Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in the Magellan Straits

     We left the dock with plenty of time, fuel, and energy to make it to the Southern most city in the world.  Switching between motoring and sailing, normally using a combination of sails and engine to work with wind and currents to push us between the mountains jutting up from either side of narrow straits, we kept a four hour on, four hour off watch schedule for the confined waters.  
     The tides here can rise and fall seven meters; twenty-one feet, which means strong currents can work for or against us, and make the different between ten knots in the direction we want with just a small jib out, or six knots with the engine going full rpm's and the genoa without any reefs.  
     The sun would start to set around nine at night, but it's not dark until almost eleven.  And then it starts to get bright again around four a.m., and we only have farther south to go.  
     About halfway to Puerto Williams the propeller shaft started to make a metal on metal grinding.  Normally this would be upsetting, but even though it means major work for me later, it also means we have to find an anchorage somewhere in the remote wilds of the Chilean fjords and assess the situation.  
     Anchoring in Chile, with the tide and wind like they are, is not as simple as dropping the anchor and calling it home.  We had to launch the tender, drop the anchor, then back up the boat into a protected little inlet, letting out chain, while Ash and I took lines ashore in the tender and put cables around tree trunks and tied off to the cables.  We did this off both aft quarters of the boat, which was good practice for Antarctica, where we'll be doing this often.  
     We then slept.  Breaking the four-on-four-off watches, I crawled into my bunk and turned my alarms off and blacked out my porthole and slept.  I don't know when I laid down, but when I woke up, I rolled over and went back to sleep, and then a few hours later I did it again.  Sometime in the afternoon I emerged from my room to find only Tim was up.  We talked over the shaft problems and he updated me on what he'd learned from e-mails back and forth with the manufacturer and people who know more about these sorts of things.  And we did some diagnosing, figuring out that a bearing had gone bad and wasn't turning properly, but determining with some experts over the sat phone and e-mail that we would be able to motor lightly to the nearest town, about three hundred miles away.  
     We spent the day cleaning the boat and resting, and then in the late afternoon launched the tender and went ashore.  Four of us left the tender and crossed an open marshy area, stepping lightly on moss and mush and mud, looking for an opening in short thick trees and shrubs with woven branches that created a wall we didn't see a way into.  So we made a way, breaking a few branches to get into the thick of the brush, laughing and barging into the forest of moss and hardy trees living in constant twenty knot winds with massive gusts and driving rain.  We climbed, clambered and crawled through the growth, water dripping off the leaves and falling in great drops that soaked our hats and suits and shoes.  But we laughed and breathed in the smell of trees and soil.  
Looking into the wind.  
     We emerged from the thick growth into rain being hurled down and whipped into our faces so our cheeks stung and you couldn't look into the wind because the rain would pierce your eyes.  But we climbed on, hiking now on rock and moss, stopping to break up some branches and tie them with a bit of string for a Christmas ornament picture.  And we also found pools of freshwater in the moss, and since there are no animals around or wildlife to spoil it, we decided it was clean to drink, and dropped to our knees to have a deep draught of the fresh, hearty water, tasting of moss and minerals and sharp on the taste buds and you could feel it in your belly, the way water is supposed to be drunk.  
     We pushed on to the top of the granite peak, about an hour of hiking, nothing too strenuous or difficult, but winds clawing at you and pulling at your clothes, making you walk low to the ground and lean into the gusts to keep from being pushed off the hill.  
     But the dark clouds would part and shafts of sun would angle down through the grey and warm your face and the backs of your hands and you'd stand upright in the wind and let the warmth work down from your face into the rest of your body, wind buffeting over your hood so it was the only other sound to hear beside the falling of water drops on your foul weather gear and into pools in the rock.  
Holding up a Christmas decoration made on the spot.
Feliz Natal.  
     The four of us stopped on the top and just looked.  Took the pictures you have to take on a hike like this, looked down at the smallness of the boat holding strong in it's anchorage.  Feeling alive and awed and grateful for such a place, and good people to share it with, and for a warm shelter waiting for us when it was all over.  
     And a few hugs at the top of the hill and back down we went.  And at the boat, dripping wet and shaking off soaked gear and boots, we were greeted with warm homemade brownies and steak and lamb for dinner.  An awesome meal to end a great day.  And with some news of where to go with our propeller shaft problem and what to do once we got there we slept soundly that night and departed in the morning, going back onto our watches. 
     We sailed as much as we could, taking load off the prop and babying the bearings.  A full genoa out through the Magellan Straights, cruising along with cliffs rising out of the water, being a boat length away from shear granite while still being in two hundred meters of water, watching charts and radar, calling in on the radio to lighthouse stations along the way, reminding us we aren't' the only people in the world.  
     We arrived in a Chilean town with a haul-out facility, the only one for a thousand miles in any direction, and anchored on Christmas Eve.   It's always a scramble after a passage to get the boat clean inside and out.  I spent the rest of the day on deck in the wind and cold washing the salt off the boat, wiping it down with soapy water and rinsing in the rain.  
     Slept in Christmas morning, and spent the day relaxing, going easy, taking the holiday for ourselves, everything closed in town anyways.  So I watched movies, slept, missed home, missed the girl I love, watched more movies to escape feeling any homesickness.  The rush and awe of where we are shadowed by the memory where we aren't.  
     But we have a solution for our bearing problems and the trip will continue.  An easy repair with the facilities available to us, a couple days hauled out, and then on to round the Horn, and then crossing to Antarctica, going almost as far south as south will go.