13 januari 2011

The windy period

Squalls in the canal

A light house in vision

The wreck before it disappeared

Bahia Teoquita

Snow/hail in the Caleta

The barometer dropped

More hail

When we left Bahia Welcome on November 18 we knew that the weather situation was a bit uncertain. The barometer had fallen and the clouds were moving quite rapidly and it looked squally. But the canal stretch we plan to cover was mainly narrow and was winding east and west on its way to the south, and therefore quite protected from too much sea building up. And because it was a winding passage with limited sea state, and an area for which we did not have good charts for, we decided to go by engine in spite of the wind blowing to maintain good control over our direction.

The first real narrow passage was no problem. On the small scale chart we could see the light houses and major islands (not all small islands were present on the chart though) and we could identify all of them as we went along in the first narrows. We were also lucky with the weather, it blow more than 20 knots but there were a break in the rain with good visibility.

Where are we?

The second portion of the narrow stretch caused us some worry though. We could not find the light house where it supposed to be on the tip of the island we steered towards. If there were no light house the chance was that it was the wrong island and then we could be in trouble. The GPS only had a very rough sketch with land contours, probably with the wrong chart datum since we were presently travelling over land. And even though our position was unsure, we knew that we were not on land. At the same time a really black squall was catching up with us from the north and the sky just opened and the wind begun hollering. Before it hit us we made sure we had courses to steer on because when the rained peaked we could not see any land anywhere. And although we cut down on the engine power we were doing good speed being pushed by the wind from behind. If we were where we thought we were, we should take a sharp right after passing the point to starboard (if it was the right point). The turn needed to be done before we reached the shipwreck we saw straight ahead, which was the last thing we saw before the rain started.

The good things about heavy squalls are that they usually disappear as fast as they appear. And when it cleared up we could see the light house, it was situated on the far side of the point hidden by trees and a ridge. On the small scale chart it was impossible to see where it was placed. But once the position was settled the rest of the trip went better and we arrived to our destination in the afternoon. The original plan was to tie up to a mooring buoy supplied by the Armada in a protected bay (at least from north to west winds). But the buoy was nowhere to be found. We circled the anchorage for a good alternative but it was too deep to use the anchor and a lot of kelp in the good narrow spots.

Involuntary dip

The guide book indicated another anchorage, Bahia Teoquita, closer to the canal where the entrance was very narrow between two points and areas of kelp. The anchorage was reached through a long narrow canal leading to a lagoon with a couple of alternatives. We opted for giving it a try and went through the cut to the lagoon. We found a good anchorage furthest in and with the bow anchor to the north and a shore line to the west and a spring to the northwest it felt that we were nicely tucked in the gusty wind. The only problem with the anchorage procedure was that Milo fell in the water while trying to climb up to fastening one of the shore lines. That this was the first time has more to do with her great climbing capacity, I had expected it to happen long before. It is a feast to try to hold on to the painter of the dinghy at the same time as grabbing the line trailing from the boat while climbing ashore on treasures rocks that are covered with slippery green alga due to the tide. And then trying to get hold of a tree to tie on to when the shore line is like a jungle adds even more difficulty to the task. But this was the first time she went in, but only up to her waist. And with good rubber boots and tight foul weather gear the damage was limited.

Blown in

It was the last Caleta before we were to enter the Magellan straight and was to head more towards southeast rather than south. Since the Magellan straight is wide open to the ocean from northwest, the sea can really build up to massive proportions in a storm, until you get into the more protected part of the straight further east. So timing the departure from here with good weather was crucial, and the weather indications we had were not promising. Neither the Patagonian network, the Armada (the manned Fairway lighthouse was within VHF reach) nor the barometer gave any good indications. We would spend a week here waiting for a weather window while most of the time the wind was hollowing in Bahia Teoquita. The Caletas got its protection from low trees around that the wind could sweep over. So it was a well-protected Caleta, but windy.

The waiting for the first couple of days was frustrating since I knew I was missing my dead-line of returning to work on time. But Milo and I had made an agreement early in the trip. No decisions should be made because we were in a hurry, our safety should always be of priority. And once I accepted the fact that I could not influence the weather I started to relax. I read five books during our waiting and we did some odds and ends on the boat (since it was raining and blowing so much we could hardly do any work on deck though).

The anchor drags

But the stay was not without drama. In the middle of the period of our wait, the barometer started to fall more rapidly than we seen before. It was falling with 3 millibars per hour, so we knew a heavy blow was approaching. What we did not know was that the wind would first shift to the northeast. That exposed Artemisia II for waves from the whole stretch of the lagoon and the anchor was the only thing holding us from that direction. In the beginning the wind was not that strong, gusting 25 to 30 knots. But soon it was increasing and the anchor started to give away. I started the engine, since the rocky shoreline was not more than 10 meters away, while Milo took a new line to fasten to a point more to the north to support the anchor. The point was quite far away, more than 100 meters, so I needed to join to lines together while Milo was struggling to row upwind and the climb up to find a good tree. After a heroic effort she managed and I could tighten the line and the anchor stopped to drag. We also doubled up the lines from northwest since it was from that direction the heaviest blow was expected. And the barometer continued to fall and it is not many times I have seen it that low, it leveled out at 964 mb. And in the Caleta the wind was swirling around and gusts came from all direction although the prevailing wind was from southwest turning to northwest. When it was at its worst we had hurricane force gusts, over 70 knots, and steady wind over 40 knots, but we had tied up the boat snug so apart from when the anchor lost its holding, there was no danger. But the screaming sound of the wind sweeping in the rigging made it hard top relax.

But after a week the weather forecast looked OK. It was supposed to blow 15-25 knots from northeast, gusting to 30+. It was the best we had had for a long time, so we set off on November 25 in fair condition in lee of the point to the west of us. Before the day ended we would have waves breaking over us and the dinghy flipping over in gale force winds, but that is for next entry.

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