26 januari 2011

The final stretch

The last two legs

In the morning we could actually see the mountains

Last dinghy excursion to fix lines ashore

Clearing the anchor from kelp.

Passing Ushuaia on the way to clear out in Puerto Williams.

Docked in the most southern yacht club in the world.

You could see that some boats were designed to cruise this waters with roles of lines and barrels of fuel on deck.

Artmisia 2 outside Isabelle Autissier's boat Ada and Seal.

The yacht club is build around an old ship.

Milo clearing out at the Armada office charming the pants off the officers.

The view from the Armada office towards Argentina.

The entrance to the creek with a channel marker.

Puerto Williams suburban area with the life important propane tanks and wood for fuel the heaters inside the unisolated houses.

The sign post in Puerto Williams showes an international flavour.

The wind picking up in the Beagle Channel.

Leaving Puerto Williams at dawn in a light breeze.

Passing the north marker for the sand bank on our way to Ushuaia.

Ushuaia dead ahead by the foot of the mountains.

ushuaia has a big harbour often visited by cruis ship

Moored at our final destination, the marina in Ushuaia.

On December 10 we started the sail from Caleta Eugenio to Puerto Williams, our last port in Chile. We started in sunny weather, even if there were rain clouds around us. We actually could see the surroundings which was quite beautiful with snowcapped mountain tops. We finished our departure preparation by hoisting the dinghy up on foredeck. In Puerto Williams there would be no need for rowing lines ashore: rather the dinghy would be in the way when docking. The wind was pleasant so we could sail with good speed without being tossed around. According to the GPS we were more or less following the border between Argentine and Chile that runs through the length of the Beagle Channel.

Passing Ushuaia

It was frustrating to pass our final destination Ushuaia early after taking off with a favorable wind from the stern, well aware of that we had to backtrack against the wind to get there after clearing out in Puerto Williams. It was only a day trip of 25 nautical miles, but with the last weeks blowing we knew that there was a risk for making a choice between a nasty sail upwind or stay put waiting for a weather window.

Another frustrating part when passing by Ushuaia was that we were close enough to get signals on the mobile phone, but no way to make a call. This was the first possibility to use the mobile for almost two months. But in some way you could not make calls although you saw that there was reception. That was confirmed when all of a sudden a message appeared stating that all the monthly fixed fee for using internet on the phone was used up, the bugger had started downloading mail without me knowing it. But it still refused to make phone calls. Milo was sure it had something to do with being in the military sensitive border area between Chile and Argentine where they most likely made sure that communication was impossible. A plausible theory since it turned out that the phone worked fine in both Puerto Williams and Ushuaia.

So contact with Sweden had to wait, and they had hopefully already got my message that I was delayed through Patagonian network. As we approached Puerto Williams the rain clouds starting to catch up with us and the wind diminished, so the last part with did in rain by motor. But it was a good feeling when we rounded the north marker of the sand bank giving some see lee of the outer anchorage and even better when we sneaked behind the breakwater and approached marina.

The most southern yacht club in the world

The marina, the most southern yacht club in the world, was really an old ship that was stranded in the river just behind a bend. The interior of the ship was made into showers and a pub while the boats tied up on either side of the hull. There was room for three to four boats along the hull, but to have room with everybody the boats docked outside each other up to six boats wide, depending on how crowded it was. With six boats wide you could only pass on the river by high water since it was too narrow otherwise.

When we came in there was four boats on the widest row that we passed and tied up outside an aluminum boat that was only the second in that row. In the best of worlds we would be able to check out and leave immediately in the light wind that prevailed, but that is not the way the authority works. The Armada was open 24/7, but immigration was only a daytime operation – and it was way passed their bed time upon our arrival.

You could see that a lot of our neighbors had boats that were spending a lot of time in this area. The majority was steel or aluminum hulls and a lot of them had big roles of lines and spare barrels of fuel on deck. The boat we were tied up to, Seal, was the result of 12 years' experience from cruising in the high latitudes by Hamish and Kate, from England and the US. Seal has a lifting keel and rudder and a raised saloon with a 360 view, and a lot of other clever and useful features. And inside Seal was Isabelle Autissiere's boat Ada, that sits there while she does other projects. So we were along experience and novelty.

Uncertain weather forecast

Before we took off to the Armada office we took a shower, the first one since Puerto Eden. And there were hot water enough for both of us, the gas tubes for the heater had just been changed. We were warned that there was only cold water. At the Armada office we got the weather report and together with the grid files we saw on Hamish and Kates computer (via Iridium) showed uncertainty for the next days. What was certain was that we were going to be hit by a massive storm in about two and a half days with wind speed over 60 knots. But before that there were heavy winds by the Cape Horn 60 nautical miles to the south, but it was uncertain if those winds would reach up to the Beagle Channel. The day after our arrival looked like a maybe when it came to wind, but since the immigration was not available until 10 o'clock we could see for ourselves in the morning.

On the morning of December 11 it was touch and go with the wind but there were indications that it would slow down during the night and morning. We decided to clear out with the immigration to be able to go if the weather would permit us, before the definite increase in wind with the approaching storm. From the Armada office you overlooked the Beagle Channel (and with the enormous binoculars at the watch tower also the Argentine coast line). We could see the waves growing and white horses start to form as the wind increased. Since the wind usually slow down at night and the forecast indicated a decreased later we opted for an early morning break.

At sunrise the following morning, which by now was around 5 o'clock, we were up. The wind holloring in the rigging in the protected harbor was not a good sign for our departure. After a short walk up the hill behind the marina we could see the channel, and there were white horses on the water, worse that the day before. So back to bed and I started to realize that this could be a long stay as well.

The storm hits

On December 12 the storm hit us. It started in the evening with a lot of rain and hail with an increasing gusty wind. Boat after boat had come to the protected marina the days before the storm and now we had two boats outside us. And two boats inside. We were the smallest boat in our row so our placement was not ideal and we prepared us by doubling up lines and securing the fenders. The outside boat also took a line to the opposite shore of the creek to ease some of the pressure, so did Seal as well and other boats added more lines direct to the dock or shore. It was a bit like a spider web around us when the wind started to pipe up.

Two boats had opted for anchoring by the entrance of the creek, with supporting help form a mooring boy. They were more exposed to the wind and chop since the creek had a longer fetch there. During the night it was hard to sleep due to all the noise from hauling rigging, squeaking mooring lines and fenders, and jerking boats. In the morning the wind culminated in snow/hail showers and gust up to hurricane force. To walk upright was impossible if you ventured out and to look into the wind was painful. The boats at the mouth of the creek were really taken a beating, but there lines held and the wind slowly decreased during the day.

Should I stay or should I go

Since the weather forecast did not indicate a good and secure weather window in the near future Milo and I talked about the situation. It was a day trip left and in good weather it would be a piece of cake. And Milo still had time waiting for it. I was getting itchy of getting back home. I had taken a leave of absence till the end of November and it was both a matter of financing my stay and getting back to family. Could I leave Artimisia 2 here instead of at Ushuaia? We had discovered that there were ferries between Puerto Williams and Ushuaia. They had stopped working during the storm, but now they plan to leave midday the following day, December 14. It was not an easy decision since I really wanted to help Milo the whole way to the final destination, but she saw my anxiousness and more or less demanded me to go.

By the time the ferry was going to depart we had new weather reports indicating lighter winds in the evening and the following day until noon. So I said no to the ferry and gambled on that the prediction was good enough, and it would take a lot of wind for us not to leave this time. The plan was as earlier, to go up with the sun and leave if weather permitted. We went up to the Armada office to inform them of our plans and met the police/immigration guy there. He started to give us a bollocking for having cleared out and not left. I could see Milo start to lose her temper. She is great at handle men in uniforms, she even had one of the Armada guys in Puerto Williams begging her to adopt him as her son, which she gladly did (not officially though). But this uniformed person she started to lose patience with. She gave him the evil eye and in a very firm way explained to him that it had been a severe storm that it would be irresponsible to leave in, IF HE HADN'T NOTICED. The Armada guys got all quite waiting for the response, but the police man mumbled something and left. The atmosphere rose quickly again and I think Milo got even more respect after standing up to the thoughtless immigration officer.

Leaving at daybreak

Sleeping was hard since the wind was down by nightfall, but we wanted to leave in day light. At dawn December 14 the alarm clock went off and after some morning shuffle (one boat was leaving with us and another needed to change places) we were on our way motoring towards the final destination in a light wind. We watched the sky turning purple of the rising sun and were praying for the wind to not pipe up for another five hours. And it didn't. We arrived to Ushuaia shortly after noon as the wind started to increase. We passed a big harbor with cargo and cruise ships anchored and a big town spread along the waterfront. We found a good spot in the marina outside a boat that would not leave for another week.

We went down town to do the paperwork and while Milo finished the red tape I went to a traveling agency to look into option for flying home (I had stand by tickets). While I was sorting out the travelling arrangement I came to talk to the guy behind the counter. He was asking me how I have ended up in Ushuaia and I told him. So he looked at me and asked if I had heard about the Polish boat that washed up on the beach during the storm.

Storm causing casualties

He showed me pictures from an Argentine daily newspaper on the web with a picture of a sailboat without a mast lying on a beach in the Beagle Channel on its side like a beached whale. They had come from Antarctica with charter guests onboard and made in to the channel. But the engine had stopped and they were pushed ashore. He had not more information than that two of the crew members had died. Having seen the waves and the wind speed and knowing the water temperature only being 8 degrees I could understand how something like that could happen. On top of that a cruise ship had to seek shelter since the windows to the wheelhouse was smashed by waves in Drakes Passage. Reminders of that these waters are spectacular but are not to be taken lightly. You can enjoy their beauty, but you need to know what you are doing and have the right gear.

I found a connection leaving the same evening so all of a sudden I was in a rush. At the rendezvou with Milo back at the boat I explain the situation so I packed my bags, took a shower and then we went to town for a dinner at a nice restaurant before my departure. I had some excellent beer to the dinner, Cape Horn beer. Chile has good beer in general and this was no exception.

A fast farewell

While we were sitting in the restaurant the sky opened and the rain just poured down, as a last farewell performance. We took a taxi towards the airport just stopping by the boat to pick up my luggage (and getting soaked in the process) and off I went. It was a fast goodbye to Milo, I think it was for the best. We did not have time for crying and sulking but we did not have to say anything to understand the mutual respect and gratitude for the experience we had had together.

When the plane lifted I could see the mountains surrounding Ushuaia and the rest of Patagonia and realized again the majestic nature to be found in this part of the world. I was thankful to have had the opportunity to experience it. That I arrived in Europe to Frankfurt airport in the middle of the worst snow chaos in memory with cancelled flights as a result is another story, but that is not for a new blog entry.

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