Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sat 25 Feb 2012 23:01

Position: 54° 47.815S 069° 37.618W, Caleta Beaulieu, Seno Pia Eastern Arm

Date: 25 February 2012


I had told you, when we were in Caleta Ferrari, that we were intending to leave the following morning. It was not to be. We awoke to find snow had fallen overnight almost to the shore line. Pretty as a picture but bloody cold. Weezle weather. There was a French charter yacht with us in the anchorage, L’Esprit d’Equipe, that left early. Within two hours they were back again. It was still blowing old boots out in the channel and was too uncomfortable to continue. So we decided to stay put. Meanwhile we were visited by a family of sealions that frolicked together very close to the boat.


By midday the wind was still blowing a moderate gale but we ventured out and found the waves were lumpy but workable if we avoided slamming straight into the waves by motor-tacking with part of the mainsail set.


As we left Bahia Yendegaia we passed some rocks which the sealions had made their home. There was a colony of probably 40 or 50 lounging around enjoying the sub-Antarctic temperatures. I can honestly say that the last few weeks, when you take into account the wind chill from the strong winds, has been every bit as cold as Antarctica.


We had 25 miles to travel to our next stop, Caleta Olla. These names will be familiar to you as we are essentially, for the moment, following the same route as we did on our first channel cruise with Christine & Fernando. Just before the entrance to Olla we passed through the very narrow channel between Tierra Del Fuego and Isla del Diablo. Last time we passed through the swirling 3 knot tide rip we were joined by dolphins and seals. This time they were not to be seen, but we were delighted to be joined by five condors, flying unusually low and close to the boat. There is some debate on the boat, which frustratingly none of our volumes of wildlife books answer, as to whether condors or albatrosses have the wider wingspan – perhaps someone can look it up and let us know - but, either way, condors at close quarters are truly magnificent birds with their enormous almost square wings and beautifully separated primary feathers.


On arrival at Caleta Olla at about 1600 we found three yachts already there, but they were all rafted together so there was plenty of room for us. The three yachts were, surprisingly, new to us. By now we know pretty much all the few yachts in this part of the world so it was nice to find someone new to meet.


Andrew, a vigorous young man, needs his exercise and has to be let off the boat periodically - a bit like letting the Labrador out for a run. So the moment the shore lines had been secured we heard the plop of the kayak being lowered into the water and he was off to the far side of the bay for the long walk up the ridge (the Shackleton ridge as Fernando described it after his arduous adventure with Christine) to view the spectacular glacier (Ventisquero Holanda) ever so slowly cascading into the high lake. The DS and I had been there – done that. So we tidied up a bit then took up the offer of our new neighbours to come on over and say hello.


We found ourselves in the very cosy saloon of a stout trawler-type motor yacht (the first of its kind we had come across in this area) – the Compañero – in the company of her owners, Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler. They had been in Chile for 18 months but they have been exploring the western end of the Beagle Channel which is why we hadn’t come across them before. Jill and Doug come from Alaska where they are both avalanche experts but in their summers off over the years they have headed out into the wilderness – Jill rowing backwards and Doug kayaking forwards. They go off for three to five months at a time, taking all they need for survival – no shops where they go – camping at night and being at one with the wild natural world that they love. And we’re not talking the Mediterranean. Their favoured areas are in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. They have covered more than 20,000 miles in Alaska, Greenland, Labrador, Norway and, to cap it all, a circumnavigation of Svalbard at 80° North. And there I was thinking that after my jaunt down south I might consider myself a bit of an adventurer. Think again, Tim.


Jill has written a book about it all: “Rowing to Latitude” (ISBN 0-374-28180-7) a copy of which she gave to me.


That, for me, has been one of the greatest things about coming down here. It’s a very small community that explores these remote and beautiful areas. The majority are professionals who make a modest living by showing a small handful of paying guests just a passing glimpse of the extraordinary world that they have made their home, whether it be the gruelling passages over the Drake Passage to Antarctica, trips round Cape Horn or cruises in the channels of Tierra Del Fuego. Then there are the handful of amateurs like me who pass briefly through their world. For us it is the adventure of a lifetime but for the professionals, and for people like Jill and Doug, their whole way of life is an adventure. They live at the edge; all of them are larger than life characters; all of them are interesting and have fantastic (by normal standards) stories to tell, modestly told. To be so warmly welcomed into this community, albeit briefly, is a privileged and humbling experience and one I will never forget.


We left Olla yesterday morning. The forecasts had been predicting a temporary lull of a few days in the relentless low pressure systems and the associated very strong winds that we have been enduring for the past few weeks, and we had a very relaxed motor 27 miles against the ever-diminishing wind up to Seno Pia. As we entered the large bay with no fewer than five glaciers at the head of its two arms, we were confronted by a lot of ice floating in the water. The last time we had been here we were towing little Tramp to safety. Thank goodness we didn’t have to tow her through the abundance of brash ice and growlers that we now had to weave our way through. After a short diversion to show Andrew his first proper glacier from close up, we returned to the anchorage; tied in, and then went ashore for the steep climb up the hill behind to enjoy a spectacular over the fjord. And as an added bonus, the whole lot was swathed in sunshine – the first we had seen for quite a while. Spectacular.


It was a novelty to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces, and layer after layer of clothing was discarded. By late afternoon in this, the most spectacular of anchorages confronting an enormous glacier, the thermometer positively soared. It damned near got to double figures. Almost tropical.