Equinoctial Gales

Satellite image from 05:09UTC 05 March 2015

Satellite image from 05:09UTC 05 March 2015

The weather that I spoke about in the last entry materialised almost as forecast but in our sheltered spot didn’t affect us much. We could feel some swell, see the clouds rushing past overhead and of course feel the rain hammering down in the frontal part of the system.

The image accompanying this entry shows the storm about 6 hours after we had the worst of it;

the black + marks our position. This blow was followed by another then another as we are into the time of year approaching the equinox when the appropriately names “equinoctial gales” blow as the seasons re-align themselves from summer to winter. Everybody who lives in these latitudes knows that this normally sorts itself out by April when fine and calm weather is more common – fingers crossed that will be the case this year (although indications are that we could be entering an El Nino year so all bets are off).

The first few days of March didn’t allow any movement but it rained a lot and I was able to fill the water tanks with rain water. The sewing machine came out and I made the first part of what will become our Binimi (sun awning over the cockpit) and Paula made some canvas pockets for storing little things in the galley. Weather-wise it wasn’t until the 5th that things started to look up. The day had begun looking marginal for moving and as I had spotted a leak in the heads pump we decided to stay so that I could clean and service the pump – a broken heads pump is not a nice thing although the contingency plan is very simple; we have plenty of buckets. As it turned out the day was fine and we could have moved, grrrrrrrr.

On the 6th the weather was fine so we got underway glad to see the scenery around us changing again. Motor-sailing north along the remainder of Canal Sarmiento we passed Puerto Bueno where Sarmiento waited to ambush Drake. Why he waited there I have no idea as he knew that Drake would be coming through the Magellan and must have known that it would be easier for Drake to exit from the Magellan into the Pacific than to beat his ships up the channels (as we are trying to do!). Needless to say Sarmiento had a fruitless wait and Drake wasn’t ambushed. We moored for the night in Caleta Wanderer on Isla Gschen.

Caleta Wanderer was a beautiful spot and it would have been nice to have stayed for a day but the next morning dawned fair and we were soon on our way sailing along nicely with the wind on our port quarter. The nice weather didn’t last long though and within the hour the wind had come forward and it had started to rain. We had reached the southern entrance of Canal Pitt and between the curtains of rain sweeping across us could see that there was wind blowing out of the entrance. I turned the boat around and we were heading back whence we came when a close look at surface of the water in the shortcut between Isla Peel and Isla Chatham suggested that the current might be running north (favourable for us) and might just allow us to make progress against the head wind. So we did another 180 turn and set course for the cut.

The four mile long cut between the two islands was quite spectacular and indeed the current was in our favour so off we went. The western shore seemed run along an ancient lateral moraine and seemed reasonably well sheltered as there was nice selection of trees all growing vertically; we are starting to see more cypress trees in among the northofagus and canello now. There were even, almost, meadow-like patches of what looked like green grass (it was probably moss). On our right, the eastern side, the cliffs towered vertically right out of the water and several waterfalls cascaded in torrents straight into the sea. We were admiring the scenery and taking a few snaps when the tide reversed its course and suddenly were making painfully slow progress.

We only had about half a mile of the cut to cover before we reached the main arm of Canal Pitt and I decided to press on in the hope that the tide would be running less strongly and that the wind would be less intense in the wider channel. However when we reached Canal Pitt the tide was just as strong, the wind and rain even more intense, and so after 15 minutes of going nowhere turned right continuing the turn around the northern point of Isla Peel and ran downwind towards Estero Peel and Caleta Villarica. We knew that the local fishermen use Caleta Villarica as a storm shelter and that is always a good recommendation. The weather was very squally by this stage and we had gone from 2nd reefed main in the shortcut to 3rd reef and then to bare poles. Not before time as we were hit by a few violent williwaws containing winds well in excess of 50knots causing white-out conditions leaving us navigating by a combination of radar and dead-reckoning (GPS can’t always be plotted directly on the charts in these parts).

The rain eased a bit was we exited the southern end of Canal Pitt and turned left into Estero Peel. There was a very distinct line between the water whipped white by the wind blowing out of Canal Pitt and the almost glassy calm of the water in the lee of Peninsula Wilcock, and we were glad to cross into the calm water. From there it was straight-forward to find the anchorage in NW corner of the outer basin of the caleta. We found a line fixed by fishermen across the head of tiny cove; dropped the anchor and backed up to the line picked it up with the boat hook and dropped the mooring loops over our cleats – simple. Later on we took our own lines ashore for extra security because, as Paula said, the fixed line looked like a rope from the “Flying Dutchman” out of the Pirates of the Caribbean all covered in weed and slime.

Yesterday, the 8th, had a terrible forecast so we made no plans to move. The fishermen that we could hear on the vhf were all running for shelter reporting 70 knot “rachas”. We have a good view along Estero Peel from here and we could see plenty of white water when the curtains of rain parted. Today again had marginal forecast and we decided that we probably wouldn’t go anywhere and the rapidly falling barometer this morning confirmed that.

We still have problems with the anchor windlass motor so I spent yesterday cleaning it and checking it over. I can’t find anything definitely wrong with it but suspect that the insulation on a winding is breaking down under load or something like that as it doesn’t have any power. Raising the anchor has become a case of manoeuvring the boat carefully to keep the anchor chain completely slack and then provided the water depth is less than 10m the windlass can just about recover the chain. If the anchor or even the chain is embedded in the mud then we have to haul the anchor by hand until it comes easily and the windlass motor can again cope. A new windlass motor is equal top of the list of things to do in Valdiva.

Sitting in these places we do get time to see the local animals going about their daily business. Yesterday we watched an otter (chungungo) catch and eat two fish. There are the usual birds around, gulls, black browed albatross, steamer ducks, kelp geese, shags, the giant kingfishers and we are seeing more of the small land birds including quite a few humming birds. We saw a chimango caracara catch a good sized (0.5kg) fish and drag it up a tree the morning that we arrived here. Normally you only have to search the sky for a while before you spot a condor. So while these lands look barren on first appearance there is actually plenty of fauna around. One gap in our library is a book on the birds of Chile, a careless omission, but Paula’s knowledge is good, and we have scraps of information in the Flora & Fauna sections of the guidebooks that we have along with good seabirds books.

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