storm's centre is predicted to have moved east of our proposed track, so we had decided to wait until midday on Thursday to head out from Stanley to be in position to take advantage of the southerly winds on the backside of the hurricane strength storm.
We had no courtesy flag for Uruguay, so Edi took our now-useless Argentine flag and with a few creative snips and a few runs through the sewing machine, she converted it into a passable facsimile of the Uruguayan colours.
Midday Thursday the winds were predicted to be southwest 25 to 30 as we left Stanley, and we found this to be the case as we motored out through the narrows and set sail for a run out Port Williams and then northward past Mengeary and Volunteer Points. We were hit by a series of squalls with winds into the upper 40s, so we ran with about two thirds of the staysail and a third of the main, making 6 to 7 knots.
Thursday midnight found us in west-southwest winds of 30 knots with gusts to the mid-40s and still making better than 6 knots with very short sail. At 0442 we crossed the 50th parallel of latitude, leaving the Furious Fifties and entering the Roaring Forties.
At noon on Friday the winds were down to 15 with gusts into the mid-20s. They had backed a bit and were approaching south-southwest. I rolled-out the remainder of the staysail and we continued northward at about 5.5 knots. I didn't want to get too far north too quickly, wanting to give the forecast depression time to pass ahead of us.
By late afternoon the wind had eased to 10 to 12 knots, still rather steady south-southeast. The barometer was 1017.5, the first time we have seen it above standard pressure in over five weeks. The sky began clearing. At midnight on Friday the wind had backed to the south and had decreased to 8-10. The barometer was up to 1020.0 and the clear sky showed-off most of its stars and a waxing moon.
By noon on Saturday the wind had backed to east-southeast and increased to 15-20 knots. The barometer continued a very slow climb, and was at 1020.3. The sky was completely overcast with a combination of altostratus, stratus and cumulus. The seas were becoming more confused with a 2-metre steep chop.
At 1400 the barometer began falling, passing through 1018 at 1500, and an hour later it was 1016.7. At 1800 the glass read 1014.2 and at 2100 it was at 1009.9. At 2140 we were hit by a squall with 45-knot winds. I turned Sequitur southwest, rolled-in all but a metre or so of the staysail and the main, went below and closed the hatch. It appeared that the storm had developed earlier and further to the south than had been predicted.
At midnight we continued to drift at about 2.5 knots on a course of 250º in front of 45-knot easterly winds. The barometer was at 1007.9. We were very comfortable as we slept on the salon couches. I awoke from time-to-time to reset the auto-rebooted chart-plotter and to check the radar for contacts.
For breakfast we resorted to a tactic I had learned in my Navy days while crossing the Tasman Sea in a Force 12 blow. We sat on the sole and leaned against the lee couch to enjoy our smoked salmon and capers on cream cheese slathered toasted split baguettes. Edi had even managed to brew a fine thermos of Starbuck's coffee as Sequitur weathered the storm.
By noon on Sunday our drift had gradually swung to a course of 290º and had slowed to 2.2 knots. The winds had veered to south-southeast and were still in the upper 30s and mid 40s. Because the seas were up to over 5 metres, I decided to remain as we were for a while longer. The barometer was at 1002.0.
At 1710 on Sunday, with the wind around to south and down to 25-30 knots, and the seas to between 4 and 5 metres, I flashed-up the engine, rolled-out a tad more sail and turned north to run at 2100 rpm in front of the seas. We surfed at above 13 knots, then wallowed and surfed again. By 2000 were averaging 7.7 knots as the wind continued to veer and subside. The seas remained above 4 metres.
By midnight the barometer had rebounded to 1004.2, the wind had stabilized at south-southwest 20-25 and the seas were down to about 4 metres. We continued motor-sailing with half a staysail and a third of the main, making 7.5 knots and better.
At noon on Monday the winds were variable from calm to 5 knots, the seas were lightly rippled on a 1-metre swell. The barometer continued its slow climb and was at 1004.9 and the sky was nearly fully overcast with a few cumulus giving accent to the stratus. We motored with the sails hanging limp.
Through the afternoon the wind slowly filled from the east and then gradually backed, allowing us a pleasant broad reach. By midnight it was blowing from the northeast at 15 to 20 knots, and we were heading almost directly into it and into increasingly confused seas that were countering the northbound current. We motor-sailed, making 5.8 knots at 017º, directly toward Piriapolis.
Tuesday dawned with a very low overcast, which soon lowered to fog. Through the morning the visibility slowly decreased until by 1020 it was down to under 30 metres. I ran the watermaker with the filters that were nearly clogged from the glacial till in Beagle Channel. The automatic back-flush every 5 days over the past several weeks seems to have cleared them, and within four hours we had full water tanks.
Tuesday noon the sea was very lightly rippled from the variable 2 to 4 knot airs and there was a slow 1-metre swell. The barometer had remained in a gentle fluctuation between 1004 and 1005 since Monday. We motor-sailed directly toward the Uruguayan coast. At 1451 we crossed the line on the chart indicating the northern limit of sea ice; We were officially out of the iceberg zone.
The fog persisted through the day, with visibility varying from 25 to 100 metres. The wind continued just off the nose and increased to about 15 knots as we motor-sailed into it. An hour or so after sunset, the waxing moon gradually brightened, and the stars began to appear through the dissipating fog.
Wednesday morning the barometer finally broke out of its narrow range and rose through 1007 at 0800. After her post-watch sleep, Edi prepared a wonderful brunch of scrambled Falklands farm-fresh eggs, Falklands beef bangers, toasted Falklands split baguettes, Falklands Roma tomatoes with Falklands basil and we washed it down with cups of fresh-ground Starbucks coffee from Costco in Vancouver.
We began selectively unzipping and opening the panels in the cockpit enclosure to allow the breezes to start drying-out canvas and cushions. We had peeled-off our multi-layers of fleece, climbed out of our long underwear, doffed our insulated pants. Edi gathered-up the clothes we won't be needing for a long time and ran a few loads through the washer-dryer. In the afternoon we took long hot showers and then, for the first time in well over a year, we allowed the sun and warm breeze in the cockpit to dry us. We had left the Roaring Forties.
Through the night the wind veered to south-southeast, but at 6 to 8 knots it barely kept the sails filled and offered little assistance to our motoring along about 40 miles off the Argentine coast. Thursday morning's brunch was rather European, with baguettes, cheese slices, ham, tomatoes and olives. We enjoyed it in single layers of clothing in the cockpit with the side curtains pulled back to offer a cooling breeze.
On Thursday afternoon we began crossing the broad mouth of Rio de la Plata. It is called the widest river in the world, touted to be 120 nautical miles wide at its mouth. However; a look at its geography shows it is simply a broad bay into which some rivers flow about 150 miles inland from the capes.
As we headed across the mouth of the bay, I noticed that we had picked-up a stowaway. There was a pigeon roosting on the main outhaul, likely blown to seaward in a storm and now catching a ride back in.
In the small hours of Friday, as we approached the main shipping lanes between the sea and Buenos Aires and Montevideo, we encountered an increasing number of radar contacts. Without either of our AIS receivers being picked-up by the chart-plotter, I had to rely on using the radar's MARPA tracking function. This can handle only 10 contacts at a time, and is limited on our system to 12 miles range, so I selected the 10 most dangerous targets.
At 0630, as we came in VHF range, I called Control Piriapolis Prefectura Radio, but received no response. I continued to call every quarter hour or so with the same results. Finally at 0836, as we were inside the breakwater and approaching a temporary tie-up on the haul-out dock, I received a response. Six minutes later, we secured alongside and were met by two Prefectura officials, who took our data and welcomed us to Uruguay. We were told to report to the Aduana, Migracion and Prefectura offices in the next few days. We liked the casual approach. We were tired. We went below and slept.