The Great Krill Hunt in a Newly Named Caleta
Position: 55° 03.335S 069° 47.644W
Date: 5 March 2012
Yesterday was our second full day in Coloane. There were still lots to explore. After breakfast we took the dinghy round a headland on the south side of the bay and clambered up a small hill and over rocks worn smooth by ancient glaciers until we came to the snout of the glacier that overlooks the bay. Glaciers we had come across up until now ended abruptly in vertical walls of ice hundreds of feet high that plummeted into the depths of the fjord. This one had receded to the point where it sloped to nothing on the bare rock. So we were able to clamber onto the glacier for a slippery walk.
And not just on to the glacier. Andrew walked under the lip of the glacier to explore an ice cavern and found that he was able to make his way under the glacier right to the front where he re-emerged. Although I suspect that the snout of this glacier had not collapsed for several years but had just been ever so slowly melting, it took someone with stronger nerves than mine to try this out.
We then took the dinghy further round the bay to the southeastern corner for a hike up a hill between two of the waterfalls that brought the meltwater down to the bay. As we got out of the dinghy we were confronted by evidence of lots of beaver work and there, just in front of us was a large pond, dammed by beavers with their homely mound in the middle. We climbed to the top of the hill over the crest of which was another, larger, lake into which a stream of meltwater flowed. Yet again, this lake had been created by beavers, but this time their dam was of spectacular proportions – about 50 metres long, and I have a photograph of Andrew (who is nearly two metres tall) standing at the base of the dam, the lip being another metre higher than him.
So it would appear that beavers are not quite the scarcity that I thought they might have been. In fact, the whole place would seem to be awash with them. Mind you, I’m probably right in suspecting that the beavers we had discovered the previous evening had been previously unseen by humans – why would you trample through impossible boggy terrain when you have even better examples of beavers with much easier access pretty much on your doorstep?
This morning we left Estéro Coloane and nipped only a couple of miles across the Brazo Sudoeste to Isla Gordon for a bit of exploration. Just opposite Coloane is a fjord with two bays at the entrance, one on each side, with a high island, Isla El Gorro, between them. First of all we wanted to see if we could transit the narrow channel behind the back of El Gorro. We inched our way through, eye on the depth sounder, and found there was plenty of water. No problem. I felt like Magellan. But I could have saved myself the trouble had I bothered to look in the Italian Guide where I later found a two line note saying that the channel was deep and clear.
Of the two bays, the western bay is featured in the Italian Guide with two anchorages detailed. But there was no information on the eastern bay so off we went in full exploration mode to investigate. We went in to the small bay and it looked ideal: not so deep you couldn’t get the anchor down; not so shallow as to deprive us of access; sufficient accessible trees to tie ropes to, and none of the telltale signs of the bay being subject to williwaws (trees growing sideways or, even worse, no trees at all), and a good hike over the hills at the back to a couple of pretty lakes. It was also pretty and had the obligatory river rapids chortling in to the end of the bay. So here we are, anchored and tied in, in an as yet un-named bay.
Whilst going through the process of anchoring and tying in, I had difficulty getting either the DS or Andrew to concentrate on the job in hand due to their excitement that the water in the bay seemed to be blood red. The bay was absolutely crammed with shrimp-like krill, moving round in shoals so dense that you could not see through them – they looked like large red balls moving around the water. Krill are the staple diet of the larger baleen whales and I was concerned that with more than a good meal in here, we would suddenly find an enormous Sei whale muscling in to join us in the small bay. The moment we were tied in, Andrew and the DS were planning how to catch a tasty lunch. As I had thrown out the child’s shrimping net that the DS had insisted I use to scoop jellyfish out of the water whilst she was swimming in the Mediterranean, they were devising their own contraptions for catching the krill. Andrew had purloined one of my green bags in which I kept the tying-in lines, using bits of wire and lengths of wood to keep its jaws open, whilst the DS had tied a wooden pole to a colander. Off they went in the dinghy like excited children, playing for what seemed like hours, but failing to catch even one specimen so that we couldn’t even identify which species it was. As Gret Krill Hunts go, this one was completely useless.
There are so many bays and islands in the whole of this region, and so few people who come here that many are still un-named – like the bay we are in. So it is one of the few places left on earth where there is the possibility naming a geographical feature. Indeed there have been a number of Royal Cruising Club members whose cruises in the region have been remembered in this way: Caleta Balaena, Caleta Sadko, Angostura Mischief, Isla Tilman, and probably several more of which I’m not aware. All these places were discovered in the sense that no one had known of their existence before or used them, and they were justifiably named after the discoverer or his vessel. But only spending a few short weeks down here, I don’t have time for all that pioneering exploration stuff, and although I’m certain that we aren’t the first boat to make use of this anchorage, nevertheless I hereby name the anchorage at 55° 03.33S 069° 47.64 “Caleta Mina” – not that anyone will know or care.
One thing we have been surprised and delighted about over the last week has been the dramatic change in the weather. On our first cruise of the channels just a month ago, the norm was a full gale of wind, almost sub-zero temperatures and a relentless precipitation of rain/sleet/snow. Almost like someone throwing a switch, about a week ago, the weather transformed. The winds went light. The temperature soared from near zero to double figures (because the wind had shifted from predominantly southwesterly (from the Antarctic) to northwesterly), and we started seeing more and more of this blue colour in the sky rather than the variform grey we had been used to.
The Tierra Del Fuego aficionados say that the best time to cruise down here is in the austral winter – not the summer. For technical meteorological reasons, there is less wind and more clear blue skies. The downside is that the days are very much shorter, and it is so cold that some of the bays freeze over and become inaccessible.
I’m just wondering, moving rapidly from summer to autumn as we are at the moment, whether we aren’t in that honeymoon period when the weather systems have changed to give less wind and more sun, but the temperature has yet to plummet. To support this theory (which may be – literally – blown apart next week when the southwesterly storms and snow return), we have noticed that some of the leaves on the ubiquitous beech trees are beginning to turn from vibrant green to orange or red. Every day, we notice more and more of them. But, for the moment, we are just grateful for what we have – a perfect cruising ground and weather that doesn’t turn its exploration into an SAS survival exercise.