The Straits of Magellan

Steve Powell
Sun 20 Feb 2011 18:44

We have spent the last week bashing our way up the Magellan Straits, and I mean bashing!  The leg we had to achieve was only 115nm long, UHURU can easily do 160nm in 24hours and has often managed well over 200nm. But the Magellan Straits are different. At the western end you have the full force of the Pacific Ocean funnelling down into narrows just a few miles wide. Add to that the acceleration effect of the mountains on either side on the wind and you have a environment that has earned it’s reputation as one of the most dangerous pieces of water in the world.

It took us five and a half days to achieve  just 115nm, most of that time I am happy to say we were holed up in safe little ‘Caletta’s’, small protected coves, tied hard up to several rocks or trees. In landscape that comes straight from Jurassic Park, the movie.

UHURU tied up in a Calleta, Puerto Augosto. This was a small indentation that had sheer cliff opposite. We were just a few meters off the rocks.

UHURU in Calleta Hidden, in Jurassic Park country.

Even diving in these Calletas looking for Southern King Crab was a primeval experience.

The biggest danger in these ‘bolt holes’ is what’s known as ‘Williwaws’, sudden whirlwind type winds reaching up to 100knots (115mph). The pilot book describes them in the following fashion. “Their action is stronger in the coves and the waters lying under steep mountainsides. Gusts descend from the valleys in a roar of shaken trees and whistling whirlwind on rocks. Small twisters of foam and water appear on the sea, rushing at incredible speeds on the surface, accompanied by curtains of rain and hail. The average duration of this phenomenon is 8-10 seconds but sometimes last up to a minute.”

In Puerto Augosto we had the classic Williwaw terrain, and on our second day hiding there we had the ‘Perfect Storm’ out in the Straits, 40 plus knots of steady wind. Then the Williwaws started.....

The wind tumbles down the high cliffs opposite and start across the bay, the water starts to boil, and a circular spray starts to build.

The wind speed builds and visibility reduces as is blows through.

We were on the edges of this one but our wind gauge still registered 57kts. It must have been closer to 80-90kts in the path of the Williwaw.  It kept this up all night but we were safely tucked in.

All the weather forecasts said that the winds would drop off dramatically the next day. So we got up early and had a look out and things looked better. We still had about 40nm to do in the Straits and it was the narrowest section of the Straits. With the forecasts predicting worse weather on the following days, we went for it......

This is what 46kts of wind on the nose in the Magellan Straights looks like!!

Our hero Botty man’s the winch as we crash through another Pacific Roller coming up the Magellan Straits.

We beat hard all day up the Magellan and managed a total of 22nm before slipping into a safe anchorage. We found that a combination of a tiny bit of main, the staysail plus engine, was the only way we could make any headway against the winds and current we faced. The log shows that we actually sailed 36nm and for 9 hours to achieve those 22nm, averaging just four knots an hour. The next day we managed the rest and ‘slipped around the corner’ into calmer waters.

Looking forward to joining us next week, Darling? (Beans and Willie, Botty’s wife, are joining us next week). I promise you Darling we won’t be doing this when you get here.  It should all be easy from now on, honest!. :-)

Now that we are out of the Magellan Straits things have definitely improved and we have had a couple of fantastic days, unfortunately more engine than sail, but the scenery is beautiful and all’s well with the crew.

We all secretly admitted that we actually enjoyed the Magellan Straits and probably the toughest 22nm we have ever sailed. Suckers for it!

We should be in Puerto Natales in a couple of days where we will have time to prepare for Beans and Willie. Chris is getting a little nervous, ‘the Boss’ is coming onboard and she’s a stickler. Canapés every night! We are going to give him some lessons in Natales. :-)

Mike’s thinking about home as he heads back to see the kids and Judy. Oh, and Happy Birthday Emma, nine years old today. We all send our love.

Happy sailors one and all.


20th February 2011