Puerto Hoppner and arrival at Harberton
Position: 54.52S 67.19W
Date: December 12th 2011
As usual, leaving New Island the winds were not as gentle as predicted. We fought our way through the difficult coastal waters, only to find that the motion of the boat continued to be difficult, pitching and rolling so it was a bit of an uncomfortable journey.
Statten Island however, was well worth the pain. As you approach you are faced with a dramatic sky line of jagged mountains, some of them with snow on. To get into Puerto Hoppner, you go towards what looks like a cliff face until you see a reasonably wide opening which you plunge through into a big inlet, with a large bay to the right which is completely protected. We however had further adventure in sight. The inner bay beckoned. There is a tiny little gap between the rocks which the boat could hardly squeeze through and then we were into the inner harbour, completely surrounded by an amphitheatre of high mountains. The anchorage was tucked behind a small island at the far end of the bay. Tim did marvels with roping us in, and then there we were, snug as anything, in this primeval landscape. No one lives on the island, even the indigenous Indian population of Tierra del Fuego were defeated by the difficulties of the place. The result is a place untouched by man, almost inaccessible because of the tangle of trees and undergrowth. We wanted to visit the lakes that were tipping water down the steep slopes into hidden pools, but it was completely impossible.
We spent two days in this primitive paradise, waiting for a good weather opportunity to carry on our journey. On the last morning, we identified a place where we could go ashore with the dinghy and reach some height in order to photograph Mina2 in this memorable anchorage. We managed to scramble through the scrubby trees on the shoreline and then walk up a steep slope covered in a spongy moss. There was a mixture of so many plants there making up this ground cover – one of the signs I believe of an untouched landscape.
Our exit was dramatic to say the least. The wind of course decided to gust up as we were working out how to unrope safely, get the anchor up and then get the dinghy back up in its davits. Planning yielded results and we made a pretty slick exit from the anchorage. We then moved up to the narrow gap, which Tim and I had investigated early in the day and had found unthreatening. Not so now. The tide had turned and was pouring through the gap at a ferocious rate. To go or not to go? Well, we were committed. Tim faced the bows towards the gap and gunned the engine. Boat making 8 knots through the water and 3, 2, 1 knots over the ground and then what seemed like nothing. More engine power and we inched our way through that gap. Big relief as we got through; god knows what would have happened if there had been a crunch.
The next challenge was the Le Maire Channel which has a ferocious reputation. The reason we left our anchorage at a less than ideal time was in order to reach the head of the channel at the correct time to avoid the worst of the notoriously bad conditions. It was indeed a very ‘lumpy’ sea that we found. The big waves subsided as the wind went down, but through the channel we found the most confused sea that I have ever sailed in. The waves were leaping around in every direction. As indeed were the dolphins who behaved as if they were on some drug. We were surrounded by them for the 6 hours that it took us to get through the channel. They were leaping bodily out of the water, forwards, sideways, upside down, twisting and turning, delivering whacking tails slaps as they came down to the water. There were hundreds of them giving an extraordinary display.
In the morning, we found ourselves entering the Beagle Channel, still against the current – it seems that is flows constantly east through the area, regardless of the state of the tide. As the day went on, the weather improved and the wind went down until we were motoring into a slight breeze towards our destination of Harberton.
Harberton is a special place for all of us but particularly for Tim. The estancia was developed by the Bridges family at the end of the 19th century. The family started their work in the area in Ushuaia, setting up a mission, but moved later to Harberton. One of the sons has written a book about their early life in the area, when they were living amongst the native Indian population, which has now sadly disappeared. It is an extraordinary book about the realities of a pioneering life, and about the way of life of the local population, who were understandably not always friendly towards the newcomers. John and I have both read the book on the passage down from Buenos Aires. Maria, Tim’s wife, is related to the Bridges family through her grandmother so quite apart from the power of the book, there is a special family link.
We have been anchored since 4.00 p.m. in the bay. The sun has come out and finally there is some heat in the day. The estancia has been built in a beautiful situation with views right down the bay to the channels between the Chilean islands. We are enjoying this evening on the boat after a hard sail. We are here for two days so have plenty of time to explore.