Adversity, a New Friend and a Happy Ending

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Thu 11 Aug 2016 16:36
51:36.37S 72:39.68W

By last Thursday afternoon, we were ready to set off once again. Caramor was loaded up with food, gas and fuel and we had renewed our visas. The weather forecast was good and Julio had rung to say that the water pump was fixed and he was on his way back from Punta Arenas. He joined us in the Ñandu Café. This guy we had never met had spent hours of his time sorting out our problem and we were very grateful.

Julio’s English was excellent. He learnt it working as an expedition leader aboard cruise ships to the Antarctic and Arctic and is passionate about South Georgia and the Falklands where his family is originally from. We instantly got on and decided to defer departure so as to meet the next day for lunch. He was great fun and told us many fascinating stories from the early days of Antarctic cruising and we parted good friends.

That evening our Eberspächer diesel heater stopped working. ‘Erby’ is a brilliant machine and we wouldn’t be without him but servicing it is complicated (a deliberate ploy by the manufacturer to guarantee work for the Eberspächer service centres - incidentally, none around here!). A special tool is needed which we don’t have and our improvised version wasn’t up to the job. In our attempt, we snapped the glow pin in half, a complete disaster. Luckily we were still in Natales.

July and August are the coldest months in the Chilean Canales, our journey wouldn’t be much fun without any form of heating. Franco and I snuggled up to the hot water bottle as the cabin temperature hovered around 2 degrees centigrade and discussed our options:

- Repair or find a new glow pin. We rang Julio, heading back to Punta Arenas. He wasn’t optimistic but offered to try.

- Buy an LPG heater and several local gas bottles. Gas heating gives off a lot of moisture, so not ideal on a boat where condensation is a constant concern, but an easily available option.

- Find a shop selling Eberspächer in Chile. (Importing one was out of the question as it takes four months to get anything through customs.)

On the internet we found two companies, both around Santiago. Nauticentro had an email address. In South America, business is done face to face, or at a push, by phone and our experience is that emails are seldom replied to. We emailed on the off-chance but weren’t hopeful they would have one in stock.

Saturday morning, our phone calls went unanswered, nothing would happen until Monday. We headed into town to buy a gas heater. From ironmonger to ironmonger, to tool shop, to heating centre - not an LPG heater in sight. We hadn’t noticed any gas bottles gardens, maybe Puerto Natales is on town gas!

Several hours and two taxi rides later, at last, hidden among electric heaters made to look like gas heaters (someone explain why you would do that?) we found the only LPG heater in Natales; a compact infrared model which would fit under the chart table. All we needed now was a 5kg gas bottle. We were delighted.

The shop staff sent us to the gas plant where we had had our bottles filled. “Very sorry but we only fill bottles, we don’t have any for sale. You need the Gasco shop, it will be open on Monday.”

The temperature had been rising steadily, but even a lofty 10ºC was not enough to deter us from spending the evening in the excellent Baguales Bar (which wouldn’t look out of place in trendy parts of London). ‘Baguales’ is the name for the wild horses that roamed free over the steppes of Patagonia. The food is good quality and the ‘pisco sour’ the best we have tasted.

“Ping” - an email bounced into Franco’s inbox Sunday afternoon, it was from Mauricio at Nauticentro. He had an Eberspächer heater in stock. We still had the difficulty of getting it to Natales. To give some context, the Chile ‘Insight’ guidebook says “Puerto Natales, near Antarctica”. Natales is to Santiago the equivalent of the far north of Norway to London. There is no airport and no road connection to the rest of Chile. To drive here one has to go through Argentina.

The weather was changing, the wind was swinging round to the west and strengthening by Monday afternoon. Our anchorage would become exposed so we decided to head up to Puerto Consuelo which would offer better shelter to wait for the parcel to arrive.

Monday morning, Mauricio emailed the price. He would send the heater through Chile Express and it would take three days to arrive. He couldn’t take payment by card over the phone so we would need to pay the sum into his bank account. The bank didn’t take cards and there was no way of transferring money from a UK bank, the only option was to pay in cash. A lot of cash … Our debit cards don’t work in Chile, so we have to take cash out on our credit cards, but no more than 200,000 Chilean pesos per transaction and most cards/bank machines only let you make one transaction per day. We managed to extract just enough and walked away peso millionaires.

The queue in the bank was fairly long and by the time we left the wind had increased. The Gasco Shop didn’t have any 5kg bottles and none that would take the regulator connected to our new gas heater.

We called at the Harbour Master to announce our departure. “You can’t move, we have closed the port because it is too windy.” We explained that we couldn’t stay where we were because it was too windy. I had a funny feeling we were getting into some kind of Catch 22. The officer promised that the wind would ease around 5pm and that we could move then. We got back to Caramor during a lull but it didn’t last long. Night was falling. The motion wasn’t bad, even with the wind from the west, we were still sheltered by the fishing terminal, so we stayed.

Tuesday was too windy to move. At 6:15 pm Mauricio informed Franco that the parcel had arrived in Natales. It had only taken a day. A better service than we have ever had from DHL or UPS. Franco picked it up first thing on Wednesday morning and we set sail for Puerto Consuelo.

A week has passed since our heater broke. We have fitted the new one and Franco and I are luxuriating aboard a lovely warm Caramor. If it had still been freezing, this diary entry would probably have been a lot shorter.

Anybody want an LPG heater? ;-)