Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Mon 13 Feb 2012 02:24

Date: 13 February 2012




Today, Mina2 and her valiant crew were lauded as heroes in a life-or-death race to save a stricken yacht and its single-handed crew in the treacherous Beagle Channel.


So might the headlines scream throughout the world tomorrow morning. We were heading from Caleta Cinco Estrellas in Seno Tres Brazos to Seno Garibaldi, the last chance that Fernando, Christine and our wayward daughter Selina would have to see another example of the stunning glaciers for which this part of the world is renowned. Fortuitously we were delayed for an hour by the sighting of a number of Sei whales which we stopped to watch. These are the fourth largest whales in the world. More than 50 feet long they are bigger and a lot heavier than Mina2 herself. Magnificent creatures. Time after time we saw, close by, the enormous blow of spray as they surfaced and exhaled before their endlessly long back and characteristic fin curved out of the water and slowly submerged again.


The reason they were here was obvious. Even we could see in the water large quantities of small shrimps – krill – which are their staple diet. It is extraordinary that such a small animal can sustain such monsters. But the Sei whales have enormous mouths with filters called baleen. They suck in hundreds of gallons of water and filter out the krill by the thousand for a tasty snack.


These were the largest whales I had ever seen. Apart from those close by Mina2 we could see dozens of blows all down the Beagle Channel as we made our way 7 miles west heading for Seno Garibaldi.


But I digress – you may be wanting to hear of our Mayday drama. We were only 10 minutes from the entrance to Garibaldi having fought our way against the obligatory strong wind and boat-stopping chop when we heard a faint and intermittent call on the VHF radio.


“Mayday, Mxxxxy, Mayxxx, this is yacht xxaxp. My position is 5x° x5 South 069° xx Wxxt. I have lost my rudder and am drifting towards rocks. I require assistance”.


We waited 20 seconds hoping to hear the Chilean Armada (Navy), who have several radio stations down the coast, responding. Nothing. So we responded to the as yet unknown yacht at his uncertain position. All we knew was that he was in fear of his life and he couldn’t be that far away as we wouldn’t have picked up his Mayday call. After several repetitions we got his position. He was close to the entrance to SenoTres Brazos that we had left just a couple of hours before, and it was John, a single-handed Anglo-Norwegian sailor with whom we had been drinking only a few days before on Dawnbreaker. He was on his tiny 28 ft yacht Tramp which he had sailed alone all the way from Norway.  Clearly we were the only people who had picked up his faint VHF signal. We were his only hope. We turned tail, put the engine on at full speed and hoisted all the sail we could. We would be with him in about 45 minutes. Would this be in time before he was dashed on the rocks?


We motor-sailed at breakneck speed towards Tramps position. After what seemed a lifetime we saw a small spec in the water under the menacing towering cliffs. A red flare went up. John was clearly desperate. By this time we were able to speak clearly to John by radio and I suggested that he prepare a rope bridle attached to the strong points of his yacht to attach a towing line. (I didn’t get where I am today without some practical experience of being towed by lifeboats). Mind you, it was difficult finding the airtime to communicate with him. We had reported the emergency to the Chilean Armada. The numerous personnel at the numerous radio stations along the Chilean coast have a pretty dull life doing nothing but keeping tabs on the perfectly safe yachts in their vicinity. This was probably the most exciting thing that happened to them for weeks if not months and they were all trying to contact us at once for updates. Not that they could do anything themselves – their nearest Search and Rescue vessel was probably 90 miles away in Puerto Williams. Luckily Fernando took control of the emergency channel talking to all and sundry whilst, ironically, John and I had to switch to a leisure channel to have any hope of communication between the stricken yacht and its potential rescuer.


We managed to get to John in the nick of time - he was just a couple of hundred metres from the rocks. To say we were relieved to see each other is an understatement. We got a line to him and began the slow tow 5 miles across the Beagle Channel to Seno Pia which had a large safe anchorage where we knew from the multitude of radio messages Fernando had been fielding that there were a couple of yachts there who could help John tie in.


Once we had towed Tramp close into the shore of the anchorage, we anchored whilst the other boats’ dinghies got John snugged in and safe at last. I then went over in our dinghy. John had been seriously shaken by the ordeal and was probably suffering from shock. I took him back to Mina2 for a much needed (by both of us) stiff drink and something to eat.


John was seriously lucky that the delay to our departure that morning had meant that we had, only just, picked up his Mayday call – nobody else heard it. But for poor John, his problems are just starting. It will not be possible for him to manufacture a rudder without getting to either Ushuaia or Puerto Williams. Somehow he will have to persuade one of the few passing yachts to head back to where they came from and tow him all the way back. Meanwhile, for Christine, Fernando and Selina, they never did get to see the last of the glaciers at Garibaldi. Our time had run out and after saying an emotional goodbye to John, we made our way out and headed for the much closer Seno Romanche.