Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Puerto Natales, 19th of December

Puerto Eden, 8th of December

Jetty in Armada Style

Because our official permits (tarjeta unica migratoria) would expire on the first of January which meant that we only had about three weeks left before we had to leave Chile, we had decided to stop in Puerto Eden and ask if the officials there could extend our permits. Hence, upon arrival we headed straight for the Armada’s jetty to take care of the matter. 

We approached the jetty as usual with our fenders hanging on the side of the boat but when we reached the head of the T-shaped jetty, the first fender that came into contact with it bounced up on to the jetty leaving Sarema’s side open to malicious attack by a lifting pad eye!!!??? which was also the very thing that had lifted the fender. There were several pad eyes on the side of the jetty, difficult to notice before it was too late, and all left without tyres, matting or anything to protect visiting vessels against impact! The lack of tyres at the head of the jetty was hard to understand especially since there were big tyres all along the other side of the jetty where Armada’s own vessel was moored. 

There was a sickening sound as the eye scraped the paint off Sarema’s side simultaneously pushing it inwards. What a rotten thing to happen!!! - and we didn’t even get our permits extended. We were told to go to Puerto Natales where they have Customs and Immigration. It will be interesting to see what kind of a jetty is waiting for us there!

Anchoring in Patagonian Waters

In Patagonia, it is customary to anchor for the night due to the narrowness of the channels and not so reliable charts. The sailors’ ‘bible’ Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Nautical Guide by Marjolina Rolfo and Giorgio Ardrizzi describes hundreds of anchorages, all visited and checked out in detail, providing their GPS position, protection, depth, bottom, and whether or not shorelines are required. In most cases, two shorelines tied to trees are essential because Patagonian waters are subject to violent gusts and sudden squalls (williwaws), and in some anchorages there’s not enough space to allow the boat to swing at anchor. We bought in Puerto Montt two horizontally mounted rollers with more than 100 metres of line on each which have guaranteed us a good night’s sleep.

The mooring procedure is as follows: after dropping anchor, Pekka reverses Sarema close to the shore, the closer the better. Once inside the cove, Riitta takes the dinghy and rows as quickly as possible to the shore with the first mooring line and secures it to a tree. This is easier said than done, especially when the wind is blowing, because rocks, impenetrable rain forest, thorny bushes, lack of trees or rotten ones, and the ubiquitous kelp often render the task difficult and time-consuming (nerve-racking!). Once the first line has been securely tied to a tree, there is no such rush with the second one. Finally, the lines are adjusted properly. 

Early the following morning, one of us rows to the shore to untie the lines and the other one pulls them in. The dinghy and the rower get a free ride with the last line.

Now, all we need to do is to weigh anchor, and we’re off! 

Wildlife Watching?!

When I (Riitta) see a white spot on a mountain side or a white dot in a tree, I (still!) automatically grab my binoculars in order to view it closer but however hard I look at the spot or dot, it doesn’t turn into a mountain goat, a Dall’s sheep or a bald eagle. 

We have now come more or less 550 nautical miles from Puerto Montt and seen far too many mussel and salmon farms but only a few solitary Magellanic Penguins, a couple of dolphins (Lagenorhynchus), and hardly any sea lions. There is nothing to complain about our surroundings which are absolutely spectacular, mind you - but where are all the wildlife? 

I’m sure Patagonia will eventually reveal her true beauty also wildlife-wise, and I know that I should not be whining, but… Our problem is, of course, that we are spoiled rotten - by Alaska!

All the caletas or coves in which we have anchored so far have had bugs, slightly bigger than banana flies, that bite off a piece of the skin and suck blood like mosquitos. Even Bugger Off, a natural mosquito and bug repellent from Canada that we have successfully used elsewhere, fails to rid us of these pesky creatures. We don’t know the bugs’ real name but we call them Chilean Wildlife!

Across Golfo de Penas

Chiloe, 17th of November

We stopped over in Chiloe to buy a new, hopefully long-lasting depth sounder and to meet Mani, a living legend among Finnish sailors. Mani Suanto is one of the two Finns who, back in the 90’s, were the first to sail to the Antarctic and, at the moment, as far as we know he is the only Finn alive who has done that. 

Caleta Ideal, 3rd of December

From Chiloe we continued towards the notorious Golfo de Penas. The name translates most appropriately as the Gulf of Hardships or Pain. Although we had spent three nights in Puerto Millabú waiting for a decent weather window, we were not very much surprised when, while already on our way, we heard on VHF Armada’s warning about a ‘temporal’ gale in the area predicting 40 knot winds. About 28 hours later, as we finally reached Caleta Ideal in the south side of the Gulf, the winds suddenly abated, the skies cleared, and we dropped anchor in the most glorious sunshine. 

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Castro, 17th of November 2018

Leaving Puerto Montt

We left Club Nautico Reloncavi on the 11th of November after we had acquired our zarpe (permission to sail) from the Chilean Armada and they had inspected our boat. We had assumed that the Armada wanted to check our boat and her safety equipment in particular, but the inspection turned out to be extremely superficial. When Pekka had answered a few simple questions like How much water do you have? What about fuel?, we were free to leave the marina. 

 Collecting mussels at low tide

While motor-sailing to Estero Chope, our first anchorage about 25 nmiles from Puerto Montt, the Raymarin depth sounder ceased to operate. Our reserve depth sounder, Hummingbird, had ceased to function properly already a few years ago. After dropping anchor, it became apparent that the inverter purchased in Puerto Montt and used for a maximum of five hours, was not working either.

In addition, the generator V-belt kept coming off the wheel. So we spent the evening as usual, Pekka repairing the malfunctioning equipment and Riitta watching the local wildlife: Flightless Steamer-Ducks, Black-necked Swans, Imperial Cormorants, Chileo Wigeons etc. 

As we were getting ready to leave the next morning the autopilot compass refused to perform. At this point we saw no other option but to stay at anchor until at least some of our technical problems had been solved. We remained in Estero Chope for two additional days during which Pekka successfully managed to reinstall the generator V-belt, revive our old American inverter, and after he had opened the autopilot compass casing and dried the compass properly, it too came back to life. It is quite probable that all three of them, the inverter, the compass, and the Raymarin depth sounder, were casualties of the freak wave that had crashed down on to our boat while sailing from Gambier to Chile. Now the only thing we still need is a functioning depth sounder and this we hope to find in Castro, Isla Chiloe.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Puerto Montt, 19th of October 2018

Hard Work and Patience

After more than three months of hard labour (thank you, Pekka!), almost continuous rain, and occasional storms, Sarema is finally ready for launching. 

During her ‘facelift’, Sarema’s bottom changed its colour from light blue to Christmas red. We hope this new colour is attractive enough to allure some of the wildlife i.e. whales we’ll encounter on our way down south to come closer to our boat.

When Riitta arrived in Puerto Montt in the middle of September, Pekka had less than three weeks left of his 90-day permit to stay in Chile. 

Therefore, we rented a car in Puerto Montt and drove through the beautiful lake region to the border between Chile and Argentina to get our permits renewed. With our current permits, we will be able to sail all the way to Puerto Williams for Christmas and from there to  ….

After launching of the boat, hoisting of the sails, changing of the oils and filters, refuelling, and some serious provisioning we should be ready for Patagonia and the Horn! 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Turku, 6th of March 2018

The Roaring Forties

At 40S 113W 10.45 am, a rogue wave crashed on Sarema’s stern. It ripped apart the windbreak canvas, flooded the cockpit, and swooshed down the companionway into the saloon, the galley and the side cabin. Pandemonium! On its way through the saloon, the wave drowned our radio, air purifier, battery charger, two inverters, egg-timer, Pekka’s PC, Riitta’s MacBook Air, and the computer we used for navigation and communication. Our desperate attempts at resuscitation resulted in the revival of the egg-timer, but that too stopped functioning after a few days.
The single positive thing that we could come up with while mopping the floors and trying to find a place to dry the soaking clothes, cushions, and mattresses was that this time at least we didn’t get a rope around our propeller!
It has been said that ‘Sailing is like standing under an ice cold shower, tearing up thousand-euro notes’. Our present sentiments exactly! 
On the whole, the Roaring Forties were a huge disappointment. We had thought  that the prevailing and notoriously strong westerly winds would take us speedily to Chile but what did we find: after the squall with the rogue wave that flooded our boat, nothing but confused seas with winds coming from all possible directions, also from the east. But despite the non-cooperation of the winds and the waves, we finally arrived in Puerto Montt, Chile after 34 days at sea. Our good boat Sarema is now on the hard at Club Nautico Reloncavi, and her crew have returned to Europe to recuperate from their (too!) long and arduous season.

Sarema’s homeward-bound journey will continue in the autumn, hopefully under more favourable circumstances! 

Taravai, 19th of January 2018

Leaving the Paradise

Checking out of the Gambier Islands turned out to be a considerably longer process than we had anticipated. On Friday the 12th, when we went to see the gendarmes in Rikitea, their office was closed. It was also closed on Saturday, and when it finally opened on Sunday, the main office in Tahiti that deals with the clearance documents, was closed. So, instead of leaving on the 13th as we had intended, we did not depart until the 19th, the additional delay being due to our decision to wait for more favorable winds before commencing our long voyage to Chile. 

We were at anchor in front of the village on the island of Taravai which we hadn’t visited earlier. The village grounds were like a magnificent orchard gone wild, with avocado, banana, chirimoya, citrus, lychee, mango and papaya trees lining and arching over the footpath that ran parallel to the shoreline. Along the path stood a church, somewhat neglected but still beautiful, dating back to the 1820’s. The entire place had a lovely, old-world feeling about it. 

We spent the few days we still had left of our time in the Gambier Islands swimming, snorkelling, studying the GRIP files in great detail, and trying to defeat Valerie, Ervin and their son Ariki, one of the three island families, in pétanque. Although we were clearly beaten by the Taravaians, the competition, not to mention the company, was most enjoyable all the same!

Before we put to sea, Valerie and Ariki garlanded us with beautiful leis which we threw into the sea while still inside the barrier reef. According to Valerie, our return to the Gambier Islands was thus assured!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Gambier Islands, 12th of January

Towards Patagonia

Suntanned and refreshed after a month in the Gambier Islands, we are now ready to continue our journey. Although we are in no hurry, we have become a bit restless (especially Pekka) as we feel that we have a mission to accomplish, and that is to sail our good boat Sarema to Puerto Montt, where she will be hauled out and made ready for our Patagonian Adventure. 

We’ll leave Rikitea tomorrow and head down south to the roaring forties where we expect to find the westerly winds that will take us to Chile, where we should be within three to four weeks from now. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Rikitea, 7th of January

Kouaku, 31st of December

Eggs and Chicks on Motu Kouaku

After Christmas, we motored from Onemea Bay to Motu Kouaku which is a small coral islet inside the barrier reef. Motus lie only a few metres above sea level and therefore provide very little protection against wind or swell.  Since the barrier reef is mostly submerged in the south, incoming swell may make the anchorage quite uncomfortable but luckily, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, and we spent the sunny and windless days snorkelling, sun bathing, and observing white terns (Gygis alba) that nest on the motu.

Like in so many Tuamotu atolls, there is ciguatera also in the Gambier Islands. This means that the fish inside the reef carry neurotoxins that are extremely dangerous, even lethal, to humans and other mammals but quite harmless to the fish themselves and the seabirds that feed on them.

Due to ciguatera, there is no fishing inside the barrier reef, and the fish here are generally big/old and not particularly afraid of humans. Hence, the coral reefs provide an underwater world par excellence for diving and snorkelling! (Unfortunately, our so-called waterproof camera got water inside and ceased to function.)

Besides snorkelling, Kouaku was also rewarding photographing-wise because, unlike most terns, white terns lay their eggs on bare tree branches without bothering to build a nest, and their eggs and chicks of various ages were easy to spot in the thicket that covers the centre of the motu.

Because the egg does not have any protection against strong winds, it may fall off the tree, but should this happen, the tern is quick to lay another egg in its place. The chicks are more fortunate, however, as they have well developed feet with which they can hang on to their precarious home branch. 

The white tern is also known as Fairy Tern or Angel Tern and, in our opinion, the last name in particular is most appropriate for this beautiful bird!

Rikitea, 7th of January 2018

Onemea Bay, Taravai, 25th of December

Encounter with A Hermit Crab

The local sailing community assembled in the village of Taravai for Christmas and New Year but as our time in the Gambier Islands would be rather limited, we wanted to see more of our surroundings and went instead to Onemea Bay on the western side of the island to snorkel.

On Christmas Day, when walking on the beach we startled a hermit crab. We had noticed it wending its way a few metres ahead of us and when we passed it, the crab suddenly folded itself, not only its legs and antennae but also its eyes, to form a kind of suit of armour.

We stepped aside and trying not to move waited patiently till the crab felt safe again and gradually began to unfold itself. Quite understandably, the very first things that emerged were the crab’s eyes and when it saw that there was nothing to fear, the crab then unfolded the rest of its moveable parts, and continued its interrupted passage towards the waterfront.

While watching the crab slowly disappear behind a volcanic rock formation carrying its indispensable seashell home, Riitta remembered reading about an interesting way a hermit crab can find a new shell: when a crab that has grown too big for its shell finds an empty shell, it leaves its own shell and tries the vacant shell for size. If the shell is too big for the crab, it goes back into its old shell and waits by the vacant shell till another crab arrives that is the right size for the empty shell. When the newcomer moves into the bigger shell it abandons its old shell, and the other crab can now make the abandoned shell its new home. Crustaceans may be brainier than we think!