From Heaven to Hell?
Position: Puerto Hoppner, Staten Island
Date: 11 December 2011
Between Staten Island and the mainland of Tierra del Fuego is a 16 mile wide stretch of water called the Straits of Le Maire. It has a reputation. The strong southwesterly winds that sweep round Cape Horn funnel themselves and the sea through this narrow gap giving rise to violent overfalls and tide rips. The pilot book says: “The crossing must be carefully planned to avoid the dangers represented by strong tidal currents. When strong winds are opposed to the tide, heavy overfalls are registered off Cabo San Diego, while violent eddies and strong tide-rips are encountered up to 5 miles off Cabo San Antonio. These phenomena can endanger even ships and must not be underestimated. … In the vicinity of Cabo San Diego, due to the irregular bottom and the shape of the coast, the speed [of the tide] can reach 8 knots or more. The opposition of the [tidal] flow with the wind and the swell may raise overfalls of dangerous dimensions. Standing waves of up to 10 metres have been reported”. The pilot book then goes on to say that for a small vessel, it is actually preferable to punch into both wind and tide (if that were possible) rather than wait for the tide to turn in one’s favour and suffer the violence of the strait as described.
When we leave the heavenly perfection of our anchorage in Puerto Hoppner, we have no option but to go through this, one of the most dangerous channels of water in the world in order to make our way into the Beagle Channel. We have been looking at the forecasts developing over the last couple of days and we see a window of opportunity this evening. Not perfect conditions, but we hope to avoid the worst of the dangers.
Our two days in Puerto Hoppner have been magical, tempered by poor weather. The backdrop of the high mountains covered at the low levels by scrubby trees and moss is quite awe-inspiring. Yesterday morning we got out our new inflatable kayak and Linda and John went off to the head of the bay for a recce. We were hoping we might be able to walk up past the fast flowing river and waterfalls to the lake above, but as no one has touched this land ever, the tangle of fallen trees and thigh high moss beds made it impassable for such mature explorers as ourselves. Later in the morning the rain set in and it persisted for the rest of the day. So we turned the heater on, snugged down and watched Cinema Paradiso on the computer screen.
Today we are getting everything bedded down for what could be a lively passage through the Straits of Le Maire tonight. Wish us luck.