Chonos Archipelago

S 44 25’13, W 073 51’60
The breeze that we were waiting for when I left you at the end of the last blog entry never came which meant that we continued on overnight to make our entry into the Chonos Archipelago via Canal Darwin.

The Chonos Archipelago makes up the bulk of the islands off Chile’s coast South of Isla Chiloe and north of the Gulfo de Penas. The Chonos were a native race whose pure bloodline disappeared towards the end of the 18th century. Apparently they were a sedentary race who lived in settlements and grew potatoes, corn and quinoa but also fished from boats and gathered shellfish. They wove guanaco wool and lived in straw (or rather reed) houses. They were originally from Chiloe but were pushed south by the Mapuches. This is also the area where the legendary “City of Caesars” was supposed to lay by the shore of lake hidden by perpetual mists. The perpetual mist is one part of the story I can believe! The rest seems to have been a joke played on the whites by the locals of the time.

Gaining access to the islands was easier said than done as when we arrived in Canal Darwin the wind was blowing strongly out of the canal and a moderate tide was running. There is nowhere handy there to shelter to wait for the tide so the best thing to do seemed to be to continue plugging away. Eventually the tide turned and soon after the mid-point of channel the wind dropped away. In the channels during periods of light wind the channels that lay perpendicular the atmospheric pressure gradient often seem to have a breeze where the air mass is flowing from the channels with high pressure to those with lower. This means that you can encounter areas with quite strong localised winds of up to 30 knots or so.

A salmon farm near Isla Jechica

A salmon farm near Isla Jechica

As soon as we were inside Canal Darwin we began to encounter masses of aquaculture infrastructure most of which seems to be salmon farming cages but can also be shellfish cultivation ropes and nets. The salmon farms consist of a series of cages formed by pontoon walkways that support the netting cages containing the fish, there is a barge that houses the control system, feeding pumps, monitoring systems etc.. An accommodation barge sometimes serves several sets of cages with the workers zooming around between the cages in an assortment of high-speed launches.

We were blessed with a few days of very nice weather, it was even warm enough to shower on deck, and we made a couple of stops in some very nice caletas before reaching Puerto Aguirre. We anchored just north of the town in Caleta la Poza and walked to town to report-in at the Port Captain’s office. Puerto Aguirre is a small fishing town of around 1000 people which, it seems, is in rapid decline due to the invasion of the fish farms that have completely changed the way of life of the inhabitants. The shops were reasonably well stocked with fresh vegetables and fruit; potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, apples, a lettuce or two and there were even bananas with not too many black spots (Falkland’s grade A+).

There was one restaurant still in existence and open and which we were able to go out to for dinner; the first meal that we had not cooked ourselves for almost three months. The meal was nothing special but adequate, wine was sold in bottles rather than cartons and we had the opportunity to learn something of the local situation from the very chatty owner. The only other diners were a couple of ranchers who were visiting the town on some kind of business trip. It turns out that one of them was a McDowell whose ancestors had emigrated to Punta Arenas from the Falkland’s in 1906 and whom, he thinks, were originally from Scotland. While we were in Puerto Aguirre the weather had resumed normal service and it was raining again, not the incessant bucketing down of the area south of the Gulfo de Penas but showers with actual breaks between them and periods of blue sky.

We left Puerto Aguirre on the 29th and headed via Puerto Buena to Isla Jechica. Isla Jechica is home to a small marina and refugio which of course was closed (the season is January and February) but the caretaker said that we could tie-up to the pontoons and gave us the opportunity to do some laundry however the standby generator, the only one that he could start, was not powerful enough to run the dryer so we didn’t wash much due to the difficulty of drying anything in this climate. I attempted to help the caretaker to get the a main generator running but I think that the injection pump was ‘muerto’ and, reading between the lines, I think that it may have had some watery fuel through it.

There are a few cabaas a ‘crew house’, the hosteria containing a dining room and bar, and a quincho with asado area. During the season visitors sail down from Puerto Montt or Valdivia to play in the islands. There are several interpreted nature trails, kayaks etc.. It is quite an expensive place to visit with pontoon fees at $30 per person per night, and $80 per night per person to stay in the huts! Maybe the service justifies the prices. Anyway our stay is costing us nothing except my dirty hands on the generator and Paula helping to remove the anti-slip netting from some of the boardwalks. There is also a French yacht “Nilas” here who were heading south but have changed their minds after encountering the weather. Their boat is a nice, but light, aluminium job with only a 10hp motor; which they find is not enough to combat the wind and currents.

The reason we stopped here was because of bad weather that was forecast for the night of the 31st/1st continuing through to today the 2nd. We were snug enough alongside the dock on the night of the 31st but it blew 40 knots about three in the morning and rained enough to fill the dinghy from which I was able to top up the water tanks. Our French neighbours were on anchor (they either didn’t trust the pontoons or didn’t understand that parking was free at the moment as they have no Spanish and the caretaker not a word of anything other than machine gun fast Chilianese), but after a sleepless night on anchor have joined us on the pontoons now.

We’ll get going again tomorrow morning with the aim of reaching Chilo Island in the next few days.

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