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Heading South

Our lightning visit to New York was a pleasure with a price. We had a wonderful time with family and friends, as well as the opportunity to congratulate Inge's closest friend, Emily Rafferty, on her appointment as President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tom's mother, Erika, at 85 was as chipper and ready for anything as she has always been and we enjoyed getting to know our nephew Tyson better. Our niece, Elizabeth is growing by leaps and bounds, both physically and intellectually and we had the chance to admire Chris and Susan's newly acquired house. As usual, Inge spoiled us by finding lots of time to be with us, despite her increasingly busy schedule, both at the Frick and lecturing elsewhere. We stocked up on books and CDs to tide us through the months in the wilderness of the Chilean Canales and braced ourselves for the price of our trip, namely the very long trip back, both in the air and on the bus.

 

While we were away, the OCC had been invading the south. Both Belair (Bob & Betsy Baillie) and Pen Azen (Ian and Judy Jenkins had arrived at Alwoplast. The opportunity for an OCC Jubilee, Chile Meet was too good to pass up, especially as Ian and Maggy Staples offered their farm as a venue. Some final stocking up in Valdivia gave way to a perfect weather window allowing all three boats to make a delightful reaching passage down the coast to the Canal Chacao, at the north end of the Island of Chiloe and thence to Puerto Montt.

 

 Though it is as big or bigger than Valdivia and an important regional centre, Puerto Montt is a rougher edged, less sophisticated town than Valdivia. However, Marina Oxxean made us very welcome and its very helpful English-speaking manager Alejandro smoothed the way for us all through the intricacies of Chilean bureaucracy. Puerto Montt is a cruiser crossroads, where those who have made their way up from the south can trade their information for that about the South Pacific from those coming down from the north. Puerto Montt also provides excellent opportunities for inland travel, so with Bob and Betsy we booked ouselves to go by bus through the Andes to Bariloche in Argentina and back by a combination of bus and ferry across the band of lakes which straddle the mountains.

 

 

Bariloche is a fairly posh Argentinian resort and despite the recent economic crisis in Argentina, it was a stunning contrast to Puerto Montt. Not only were there swish shops and lots of well-fed and well-groomed young and wealthy Argentinians, the whole town was well-groomed. Unfortunately despite the natural beauty of Chile and the friendliness and politeness of Chileans, Chilean towns are decidedly ramshackle and unfortunately graffiti are everywhere, even in the best-kept parts of Santiago. So, for two days we had a taste of land-borne comfort, as well as a cable-car ride to the peak above the town and a hike back down. The day-long trip by bus and ferry through the chain of lakes back to Puerto Montt served to bring us back to down to sea level, both actually and figuratively.

On 14 December, we made the break and headed South. We knew that initially the cruising would be fairly gentle in the Golfo de Corcovado, protected as it is from the West by the Island of Chiloe. There are numerous other islands as well. Though at one time quite isolated, islands such as Mechuque now have electricity and telephones. However, they are still basically poor fishing and subsistence farming communities. The two major changes to their economies in recent years have been brought by the advent of salmoneras, salmon farming, throughout the area and the change from working sailing craft to diesel power. When Hal and Margaret Roth cruised the area in the late 70's, there were still over 300 working sailing craft in the area around Chiloe. Now there appear to be none. Yet the boats are still built in wood by traditional methods, as we saw at first hand from Mechuque right down to Puerto Eden.

 

 

 

Castro is the capital and administrative centre of Chiloe, as well as being our last real opportunity to fill Sunstone even fuller with stores in preparation for a couple of months in the Canales. The town is a bustling community with excellent markets and a large central church whose corrugated exterior belies the beauty of its wooden paneled interior. As so often in out of the way places, we made an unexpected find, a small router, just right for dealing with Sunstone's splines, when they need some attention.

 

 

After several years of very social Christmases we decided that it was time to have a quieter affair and chose Estero Paillad as our Christmas stop. It was perfect. The river is a little like the upper reaches of the Dart in miniature, with farms and copses dotting the slopes and cows and sheep scattered across the lush pastures. Only the presence of the occasional mounted caballero, ox-drawn cart and the distinctively Chloean church made clear that the landscape was not that of the West Country 150 years ago. We took long walks along the riverside road, where electricity poles were just being erected - clearly an innovation for the village.

 

On Christmas Eve, three teenaged boys rowed by in a rough wooden skiff. We struck up a conversation, inhibited by our halting Spanish. We agreed that they should come back for a Christmas visit the next day if it didn't interfere with their families' festivities. We frankly wondered whether they would return. But they did, wishing us 'Feliz Navidad' and bearing a small painted carving of local birds. In return we gave them T-shirts and Christmas tea. Somehow, through smiles, laughter and sign language we passed a very pleasant two hours before Jose, Pancho and Juan rowed away towards their homes across the river, leaving us with the feeling that we really had had a Christmas.

 

A sparkling sail across the southern half of the Golfo brought us to Puerto Juan Yates, a beautifully protected anchorage among small islands and something of a miniature nature reserve. Dolphin's leaped around our dink as we explored the lagoon and the mule-like bray of the penguins woke us each morning. Vicky discovered some baby otters on one of her explorations and to top it all we managed to get one side of the hull varnished. We also had our first taste of true Canales weather when a vigorous front ran into the Golfo and made us grateful for our shore lines.

By New Year's Eve we were determined to get down into the Canales proper and so we headed into Canal Refugio and then Morelada. In the northern anchorages it is mostly possible to swing at anchor in well protected, wooded coves, as we did at Pozo d'Oro, Isla Valverde and Puerto Americano. At Puerto Aguirre we managed to get our last fuel before Puerto Eden far to the south, while the beautifully clear stream at Puerto Rosita provided us with water to fill our tanks. The day sail from Rosita to Caleta Jacqueline was our first experience of Chilean Rachas, as we sailed in what should have been the lee of one of the sheer, rocky bluffs along a branch of the canal. A vigorous front was pushing 30+ knot winds in from the NW, but periodically these winds would descend from the heights as 50-60 knot gusts, whipping up whirling dervishes of spray from the surface of the water. (You can just see one of these in the centre of the photo.) We shot along under jib only with white knuckles, until clear of the heights.

 

We shared Caleta Jaqueline and Puerto Millabu with our new OCC friends John and Sally Melling on 'Taraki'. Our similar approaches to cruising and probably life in general have made for a number of pleasant evenings at anchor with Taraki on this cruise. At Millabu we enjoyed the first of the Canales spectacular cascades and plotted our passage across the infamous Golfo de Penas, which regularly treats mariners to heavy doses of unpleasant weather combined with heavy and confused seas.

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