Made It

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Mon 25 Jan 2010 23:35
Position: 49 19.11 S 067 42.77 W
At anchor off San Julian
Wind: West, F6/7 strong breeze/near gale
Weather: Overcast, mild
Day's Run: 66 miles.

We have made it! That was probably the longest 120 miles I have ever sailed. What should ordinarily have been an overnight sail turned into a major three day adventure.

I was right to be concerned about the interaction between waves and tide closer into shore. At one stage yesterday afternoon we found ourselves on a southerly heading, close hauled on the port tack about three miles off the beach, the wind was southeast, fresh, but he sea was from the south, short and steep. We punched into it for quite a while making good only about two knots. I persisted for a few hours as our course was good for San Julian whereas the other tack, while no doubt a lot more comfortable would have had us heading the wrong way. Then later towards evening as we once more crashed over a wave I heard a 'clunk . clunk . ka-clunk' from forward. "Oh oh! I know what that is." I quickly donned foul weather jacket and went to the bow. Sure enough the anchor had jumped off its roller and was bashing against the side. More bloody painting! I was annoyed with myself, this had never happened before and only a few hours previously I had inspected it and added an extra lashing, which had since chafed through. A few choice words, a skinned knuckle and soaked oilskins saw the 50 pound CQR lashed inboard out of harms way. I went aft tired and a bit frazzled, we needed to tack, we obviously were not going to make San Julian that night. I found myself thinking maybe I have bitten off more than I can chew here, maybe I should give up and go through the Panama Canal like most everyone else.

Once we had tacked the immediate difference in the boat's motion was extraordinary. We had a barely perceptible roll and were making good 5 ½ knots. That's better. Once we had opened the coast by a few miles we tacked again and the motion was much more sedate, Sylph easily climbed over the head sea normal for the gentle breeze we were heading into.

Then, only an hour later, we were becalmed, sails slatting and the counter slamming in the residual sea. I closed the exhaust valve to stop sea water from getting into the engine, dropped all sail and went below for a rest.

I awoke at a quarter to midnight, some wind, up sail and we were away again, broad reaching off a nice fresh northerly. At 2 a.m. I reduced sail to slow down a bit - it's funny how two reefs and only half the headsail only reduces speed in such conditions from 6 ½ knots to 5 ½ knots. By 3 we were getting close to San Julian, the main navigation light on Cabo Curioso appeared to be extinguished, either that or our navigation was completely out. It did not inspire confidence for a night approach. We gybed away to head out to sea to kill some time. An hour and a half later we gybed back hoping to arrive off the entrance at first light and high tide. The wind started to ease as we made for the entrance, which had us under full sail again. As twilight gathered and then daylight we were in San Julian Bay and things were lining up nicely. The tide was not perfect as it would soon be turning and against us but it would do. As we continued in the wind died to a very light headwind. Disappointed that we were not going to be able to sail in I started the engine and dropped sail. I looked around me, once again I thought of the men who had preceded me here. These were the same waters Magellan and Drake had negotiated several hundred years ago. I had good charts, satellite navigation, reliable weather forecasts, accurate tidal predictions, a diesel engine and a handy seaworthy little craft, and still I find it a challenge. I wondered what Magellan would have done in these same conditions, the wind dieing, tide against him, confronting a narrow entrance into a completely unknown estuary. These early seamen must have had a near intuitive knowledge of tides and the management of their craft a second nature to them. What brave souls they were. It is little wonder that on top of all the natural challenges they had to contend with that they also had to deal with the lesser mortals their crews were made from, in the form of mutinies.

Eight miles of motoring into the now well marked channels (the old chart I have isn't quite lined up with the GPS constellation but only 600 yards out and once the error has been discovered easy to compensate for) we dropped anchor at last off the beach to the south of the small town. But my dramas for this little passage weren't over yet. As I put the motor into reverse to set the anchor we immediately dragged despite a generous amount of chain. The wind was once more starting to freshen a little and I had to motor forward a little then smartly jump to the bow to heave several meters of chain back in with Sylph's manual anchor winch, about seven repetitions of this procedure saw all the chain recovered and the anchor in sight - who needs to pay for expensive gym memberships with a nice old manual anchor winch to mess around with. I re-anchored in a slightly different position but still was not happy. I could hear and feel the anchor rattle over the hard cobbled bottom 7 meters beneath us. I have found this to be a common problem in rivers and estuaries with strong streams. The water rushing back and forth scours the bottom and leaves a hard packed smooth stony bottom which a modern anchor has a hard time penetrating. In these conditions I much prefer my old fashioned fisherman. I thought of changing anchors or setting a second anchor but by now was very tired. We seemed to be holding OK so I had breakfast and a couple of hours sleep instead.

Now, later in the afternoon, we have that second anchor set, it dug in at once and I am feeling a lot more relaxed. We have had some winds up to thirty knots already to put a bit of strain on them, along with a few knots of tidal stream and all seems to be holding well. I shall sleep a lot more soundly with that second anchor out.

The Prefectura and the paperwork will have to wait until tomorrow.

As I look at the weather fax that has just come in, it appears to me that we have come quite a ways south. We have almost crossed the 50 degree mark. The bottom of South America seems tantalizingly close but, in terms of what we will yet probably have to go through to get there, it also seems a long way to go.

All is well.

Bob Cat:

Yes, yes, all very tiring. And if, Dear Reader, you have made it this far, the best part of the blog, (I am sure many of you skip straight to my section - like the comics in the newspaper) I shan't bore you any further but let you, like me . . . Zzzzzzzzz.