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Travels - Ecuador, Galapagos

 

 

Chile

There are three options for cruisers heading from Ecuador to southern Chile: coastal, offshore and way offshore. We had talked to cruisers who had opted for the first two and neither sounded particularly attractive. The coastal route via Peru and northern Chile allows for some stops on the way and for inland travel, if you want it. However, the winds are unremittingly on the nose as is the Humboldt current. Some favoured this route, but it is really suited to those with big engines and fuel capacity who can make lots of ground at night when the winds are light. The offshore route involves skirting the SE Pacific High on port tack. To keep this route as short as possible, it is necessary to stay pretty much close hauled all the way down to about 35 degrees south, where the winds may start to find a more westerly slant. Based on the information we had and looking at the developing situation on the weatherfaxes from the Chilean Armada, we felt that it was worth going far to the west, in fact, right out to Easter Island (Isla de Pascua). This would give a likelihood of fast close-reaching most of the way and the probability of westerlies to bring us into the coast toward Valdivia for the last 1000-1500 miles. The only down-side is that it is a good deal further than the other two routes.

Since we had to make some westing before heading south, we decided to head for the Galapagos. Several cruising friends had raved about Villamil at Isla Isabela. We had missed visiting there on our first trip to the Islands and so were happy to head there this time. We left on 12 August and had some wonderfully fast reaching from Salinas and made it to Villamil in only three and a half days. The anchorage is tucked behind reefs of volcanic rock and is wonderfully protected from the often very large swells and surf outside. Our contacts had told us that Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island had become even more touristy than in 1999 when we were there. Villmil was in marked contrast. It is a very sleepy, quiet place, with a little tourism for those who want to get off the beaten track. Isla Isabela offers opportunities to see most of the variety of distinctive wildlife available in the islands, as well as a volcano which last erupted in 1979. Fortunately the incumbent harbourmaster was a very pleasant and easy-going young man, who levied hardly any charges ($10 for a two week stay) and kept paper work to an absolute minimum. We had a delightful stay.

As it was the end of the Coconut Milk Run season, there were hardly any other boats at Vilmil. However, we shared the anchorage with our Swiss friends, Dario and Sabine, who are embarked on a remarkable expedition to sail to all seven continents, where they climb the highest mountain on each. At the same time they are visiting schools everywhere they go, to work with children on environmental education, raising awareness and stimulating youngsters to be active participants in environmental protection and sustainable development. Dario and Sabine are undertaking this very worthwhile task on a shoe-string and need sponsorship and support. For more about their expedition go to www.toptotop.org

 

After nearly a year in warmer climates, we unpacked our cold weather sailing gear to prepare for higher latitudes and hit the oceanic road on 31 August. After the usual brief spell of light airs near the Galapagos the wind settled to near perfect reaching conditions for days. Apart from the odd weak front we had glorious days of fast sailing. As a result the nearly 2000 miles to Easter Island took only 12 days. Though it had been some time since our last longer passage, we settled quickly to the routine, broken only by the odd catch of dorado and the repair of our aging cruising mainsail. Though the sail still looked in pretty good shape and had been completely re-stitched in Sidney, BC, it revealed UV damage when reefed and the cloth itself began to give way.

We arrived at Hanga Roa, on the west coast of Easter Island to find ourselves sharing the roadstead with 'Esmerelda', the Chilean Armada's training ship, a glorious four-masted barque. Unfortunately, despite forecasts to the contrary, the wind stayed obstinately in the north all the first night, running both heavy chop and swell through the anchorage. We stood the first of a week's worth of anchor watches and watched the huge surf breaking right across the narrow passage which allows access to the small panga harbour at the village. The next morning we agreed with the Armada to move round to a more protected bay, Vinapu, where the officials could be collected safely in our dink to clear us in. Fortunately the anchor had held all night despite vicious surges. In the morning we found out why. It was firmly wedged in the foul bottom. With 3 metres of swell running, the windlass took some terrible loads, until we put the snubber back on and finally broke the anchor out by shearing in both directions. However, once we got it on deck, the cost became clear, as the shank had a slight bend in it.

Our experience of Easter Island didn't improve much as time passed. It is a tough place to visit. All the anchorages are only secure from perhaps half the compass and often the swell sets in from the opposite direction to roll you unpleasantly. The bottom is mixed sand and rock, so that finding good holding is chancy. Finally, the Island sits at the SW corner of the high pressure system so that the weather is unstable. Though the fronts are usually weak, they pass through regularly, so that it may be necessary to shift anchorages at short notice, sometimes more than once a day.

 

 

We held out for a week, standing anchor watches every night but one and only getting ashore three times. When we did it was very interesting. Though the Island has a fair amount of tourism during the season, we were in a slack period and things were pretty quiet. There is a strong sense not only of the Island's peculiar and mysterious history, but also of its isolation. There are few inhabited places so far from other centres of population. The most beautiful spot on the island is its only real beach and cove at Anakena. Here the beach is overlooked by palms as well as a group of moai, the great stone statues that are scattered everywhere.

 

After a couple of days of settled weather, we decided not to chance our luck with approaching fronts and so cleared out of the Island to head for Valdivia on the mainland. We had originally considered a stop at Robinson Crusoe Island, but decided that we'd had enough of open roadsteads. What is more, the stop would have added about 400 miles to the trip, all of it fighting wind and current. Our decision paid off. After 36 hours of uncomfortable beating, the winds freed and we then reached all the way to Valdivia. We had seen few birds on the way to Easter Island, but they made up for it on this passage, when we almost always had several albatross and flocks of pintado petrels in company.

As we approached the continental shelf, the swells grew and patchy fog settled in. We were concerned for a time that we would have to stand off for the night in poor visibility, but as so often the fog cleared as we got into the lee of the land in the Bahia Corral. Bucking the strong tide out of the estuary, we were still able to get to a perfectly sheltered anchorage off Puerto Corral, by dusk, 13 days out from Easter Island. After 4000 miles sailing from Isla Isabela and the tension of insecure anchoring at Easter Island, it was delightful to be both still and sheltered. The next day we made our way up to the friendly, welcoming arms of the little marina at the Alwoplast yard on the Rio Valdivia. After covering 4500 miles in 29 days of sailing, we felt as pleased as ever with 'Sunstone' and delighted with our luck with the weather patterns, which so often produce much less pleasant sailing for those heading to Chile.

 

For some time our steering pedestal had been making ominous clunkings and it was clear that the bottom bearings were failing. Unfortunately this is not an on-board job, as it requires the complete dismantling of the pedestal and grinding off the output arm. We were fortunate that we had no really heavy weather to test the steering to final destruction. Ronnie at Alwoplast soon had things sorted out and in the meantime, with the pedestal off, we were able to remind ourselves how our alternative steering arrangements work.

Though it is not a large city, as a regional centre and university town, Valdivia has most things to satisfy our simple, non-nautical needs. The large fishing fleet guarantees plenty of fresh fish at the daily market, where huge sea lion bulls fight over the scraps. The surrounding, lush countryside produces wonderful fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers. In addition, once persuaded to admit their linguistic skills, we also found English-speaking doctors and dentist for our annual checks. Chile is much more generally prosperous and orderly than the other Latin American countries we have visited, even to the point of having parking wardens to hand out tickets! The one thing we could not easily get in Chile was a new mainsail, which we ordered all the way from Sydney in Australia to be air-freighted to us.

 

 

During the planning for our Chile cruise, we had been in touch with Ian and Maggy Staples, British cruisers, who had fallen in love with Chile and settled there on a farm in the Los Lagos district. They are also OCC Port Officers for Valdivia. As a break from the chores of 4500 miles of boat maintenance, we had a delightful pastoral interlude on their farm, where we learned all about honey production, while Vicky traded what secrets she had learned about triathlon training.

Having got the boat back in cruising trim, pedestal and anchor fixed, chain re-galvanised, cap-shrouds replaced. We headed off for a lightning trip to make our annual pilgrimage to New York to visit Tom's family - as well as to buy all the boat and computer bits not easily available in Chile. This trip is not one to undertake lightly. The bus to Santiago took 12 hours, past mile after mile of orchards and fruit warehouses. The plane then takes a further 12 hours. The only blessing is that there is little significant change of time zones, thus exhaustion is not compounded by jet-lag. We are currently in New York, but will soon be returning to Valdivia and hope to be heading south for the Canales shortly after our return to Chile.

 

 

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