The end of the season
12 March 2012 | Puerto Williams, Chile
The last charter of the season for Pelagic is over and I am now relaxing in Puerto Williams - but it's not all play, a lot has been happening; more on that later.
My last blog told how we had moored in Caleta Letier after a stiff beat west along the Beagle Channel. The following morning was a little grey with some showers but not too windy so we set off for one of my favourite anchorages, Caleta Olla, which is remarkably sheltered little bay tucked into the northern shore of the Northwestern Arm of the Beagle Channel. it is formed from an old sandbank, or perhaps a fragment of moraine, the land is not very high on the windward side but tall Lenga trees provide mast-high shelter. It can be blowing 40 knots in the channel but as long as you tuck right up into the trees you will have a complete shelter at deck level.
We arrived at Olla in the early afternoon after a quick stop at Isla Diablo to view a sealion colony that has been living there this season. The whales that we spotted further to the west on the last trip have spread out along the entire length of the Beagle Channel now so we were seeing whales the whole day.
After getting settled in and having lunch we all went off for a hike up to the lake in front of glacier Hollanda. This time I really did only take the guys on a 3km hike, rather than the 18km of the previous trip!
When we arrived in Olla we were surprised to find about 30 kayaks pulled up on the beach in a neat row. It turned out that Olla was being used for a stage in this year's Patagonia Adventure Race http://www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com/ the competitors had to trek to Olla and then the idea was to kayak to Seno Pia, but strong winds meant that they had to shorten the course after several days of waiting to start the final leg.
The next morning's motor up to Seno Pia was once again breezy and wet but the views of the glaciers plunging into the Beagle channel from the high peaks of the Darwin range were none the less spectacular for that! The entry into Pia through the narrow gap in the moraine which forms the bar was done mostly on radar as the mist obscured the usual landmarks. I fitted a new radar, sonar and E120w display from Raymarine to Pelagic at the beginning of the season and the large clear display that I can see easily from the wheel makes this type of pilotage relatively easy.
We then motored right up the Western arm to where three glaciers enter the fjord. The westernmost glacier is advancing (most glaciers in the world are in retreat) and you can see how it is pushing up a new moraine in front of it and ploughing over trees at the sides. The trees that it is knocking down are around 30 years old so this is the biggest advance in at least that time. Further to the west a glacier in Seno Garibaldi is knocking down trees that are three hundred years old! Charlie Porter, a local glaciologist and climatologist, yesterday showed me a time-lapse sequence of one year of the glacier's advance - It is a very impressive earth moving machine!
We anchored and moored for the night in Caleta Beaulieu in a tight little spot on the northern shore. One that I hadn't used before but my favourite spot was occupied by a couple of other yachts. When we came to leave in the morning the keel was firmly in the mud thanks to a very low tide - not a problem for Pelagic, simply lift the keel and off we go.
The day's sail was short; just across the Beagle to Bahia Tres Brazos on the northern shore of Isla Gordon. A short motor across accompanied by sei whales. We moored in Caleta Julia and everybody went off for an afternoon hike before dinner. Leaving Caleta Julia in the morning had to be a carefully planned manoeuvre as a lot of kelp in the anchorage had fouled the anchor and there was a danger that if the kelp held us in place once the shore lines were released that we would swing the Pelagic's stern onto the shore. To prevent this happening we had to keep one shoreline on until the absolute last moment whilst lifting the anchor and cutting the kelp free; there were probably a couple of tonnes of kelp hanging off the anchor. To clear the kelp we carry a standard garden hoe with a nice sharp blade you can reach the water line and clear the kelp from chain and anchor as it lifts, much easier than the often recommended machete for the job. Anyway with good teamwork form the crew the manoeuvre was completed easily.
The forecast for the run back to Puerto Williams was for a strong wind, 35 knots on the GRIB forecast that I had downloaded, so I expected a fast trip. Sure enough the breeze built as we sailed east and the reefs were stacked onto the boom one after the other until as we neared Punta Divide at the eastern end of Isla Gordon we were running with a fragment of yankee poled out and no main at 10 knots with 40knots of apparent wind - it was officially fresh. We made the run down to Puerto Williams in less than 9 hours. We just missed the 6 o'clock gate for making our international clearance to Ushuaia so that had to wait for the morning.
10 o'clock in the morning found us all at the port captain's offices to clear emigration and to get our international clearance. Back to the boat and straight out into the channel -we had about 25knots of true wind on the nose straight down the channel so we had to beat all the way up to Ushuaia. I think that the guests really enjoyed the sail back, perhaps one of the best sails of the trip for them and a fine way to end the trip.
Pelagic and I waited in Ushuaia for a week or so to welcome back Pelagic Australis from Antarctica where they had been making a 3D film with a National Geographic crew. I then moved down the channel and back across the border to Chile where being a Falkland Islander I am much more comfortable with all the crazy politics that are going on at the moment!
My big news is that I am in the process of buying my own boat. She is laying here at the moment and I plan to return in the spring to do a small refit before taking her off somewhere else for a larger refit.
I will soon take Pelagic to Stanley and then on to Piriapolis where I'll do some work, winterize her and then fly to Cape Town in June to meet Pelagic Australis. Pelagic will have a new skipper next season.
Chris Puerto Williams - 12 March 2012