Cruise of the Fjords of Tierra del Fuego Starts Here

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sat 4 Feb 2012 01:29

Position: 54:51.490S 068:48.902W, Caleta Ferrari, Bahia Yendegaia

Date: 3 February 2012


We’ve enjoyed a much needed wind down after the drama and excitement of our Antarctic cruise. I seem to have been sleeping about 18 hours a day so I clearly had a bit more catching up to do than I thought. But now, fully refreshed, we are all very excited about starting our cruise of the Chilean channels and fjords of Tierra del Fuego with their spectacular mountains and glaciers. I’d been so focussed on the more demanding Antarctic cruise that I hadn’t spent much time researching the Tierra del Fuego cruise. So I’ve had to do a little cramming, but with the help of the many new friends I’ve made in this wonderful community of serious (and mainly professional) high latitude sailors. I was afraid that after the ultimate thrill of Antarctica the channels of Chile might prove to be a bit of an anti-climax. But excitement of what is still to come has been triggered by comments from veterans of the area like “Antarctica is must see – must do, but to my mind the channels are even more spectacularly beautiful”. Laura on Pelagic Australis with whom I went on my recce to Antarctica last February kindly spent a long time with me going through all the places we simply had to see. The pilot book is now annotated with Laura’s comments like “Cool beyond belief” “Awesome!” and “WOW!!!”. She said she was sooo excited for us as we simply hadn’t any idea what an awesome time was ahead of us. So, yes, we’re now pretty excited.


We’ve got a total of five weeks cruising the channels. Great friends Christine and Fernando joined us a couple of days ago and will be staying a couple of weeks, then another young friend, Andrew, will be joining Maria and me for a further three weeks. One inconvenience is that the airport where all our guests fly into and, importantly, the only place in the area where one can buy food supplies is in Ushuaia in Argentina and the channels are in Chile. The port at which one has to clear into Chile is Puerto Williams which is 25 miles down the Beagle Channel in the wrong direction. So you have to spend a couple of hours with the Argentine bureaucrats checking out, four hours or more getting from Ushuaia to Puerto Williams then a couple of hours with the Chilean bureaucrats checking in. And then one has to bash one’s way into the relentless Beagle Channel westerlies to get back to where we started from and start the cruise, the whole procedure taking up the best part of two days at the beginning of the cruise and two days at the end.


Christine and Fernando live in Buenos Aires where the average temperature in the summer (which it is now in the southern hemisphere) is about 35C. The average temperature down here in the south is about 8C. So they arrived with a stunning array of quilted clothing, scarves, thick socks, gloves and bizarre headwear. One of Fernando’s many hats is Peruvian wool which covers his entire face (which, granted, is a plus point) save for two holes for his eyes. He looks like a member of the Peruvian Ku-Klux-Klan.


I once received a card with a drawing of two men chatting with a cross looking woman in the background. One of the men was saying to the other “You know, if I hadn’t got married I might have gone through life thinking I had no faults at all”. And so it is with Skippers. Being Master Under God gives one an infallibility. My Antarctic crew were delightfully sycophantic almost to the point of grovelling. It felt pretty good. But it can get dangerous if one starts believing in the infallibility hype. Enter the Downstairs Skipper to bring my life back into balance. To be honest I hadn’t realised quite how wrong I am, nor how often. Selina (our wayward daughter) has invented a new game. It’s called Positivity Knocks. You get a positive point for any positive comment or compliment, and a negative point for every negative comment or criticism. I don’t think the DS understands the rules – she thinks she’s winning with minus 1000 points.


Yesterday, having cleared out of Ushuaia we motored down the Beagle Channel in, unusually, no wind to Puerto Williams. On arrival I was delighted to see that Polar Wind was there with Osvaldo, Juta and their little son Théo who I first met in Buenos Aires. Also, fresh back from their Antarctic adventure, were my great friends, the reprobates from Dawnbreaker who we’ve been following around since we first met in the Falklands. So having got the paperwork sorted, we all ended up in the Micalvi. Too many pisco sours were drunk once again, particularly given we had an early start this morning. We had 47 miles to sail due west to our first stop of the channels cruise and, we wanted to get as far as possible before strong westerlies kicked in mid morning.


We were up at 0530 and off at 0615. The Beagle Channel is only 4 miles across but runs east-west for about 100 miles, high snow clad mountains on either side. The westerlies kicked in a little earlier than expected. and we’ve spent most of the day bashing into a steep chop which covered us in driving spray and stopped the boat dead in the water. Rather than averaging 6.5 knots, we were at times struggling to make 2.5 knots. It was all rather trying. At lunch time we stopped in a little protected anchorage (Caleta Martinez 54:54.833S 068:16.311W)-  for a couple of hours for a bit of relief. And then we bashed on to Caleta Ferrari in Bahia Yendegaia. Ferrari is a small bay in the big fjord just to the east of Isla Gordon. The bay has a couple of houses lived in by a gaucho who supplements his income by taking sailors on horse-trekking trips and has been known to lay on asados – South American barbecues of whole Patagonian lambs. But this evening, we are just sitting at anchor after our long day and admiring the precipitace peaked mountains all around us, thickly tree clad on the bottom half and then bald and rugged on the top half above the tree line. At the edge of the bay, the colour of the water changes dramatically from a dark greeny blue to a milky light green from the melt waters from the glacier at head of the bay. We’re looking forward to going ashore tomorrow and getting the kayak out for a bit of coastal exploration.