- January to March 2007
of our anchorages i Patagonia
One thing is for sure – the nature is fabulous and beautiful in Patagonia.
When the sun is shining and the temperature is higher than the usual
10ºC, the grey and rainy days are easily forgotten.
In 1832 Captain FitzRoy and “Beagle” sailed these waters for three months. He surveyed the canal and the islands around Cape Horn. The Beagle Canal is 100 nautical miles long and connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The Beagle Canal is shorter and smaller than the Strait of Magellan, which parts Tierra del Fuego from the mainland further north.
The Beagle Canal is beautiful. On one side the mountains rise with snowy peaks, on the other side the islands protect the canal from the violent weather coming from south and southwest. In Chilean waters it is necessary to obtain a zarpe – a sailing permission. We had heard that it could be difficult and bureaucratic. Luckily that is not our experience.
Mid January we threw off from Puerto Williams, heading west in the Beagle Canal . Empire was lying deep in the water. It would be 8 weeks until we again could go “shopping”.
The first days in the Beagle Canal the weather was like a nice Norwegian summer. The second day we could even fly the spinnaker. The Beagle Canal has a well deserved nickname - The Avenue of Glaciers.
The nature is similar to the Norwegian west and northwest coast, only rougher and more dramatic in Patagonia.
The Chilean fjords are a paradise of unspoiled anchorages. Empire has been the only sailboat most of the time. We can count on one hand the other sailboats we have meet during the last months. When it comes to fishing boats and cargo ships we might have to use two hands.
After three nights in Bahia Mussel at Isla Carlos III, northwest in the Strait of Magellan, we wanted to proceed west. In Caleta Notch the Swedish sailboat “Yaghan” were expecting us for dinner, if the weather allowed us to get there.
After 8 hours on the way we had only 2 nm left. The wind increased earlier than predicted and finally we had 32 m/s in the nose… We hardly did any progress and the engine was not much help. We had to turn back. After two hours we were back where we started. Because of the storm we were weather-bound at Isla Carlos III three more days. We were well tied up with two lines ashore and two separate anchors.
We will definitely remember Seno Eyre and the glacier Ventisquero Pio XI. The last nautical mile we had to keep ice watch from the bow to avoid the ice. The air temperature dropped as we approached the glacier, the ice blocks got bigger and more frequent. Suddenly the sun came through and the scenery was fantastic. The wall of 1000 years old ice was glimmering in blue, turquoise, bright white and transparent. Ventisquero Pio XI is 3,5 km wide where it meets the fjord and up to 50 meter high. The glacier made a lot of noise when big ice blocks fell into the sea. When we passed through belts of small ice we could hear the sparkling sound from compressed air being released.
After five weeks sailing we anchored in Puerto Eden. The little fishing village is one of the most isolated settlements in Patagonia. The ferry which connects Puerto Eden with the mainland drops by twice a week. In Puerto Eden there are no cars and no streets. A wooden bridge or path serves as the “main road”.
We crossed Golfo de Penas in nice SW wind, 200 nm with a taste of the Pacific Ocean, before we could sail in Bahia Darwin to sheltered waters. The bottom rises steeply outside Golfo de Penas, from 3- 4000 meters to 50 meters. The sea becomes very choppy, with seas coming from all directions.
It was obvious that we were getting closer to the civilisation as garbage was floating in the sea and ships passed by more frequently. The weather was also changing to considerably warmer than further south, but still wet.
The high mountains in Patagonia increase the strength of the wind in the fjords. This effect can create strong williwaws. The williwaws often come from an unpredicted direction and with a speed of up to 50 m/s. It does not last for long, but can make great damage if you are not prepared.
Before anchoring we always considered the site thoroughly. From experienced sailors we got the advice to look for areas with healthy trees with fresh leaves. If you anchor where there are no trees or the trees have lost its leaves, it means that the wind easily could get a good grip on the boat.
Before we left Puerto Williams Heidi had a good look in the “big blue bible”, ”Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Nautical Guide”. The book contains good information about 500 anchorages in Patagonia. ”Everybody” we met in Patagonia had the big blue book in the ships library. Often we referred to the different anchorages only by numbers from the book, while speaking to other sailors.
Patagonia is enormous. The amount of fjords, canals and bays is almost unlimited. It is necessary to sail these waters for a long time to really get to know the area. The distance we sailed from Puerto Williams to Valdivia, is comparable with the total distance of the Norwegian coastline. 650 litres of diesel, 600 litres fresh water and loads of dry- and tinned food were consumed.
We did most of the sailing during daytime due to partly unreliable charting and narrow channels with unreliable lights. Since the wind and the current mainly come from the north, we calculated to sail 25-50 nm a day. Some days we were lucky with the wind and the current setting our way, other days we hardly did any progress at all.
There are many safe and sheltered anchorages to choose between and it is not necessary to fight against the elements. In many of the anchorages we visited it was difficult to get ashore. The vegetation along parts of the Patagonian coast is very dense. Fighting the way through the bush to find a three to attach the lines was sometimes nearly a day's work. Most of the anchorages get high score for safety and protection from the strong winds, and the surroundings are amazing – but unfortunately inaccessible in many places.
We had a long, humid and sometimes cold voyage on our way through Patagonia. But as soon as the sun was shining we would not dream of being another place. The fabulous and dramatic nature and the great amount of animals in the sea and in the air, will for always be what we remember.