15 januari 2011

The Magellan Strait

The entrance of Magellan strait

Showing the stops of Caleta Mostun and Caleta Notch

Fairawy light house

Fairway from a distance

The entrance of Magellan Strait

In the Magellan strait

Sailing in a good breeze

Caleta Notch

Five lines ahore but no anchor

A lot of vegatation in Caleta Notch

With a relative favorable weather forecast (northwest up to 25 knots – gusting to 35) we took off on November 25 after the week we spent waiting for a weather window in Bahia Teoquita. We could see the canal from where we were anchored through the narrow straight we passed on the way in, and it looked OK with not too many white caps. But that was to be expected since the canal was somewhat in sea lee with at northwest winds, at least closest to the westerly land where we were at.

There were plenty of lines to take care of and we needed to charge the batteries so we started off motoring slowly close to the western land leading to the point opening up for Magellan Straight. After less than an hour we passed the Fairway lighthouse and waved the family that lives there a year at the time. We had kept in contact with them for weather forecast that whole week at the Caleta. Since they are situated in the mouth of Magellan Strait they conditions seldom allow any to anchor there to pay a visit, but through Patagonian network we talked to Ian, an Aussie, who had done it and was met by a lovely family where the man was working for the Armada.

Entering Magellan Strait

After passing the Fairway island we set sails since the swell started to affect us and the wind was increasing, and it was time to leave the lee shore and head down more southeast. But we started with a more southerly course to make sure we gave the shallows sticking out from the northwesterly shores of the entrance. With a current pushing us towards the shore and bad visibility in squalls it was important to keep the distance, and it was good to have the GPS chart plotter having good charts over the are again which made it easier to consider the effect of the current.

The wind in the squalls was as predicted around 35 knots but the steady wind slowly started to increase as well. And soon the more steady wind was up to 35 knots and the gust well over 40. Luckily the swell was not that enormous that we had feared when we started off so even if they contributed to make the sea nastier it could have been worse. But the sea was building up, and that fast. We hoped to get a bit more in sea lee getting further in to the straight, but we soon realized that we had to get quite a bit further to get any relief.

Increasing wind speed

We rolled in the foresail so that less than a fourth was out, and we were still doing six to seven knots. Artimisia 2, weighing 7 tons, was surfing on some of the waves in over 11 knots. The steering was a bit heavy and challenging, but at the same time a bit fun. The waves were building up and usually the nasty breaking ones are coming in threes. We were zick-zacking downwind to avoid to involuntarily gybing with the foresail to avoid it to rip. In one of the breaking waves the lee rail dipped in the water and we saw the horse-shoe buoy float away from its position on the aft rail. Milo and I looked at each other and we did not have to say it. It is not worth a rescue mission, we just has to report it as missing to the Armada.

The boat felt steady and safe being built with steel plates. The worry was more that gear would break; sail, rigging and lines. And we did tow our dingy behind, a decision that could be discussed – but that was the way it was. The dingy was surfing on the waves and sometimes passing us. We had two painters, one in the "nose ring" and one in each side rings. At times when a gust hit us at the same a large breaking wave was taking it up in the air, it was definite in danger of capsizing.

Flipping dinghy

And sure enough, in a serial of breaking waves in a gust, the wind caught the bottom of the dinghy and flipped it over. After that everything happened very fast even though it felt like an eternity. I was steering so Milo fast shortened the painter to avoid having the dinghy nose-dive downwards in the water while I rolled in the foresail. That positioned the boat sideways to the waves which made Artimisa 2 roll considerably at times, but it was necessary to minimize the forward motion while we tried to rescue the dinghy. We used a halyard and one of the painters to hoist the dinghy up out of the water high enough that we could lift it over the life lines. To bring it up to foredeck was impossible in the rolling seas and gusting wind. Now we had it on the side where the cabin was giving some wind shelter. We decided to but it sideways on the leeside and tie the upper part to the grab rails on the cabin top, the lower part was hold in by the life lines and stanchions (the fence around the boat). Soon we had in tied down and we could start sailing again.

The good thing that the wind direction was the same as the stretch of the straight was that we only had drifted in the direction we were sailing. We did not have to fear drifting down on a lee shore. The bad thing is obviously that the sea builds up fast in a blow. We continued the tactics from before by broad reach and tacking downwind instead of risking gybing with the foresail in the heavy blow .It was good to be on our way again and I padded the dinghy in its new position.

Rip in sail

Not long after the dinghy rescue we discovered a rip in the foresail. It was close to half a meter and started from the aft leach two thirds up and was horizontal. Definitely due to bad material, it was a laminate, not Dacron in the foresail. The sail maker had prioritized form over durability. We rolled it in a bit more so the rip was not exposed. It was a handkerchief out nom, but we still made over five knots. When we gybed the next time we instead rolled out the stay sail on the inner forestay. That was well enough canvas to finish the trip.

Next worry was if our chosen Caleta, Caleta Mostun, would have breaking waves to prevent us from entering. But the curve of the straight together with a semi protecting point and island made the entrance if not calm, at least considerably less bumpy than the canal. So we entered wet and tiered after a roller coaster ride of close to 50 miles in the canal. The Caleta was a large lagoon off a fjord (Seno) cutting in from the canal. A steamer duck saw us coming and fast took off in its caractaristic way paddling its wings. That helped rising the spirit and it was a good feeling once the anchor and our three shore lines were secured.

The crew needed a break and the boat some repairs so we decided to have a lay day again. Unfortunately we had problems with the heater so the night could have been more comfortable after the wet and squally day. But I slept very well that night anyway. And the following day the sun was shining, if only for an hour before the rain came again. But it was enough time to make the sail repair. And even though we could not see the state in the canal we could see the clouds moving fast, so we knew it was still blowing out there even though it had slowed down.

Another bumpy ride

So on November 27 we set out for the second leg in Magellan Strait, a considerable shorter distance of 15 miles to Caleta Notch. And of course as we moved along the wind increased and the rain intensified. It was not the same strength as the first leg in Magellan strait, but it was still a bit of a roller coaster ride.

Once in Caleta Notch there were two alternatives. The first anchorage was in a large lagoon behind an island. We both agreed that it was too exposed from northwest winds that could happen and the island too low with not enough good trees to tie to. The second alternative was much better. It was a narrow Caleta just by the entrance from the canal. Actually we could see some of the sea state if the wind was much from the west since the waves then came in through the narrow and shallow entrance around the corner. The Caleta was also used by fishing boats, you could see that since there were prepared lines hanging from a couple of trees.

And we needed a good Caleta where we in the end ended up having five lines ashore and no anchor with good protection except southeast wind (very rare). We were to spend five days here, often in gale conditions, waiting for the next weather window to continue our trip. From here I asked one of the shore based participants, Bob from Falklands Islands, to relay a message to home and to work stating that I would be at least another week later than planned, three weeks altogether. Between rain and hail we did an excursion ashore and tried to climb the hills surrounding the anchorage, but apart from the near area of the shore the vegetation made it very difficult, both the spongy moss on the ground making you sink down to your knees and the trees and bushes creating a wall.

But weather would improve even though the real break did not happen until the Beagle Channel, but more on that in my next entry.

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