What a Difference a Day Makes

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sun 12 Feb 2012 02:57

Position: 54:56.682S 069:46.109W, Caleta Cinco Estrellas, Seno Tres Brazos

Date: 11 February 2012


I left you in Caleta Beaulieu having had an amazing day with our first glaciers. In the pilot book that describes all the various anchorages in this area it says that there are reports that Caleta Beaulieu is peaceful and protected in all winds although there is an uncorroborated report that in a strong northwesterly wind, violent catabatic winds can bounce off the mountains and hit you from the south east. This uncorroborated report is now corroborated. We were anchored in deep water close into a corner of the bay with two stern lines ashore tied to trees.


I awoke at 0400 with the boat heeling at 10 degrees and the shriek of 50 knot squalls trying to drag the anchor out of its insecure holding ground and smash the boat into the rocky shore.  It was not a relaxing night. I got Selina and Fernando to dress ready for action, including boots, as if the anchor gave way to the force of the williwaws we would have seconds to spring into action before we hit the very near shore. Whilst they slept fitfully, I slept not at all. But the 40 kg Rocna anchor, the Best In The World, did hold and we survived to sail another day. There were also added benefits. I spent the latter part of the night sitting in the cockpit under a full moon and a clear sky. The wind that had for the previous week been from the south west pulling icy cold winds up from Antarctica had shifted to the northwest and it was positively balmy.


Talking of balmy, when Selina had been quizzing the DS about weather conditions she should expect in Tierra Del Fuego prior to coming out, she had been advised to expect weather like an English summer in the Lake District, so Selina had arranged her wardrobe around a selection of diaphanous garments and one sweater just in case. She was thinking of balmy. When I heard this, I was thinking barmy. Selina has been cadging thermal underwear, fleeces, quilted outer wear and waterproof overwear from everyone she can.


The following day (Thursday the 9th) it was blowing hard in the Beagle Channel but, whilst there were catabatic squalls in the fjord, the water was flat. So we went the seven miles up the other, western, arm of the fjord to see what was at the top. As we motored along we passed through line squalls whipping across the water, and even more violent williwaws manifested themselves as tornado like spirals of wind and water, twisting and turning across the narrow fjord (which was why we were motoring – get hit by one of those with sails up and they would be shredded).


As we approached the head of the fjord a glacier appeared on our right. As we progressed, yet another appeared ahead of us and, mind-blowingly, as we approached the final turn yet another glacier, even more spectacular than the others, revealed itself to our left. We were bang in the middle of a veritable amphitheatre of glaciers all around us, stretching for ever upwards to the very top of the towering mountains, all heaving, groaning and calving enormous falls of ice in front of us. Sorry – I can’t really go on. I’ve just run out of superlatives.


We had intended settling for the night in a different anchorage further back down the western arm but given the violence of the squalls we decided to return to Caleta Beaulieu back in the eastern arm for the night, albeit in a slightly different spot, less vulnerable to the possibility of a dragging anchor in the continuing squalls.


The following morning dawned without a cloud in the sky and the wind had died to a mere Force 5. There had been a lot of glacier activity during the night judging both by the sounds of thunderous roars and also by the fact that a lot of ice was sweeping past our anchored boat. The sun was warm as we untied our lines, weighed the anchor and made our way just a few miles southwest across the Beagle Channel. Apart from Christine who would feel cold at midday in the Sahara desert, we had all shed mountains of outer layers. Selina was beginning to search out her many unused outfits. I thought I would trump her and as we sailed across the Beagle Channel I appeared on deck bear-chested in a pair of swimming shorts. Old habits die hard and, granted, the combination with my industrial industrial freezer boots and a woolly hat might have looked a little odd, but I felt I cut a dash as I posed for photos on the poop deck.


We made our way into Seno Tres Brazos on the north shore of Isla Gordon, and down to Caleta Cinco Estrellas - *****5-Star bay – named with good reason. Not only is it fantastically picturesque, but it also an amazingly good storm shelter – not that we were for the moment expecting any storms. Being on the north coast of Isla Gordon rather than the south coast of Tierra Del Fuego, there are snow-capped mountains but no glaciers, so the scenery is completely different. The same steep sided mountains but they are clad in old stunted trees, feet thick moss, berry clad bushes and little lakes. We were in epic hiking country.


The anchorage itself is one of the most perfect I have seen. After entering the inlet, with the now customary playful school of dolphins joining us, shooting round under both the boat and the dinghy, there is a narrow gap between some rocks with a tranquil pool beyond. A large waterfall cascaded into the pool at its head, and Ringed kingfishers flitted from branch to branch of the surrounding trees. We tied ourselves into the pool with four lines – two from the bow pointing forwards and two from the stern pointing back. Probably overkill, but you simply can’t judge the weather or believe the forecasts here.


No time for even an anchor nip (can you believe it). The kayak was straight into the water and, together with the dinghy we were all off exploring this perfect cove and playing with the dolphins.


I’m a bit behind so I’ll send this now. Part 2 of Cinco Estrellas will follow (I hope) tomorrow.