Hubble Bubble, Toil & Trouble – Crew Try To Kill Upstairs Skippe r
Position: 55° 04.409S 069° 33.501W
Caleta del Bosque, Estéro Fouque
Date: 7 March 2012
Why did I have to open my mouth in the last blog, talking about the settled spell of (comparatively) glorious weather? Yesterday morning, it was back to Weezle cold and it was raining again. In between particularly drenching squalls, Andrew cast off our four lines from the surrounding trees, the DS weighed the anchor, and we made our way back out into the Brazo Sudoeste to make our way further east to Estéro Fouque on the south side of the channel. It is a J-shaped fjord that penetrates Isla Hoste about 10 miles with, we are told, more spectacular glaciers at the end.
As we sailed serenely down the channel, goose-winged, we saw what looked like puffs of smoke bursting from the water. It was like we were in Iceland and geysers were blowing. It was more whales spouting. This didn’t exactly come as a surprise. Given the quantity of krill we saw in Caleta Mina it was a reasonable bet that the whales would be in pursuit of their favourite food. We saw more than a dozen whales blowing at any one time. As we approached them we could see their backs and fins arching out of the water as they came up for air. Sei whales again. We followed a couple of pods but then decided we would stop harassing them and let them get on with their lunch.
During our short 1 ½ hour passage down the channel the rain had cleared and rays of sunshine were occasionally seen on some of the surrounding mountains. But as we entered Estéro Fouque another blanket of grey cloud sped down the channel and enveloped us once again in freezing drizzle so we trickled down the fjord to our chosen anchorage to give it time to clear a bit before the process of tying in.
The Downstairs Skipper has become increasingly interested in the flora of Tierra Del Fuego. Below the tree line, the mountains here are covered by an astonishing assortment of bushes, mosses and tiny little plants that thrive on the boggy peaty soil. The DS has latterly been spending much of her walks crouching, looking for new specimens to carefully lift, put into a plastic bag and return to her increasingly large garden of specimens that now lives in the cockpit. The reference books are consulted and new specimens ticked off. She has now involved Andrew in her new-found interest and sends him ashore with a shopping list of species to look out for. This time of the year the bushes are covered in berries, most of them edible, including the purple-mauve coloured Calafate (Berberis buxifolia or Box-leafed barberry). They say that if you eat these, your return to Tierra Del Fuego is assured. Then there is the post-box red Chaura (Pernettya mucronata or Prickly Heath). Eaten straight from the bush they taste a little bitter, but the DS and Andrew have been experimenting stewing them with a little sugar into a jam. Personally I’m going to infuse them in a little gin, a much more pleasant way of eating off the land.
The DS was particularly intrigued by a tree, Canelo (Winter’s bark – Drymis winteri) which the native Indians used to counter scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency and which causes your gums to bleed and your teeth to drop out before, finally, it kills you. Legions of sailors died from this disease before they worked out that citrus juice solved the problem. Here, where there are no citrus trees, the local natives (and Captain Winter, a member of Sir Francis Drake’s expedition down here) used the bark from the tree to make an infusion rich in vitamin C. Andrew was despatched, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, to bring back some of the bark. I, meanwhile, went to my cabin for my customary post-lunch siesta. I awoke an hour later to find some bark simmering in a pan, and to be told that tea had been served. Mine was on the table. “Try some”, the DS said nonchalantly. I took a gulp. Mmmm. It tasted like ginger. Not unpleasant. Andrew and the DS looked at each other and exchanged a chilling smile. Fifteen seconds later, there was an incredibly hot peppery sensation that covered first my tongue, then the whole of my mouth and finally spread down my throat. I was clutching my throat in considerable pain and my strangled voice came out in a hoarse whisper. “You’ve poisoned me!” I rasped. “Quite possibly” replied the DS “but at least you won’t die from bleeding gums” she added encouragingly. Andrew looked on from behind, smirking.
If you don’t get another blog in the next few days, would you be kind enough to alert the authorities.