29 November 2011 | Alwoplast marina, Valdivia
Safe and comfortable cruising is all about picking the right weather, and for our 14 hour due south journey, strong winds from the south is not the right weather. Our little weather window closed before we could complete all of the new-boat paperwork with the Chilean authorities, so now we wait until Thursday. On the sunny side, the Pacific high pressure system responsible for these southerly winds has moved close to our position (OK you weather nerds remember we are in the southern hemisphere and high pressure = CCW winds) and giving us beautiful sunny days. Our seemingly endless pile of personal stuff is inventoried and stowed; it is easy to do that on a 57' catamaran but very difficult to remember where it all is. Safety gear is tested and stowed, more procedural review today. We even took the chance for a little reception for the friends we have met here, which meant that briefly the boat was sparkling clean and organized, and I have created a photo gallery of the final product, "Construction Final."
A bit on the near term plans, we are softening our goal to sail to Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine national park and nearly on the straight of Magellan, because of the extreme nature of the terrain and weather in deep Patagonia and shortage of experienced crew on Hekla. We plan to spend some weeks in the gentler Gulfo de Ancud and Isla de Chiloe area getting familiar with the boat and general operations, and reevaluate after that time. We can always park the boat in a marina and fly to the park.
Wrapping up, final testing
17 November 2011 | Valdivia, Chile
We now have all fully functional boat systems, the sailing rig, engines, instrumentation, lighting, refrigeration, etc. We go out when time allows, which is not often because the boat shop electrician and wood workers are working 6 long days per week. Last Sunday’s test sail was thwarted by gremlins in the engine starting safety interlock systems, leaving me with a smoking engine controls power supply and tasked with redesign and rewiring of the starting control circuit, again. This time it is quite robust and with fewer parts than before, best to experience these things at the dock! Initial trials with the Interphase PC-90 forward scanning sonar (http://www.interphase-tech.com/) are very interesting, I can clearly see submerged rocks and shoals ahead while walking around with iPad in hand; a photo expo coming on that in a couple days; also a rant and solution regarding Garmin’s autopilot true wind control programming choices.
The long delay in completion is probably due to the two months late delivery of the bamboo wood products, which could not be sourced in Chile and I actually bought them at a specialty lumber yard in Fort Collins and shipped them here. The wood shop guys were July and August with little to do, and now scrambling. The color and texture of the wood is really nice, and I promise to add a big final photo gallery before we set sail.
We have scheduled our completion celebration dinner on Thanksgiving day (that holiday is not recognized here) at the nearby brewery-restaurant with all of the boat shop employees, and planned sail-away on Saturday, Nov. 26, weather permitting. The first leg is a 14 hour ocean passage and requires favorable conditions.
Our friends from Fort Collins, the Modesitt’s, have set sail from Florida with their 6 and 3 year old kids, after two months of their own sweat equity investment at a marina in Fort Lauderdale. They plan a multi year voyage and you can visit their experiences at http://rivers2seas.com/. We hope to meet up with them in April in Panama.
Our first Hekla sail
05 November 2011 | Rio Valdivia, Chile
Our first sail on Hekla was Thursday and we were thrilled. It was another blue sky day, the wind was brisk, but not too much, and Hekla sails like a dream, smoothly parting the waves and riding effortlessly on the water. On board were; Chris White, Hekla's designer, Alex Wopper, owner of Alwoplast who built her, Roni Kilngenberg, the production manager, Hector, the electrician, Jeff, Hekla's proud owner, and myself, along for the ride.
Jeff had a grin plastered on his face the entire time we were out on Hekla. We left Alwoplast located five miles up the Valdivia river around 2:30 in the afternoon. We started the engines to help us maneuver out in the light winds, but also to test them as this was a test sail. A ways down stream the wind picked up and we raised the main. Then we unfurled the jib. We maneuvered between the green and red buoys, and around a shipwreck that sticks up mid river. Alex says it rolled there from Niebla durning the earthquake and tsunami of 1960. A steel barge fully loaded with firewood which sat briefly on the river bottom, the water having retreated, before returning on a 35' wave which rolled it up river four miles. This same earthquake caused many of the rivers around here to change course and the town of Valdivia to sink 2 meters, six feet.
At some point in the river, we turned the engines off. For me this is a magical moment. Now we move quietly and smoothly. The engines are noisy, stinky and they vibrate the whole boat. Admittedly, Jeff specified smaller engines than most boats of this size so Hekla is not as bad as most. For feeling like you are one with the natural world, sailing is better than motoring.
There is for me something indescribable when a beautifully designed and built boat moves under her own power her sails full of wind. You are transported. There is the wind across your face, the bows parting water and throwing up little sprays, the way the sunlight dances across the constantly in motion surface of the ocean, the motion of the boat moving with the swells of waves, a kind of quiet in the moving that is not silent, but that allows you to become silent inside. There are the many sights; sea lions popping their heads up to have a look and then twisting and splashing noisily back into the deep, sea otters having their own playful look, perhaps a flash of a whale's tail, the sea gulls thick around fishing boats, small colorfully painted red or yellow fishing boats mostly rowed by hand these on the river only and not in the bay or on the ocean, the colors of water; grays, greens, blues, white in spray, on the river the black loons floating with only neck and head visible, the crisp white sails trimmed in red against the startling blue sky, the green thickly forested land rolling down to the water's edge, the large red and white Niebla Lighthouse that we visited a few weeks ago now tiny on the bluff overlooking the mouth of Rio Valdiviana where it spills into the Pacific. Even Hekla who looks so huge parked in Alwoplast's docks looked tiny out there in the baiha.
And being out there small in all that immensity is another thing that is both exhilarating and terrifying about sailing. I have yet to sail far enough from the sight of land that all I can see is sky and ocean, but I am looking forward to that experience.
Our return trip back to the dock was peaceful. Jeff backed her into her temporary home using both engines like he had been doing it all his life. We were happy that nothing major was wrong with the boat, she just needed some fine tuning here and there. It was good seeing Jeff so happy, and seeing all the sea animals. But what I will remember most from this day was the four large pelicans gliding past us almost skimming the water with their bellies in a slow motion diamond formation their w shaped wings spread wide without a single flap. Seeing them was a gift. I am grateful.