At Anchor Bahia Thetis

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Thu 4 Feb 2010 22:45
Position: 54 37.93 S 065 10.07 W
A anchor Bahia Thetis
Wind: Southwest F5 Fresh breeze
Weather: Partly cloudy, cold
Day's Run: 111 nm

The plan worked, though I had my doubts for a while. The glimpse of Tierra Del Fuego's mountainous interior form offshore hid itself above a curtain of clouds as we closed the coast but I am sure we will more than make up for it later. The wind did its usual jilling around during the day, had me reefing and unreefing, trimming, gybing and tacking, and at one point was blowing from the northeast leading me to think I had got it all wrong and was in fact going to put Sylph on a lee shore. But all turned out well, by midnight things had settled down, Sylph was under a double reefed mainsail and 60 % jib, initially she was underpowered but during the night the wind picked up and Sylph barrelled along on a close reach at seven plus knots, gradually closing the coast and gaining a little more shelter from the land.

The next tricky bit is the Straits of Le Maire, you have to get this one right, strong tidal streams through the narrow strait causes extensive and dangerous overfalls, apparently standing waves of 10 meters height have been reported, big enough tp sink a small ship yet along a relatively tiny vessel like Sylph. The forecast was for fresh south westerly winds for the next 24 hours or more so I had put aside any idea of going through the Straits today, not only would I have the wind against me going through, I would have to have pushed against the tidal stream as well (you never transit such a strait with wind against tide) and there was no way Sylph would ever have made ground against a strong headwind and the tide. Furthermore even if we made it through on the other side we would have had another 25 miles of headwinds and contrary currents before we could make the nearest shelter. All in all it made a lot more sense to seek shelter this side of the Strait and transit when conditions are more favourable. Options for a secure anchorage on this side of the Strait are very limited so the choice of where to anchor was not difficult. There were only two, and Bahia Thetis looked by far the simplest and safest so that is where we aimed for.

When young Dawn with her rose red-fingers shone once more, four miles before us and closing fast lay the black craggy features of the north side of Peninsular Mitre. It was time to act. First breakfast, a snappy bowl of hot porridge, not forgetting the cinnamon and honey, and a cup of tea to provide some warmth and vigour for the limbs, then as we were now well in the sheltered lee of the land, we could afford to bear a way a little for Cabo San Vicente, Sylph was riding smoothly now but still moving quickly, eight knots even under such reduced canvas, a couple of knots of ebb tide behind her, next get the anchor ready. A little complication had arisen overnight, the nut on ring bolt holding the chain to the chain pipe cover had come undone, I had to crawl up forward in the V-berth to the cable locker and attach a wire to the end of the chain and feed it up the chain pipe. Funny how these things happen at the most inconvenient moments, but soon fixed. Next warm up the engine - the poor old engine! It took a little coaxing for it to come to life after a few days of sitting idle. I shall get a mechanic to look at it in Ushuaia, I thought. Nonetheless whenever I have problems starting the engine I think of the book "Last Voyage" by Ann Davison - what a tragic story - the routine they had to go through to get their old monster going is hard to believe. A great read by the way, whether you love sailing or not, if you don't love sailing after you have read it you will never want to look at a sailing boat again. Ann Davison lost her husband in this well written and moving account but went on to sail again and wrote another book, "My Ship is So Small" which I haven't read yet.

Meanwhile, back in the southern South Atlantic, my charts have it labelled Mar Argentino, reminds me of when I was in the Persian Gulf in 1991, the bookstores in the United Arab Emirates had all the mas of the Persian gulf in their atlases black inked, with Persian Gulf crossed out and relabelled Arabian Sea. I doubt whether the fish care very much. Now where was I, oh yes . . . reminds me of a book "Mimesis" . . . We made our way carefully around Cabo San Vicente, giving it a wide berth as recommended in the cruising bible* for the region, but not too far out. Around the corner lay Bahia Thetis. The chartlet in the book shows the Bay encumbered with kelp, as indeed it is, and with a narrow channel through it from the north. This became apparent but soon petered out into a mass of kelp. This was only my second experience among these long heavy ropes of brown seaweed. I was concerned about getting fouled up in the stuff and indeed the engine dropped revs a couple of times in the heavier concentrations, I bailed, I turned around and got clear of the Bay to consider my options. The wind had a lot of south in it and the guide also said not to use the anchorage with the wind between north east and south, there was quite a large swell running onto the Bay. Maybe I should just stay at sea, or make my way across to Staten Island and look for an anchorage there. In our egress from the bay we had successfully managed to wade our way through some pretty heavy kelp so I decided to give it another go before giving up. On our second attempt we managed to find a way through the kelp, the guide also mentioned a set of leads that larger ships use for guiding their way into the Bay, the recommended anchorage was just to the south of the leads in about six meters of water. There was no sign of the leads but the GPS position given tied in with everything I could see so we pushed on. It was high tide and the swell invading the bay was still significant this far in. "Still," I consoled myself, "I have had to endure being at anchor in a lot worse, and a rest would be nice." There was a lot of kelp around, I dropped the anchor anxiously, as holding in kelp bestrewn anchorages is notoriously poor, despite the reassurance in the guide that the holding was very good. We have now been here for several hours and so far so good. The wind has increased in strength from the southwest, the anchor is holding well so far, the wind directly opposes the swell so Sylph is taking it long and low comfortably from astern and the rolling is minimal. I stayed up for the first few hours keeping an eye on things, noting a couple of natural beam transits for easy reference to see if we were dragging at all, did a couple of chores, had some lunch, then started to write up the blog but found myself falling asleep at the key board. Time to join BC for a while. It is good to be sitting at anchor, listening to the wind howl outside.

All is well.

Bob Cat:

Sure is getting cold down here and we are on the wrong side of the summer solstice. I am going deeper into the sea rug where I shall have some pleasant dreams about what I can do to dishonourable Englishmen bearing fishy gifts . . . . Zzzzzzz.


* "Patagonia & Tierra Del Fuego Nautical Guide", Mariolina Rolfo & Giorgio Ardurizzi.