Towards the End of the World
On November 8, we set sails for the most expected leg of this long cruise. 400 nautical miles from the mythic Strait of Magellan that would take us down to Puerto Williams, the southernmost town on the planet, the End of the World.
A route that has always been uncrowded. Vessels directed from the Atlantic to the Pacific and vice versa do not go further south of the Strait and since whaling was finally banned, the only boats sailing these seas are the ferry that once a week from Punta Arenas supplies food the Chilean community of Puerto Williams, a dozen fishing boats (only for 6 months a year), some research ship traveling to and from the Antarctic and the increasing number of yachts that each year during the Southern Hemisphere summer reach these waters.
Once left to port Island Dawson those heading south, take Canal Magdalena which, through a narrow passage takes to Canal Cockburn, a channel to be addressed with respect and attention because being completely open to the Pacific Ocean. From there you get into Canal Brecknock, finding again shelter from the big Pacific waves. Than you head East through a maze of islands until Bahia Desolada which gives access to Canal Ballenero which leads to Canal Beagle (Brazo Noroeste). Once in the Beagle Channel the worst is over; only 170 miles among the more beautiful and fascinating of the entire Patagonia will separate you from Puerto Williams.
For the afternoon of November 9 forecasts were announcing a low pressure system which, for a few days, would bring strong winds from N / NW so we decided to get to Canal Brecknock in a single leg in order get to the safe anchorage of Caleta Brecknock, before the arrival of the low.
For the first 80 miles until we had a favorable wind on a broad reach, but once entered in Canal Magdalena the breeze that had cheered has gradually turned into a strong 30 knots close hauled wind. With two reefs on the mainsail and jib to 70% we proceeded close hauled towards Canal Cockburn, which turned into an unusual match race with an invisible opponent: 18 tacks in 18 nautical miles. Fortunately with the dawn wind even reinforcing up to 40 knots veered, allowing us to sail 17 miles on a single tack.
Once in Canal Ocasion the new course brought us again a broad reach, therefore we totally eased the mainsail and furled in the jib. Once in Seno Ocasion we also dropped the mainsail and motored the last 2 miles to our anchorage.
These fjords wedged between high peaks, are often subject to large and sudden gusts of wind that can easily reach 70/80 knots or more. Once in the head of the fjord I noticed a strange anomaly on our electronic map: the GPS reported our position on the coast! Obviously we were still in the water with 40 meters of sea below us. It was Navionics chart which runs on a software I use since many years on our MacBook and the same electronic chart also runs on our big Mac desktop, on the Raymarine plotter and on our two Ipads, each with its own independent GPS. I immediately turned on all other devices and all gave the same error. In all my years at sea using Navionics I never encountered a similar problem. It was a few dozen meters error, but enough to get you anxious if you come here at night and with 50 knots of wind !!
Once dropped the anchor we started to take our aft lines ashore to ensure to Angelique II a quiet and well-deserved rest. The forecast was predicting winds up to 50 knots for the next 3 days and despite the pilot's book reassured us on our anchorage, we added other 2 stern line ashore, providing Angelique II with a hurricane proof anchorage.
We spent four days in Caleta Brecknock waiting for favorable weather conditions and we will remember as one of the most beautiful anchorage in this trip. Wedged at the head of Seno Ocasion, Caleta Breaknock is surrounded by a chain of mountains which the water which unceasingly flowing from the snowy peaks to the sea, has honed over the centuries.
We left Caleta Brecknock on Nov. 13 at 5 am. We knew 35 knots of wind were waiting for us that day, however we also new that our course would have allowed us a downwind passage for the whole day. So we gave two reefs to the mainsail and we left. To exit from the anchorage was complicated, the wind wedged between the walls of Seno Ocasion, was gusting up to 50 knots and exactly on our bow. With both engines to the maximum rev we could barely push Angelique II to 2 knots. Besides access to Caleta Brecknock it was so narrow to not allow allow tacking. Once we reached Canal Brecknock we could finally bear away and on abroad reach we were sailing in absolute comfort although constantly above 10 knots, to the point that the “Fuegino”, a large ferry which operates between Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams, had hard time overtaking us.
We reached Caleta Emilia in early afternoon, anchoring close to a small fishing boat, no longer than 8 meters, with three fishermes on board. They spent in the Beagle Channel the entire King Crabs fishing season, which happen to be in full winter from June to November. Every 15 days a vessel from Punta Arenas visit them to collect the catch and supply them with food. Needless to say, two minutes after completing our anchoring operations, two of them had were already sidewise our boat to present us with King Crabs.
Caleta Emilia is located on the northwestern coast of Isla Obrien, marking the access to the Brazo Noroeste (Northeast Arm) of the Beagle Channel, 40 miles of sea h providing access to the more beautiful glaciers which from Cordillera Darwin run down at sea: Glacier Ventisquero, Glacier Garibaldi , Glacier Espana, Glacier Netherlands, Glacier Romanche and many others. However along the Channel itself countless smaller glaciers reach its waters.
So on the 15 of November we set sails towards Seno Ventisquero, a 10 miles long fjord which leads up to Glacier Ventisquero. Fortunately the day, even if overcasted, had no wind leaving the fjord unencumbered by ice which breaking away from the glaciers falls in the sea where it is pushed by wind and current up and down along the fjord.
Once again, our electronic chart represented us well away from our real position.
Seno Ventisquero offers no safe anchorages for the night, so in the afternoon we head south back to the Beagle Channel.
We anchored on the east coast of Isla Chair, where our Navionics electronic chart reached its apotheosis. On the chart a tiny Isla Thomson was displayed, that in reality does not exist. The true Isla Thomson is located two miles south and it is a large island. What is represented on the chart, next to our track is the coast of Isla Chair, at greater zoom level. In short, the error at that point was more than one mile which displaying two islands instead of one as it appeared in our eyes, for a few minutes left us quite confused.
The next day we set sails to Seno Garibaldi, reaching in almost 2 hours the namesake glacier. Another day with little wind that allowed us to really get close to the glacier. Moreover, the Garibaldi, lying in a bay with a very narrow access not always is accessible due to ice. By now we have seen several glaciers, but the feelings are still strong and with the arrival of summer and rising temperatures, the frequency with which the blocks of ice break off and fall into the sea, increases. The glacier lives and unfortunately recedes, complaining. A constant lament, the clatter of the ice breaking is continuous and then, from time to time, a deafening roar announces the imminent crash in the water of a piece of the wall: the birth of an iceberg.
Even Seno Garibaldi offers no safe anchorages for the night, so in the afternoon we decide to move to Seno Pia, a large fjord with two arms which gives access to three beautiful glaciers: the Netherlands, Italian and Romanche. Seno Pia also has one of the safest and most beautiful anchorage of the Beagle, Caleta Beaulieu which offers a magnificent view on the Romanche Glacier. Reached the anchorage we found a French boat already met in Puerto Natales. A couple who like us is at sea since 4 years, but arriving here from Polynesia. Unlikely us they did went back home to get some winter clothing as they did not think to install a heating system on board. Having said that they are so in love with these landscapes that have decided to sell the boat to start climbing the most beautiful mountains and glaciers of the planet! We spent several days at Caleta Beaulieu enjoying several sunny and warm days.
On the 18 of November in the morning we hoisted our sails to cover the last 100 miles separating us from our final destination: Puerto Williams. Since we left Puerto Montt on August we have we sailed over 2000 miles through a territory among the more beautiful and wild that I have seen in my life. But what will leave an indelible mark in my heart are the people I came across in these 10 months in Chile. The sense of hospitality, generosity, altruism of the Chilean people is unparalleled, at least in my experience.