Santa Maria Australis


09.11.09: The Santa Maria Australis departs Ushuaia carrying 8 souls. Paperwork at the Prefectera and then sailing to Puerto Williams, Chile, in calm waters.


10.11.09: More paperwork in Chile. Its a beautiful harbor, with the derelict wreck of the Macalvi Yacht Club closed for rebuilding. I am struck by how black and inky the water is when its not blown by the wind or broken by our wake. I saw penguin, dolphin and albatross, and learned to steer the boat by degrees and by sight, through shallow channels off Isla Navarino. Its like controlling a car skidding on ice, a slow and subtle process nudging the rudder and waiting for the result. Being on a boat is not like the camping I’m used to. For one, it’s heated in the saloon. And we are self-contained, with our beds and food and heat and water all aboard. My small berth has a pillow and sheets and a blanket instead of a sleeping bag. We have wine and beer because we don’t have to carry it. Oh, and a hot shower– what luxury!


Anchored after high winds at Isla Lennox, a beautiful cove with just a coast guard station, and one fishing vessel. It’s king crab season, centolla, and informal buoys appear on the water out of nowhere.


11.11.09: Rocking back and forth off Lennox this morning. We head due SSE towards the Cape Horn Archipelago, the Wollaston Islands. It’s calm today, and after crossing the Nassau, the waters are still and unbroken. I think about the surface tension, how the water looks like the air is holding it down, how the water holds itself together. We travel the Washington Channel and see a fur seal colony, they dive in this cold water and follow the yacht, peering at us. Even on the rocks they are fairly agile, climbing higher than I though possible. These islands are beautiful and look like what they are: the sunken summit of the Andes. We anchor at Isla Hermit, tie off in a shallow bay at three points. Take the Zodiac to shore and hike the nearest mirador. The Cape is just to the south– I can’t believe it, after all these months and miles my goal is within sight! I am truly far south now, I can see the end of not just the civilized world, but indeed the inhabited world. There is only the Drake Passage south— then Antarctica and the pole. This is the end of the continent, the end of land, of walkable places, of America, bigger than I ever thought it was. And I have been to the top and the bottom, and a few of its edges.


Such gratitude! I realize even with all the trials and moderate misery of my circumstances back home, my life is exactly what I wanted it to be. I am so far away! This is an astonishing adventure, pull down your atlas and look for Tierra del Fuego, and Cape Horn. I AM HERE! I tell the wind, “thank you” because I don’t how else to send the message, or to whom exactly, there are so many who deserve to hear it. Trust the wind to take the words there.


12.11.09: I oversleep,dreaming of giant red snakes taking over the world. J wakes me at eight for the remains of breakfast, and the wind is up, contrary to the Armada forecast. But we can go, so we do.


Once we hit open water south of Isla Hermit it gets very rough very fast. The sails are out but not catching steady wind, we plow through waves and spray comes flying up over port. A trough, and the mainsail boom goes slack and swings, and snaps back starboard hard but the ropes and pulleys hold, and several Germans and a Brit come flying across the cockpit. J tells me and P to wind in the jib and something snaps. A rope out of its wench. The boat is nearly sideways, crashing in the waves, the jib is almost totally loose. Alarms are going off in the cockpit. Spray, water, angles, chaos. But J and P get the jib in, and when the boat rights itself somewhat the alarms quiet, and we continue on, still crashing over this ocean. It changes from snow to sun in minutes, and after one squall clears we see the Horn to port, and when we are due south we pop champagne into the mainsail while roped onto deck with lifelines, and continue east into the quieter waters of the Atlantic.


On land at Cape Horn, seeing the albatross monument. This one affects me particularly. Sailing this way, exposed to the water, the winds and the cold. And peering over the short deck of this boat into unreflecting water. How cold I get out here on the water, in that wind! And the albatross, when it lifts off the water seems to just rise.


13.11.09: Spent the night anchored off Isla Herschel. At breakfast J says the government has made land concessions to a tourist company and soon there will be a pier and hotel here for the big cruise ships. What used to be a nature preserve, and so remote. I get thinking about distance. Cape Horn is only 170K from Ushuaia. Two hours by car on a straight paved road. But there is no road and no straight lines. So it takes days by boat, at seven knots. How relative distance is! I noticed hiking the common way to measure distance here in Patagonia is with time. (How far from point A to point B? 4 hours. But how FAR?) Like space and time are one. Which refutes all my theories about finitude.


The islands here are life buoys. They flatten out the waters and break the wind. On one or two of the islands we have seen the remains of Chilean Army outposts, now totally abandoned and rotting under their rusted tin roofs. But it makes me wonder how a person could live here, or if. There is some water, many birds and fish, but finite trees for fuel. And so cold!


And now that we are heading north again, we finally catch a good steady wind. The genoa and mainsail out all day, the ship lists starboard and flys over the Nassau. We slam over the waves, spray splashing sometimes over the cockpit. I can feel the velocity, the power of the pull and sails. I love this part: the quiet, the tilt, this hard wind.


14.11.09: Safe Harbor in Puerto Williams after a long sail. It’s time for me to leave the boat to the rest of her journey to the Darwins. So I head out to Williams, a town of muddy streets, stray dogs, and views. I share a last mate with J and P, and they motor back to the yacht, and when I look again the boat is gone, like a dream. Supposedly there is a ferry crossing to Ushuaia booked for me by the ship’s owner- he and I are trying to confirm this. But all the callboxes are closed since it’s Saturday. So we begin looking for Francisco, and his restaurant is closed, and start asking where he is and no one knows. Then we see the immigration officer who has stamped me in and out of Chile, at this point, several times. He tells us forget about Francisco, we need to talk to Pancho. So up to a little customs office where there’s a phone, but Pancho is not answering. So instead a coffee break at W’s house. His wife says todo bueno, I am going back to Ushuaia. This is getting things done, Chilean style. In some ways I don’t mind, its a social process, and reminds me how helpful people want to be.






~ by maiapatagonia on November 15, 2009.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: