Slow Wet Windy Progress Down the Channels

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Wed 8 Feb 2012 13:30

Position: 54:56.413S 069:09.401W, Caleta Olla

Date: 7 February 2012



Just before we left Caleta Ferrari we were returning to the boat in the dinghy when all of a sudden we were surrounded by some inquisitive Peale’s dolphins who were swimming around us and under us, so close we could touch them with our hands. Being this close to nature is a very special privilege.


We set off in driving snow and a biting strong wind for the 25 mile passage further west down the Beagle Channel, motoring hard (as always in the channels going west, the wind funnels directly on the nose making sailing impractical for all but the most masochistic of purists).


Passing through a very narrow channel between the north shore and Isla del Diablo (Devil Island – 54°57.259S 069°07.228W), a couple of seals poked their head up and then dived as we approached. Shortly after, we entered the little bay of Caleta Olla – 54°56.413S 069°09.401W . One moment the wind was screaming but as we tucked round the headland there was instant tranquillity in this pretty little bay. We put the anchor down before dropping the dinghy to take two long ropes ashore (again being harassed by a school of three playful dolphins) which we tied to trees to hold our stern close to the shore under the protection of the trees.


Not long after we tied in, we were joined by the pirates on Dawnbreaker who had also been stormbound in Ferrari and, like us, were keen to continue their way west. A small fishing boat that uses the bay as a haven also came in. We bartered a couple of bottles of wine for an enormous quantity of delicious just-caught fish, neatly filleted by the Chilean fishermen.


Yesterday morning, something extraordinary happened. It stopped raining for a few hours and the wind abated from gale force to merely strong. We took advantage, donned our walking gear and set off for a challenging two hour walk up and over the hills in front of the bay. Appearing before us was the dramatic Ventisquero (glacier) Holanda seemingly coming from heaven itself as it descended through the mist and ending abruptly with ice cliffs hundreds of feet high into a milky green lake. This was the first glacier we had come across in the channels and it was breathtaking.


Not all of us were able to enjoy the view from the top, however. The challenge of the rough terrain had proved to be too much for Christine so she and Fernando rested for a while before making their way back down the mountain to the dinghy on the beach. When Selina, the DS and I returned to the dinghy we were concerned that Christine and Fernando weren’t already there – they should have arrived more than half an hour before us. My concern increased as the weather started getting much colder and the wind picked up again. Eventually I saw Fernando’s head pop up from behind some reeds in the boggy marshland by the side of the mountain. What were they doing there? Then Christine’s head emerged, looking completely exhausted and her face like thunder. They had had a murderous walk back down the mountain having taken a wrong turn which lead them through thick forest, across fast flowing rivers and finally the swamp from hell. They were soaked through and near the point of exhaustion. Fernando said he felt like Shackleton. Christine’s comments were colourful, but unprintable. But nothing that a change into warm dry clothes and a nice hot cup of tea couldn’t put right.


Dawnbreaker had moved on during the day to Seno Pia 20 miles further west and her place was taken by Landfall, a small but pretty American yacht with Denis and Michael on board, who joined us on Mina2 for drinks at Happy Hour.


I know that this area at this time of year has a reputation for being quite wet, a little bit chilly and a trifle windy but after a week of relentless driving rain or snow in gale force winds and visibility so bad that one can barely see the spectacular glaciers, I’m wondering whether we aren’t being just a little unlucky with the weather. And the forecasts are useless, far removed from reality in terms of wind strength and timing. Anyway, first thing tomorrow morning we intend to plug on, regardless of the conditions, to Seno Pia, the first of the “must see” fjords.