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learning to float

CHILE: PUERTO WILLIAMS — PUERTO MONTT (BY BOAT)

The Micalvi Yacht Club in Puerto Williams is a charming marina - I know a charming marina when I see one because I've haunted a few, in the past, hoping to find my way to sea. The clubhouse is an old ship run aground, casually listing, complete with original fittings. Lovely!

SETTING SAIL*

We leave Puerto Williams in the early evening, after an afternoon of frustration and debacle at the post office**.

It sunny and beautifully calm and the plan is to travel all night.

A SNOWY START

Leaving before dawn doesn't necessarily mean an early start - it doesn't get light until about 8.30AM, this far south, at this time of year.

When the wind picks up (if, as is generally the case, we are heading into it) we find a sheltered place to anchor, rather than push on into it.

When the weather is otherwise fine...

... a walk or other land based exploration generally seems in order.

Another snowy - but, in this case, mirror calm - morning. We chug away.

LIFE AFLOAT

Life aboard a yacht, even a very small one, is far snugger and cosier than travelling by bicycle and living in a tent. There is potential for heating, for one thing. And the possibility of far more elaborate cooking. I can bake bread and make jam and otherwise indulge my domestic sensibilities, such as they are.

Jam making involves picking calafate, a native blueberry that grows on an extremely spiky bush. Just about nothing pleases me more than gathering ‘wild’ food. (Photo: Ken Passfield)

Calafate are small berries, with a thickish skin and a lot of seeds, so it's best to remove both skin and seeds. I improvise a straining system with an old sock, which I am promised is clean. (Photo: Ken Passfield)

the oven

The Porvenir boasts a clever camp oven that works very neatly...

... to produce...

...perfectly respectable bread.

Mmmm, warm bread and freshly made calafate jam. Life is good.

The wood (or coal) burning stove is a very nice touch. It keeps the cabin toasty warm and is good for all manner of waste disposal, too.

With a hull of only 32 feet the Porvenir is pretty tiny. Ken has fitted out the boat himself and I admire it immensely for its practical minimalism and lack of nautical preciousness. There is not a lot of vanished woodwork or polished brass on display and the cabin is surprisingly roomy and liveable. My bike (wrapped in blue canvas on the left) gets to share the main bunk with Ken while I sleep with my feet tucked in underneath it on a bed that doubles as daytime seating.

NAVIGATION

There are various electronic aids aboard - radar, GPS, and even electronic charts - but I am very happy that Ken maintains an ample collection of paper charts. The charts please me on as aesthetic level, as well as providing a better sense of general overview than electronic charts do.

Yachties, too, it seems, have their guidebooks -- the Chilean Channel bible is a pilot book written by an Italian couple detailing hundreds of safe anchorages.

THE CHANNELS

No crystal blue waters, swaying palms, white sandy beaches. No, no. Snow and ice. Clouds. Rain. Wind.

Glaciers.

Evening light.

...

...

DOLPHINS

I’m not really sure where dolphins get their mystical reputation from: as far as I can see, there’s no two way about it – dolphins are rev heads.

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TIDES AND EDDIES

The idea of navigating these waters before they were charted is truly terrifying. We take a technically illegal but nonetheless commonly used*** short cut through a narrow channel where the tidal currents...

... are pretty impressive.

Ken, however, finds his way through the wild waters...

...with...

...total confidence!

BAHIA WOODS

Bahia Woods, a beautiful open bay, is perhaps the nicest place we anchor. The cape in the far distance is the southern most tip of the South American continent and boasts a monumental cross.

Fox prints on the beach.

...

...

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Watching the passing traffic...(Photo: Ken Passfield)

...as...

...night falls.

LABYRINTHINE LITTORAL

Walking on the islands that give form to the intricacies of these channels can prove pretty challenging. The rocky shore line is normally bristling with dense spiky scrub and once free of its clutches... (Photo: Ken Passfield)

... the terrain tends towards spongy moss and swamp.

...

...

Back on the water, the occasional wreck is a cautionary note more vivid than any beacon.

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Another wreck - this one, an insurance scam, apparently.

Rain, rain, rain. Plenty of fresh water to be collected in these parts.

PUERTO EDEN

Our first port of call is Puerto Eden,...

... a ramshackle village of slippery wooden boardwalks...

(Photo: Ken Passfield)

... populated and ruled by dogs, of course.

The predominant themes are the melancholy ones of old rotting boats and mildew.

San Pedro, of the fishermen, sets symbolic sail with his own framed zarpe****.

There are only a few tenuous connections to the rest of the world.

PUERTO AGUIRRE

Our second brush with human civilisation is Puerto Aguirre.

...

Just another one of those 'how far' signs. Valparaiso, Aysen...

... and the South Pole.

SAILS UP

Finally!

As soon as the winds do turn in our favour, the sails go up! I am far, far, happier.

We even manage to raise three, on one occasion.

...

...

CHILOE AND HER ISLANDS

Chiloe, marks the end of the Channels proper and the beginning of our final approach to Puerto Montt.

Famous for historic wooden churches...

...and fisherfolk...

...

... Chiloe and her outlying islands are a well populated contrast to the uninhabited islands further south.

The streets of Castro, Chiloe's principal town.

A village on one of the smaller islands -- now I no longer have the charts at my disposal I can't remember the name of either the village or the island.

Local traffic - is either bovine, or...

... water based.

The distinctive local architecture consists of wooden stilt houses perched above the waters at high tide.

Despite a very visible and theoretically lucrative local industry of salmon farms, the Channels dominant themes of gradual decay in the face of the elements...

... appears to hold sway here, too;...

...

...but, still, there is plenty...

...of beauty...

...to be found...

...in those themes.

It's all about...

...shingles.

—————————————————————————-

*In a manner of speaking – actually, we leave Puerto Williams under engine power.

The truth about sailing – in this expedient world – is that most sail boats spend way way more time burning diesel than gathering wind. Disappointing, perhaps, but that’s the way it is. In this case, we are travelling against the prevailing northerly winds and so relying solely on sail would make for a lengthy and arduous trip.

**A note on the Puerto Williams Postal Service:

I have had a previous success with Correos de Chile in similarly remote San Pedro de Atacama: a small package of presents for my baby niece in Australia arrived from the deserts of northern Chile, relatively promptly, and for a reasonable cost. So I am hopeful that a disc containing digital images might find its way to Sweden from Puerto Williams within a month or two.

I arrive at the post office half an hour after the time appointed for recommencement of operations after the extended – really, I mean it, an extremely generous – siesta hour, only to I find the place wide open but mysteriously unattended. As potential customers come and go various – well, two – hypotheses are posed: an (unspecified) emergency has arisen? alien abduction, perhaps?

The post office remains deserted (with the mail and parcels in its care accessible to any casual passer by) for the best part of an hour. Finally, lacking a viable alternative, I deliver my package into the dubious care of the woman responsible when she deigns to return to her post. She relieves me of the equivalent of US$30. (The return of this officer of the postal services occurs in a moment of distraction on my part when I have wandered off to browse in a nearby second-hand clothes shop. Thus, the question of alien abduction is never resolved.)

Eight weeks later the package has still not arrived at its destination. So, in short, my advice is that Puerto Williams Correos de Chile is best avoided. It may well be a portal to another dimension.

***See note below.

****A zarpe is an all important document issued by the Chilean Admiralty to all boats navigating Chilean waters. The Admiralty take a strict and paternal view of its role of keeping the fleet – naval, merchant and recreational – safe from harm. Daily calls to report position and welfare are mandatory and failure to do so can result not only in unnecessary anxiety but, possibly, an unwelcome (and expensive!) search and rescue.

{ 12 } Comments

  1. Luciw | June 24, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Oh, Anna, these are incredible pictures! I can’t express how much I enjoyed looking at them. Those villages! And that fog, and the reflection of mountains in the water! I also endlessly admire you for making jam out of those berries, with so little of equipment. What do you use to make the jam stay good for a longer time? Just sugar, or some sort of citric acid? And the buns! I am telling you, you are a COOK. Captain Cook :-)

  2. anna | June 24, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Hi Lucie! I just used sugar making the calafate jam. There wasn’t so much that it needed to last a really long time!

  3. julie begg | June 26, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Those rolls look delicious and the jam! Just whipping them up on a boat. Pretty damn clever!!

  4. Cesca | June 28, 2014 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Wow, beautiful silvery photos of a watery world. Thanks for sharing. Hard to imagine life in those remote island villages. It looks like you enjoyed the snug domesticity of the boat.

  5. meade anderson | July 1, 2014 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    Wow…great story & pictures…!

  6. Cass | July 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic – such beautiful images.

    My experience of crewing was on a boat bound for Portugal from the Caribbean. Unfortunately we broke down, and bobbed around aimlessly for a couple of days, waiting for the right winds to sail back.

    It was during this time, that I discovered I get horribly sea sick. So I’ll stick to bikes!

  7. Maria Marta Castillo | July 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi!!! I m from La Plata. You should come to get a ´locro´with some bikers you found in Mendoza during the summer. The group is called Cebados. We will be happy to meet you!!!

  8. anna | July 10, 2014 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    Bobbing around aimlessly will do that to just about anyone, Cass, I think. Sea-sickness is one of those would-rather-be-dead type afflictions. On this trip I was sick just the once when we crossed Golfo de Penas. (The name gives it away, rather. That’s Gulf of Pain, for those who don’t speak Spanish.)

  9. anna | July 10, 2014 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    That sounds great, Maria! I could do with a ‘locro’ right now, I think! I’ll be there as soon as I arrive in La Plata!

  10. Greg D | July 21, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Very glad to hear that you’re moving again. Perhaps you never stopped. The pictures are fantastic. Thanks again for the vicarious trip. Looking forward to more

    Greg D

    I get here by way of The Trailer Park

  11. anna | July 21, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Always happy to have a visitor by way of The Trailer Park, Greg!

  12. Andrew Cornell-Trapp | June 23, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Superb pics Anna. You are pretty tough to survive the cold out on the water. Wonderful to experience a little of your travels through these pictures..

    Look us up if you get to Port Lincoln in South Australia

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