Mina2 Survives To Sail Another Day
Position: 54:52.61S 067:19.54W
Date: 12 December 2011
We knew that the Le Maire Strait would be tricky, but what he hadn’t expected was that by far the most dangerous part of the passage was getting out of the secluded little anchorage in Puerto Hoppner. The inner bay is half a mile long and quarter of a mile wide. The tide rises and falls by up to 2m every six hours. That’s a lot of water that has to come and go and the only entrance /exit is the microscopically narrow channel we entered by. Only 15 metres across it was bad enough when we came in a couple of days before, in a flat calm at slack water. But when we came to leave yesterday, the tide was rising and there was an absolute torrent of water sluicing in through the gap in the rocks. In order to get out we would be white-water rafting uphill. With barely enough room to squeeze a fender between our hull and the rocks, and with the rushing water desperately trying to slew us sideways, I gunned the engine to max revs and went for it. It was an agonising few moments as we inched our way against the inflow. After what seemed like hours but was probably just a couple of minutes, with enormous relief we eventually popped out the other side like a cork out of a champagne bottle. During the anxiety-laden operation it did occur to me that if the rushing tide-rip got the better of us, and threw us sideways onto the rocks upon which we would have been dashed to matchwood within minutes, we were more than a hundred miles from civilisation and help.
And we still had the dreaded ship-eating Le Maire to do battle with. Having read the Admiralty Pilot for South America on the subject, we assumed that we were doomed – only through extraordinary luck would we avoid being spun around a few times in the cauldron of overfalls before having a massive 10-metre standing wave crash on us time and time again until we sunk without trace like most of the other boats that have had the nerve to negotiate this, the killer of all passes.
We followed the Admiralty directions for any hope of survival to the letter, arriving at the right place at the right time of the tide and avoiding the edges of the channel. Yes, the wind was quite strong at about 30 knots – Force 7 – and the waves for the next few hours were all over the place, coming from every direction in breaking peaks which could have dumped on us, but none were particularly life-threatening. In the event, the crouching tiger turned out to be something of a pussycat.
But we had an unexpected bonus. Throughout our transit of the Le Maire Strait, we were accompanied by dozens of dolphins that put on a continuous display of aerial acrobatics. Leaping fully out of the water, they spun through the air, joyously twisting onto their sides or backs to crash again into the water. I enjoy being joined by dolphins and have done so on numerous occasions in the past, but never have I been privileged to witness a display like this. Most dolphins lose interest after a few minutes – some half an hour – but this went on for about four hours. We’ve never seen anything like it.
Once we emerged from the Le Maire Strait, we turned right for the long 80-mile passage up the Beagle Channel to Harberton, our next stop. At our normal average speed we were expecting to get there at about 0900. What we hadn’t expected was an extremely strong current against us of between 2 ½ to 3 knots. So rather than travelling at about 6 ½ knots, we were barely able to achieve 4 knots. This meant that we didn’t get to Harberton until about 3pm. But by that time, the leaden skies had cleared and we arrived in this historic place in warm sunshine and clear blue skies – a novelty for the Beagle Channel.
I will tell you all about Harberton tomorrow.