Adventure of a Lifetime Ends in Crushing Disappointment
Date: 02 March 2011
Position: 54:56.10S 067:37.125W Puerto Williams, Chile
We made an early start leaving the beautiful and isolated anchorage in the Beagle Channel as the rising sun cast a stunning pink glow over the horizon. This was the final 80-mile leg to Puerto Williams after our epic cruise, and we all had mixed feelings: joy that we had returned safely after our return crossing of the Drake Passage, but sadness that this was the wind-down to our wonderful life-changing adventure together.
However, we had one further treat in store. In Puerto Williams is the famous Micalvi, the southernmost yacht club in the world. It is an old munitions ship that has been beached and it is alongside the ship that yachts tie up. The bar on the Micalvi is the focal point, where crews get leathered on pisco sours regaling each other with tales of their adventures to South Georgia, the Falklands, Antarctica or the Beagle Channel. I had read so much about the Micalvi over the years, and for me the inevitable party in the bar was to be the memorable conclusion of our fantastic trip. Not.
On our arrival we were told by the pilot that the club secretary / barman and his family had had to go to Punta Arenas for some medical check-ups and he had taken the keys with him. The club was closed. The news was a crushing disappointment and I was gutted.
The shut Micalvi
However the voluminous bilges of Pelagic Australis still hid the last remaining 75 cases of excellent Argentine and Chilean wine. The party was on. An added bonus was that Pelagic Australis’s agent had kindly donated a simply massive octopus for our dinner to supplement the steaks that we were to barbecue on the aft deck. At 8kg I was forbidden from lifting the octopus out of the bucket by the string tied round its head for fear of putting my back out again.
There was one small problem. None of us had ever prepared and cooked an octopus before. Dave, a strong lad, hoisted the enormous beast out of the bucket with one hand whilst reading in the other hand the instruction manual on “What To Do With A Dead Octopus”. Between his teeth was a sharp knife. “Shouldn’t an octopus have eight legs?” someone asked. “This one seems rather over-endowed”. It was true. This magnificent beast had a staggering 24 legs. Had we discovered the first vigintiquattuorpus? It was only when we cut the string round its head that we discovered we had, in fact, been given three octopi.
Dave with the first ever viginti quattuorpus – and instruction book
Dave was going through the manual:
“1. Turn the head inside out and discard all the contents”
We weren’t even sure where the head was, let alone see any way to turn it inside out until we worked out that they had been delivered already pre-prepared. So one of them was popped into the pressure cooker to comply with instruction 2: “To tenderise the octopus, boil for 1 ½ hours”. Shame we hadn’t read that bit before.
Meanwhile Dave got the barbecue going with the ship’s multi-purpose blow torch which is used for such diverse tasks ranging from re-welding broken bits of the boat together to browning the crème brulée on our evenings of fine dining.
The barbecued steaks were divine and the wine flowed freely as the deck filled with the crews from the surrounding boats for our farewell party. A pudding of stewed octopus with lashings of Bird’s custard had somehow lost its appeal and was quietly forgotten.
The following morning, cradling our heads that were as tender as the octopus, Niko, Joachim and I packed our bags and bade a tearful farewell to Miles, Laura and Dave and our other crew-mates for the 40 minute drive down the stunning coast road of Isla Navarino where we caught the fast boat ferry over to Ushuaia.
The coast road overlooking the Beagle Channel
We were greeted by Mrs Fixit, Roxanna who had rearranged our plane bookings back to Buenos Aires. At 1900 I rang the bell of Maria’s mother’s flat. The Downstairs Skipper opened the door and into her arms fell what appeared to be a foul-smelling bearded old tramp. The Antarctic adventurer had returned.