Day 36 Bahia Balaena, Estero Las Montañas
Yesterday there was no wind. When I say “no wind”, I mean one of those ‘mirror’ days when it is hard to tell reality from reflection. No wind isn’t good for sailing, so we went paddling instead.
The only downside of a perfectly still day in Estero Las Montañas is ICE. Although the air temperature in southern Chile isn’t much colder than winter in Wales, the water is only a couple of degrees above freezing (in Britain it is probably around 8 degrees). A cold, still night is enough for surface ice to start forming. On our way up the estero, we had been surprised to sail through patches of ice, mid-channel.
At 8am we stuck our heads out, our anchorage in Caleta Mist was clear but we could see ice further out. An hour later, the ice had increased and we were surrounded. It only started thawing around 11am. We kayaked up to the glacier moraine and had to paddle hard against the out-flowing tide to get over the flooded terminal moraine into the glacial lagoon. We didn’t get very far before ice barred our route. The further we went the thicker the ice, until we could no longer break it with our paddle blades.
Emerging from the ice
Even out in the main channel, we had to break the ice to make progress, at other times we paddled through slush.
By evening ice was re-forming all around. We wondered whether we would be able to get all the way to the end of the estero or even if it would be wise to try.
By morning, a very light easterly was blowing and the ice had disappeared. It doesn’t take much.
We motored in no wind and passed several impressive glaciers. Franco pointed out an ice cave at the base of one of them. I asked him if he would dare to visit it. He replied that it would be like playing Russian roulette, not a game he enjoyed. “You’re such a scaredy-cat.” I taunted. At that precise moment, a block the size of a small house detached from the glacier face and crashed into the sea.
A little over half way, many of the trees on the west shore were either dead or were growing in that distinctive shape caused by living in windy places. In Chilean there is a special word for it: ‘bandera’, the ‘flag’ shape. Ahead, close to the east shore the water was choppy with whitecaps. Even in such a light breeze, williwaws were tumbling off the mountains. The wind increased to 20-25 knots and pushed us all the way to the head of the estero. We found some shelter behind a small promontory, the anchorage is called ‘Bahia Balaena’ after Andy O’Grady’s yacht. Andy edited one of the Chilean sailing guidebooks and it is on his (excellent) recommendation that we decided to wait until winter to sail up the Patagonian Canals.
View from Bahia Balaena
We dropped the anchor and tested it as usual before tucking into the freshly baked bread for lunch. Both of us were slightly uneasy and kept a close watch on our shore transit lines. We were slowly dragging the anchor. There was plenty of room behind us but we had sixty metres of chain out. We pumped it all back up and tried again, this time in shallower water. Fingers crossed, so far so good.