From Falkland to Beagles Channel

More than a month has passed since we dropped our anchor first time in Stanley habour.

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The entrance formalities went like a breeze : we called customs and immigration on VHF channel 12 and they ask us when it would be convenient for us to do it, they would then come down and meet us at the jetty, we settled for 11:00 AM. At 11:00 we landed at the jetty with our dinghy, 2 custom officers were waiting for us, they welcomed us warmly to Falkland, chatted politely with us about our voyage from Uruguay, gave us all the important information about the islands and Stanley including location of supermarkets and place of interest and eventually helped us to fill the entry form – quite a difference compared to South American countries officials…

Stanley, Falkland capital city is a lovely little town (about 2000 inhabitants I think). From a distance, it looks very much like a Scandinavian sea shore village with the wooden houses painted dark red white or blue but with a British touch here and there like row houses or the typical windows. But when you look closer and go inside, one realize quickly that it is definitely 100% British. First there Union Jack flags and Falkland flags (like the AUS or NZ flag but with the local banner instead of stars) all over, then there are the pubs where you can enjoy a pint of local bitter with fish and chips and the supermarket with 8 months aged Xmas pouding already on display. The Argentinian invasion was in 1982 = 36 years ago but the “victory” is still present everywhere with of course monuments and museum displays but moreover with pro British or anti Argentian slogans on the back windows of the cars (100% 4X4 80% Land Rover) and in the day to day talk of the people.

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Stanley is also a stop over for the cruise ships on there way to or from Antartica (3 a week during the season) Some are smaller 100 passenger type but some carry 1000 passengers. Those larger ones have to moor outside and ferry their passenger ashore wit a continuous shuttle of boats. It is also beginning to be a logistic base for the sailing charter boats usually operating from Ushuaia to Antartica. (Like Skip Novak 2 Pelagis are permanently based here). The island is served by 1 flight a week (chartered by British Ministry of Defence but open to public and used by DHL) and 1 cargo vessel a month (also chartered by MOD). It does not seems much but is fairly reliable and cherry on the cake there are no import duty and hardly any formalities. When you know that the next best place to import equipment in the region is Uruguay and you have read my previous article, you understand why the charter boats are coming here to fetch equipment they have ordered from Europe.

We stayed about a week there recovering from the 10 days passage, relaxing and resupplying our kitchen. It was 2 other French boats in port: Jean and Elisabeth on Mio Palmo and Damien, Sarah and their 2 daughters (2 and 3) on Libertaire. Mio Palmo, a specialist of cold regions with many trips to Greenland, Iceland, Norther Canada was coming from a winter in Ushuaia and Libertaire had spent most of the winter in the archipelago with a couple of trips to Ushuaia after a full season in Antarctica. No need to say that as newbies to both the region and this type of extreme sailing we were listening with the keenest interest to their stories and experiences. The evenings that week haven’t been boring for a single minute with dinners and aperitifs on board the 3 boats.

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In the mean time we had to shift position in the harbour several times from along side the Public Jetty to anchor a cable away to let the cruise ship small boats ferry their passenger ashore. And we also started to experience the local weather: not much rain but a lot of wind (that week average 25 knots with gust at 40 and even 50 at several occasion)

But a week ashore and we start spinning wheels (or sails :)) so on Monday 19/11 we casted off along the south coast which is not unlike the Swedish west coast with a lot of larger bays with plenty of islands and small coves. The land is quite dry and looks from a distance like covered with dry yellow grass, some islands are covered with tussak a kind of tall grass looking like yukas which grows only were the cattle hasn’t been grazing. When we went ashore we saw that the vegetation was quite diversified even where it has been grazed with lot’s of small flowers and the famous diddle dee which in th autumn produce red bays that can be used to make wine or jam. Except from the commerson Dolphin that come “bow riding” when the boat comes enters the bays , the fauna is nearly 100% avian with over 70 breeding species. Some species like the Penguins and the geeses have been slaughtered in the past and some may still be endangered but one thing is for sure they don’t fear the human beings: you can approach them quite close without scaring them away.

We did 4 moorings with 1 or 2 nights each time. We waited fair weather to hop between one anchorage to another so the sailing was very pleasant. The places we visited have colourfull names Pleasant Harbour, Pyramid Cove, AdVenture Harbour, Lion creek. They were all very nice but we were a bit frustrated at times: we could get ashore only 3 times, each time in the early evening after dropping the anchor when the wind was calm. The rest of the time we had to stay on board. The weather was sunny most of the time but the wind was blowing gale force. We were anchored as close as possible to shore which is generally about 300 or 400 m (2 cables to use the British marine units). The coast is fairly low the bottom shoal progressively with usually less than 3 m 300 m from the shore and one can’t get closer anyway because of the kelp (there are no big rocks were you can tie up your lines like in Sweden) This distance is enough to limit the fetch therefore we didn’t have to suffer from the wave but the shore being low and with no significant vegetation, it does not offer any protection from the wind (in some place, the topology may even accelerate it). Our inflatable is on the smallish side and our electrical motor maybe a bit weak against very strong winds but even if we have had a large RIB with big engine, I wouldn’t have dared to leaving the boat alone because not only the gusts are strong but also the direction is shifting all the time (usually more than 100° during the day). We have to make sure all the time that our anchor is holding well (fortunately GPS and navigation software have good features to watch this). When strong wind was forecasted, I did use 2 anchors in the following set up: 7 times the depth at high tide length of chain, our regular 30 kg Lewmar, 2,5 m of 4 X 10mm Dyneema and a Fortress 37 (aluminum flat anchor equivalent to a 37 kg steel one but weight only 10 kg). It looks like a reliable set up, we didn’t drag even when the wind shifted 100° or increased quickly to >40 knots and thanks to the low weight of the aluminum anchor it was not too difficult to get back on board even if we had to give strong push forward with the engine to get the anchors off the bottom.

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Unfortunately at the end of the week, after a bit of struggle to avoid areas full of kelp we caught a large amount in our keel (the shape of the bulb is probably not the best to sail in these waters), it was not easy to get read of it, a couple of 360° and backward forward eliminated most but some may have got caught in our propeller. Anyway, that or something else, when I checked the inverter oil in the evening it was like mayonnaise meaning that sea water has entered through the SDrive seals. To avoid damaging the gears (sea water is not the best lubricant and its very corrosive) we need to change the seals as soon as possible. This is not a very complicated operation but unfortunately it requires that the boat is out of the water. And that is a problem: the nearest travlift is 1000 miles away (Piriapolis/Uruguay). Among the info that the Customs and Immigration officer gave us the first day was the coordinates of the Falkland Island Yacht Club. These guys know everything about sailing in the area and can help you with a lot of things he said. Well, this was probably the time to try them out :). I sent an Email from the Iridium and got very quickly an answer back from Bob asking for the details of our boat so he could try and find a solution. The next he came back with a positive answer. We sailed back to Stanley (100 miles) overnight and soon after we arrived, Bob and his wife Janet were at the jetty waiting for us and immediately drove us to Paul from Martech who can get a crane to lift us, he just needed to get hold of the crane operator and that might take a few days. Bob and Janet took us a tour of the area followed by a cup of tea at their wonderful home (with a fantastic view over the harbour). Bob is a very experienced and well equipped radio amateur. He his currently doing the weather forecast transmission for the Golden Globe solo race.

In the mean time our on board air heater stopped working. The boat is getting quite cold at night although the temperature are not going much below 7°C while in the Patagonian Channels,we are expecting even subzero. It will be hard to resist a couple of months without any heating system. I decide to fit a heater on the engine cooling circuit. I went to the nearby hardware store, buy a standard home radiator, some meters of copper pipes and corresponding fittings and mount it on the engine cooling circuit instead of the water heater. It works quite nicely, of course only when the engine is running but from what we understood, going south to north in the Patagonian channels you have to motor quite a lot, as the channels are fairly narrow at some places and we will be going mostly against the wind.

We used the waiting time to resupplying the boat with fuel and food. Surprisingly, Falkland is a good place for that. Fuel is cheap and very good quality and the 2 large supermarkets I Stanley are well sorted with European (mostly British of course) and some Chilean foodstuff at similar prices as in Europe excepted for the fruits and vegetables which are scarce and horrendously expensive. Local meat (Beef and mutton) is excellent and very cheap. In one month we haven’t been able to find any fresh fish or sea food which is surprising given that fishing represent the largest share of the island revenue (squid, Antarctic cod and tooth fish). In the last days we finally managed to get some (deep freezed) tooth fish which is excellent. We also visited the island museum. Very interesting from its discovery in the 16th century (1592, same year as Colombus discovered america) till the 1984 war with Argentina and the more recent development of the fisheries and Antractica sceintific expeditions. On Sunday we went for a long walk along the coast till Gipsy Cove and Cape Pembroke (still quite some mine fields from the 1984 war there) and were rewarded by admiring a colony of Magellan penguins few meter from us.

At last we got news that the crane operator had been found and that he would come on Wednesday which should be the perfect day for the operation as the forecast is giving very light winds all day.

Tuesday evening, surprise: the crane arrive on the jetty and get into position to be ready to lift us in the morning. And indeed, at 8:00 AM on Wednesday 5/12, the crane is operating! It will first lift one of FIC launches that needs some repair, that’s an easy operation and the launch is quickly secured on its craddle. Ours is way more complicated. First the slings are too short, the crane guy has to drive back to is place to fetch new ones, then we take a lot of time trying to get them the right length so our boat can be lifted more or less horizontal but finally it has to be lifted leaning on her bow because otherwise the crane arm touch the mast. And cherry on the cake they realize that the crane arm is too short for listing the boat completely and place it on the jetty. The boat will remain 1,50 m above the water and the repair will done from a zodiac. A bit scary at first but we do the job quickly (we have too: the tide is coming up), I fit the new seals on the shaft and remount the sail drive. Our Reve a Deux is finally back in the water with an operational engine!

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In the mean time the weather is deteriorating and we had to wait until Sunday fo a suitable weather window to do the crossing till Puerto Williams. We left on Sunday morning with tail wind for few hours then we had mostly head winds right in the axis of the route forcing us to tack all the way the winf didn’t exceed 25 knots but the sea was quite rough. It calmed down on Monday evening and became quite foggy. On Tuesday morning the sky cleared up and we could spot the high peaks of La Isla de los Estados right in front of us on the horizon. The wind increased all day and we had to beat our way till Le Maire strait in 35 knots of westerly wind and chopped sea but we still believed in the weather forecast and indeed at 21:00 the wind shifted to north east and 10 knots and just at the same time the tide inverted offering us a very smooth passage of the strait with absolutely flat sea although the place in infamous for its big waves and treacherous sea. Nights under this latitudes (56° south) are very short. Sun is getting down around nine but in practice daylight subside more or less till midnight and by 3 the easter horizon is already well lighted.

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In the morning the sky was very clear and we could see the Cape Horn on the horizon. We will not see it closer. A lot of people are taking big risks or paying very expensive charters just to go there and take a picture while the sailors of the last centuries were were risking their life sailing around it only because it was the fastes route from the west coast of Americas to the east coast and Europe. In any case to get there you need a permit from the Chileans authorities which you need to apply for in Puerto Williams. We enter the Beagles Channel by mid day and makeslow progress against strong wind and current. In the early evening, we decide to stop at Calleta Banner (Isla Gardiner) to avoid getting in Puerto Williams in the middle of the night. The northerly wind is blowing right in the axis of the mooring we try to anchor anyway but there is too much kelp on the bottom and the anchor is not holding. It take ½ hour to remove all the kelp from the anchor and the chain. We give up the idea of mooring there. All the other possible anchorages are on the Argentinian side which we prefer to avoid and it would be dark anyway before we could reach the first one. Better to continue right away till Puerto Williams. Its dark but with the help of the radar it poses no problem at all. We drop the anchor right at the eastern end of the airfield runway at 02:00 AM on Thursday 13/12/2018. Exactly the very day we noted down as our target date for our landing in Chile before our departure from Les Sables d’Olonne in July… Perfect planning or shear luck? I leave you the choice :).

In the morning we move to tie up alongside the Micalvi. The Micalvi is an old transport ship that the Chilean Navy (Armada) has sunk in a very sheltered cove to be used as a pontoon and a club house. There are about 20 boats there. Few Chileans, a Dutch, a German, a British, a Brasilian, an Australian and many Frenchs. About half are private boats like ours cruising the world or enjoying Patagonian channels for a couple of years many are charter boats going to Antarctica. It’s a very fun place where you meet all kind of very interesting and lovable individuals from the hard skinned adventurers who have seen it all to young enthusiasts or modest retirees. All of them very kind and helpful, ready to share their experience and adventures and making the newcomers very welcome.

We will stay 10 days in Puerto Williams. This is a fantastic place for hiking with well marked tracks in the mountains, we had a great time there. It is a small town (2200 inhabitants) with only 4 supermercados supplied once a week by the ferry from Punta Arena but we could find anything we needed to complete the stuff we brought from Falklands. Therefore, no need for us to go to Ushuaia (most yachts sailing the channels are making the trip to Ushuaia to resupplying, but need to return to Puerto Williams to re-enter Chile) and be bother with the Argentinian entry and exit formalities. We spent some time turning the boat around from its oceanic configuration into a more appropriate channel configuration and downloading the charts and softwares to read the satellite images (very useful to compensate for the lack of accuracy of the official charts). We loaded 500 l of diesel (300 in the main tank and 200 in jerrycans) as according to the people who have done it before, a lot of motoring is needed to progress against wind and current in places often to narrow to tack safely . We had also a couple of memorable barbecue parties (asado)at the Micalvi and onboard neighbours’ boats.

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We leave Puerto Williams on 22/12 to start slowly or 3 months journey to Puerto Montt leaving behind many friends and nice memories. We will not go through many places with internet/WIFI connection on the way therefore we may not be able to post article but you can still follow our position reports and we will try to pass some news wia Tweeter. Stay tuned 🙂

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