Westward – along the Beagle Channel

Mount Darwin from the Beagle Channel

Mount Darwin from the Beagle Channel

We stayed in Puerto Williams for almost two weeks. In that time we made a few adjustments to the systems on the boat (this will no doubt be on-going), the Puerto Williams mechanic skimmed the commutator on the windlass motor which was a bit corroded and seemed to be causing the motor to intermittently refuse to start, and Arnaud from the yacht “Paradise” kindly took the faulty alternator to Ushuaia

where an “alternator specialist” gave it a once over. I’m not sure of his diagnosis but time will tell on that one.

Puerto Williams was busy when we arrived with over 20 yachts alongside and more on the buoys in seno Lapatia. We met the crews of a couple of other yachts on a similar schedule to us, heading north through the channels over the summer “Anna Caroline” from the Netherlands with Wietze and Janneke aboard and “Celaphais” with Patrick aboard. We exchanged various bits of information and email addresses just in case we needed to coordinate anything later on.

Whilst in Puerto Williams we hiked up Cerro Bandera and cycled the coast road a little in each direction. There is obviously a lot of development happening in Puerto Williams; a new fishing port, new roads, new water distribution, plans for a bigger runway at the airport, etc.. All of this seems to be part of government initiative to improve the facilities in Williams to make it more attractive as an Antarctic gateway for the smaller “expedition” style cruise ships. Ushuaia across the Beagle channel in Argentina is continuously shooting itself in the foot as they struggle with incompetence and corruption so if Puerto Williams can improve their base infrastructure then they should be able to win a lot of trade.

One evening whilst returning to the Micalvi after dinner with friends we were lucky enough to see an impressive natural phenomenon. A shoal of sardines seemed to have been herded into the creek by a shoal of Merluza (KingKlip in English I think). The sardines were causing the water to boil and in our lights we could see hundreds and hundreds of Merluza up to about 75cm in length. A few people grabbed buckets and fished some sardines and even some Merluza while the rest of us just watched. Inside the boat you could hear the fish bumping and banging into the hull; quite an impressive spectacle. The next day I found sardines on the sugar scoop.

We got our Zarpe (a document approving your planned voyage and giving permission to leave) on the evening of the 26 January so that we could get away first thing on the 27th and moved “Morgane” to an outside berth so that we could get away without disturbing anybody. The 26th was Australia day so Jordan from “Commitment”, as the only Aussie at the dock, organised a BBQ to celebrate. We left the BBQ party early so as to get an early start without woolly heads and got an early(ish) night. We are not too sure of Jordan’s cooking skills though as we both had slightly upset stomachs the next day.

We were up just after 4am to make our getaway and slipped out of the “Club de yates Micalvi” at around 6am. The Beagle Channel was calm and we motored along with the main hoisted to catch any wind that came along to help. We passed Ushuaia and Puerto Navario in still air but as we crossed the northern opening of the Murray Channel I could see wind ahead and decided to drop in a couple of reefs, just in case . Soon we had a breeze of around 25knots gusting 30 or so; right on the nose along the channel, as it always is here, and were tacking past Rocas Contramaestre Peron.

The breeze looked as if it was set in for the day so we decided to head into Bahia Yendegaia and anchor in Caleta Contreras for the night. As is often the case here there is a marked contrast in conditions from one channel to the next and Yendegaia and Caleta Contreras were both peaceful.

The next day we lifted the anchor at about 7am and headed out into the Beagle Channel again intending to get to Caleta Olla. Caleta Olla is lovely protected little cove on the north shore of the Beagle Channel right where it divides into two arms at the eastern end of Isla Gordon. There was a bit of breeze in the channel 10 – 25 knots or so that seemed to be heading us wherever we went so mostly we motor-sailed with the main strapped in tight where we could gain an advantage in lesser current along one shore or the other but in the middle section of the trip managed a couple of useful tacks with main and jib.

We arrived in Caleta Olla at 2:30pm to find nobody else there so were able to pick our spot to drop the anchor and then rowed two stern lines ashore to hold us in under the wind shadow of the trees. We had not long finished tying up when another yacht arrived, soon followed later in the evening by two more. We were ashore when one turned up, our friend Patrick, and as he is single handing we rowed out to take his first shore line in for him. In return for this favour he invited us over for an drink later in the evening. Whilst sitting in the cockpit watching one of the boats arrive we watched a cheeky, and fat, fox mooching along the beach looking for sardines or scraps of discarded picnics.

The following day we hiked up a trail (trail is rather a grand word here) that leads up the side of waterfall that descends from a lake at the base of Mount Francais, up past the place where the climbing expeditions make their base camp to the lake itself. The climbers will now find it hard to find a dry spot to pitch their camp as the valley is almost totally flooded by beaver dams. The Beavers are an invasive species here and cause a huge amount of damage. We met some scientists camped out near the beach who are doing a survey of the invasive species in the area; the worst intruders being the beaver, mink and other smaller rodents.

We stopped for lunch on the shore of the lake and whilst admiring the view spotted a herd of over 20 guanacos among the bushes on the opposite shore. They soon spotted us and after one gave a warning bleat most of them headed for high ground but a few stayed lower near the path and as we didn’t approach resumed doing whatever it is the guanacos do. Most of the bushes on the shore of the lake had been chopped by the beavers where we were sitting and it looked quite naked, but there were several species of small birds and some large dragon flies in the area, three condors sailed past high in sky at one point.

We had planned to spend a couple of days at Caleta Olla but as we headed out for another hike the next day I couldn’t stand looking at the channel and seeing perfect conditions for making westward progress go to waste so we rowed back to “Morgane” and weighed anchor. We had planned on Seno Pia as our next spot but as we knew of several other boats that were already there or heading that way we decided to instead anchor in Caleta Voilier. From Voilier we have a great view of Mt Darwin in the Cordillera Darwin on Isla Grande ; when the clouds lift that is. Whilst we were anchoring I noticed what at first I thought were shoals of small fish but then realised that they were a species of lobster krill, large ones up to about 10cm in length, perhaps that is what the whales in the channels are here for.

The forecast since we have arrived here in Voilier has shown some strong winds coming so it looks like we’ll be here for a couple of days while that goes past. I spent yesterday trying to adjust the engine mounts as the engine has been vibrating a lot at idle speed. I spend several hours making a wedge shaped shim to improve the orientation of one mount and then realigned the engine with the shaft and seem to have won some improvement – I guess that is what windy/rainy days are for.

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