23 januari 2011

The channel of glaciers

Caleta Olla

The trip from Caleta Fanny to Caleta Olla.

The anchorage behind the island in Caleta Fanny

The view from the island in Caleta Fanny, it was blowing in the channel.

Rain in the channel

Clearing up and the mountains start to show

The first sailboat we had seen in two months

Snow and glaciers creates a lot of waterfalls.

Approaching the glacier area

Some examples of the glaciers

We planned to leave Caleta Brecknock early on December 5 since the weather forecast indicated a weather window with lighter winds. But when the alarm clock went off at six o'clock the wind was blowing quite strong from the northeast and the rain was pouring down. It was good that we had our lines ashore covering up winds from all directions. But it would mean head winds in the canal so we opted to skip our early departure and wait to see if the wind shifted back to where it was supposed to be, from the northwest.

Paper navigation

We got up in time for the Patagonian network instead, and sure enough, the wind was back to its more normal direction this time of the year. Soon after departure the chart plotter stopped working, the suspicion was too much dampness in the contacts between the removable plotter and its mount. It was a bit of a shame since the plotter had detailed charts over the area again, after being just land contours for a while. So it was back to basic with paper charts in plastic wraps, and although the scale was a bit small for seeing all details, the canals are deep with very few obstacles so it felt OK anyhow.

It was very squally conditions during the 45 miles it took us to reach Caleta Fanny, with often very bad visibility. But you could see that the scenery had slowly changed since we entered the Magellan Strait. The further southeast we came the rockier the hill sides became. The dense forest and green vegetation gave away for different types of stones that shifted in shades of black, white, red and grey. You could see that you actually could climb ashore and explore the inland to a larger extent in these areas. And as we moved along the visibility got better and the constant rain stopped to give way for only occasional showers.

The last stretch before we reached Caleta Fanny was the last part of our trip that we were exposed to a large stretch of open water. It was not the whole ocean; we had a smaller group of islands protecting us from most of the large swells although some sneaked through. But the fetch was quite long so the sea really could build up. As we approached the point sticking out in the canal protecting our anchorage from the waves, the wind increased and the sea started to build. It was quite nice to head in the sea lee of the point once we were there.

Windy anchorage

In Caleta Fanny there were a couple of recommended anchorages alongside the northwestern shore of the bay. The first was a small lagoon that we motored in to, but the high mountains supposed to sheltering it did exactly the opposite. It was real nasty rachas (mountain winds) that came from all kinds of directions. And they were strong lifting up the surface water. They were affecting the lagoon all the way in to the shore line, so there was no wind protection anywhere. The boat really healed over when the gusts hit us and Milo and I did not have to say anything to each other, this was not a good place during present conditions.

The alternative was at the bottom of the bay behind a small island. The disadvantage with this anchorage was that if the wind would shift to the northeast or east the open bay would create a fairly long fetch that would give the sea a chance to build. The advantages were that you could tie lines from all four corners of the boat to land respectively to the island, and there were less rachas than at the first place swirling around. But using the anchor would only complicate matters in there, so it took some planning and preparation before we approached the anchorage. Partly because it was narrow, but most importantly because the wind was gusty and strong, and the direction was not consistent.

Four lines no anchor

Milo brought one line onboard the dinghy and went in to the anchorage in advance. She tied the line to a good tree on the island to windward. Then I approached the anchorage with the boat where Milo met up with the line. After quickly securing it on the boat and throwing a new line in the dinghy it was a race for Milo to tie the new line to a tree on the opposite shore to fixate the boat before an unexpected wind gust pressed her towards the island. Since the wind direction shifted, that happened sooner than later so I tried to help by using the propeller effect and the other line to keep us as still as possible. But Milo soon got the new line in place so we could fixate the boat in the middle and then have more time to fix the remaining lines.

And during the period we would stay in Caleta Fanny we really needed these lines. The following day the wind picked up and since the bay was surrounded by high mountains, the rachas that hit us occasionally was quite feisty. The gusty conditions were reinforced by hail and snow squalls, so all in all it was not a comfortable stay. With four lines attached to good solid trees we were secured in a good way, but the sound in the rigging and healing of the boat made you worry instinctively.

We did an excursion to the small island and could see out in the channel, and the wind out there was lifting the surface water and whipping the rain horizontal. And the breaking waves were running high due to the large fetch, so we stayed for an extra day in the Caleta.

On the evening of December 6 the weather report indicated lighter winds so we decided to have a go the following morning. When the wind started to decrease in the evening I had a hard time to fall asleep, I wanted to get moving before the wind changed its mind. This was one of the last stretches that the sea state really could make a different. But in the morning of the 7th it was still good wind conditions to leave, although it was drizzling. So around seven o'clock we left the anchorage.

The channel of glaciers

Soon we were entering Brazo Noreste (the Northeast channel) and more protected water. We were approaching the area were the boarder to Argentina were coming down from the north to go east in the middle of the Beagle Channel. Therefore the Chilean Armada was more thorough in keeping track of all vessels movement and the Armadas presence was more obvious with more stations on the shore line to report in to via VHF.

As we came in to the protected areas and what is supposed to be a new climate zone, the sun actually showed itself for a minute or two and we were sailing in the variable wind. As the weather cleared up we saw the beauty of the snowcapped high mountains surrounding us. But it was not only the mountains that we could see in amazement. One glacier after another appeared in different forms and shapes. Some of them were reaching all the way down to the water, while others only surrounded a mountain top. It was fantastic to slowly move with the wind as we enjoyed the scenery. And we saw our first sailboat en route for more than two months, the first sign that we were approaching an area where charter boats were more common with Ushuaia as a base.

Our destination for the day, Caleta Olla, was situated at the end of the scenic channel and we arrived there quite late since we covered more than 60 miles getting there. But it was a great anchorage with a peninsula hooking out from the shore giving good protection with low trees. You could sneak very close to shore where it was lee while you could see it blowing further out in the little bay. A stern anchor was holding us from drifting towards land when the tide was coming in and a couple of lines ashore gave security if the northwest wind would reach below the tree line. It was a beautiful and secure anchorage that we planned to have a lay day in. We wanted to explore a trail leading to a glacier inland. A trail we lost track of, but that's for next entry.

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