The South Pacific

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Mon 7 Jun 2010 01:38

Position: 47 36.79 S 075 27.68 W
Alongside Persimmon, Caleta Saurez
Wind: Southwest F3 gentle breeze, gusting F5 strong breeze in squalls.
Weather: partly cloudy, cool
Day’s Run 105 nm (since 9 a.m. yesterday)

What a hectic sail we have experienced over the last 34 hours. I started to briefly recount yesterday’s events but was interrupted by a squall passing through. As mentioned we had sailed all day and late in the afternoon were about to arrive at Caleta Hale where Persimmon was anchored, there to enjoy a little company and share a meal together. But fate had other things in mind. With only three miles to go the wind suddenly picked up dramatically, he headsail which has seen a lot of wear and tear over the last couple of months with near continuous tacking every day not surprisingly chose this moment to express its dissent by tearing along the leach for about a foot, at least that is the extent of the damage I saw just before I rolled it up to prevent any further damage. We were left with a double reefed mainsail to try and make ground to windward, it was not enough so I started the engine to assist. A couple of minutes later I decided it was too windy even for the double reefed main so dropped it and tried to motor against the wind and short steep sea that had quickly built up. After 30 minutes of motoring and making very little ground the motor started to lose power and black smoke was coming out of the exhaust. I shut the engine down before any serious damage could ensue. This was not good, we were on a lee shore, hard not to be when in the narrow confines of a channel. I had to get some control over the boat, there seemed but one thing to do, set the trysail and staysail. This is no small job but as I keep the trysail ready to go on its own mast track it was soon accomplished. We were not going to be able to make Caleta Ideal before sunset with this sail configuration so I chose to head north out of Canal Messier and into the relatively open waters of Golfo de Penas. Golfo de Penas has a terrible reputation but it has to be crossed in order to get north from this section of the Chilean Canals. The wind was forecast to turn southwest later in the night and I was hoping if I could hold my position then we might be able to run off before the southerly change when it arrived.

As we gort out into the Gulf it became apparent that we were being set towards the east and onto a nearby island. We couldn’t continue so I wore round on to the opposite tack and headed back towards the relative shelter of Canal Messier. While we were running back I checked the engine and quickly resolved the problem, the air cleaner had become clogged with oil, a problem related to the jury rigged breather tube I installed back in Ushuaia as a “short term” solution to the engines excessive crankcase pressure. One immediate problem solved. With nowhere safe to go for the night I thought it best to stay at sea and in any event despite the damaged headsail still wanted to make use of the south westerly change when it arrived. As I ran out of sea room in the north end of Canal Messier I started the engine and used it to help tack Sylph through the wind. As the trysail and staysail combination is really intended for heaving to under heavy weather it is not configured to be a tacked, so the process is rather awkward but nonetheless can be done.

After the tack we were once ore heading out into the waters of Golfo de Penas. I should note that during much of this I had been talking to Ian on Persimmon and it was encouraging to know he was a short distance away should things go completely awry. As we were heading north this time we were not being set so much to the east and it looked like we were going to clear Isla Ayautau. It seemed the wind was at last starting to back in to the southwest. Meanwhile Ian who had been monitoring my progress and the wind decided it might be a good idea for him to get underway and also to take maximum advantage of the favourable wind while it lasted. Unfortunately the wind did not go into the south as much as I would have liked and Sylph struggled to make any significant ground to the west with the trysail and staysail combination. We needed to make good a course of northwest to clear Peninsular Tres Montes which guards the northern entrance to the Gulf. What makes Golfo de Penas so bad is a combination to the large South Pacific swells which continuously pile up into its shoaling waters, this tends to set vessels eastwards into the Gulf. Further there is a set eastwards caused by the tide flooding into all the channels, apparently there is no reverse effect. And just to top it off southwest winds are always squally, making it even more difficult to set sufficient sail to battle one’s way out of the confines of this ugly piece of water. It is well respected by all sailors who know the area, and I was to learn first hand the nature of the respect the Gulf demanded. The first encounter that westerners had with the Gulf was through the tragic shipwreck of the HMS WAGER in these waters back in the 1700s, an island is named after the wreck. Coincidently one of the shipwrecked officers was a young Byron, the great grandfather of Lord Byron the poet (obviously Byron the elder survived his ordeal). An island nearby to Isla Wager is name Isla Byron.

Back to the present .. Actually it is getting pretty late and I have been up now for some 36 hours under some very tiring circumstances so I will continue tomorrow.

All is well.

Bob Cat:

He’s going to drag this out is he? Well I tell you I feel like I’ve been dragged to Hades and back. What an intolerable life this is sometimes. But the skipper did manage to get me a very nicely cooked pacifying piece of fish this evening. Now where did that come from I wonder. Well it worked, hit the spot nicely, the heater is on so rather than dwell on the past I choose to enjoy the present while I can … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.