Day 19 Please Mind the Gap

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Mon 11 Jul 2016 01:37
53:56.8S 71:41.1W

Psssssssssssss … “oh dear, is the dinghy deflating? did I hit a rock?” Then I realised it was the sound of two geese running on water to take off. I had disturbed them in the pre-dawn half-light. We haven’t seen geese since the Beagle Channel, a sure sign that this area is a little more lush than the far south-west corner. 

This is the land of the Kaweskar native people (also known as the Alacalufe), and like the Yaghan, they were canoe nomads. A few small communities still remain, in Puerto Natales, Puerto Eden and Punta Arenas. They still speak their language and follow some of their customs but they no longer travel or fish by canoe.

While Franco was in Jersey, I sat down with the map of the Chilean Channels to try and make some sense out of this labyrinth of water and islands. I traced a route that I thought would be interesting to follow. To get between Cockburn and the Strait of Magellan I hunted for the narrowest passage I could find. It was Canal Acwalisnan which turns into Canal Pedro. I was disappointed to find out later that it is the passage most used by yachts, though not officially sanctioned by the Chilean authorities. 

From our anchorage in Caleta Cluedo, we turned left into Seno Dynelley, heading north. Where the Seno splits, we took the right arm, Canal Acwalisnan. Just over three nautical miles further on is Paso O’Ryan, a narrow and shallow gap between islands, where the tide hurtles through. From the three books we have read about the area, we had concluded that it would be ‘slack low water’ around 12:15. This is when the tide has run out and before it starts coming back in. We arrived a little earlier, as we were hoping to have the tide with us all the way to the end of Canal Pedro. Our speed on the approach to Paso O’Ryan was a respectable 5.1 knots. As we got nearer we could see the tide race waves on otherwise flat water. Our speed picked up, and we shot through at 10.3 exhilarating knots! There was no time to get the waterskis out, it only lasted a couple of minutes, then it was all over and Caramor twirled gleefully on the boils. A few miles more and the channel changes name to Pedro. Our next anchorage was Caleta Murray, just short of the Strait of Magellan. 

Since Isla O’Brien we’ve seen fishing boats every day. Although the land is uninhabited, the waterways are by no means deserted. Yesterday we were called up by Buquemar, a Navy patrol vessel then this afternoon, the VHF radio was going non-stop (we couldn’t quite catch what was happening but a lot of boats were being called up) then a plane circled overhead a few times at low altitude. It was beginning to feel crowded. 

Caramor duly anchored, the sun came out and we went ashore for a walk. As we got back, a helicopter flew down the caleta at less than 20m above the water, and checked out Caramor. Either we have been had and this is no wilderness or we’ve stumbled into the middle of a search and rescue operation.

We turned the radio back on and an hour later Caramor was called up. “Please step outside.” Franco went upstairs and stood staring at a large Navy vessel fifty meters away, waiting for something to happen. Suddenly a voice spoke from the side and he nearly jumped out of his skin. A rib had come alongside. A fisherman has gone missing, he was last seen in a small open boat. We have been asked to keep a keen eye out. At dusk, the search was called off for the night. 

Caramor in Caleta Murray