Monday, February 3, 2014

Cruising The Beagle Channel with imvubu


If you like hiking in pristine nature without anyone else around, The Western Beagle Channel (and Southern Chile in general) is for you. With a boat, you can access a lifetime’s worth of hiking and mountain climbing.  Not only can you access remote areas, you can spend each night in the comfort of your own bed instead of setting up a leaky tent and eating a pot of miserable gruel.
Seno Garibaldi, Beagle Channel
The sailing conditions are easier than The Antarctic Peninsula—there are several good all-weather anchorages and ice is less of an issue, though some of the fjords do get clogged with bits continually falling off the glaciers and apparentlysome parts do freeze over in winter. Like in Antarctica, a good engine is nice to have, though here is generally plenty of wind to sail.  Going westward would typically mean a lot of tacking through narrow canals into the prevailing westerlies.
Wildlife is not as in-your-face as Antarctica. Some dolphins, whales, and seals but birds are most prominent (including The Magellenic Penguins). Also Guanacos (llamas), foxes, beavers (not native).
 Darwin passed this way almost 200 years ago aboard the ship The Beagle, after whom the channel is named. There are no natives left now, but many more boats than there were then. 
Seno Ventisquero

     After a couple of days provisioning, refueling, and R&R’ing, Imvubu departed Puerto Williams around 0500 January 26 (just in time it turned out, as they closed the harbor an hour later due to strong winds). We motored westwards into 25 to 35 knots of wind (which was sufficient for a bumpy ride even in the protected waters of The Beagle Channel) past Ushuaia and The Argentinian border of Tierra Del Fuego. Even with Imvubu’s powerful engine, we were only doing 3-4 knots, sometimes less. By the afternoon we were approaching our destination and turned north into Bahia Yendegaia (one of the few fjords adjoining The Beagle Channel that don’t have a glacier extending all the way to the sea). We anchored in Caleta Ferrari in front of the remains of an estancia where now live Jose and Annemie. We don’t make it ashore till the next morning.

     Jan 27. They live what most westerners would call a Spartan existence. Jose has a fishing boat, they have some horses, and they kill the occasional wild cow. In addition, they take the occasional (well, probably more than occasional this time of year—there were two other sailboats and one fishing boat anchored when we arrived) passing sailor, horseback riding. Their communication with the outside world goes via VHF and HF radio.
     Ralf, Jenny, and I arrange to go for a ride in the afternoon. We are joined by three guys from Punta Arenas.  Two of them are on the fishing boat doing some scientific fishing of Centolla Crab (similar to Alaskan King Crab) and the other is here to catch some wild horses and bring them back to Punta Arenas. We ride northward to near Glacier Stoppani. On the way back, Ralf’s saddle comes loose and he takes a graceful tumble. Fortunately only his pride is hurt.
     In the evening, we are invited for asado (barbecue) and Centolla. We had so far been unable to buy or trade any Centolla from the fishermen we had met because it is not currently Centolla season. Because of the high fresh-water content of this bay, the Centolla that the survey guys have caught would not survive in their boats circulating tanks, so we are forced to eat the delicious creatures. Fun evening with Jose and Annemie, the fishermen, and French tourists/sailors. Turns out the fishing boat skipper and I have two mutual acquaintances in Punta Arenas.
          January 28. 04:00 Up anchor and continue west into the northwestern arm (Brazo Noroeste) of The Beagle Channel. We stop at what is said to be one of the best anchorages in the area at Caleta Olla, where we anchor with one line ashore. Two other sailboats are there but both move on in a couple of hours. Later, a French couple we met at Caleta Ferrari show up and we have a bbq on the beach.

     Wednesday January 29. Early AM. Up anchor. Continue west in Brazo Noroeste. Reach Seno Pia before noon. We follow the western arm of Seno Pia to the head where two glaciers flow into the sea. We have lunch there then head back to Brazo Noroeste and continue west to Seno Garibaldi where we anchor by Isla Pirincho with two stern lines ashore.
     Thursday we take it easy.

     Fri. 31st we Depart our anchorage and continue north to the head of Seno Garibaldi to have a look at Ventisquero (glacer) Garibaldi. Impressive. Lots of noise (not unlike thunder) as glacier bits drop into the sea.  Back out of the mouth of Seno Garibaldi and further west to Seno Ventisquero where we anchor in a lovely green nook with one line ashore.

     Sat Feb 1. Nice hike up the hill by our anchorage. Grand view of the glacier and Seno Ventisquero, but not The Pacific Ocean—gotta get higher for that. Constant sound of waterfalls, occasionally punctuated by the thunderous cracks of the glacier calving, sea lions barking, birds chirping.  Scenery very reminiscent of southwesternNorway.

     Sun Feb 2.  AM:  Up anchor. Motor to head of Seno Ventisquero and watch glacier shedding chunks and listen to the “thunder.”  Motor south and out of Seno Ventisquero. Check in with Alcamar Timbales (one of the many Chilean Navy radio posts—typically manned by one navy dude and his family on a one-year posting. The Chilean Navy keeps a close eye on the boats in the area. Yachts are supposed to check in with them via radio every day, but much of the time they are not in VHF range, so in practice that is not expected. There are about 20 approved anchorages (though the navy is known to turn a blind eye to the occasional yacht that strays, especially if an excuse about bad weather is made) between The Straits Of Magellan and Cape Horn and some of the canals and straits are totally out of bounds—in particular Canal Murray which would make the trip from Puerto Williams to Cape Horn shorter and more pleasant).
     Head through Canal Thomson, across Bahia Cook . Fortunately it’s a calm day in the Furious Fifties and a small groundswell is the only indication that we are exposed to the open Pacific Ocean to the southwest. Then into Brazo Sudoeste, the southwestern arm of The Beagle Channel.  A pod of Hourglass Dolphins ride our bowwave for a few minutes. At Punta Divide where the Beagle Channel splits, we turn north and return to Caleta Olla and drop anchor for the evening. I make burgers and flan for dinner.
     Mon Feb 3. Motor in almost dead calm back to Puerto Williams. The End.

PS. The previous two times at Micalvi YC in Puerto Williams I had noticed a boat with a norwegian flag that appears to have been sitting there awhile. Turns out it is Jarle Andhøy's Berserk  (the latest one of 4 or maybe more). This is the one he sailed from New Zealand to The Ross Sea to search for remains of the previous Berserk which sank there in 2011. I hear it's for sale, Kari. 


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