From New Island to Staten Island
Position: 54:46.858S 064:24.37W
Puerto Hoppner, Staten Island
Date: 9 December 2011
Wednesday was to be our final day on New Island. And not just our final day. A Japanese film crew had been on the island for a while, filming a documentary on the unique wildlife here. We were sitting on the boat, at anchor in the harbour, when we heard a clattering noise in the distance. Over the hills a helicopter was approaching – the only way of entering or leaving the island unless you are lucky enough to come by boat. We nipped into the dinghy, went ashore and watched it land on a patch of grass near the settlement, drop off a couple of friends of Georgina who had come to stay, plus a new scientific research assistant who had come to help the two resident scientists, and to take away the Japanese film crew. It then took off in a blast of dust, curtsied a farewell, spun on its tail and headed back for Stanley, about an hour and a half away.
Linda, John and I then went off for another long walk, this time to the south of the island where there were the rusting remains of an old whaling station that operated here in the early years of the twentieth century. It was sad to think of the carnage of hundreds of whales of every type – blue, sei, humpback, and sperm whales that ended there lives here.
On the way back we went to explore a couple of deep ravines cut into the cliff edge with ocean rollers thundering into the narrow clefts. There sitting on a rock at the head of the ravine were two enormous sealions which took one look at us and with surprising speed for such heavy beasts, galumphed across the rocks and into the water. We were later told that we were lucky not to have found them hiding in the high lumps of tussock grass waiting to ambush an unsuspecting rockhopper penguin, or ambling yachtsman, which they would have peeled inside out like a banana and wolfed in one mouthful.
Georgina had invited us to her house in the evening for a pizza, where we met amongst the five other guests – the entire population of the island – the charming young scientists who were carrying out research on the bird populations here. A really enjoyable and interesting last evening.
The following morning we were up at 0500 for an 0600 departure for the 36 hour 212-mile crossing SSW over to Staten Island near the entrance to the Beagle Channel and Tierra del Fuego. The wind, for a change was, and was forecast to remain, of the right strength and from the right direction, WNW. For virtually the whole way we were romping along at well over 8 knots. As we move ever further south, the austral nights are becoming shorter and shorter. The sun doesn’t set until 2130 and it remains light enough to read for another hour or so. Throughout the night, looking south, one can still see the glow of the sun dipping round just over the horizon, until at about 0300 it starts getting light again and at 0430 the sun rises once again. In addition, we now have a full moon, so we spent most of the night swathed in light.
It was a brilliant sail – the first we have had really. Since Buenos Aires we have either been motoring or being beaten up by hurricane force winds so it made an exceedingly pleasant change. The only downside was that the motion of the boat, with a combination of yawing, pitching and rolling, was extremely uncomfortable. Both Linda and I have cast iron stomachs but, most unusually, we both felt queasy when spending any time below. And it was cold with the water temperature now only 7 C.
We approached the dramatic coastline of Staten Island at lunchtime today, with high snow-specked mountains rising vertically from the sea in a gangly chain, reminiscent of the Lofoten Islands in Arctic Norway to which we sailed in 2004. Staten Island is 35 miles long and 7 miles wide. Very mountainous and with a highly indented coast it was a penal colony for a period in the 19th century, and there was a timber mill for a short period but, apart from that it has been, and remains today, completely uninhabited. Very few of the small number of yachts that venture this far come to Staten Island, but pass it by on their way into and out of the Beagle Channel through the notorious Le Maire Straits.
We made our way into Puerto Hoppner which is a large deep bay at the bottom end of which is a tiny gap between two rocks – no wider than Mina2 is long – and into an enchanted inner bay. Behind a small scrub tree covered island we dropped the anchor and tied two long ropes to trees either side of the little channel to secure us. We found ourselves at the end of our passage tied into what is probably the most stunning anchorage any of us have ever been in (54 deg 46.855S 064 deg 24.372W). The inner bay is settled in an amphitheatre of high mountains clad in scrubby wind-blown trees and capped with snow. One can hear waterfalls from a string of lakes at the back of the anchorage that we want to try and explore tomorrow. Absolutely stunning. We wondered how few boats had experienced this idyllic anchorage before us. We are privileged beyond belief.
The tying-in process wasn’t without incident. This was to be the first time that we would be using in anger all the specialist kit that I had had shipped down from the UK to the Falklands – our bags of very long stretchy rope, and hoops of galvanised steel wire for putting round rocks. We had planned everything meticulously: dinghy off the davits, outboard mounted on dinghy, wire hoops in the dinghy, rope bags at the ready on deck. The moment the anchor was down, like a coiled spring I was into the dinghy and gunning the outboard into action to speed over to the shore and secure us before we got blown onto the rocks in our narrow berth. It got me as far as the shore. One rope was secured. Now for the second on the other side. Chop chop – no time to waste. The outboard motor died. No amount of pulling on the starter chord would get the bloody thing going. I whipped the oars out and pulled at near-Olympic speed to the other side of the inlet and secured the second rope. Exhausted, I returned to the mother-ship, and Mr Fixit looking concerned on the deck. “What’s the problem?” asked John. “I think there’s water in the fuel” I replied, having earlier suspected that some water had got into the petrol tank during the Great South Atlantic Tempest. John looked into the dinghy and with a sniff said “Before we take the carburettor apart, why don’t you try attaching the fuel tank to the motor” There, in the bottom of the dinghy, was the fuel line which I had somehow forgotten to plug in. Oops. Well, no one’s perfect.