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Sunday, 14 January 2018

El Valdiviano

El Valdiviano steam train
It was our plan to be on our way north toward French Polynesia by now.  Of course, wishes often don't work out as planned.  Mary Anne's visit to the dentist to fix a long simmering problem required a return visit in two weeks.  There were now two extra weeks in Valdivia and two less weeks in the Marquesas.  What to do?   ... lots, it turns out!

Writing about the ocean conference arranged by the university will have to wait until after it takes place.  Nonetheless, the steam train excursion is fair game having happened yesterday on a cloudless sunshiny blue-sky day.

These days in Chile, public transport between cities is by fast comfortable buses and on faster jets. Nonetheless, not so long ago, there were passenger train services, now limited to the larger urban areas.  One of the rail companies has resurrected an early 1900s vintage steam locomotive and some 1930s coaches and linked them into a summer weekend tourist attraction.

The Calle Calle River
Belching great clouds of black coal smoke, we lurched along the very scenic river for a few hours stopping briefly at a couple of barely pronounceable villages.  At just over twenty kilometers an hour, the countryside drifted rather than flew by.  The cattle in the fields were more frightened by this apparition from the past while we were soothed by our personal movie soundtrack provided by a group of singers strolling through the carriages. Guitar and accordion strains filled the coach as we rumbled along, tree branches scraping along the windows.

Eventually we arrived for the signature two hour stop in Antilhue where we were entertained with great food and a troupe of young dancers who, after displaying their skills, ran out into the large audience to dance with some of our fellow train travelers. I have to admit that to avoid being drawn into this I skipped out after the lunch to have a close look at our train and its engine.
Go ahead. Pronounce "Huellelhue"!

Music aboard

At this point the locomotive had been uncoupled and moved around a long loop to be re-positioned at the other end of the train for our return.  I learned: That the engine had been built in Valparaiso in 1913 to British plans; that the coaches were from Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. The 686 horsepower engine was capable (we never experienced this) of a breathtaking 60 km/hour while consuming 20 kilos of coal and 150 liters of water per kilometer.

Altogether, the day was just another reminder that delays and detours are more to be embraced and enjoyed rather than to be lamented.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

We missed them

Now that we've completed 20 dives this time around, and over 50 dives in our combined trips to Patagonian Chile, there are some spectacular underwater animals that we had hoped to see once again and - this time - for whatever reason - we missed seeing them. So at least we can post their photos and list where we last saw them so that perhaps divers will make sure to check them out in future.

Soon we'll leave Chile, but my task for the months offshore is to systematize those 50 dives in an Excel database which could be of help to others who are also fascinated by Patagonia's varied underwater environment. The task will be lengthy - in part because of my inability to be totally secure in some of my identifications (in some cases no I.D.s seemed to exist) and in part because our ability to vary the sites we dived was constricted. Of course, we were also only able to survey a minute percentage of the area and only at a particular time of year. However, it will be fascinating to try to learn enough about the science to find out what sorts of things we COULD comment on in an intelligent way.

So here are some of our 'missed friends':
nudibranch: tritonia odhneri Puerto Profundo,  

sponge: unknown Caleta Ideal

small octopus enteroctopus megalocyathus Caleta Ideal


nudibranch: thececara darwini Isla Smith, Jechica 

fish: leptonotus blainvilleanus Bahia Tom, I Smith

Jewel Anemones cornyactis sp Jechica, Isla Amita

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Back in Valdivia

We have now found our way back to the Yacht Club Valdivia where we are making our final preparations for a return to Western Canada via the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.

We had an excellent sail north in the open ocean from Canal Chacao to Bahia Corral, the entrance to the river on which the city of Valdivia is situated.  We had known for a number of days that a particular choice of departure day would grace us with fair winds.

Construction ship and new central pier
As we left the sheltered waters behind Chiloe Island to transit canal Chacao, the narrow stretch of water that separates the island from the mainland, we were greeted with a very impressive sight!

The fact of Chiloe being an island allowed the colonial Spanish to maintain a presence there while the indigenous Mapuche on the mainland had held back colonization on the mainland at a line far to the north.  Today, this isolation tempered by a stream of ferries and a few flights, serves only to hamper transport and economic opportunity.  The Chilean government decided a number of years ago that there should be a bridge  across canal Chacao to Chiloe but balked at the cost.

Construction finally commenced between our southbound trip to Puerto Natales and our return north. The building efforts were in full view as we sailed passed.  The central bridge pier is being placed on Roca Remolinos in the middle of the channel - whirlpool rock named for the fierce tidal currents that swirl around it.  A very large construction ship had elevated itself above this shoal on four large cylindrical steel supports planted firmly on the seafloor.  Beside it were the many new pilings it had placed to support the middle of the bridge.  The ship and pilings, though stationary, appeared to be moving along at a good speed with water swirling about and a wake trailing away to the west.  This illusion was created by a six knot current as the falling tide raced west toward the ocean.
North shore pier construction

Further construction work at the edges of the channel was creating the shoreside supports at each end of the bridge.

Now, a few days later, we are catching up on old friends here in Valdivia, replacing some failed blocks in the mains'l traveler and stays'l sheet rigging and preparing the shopping lists for the food we will consume during our three month return trip to Canada.  Our new alternator will arrive next week having finally cleared its customs hurdles in Santiago and will need to be installed on the engine.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Some Things New!

WHATZIT???  photo: 2007
We arrived in Corral yesterday after a perfect trip sailing through the midnight hour in bright moonlight. Later today we'll make our way to our 'usual' spot at the dock in Valdivia where we'll be stopped for a few weeks before leaving for our trip across the Pacific - final destination: Victoria, Canada.
In sorting through the photos Larry took in 2007-9 and our current photos from 2017 in Patagonia, I discovered a possible link to a creature he photographed at Caleta Valverde in 2007. What do you think? Could it be?

Could it be?? fissurellidea patagonicas snail

snail: buchanania onchidioides
In any event, we discovered that this creature has a range that includes Puerto Profundo at the far southern end of our dive trips taken in 2017. Another snail inhabitant at Puerto Profundo was the buchanania onchidiodes.  Here are some photos of new to us and surprisingly beautiful animals - the archidoris fontani nudibranch at Isla Amita and the  the sea star porania antarctica wearing bright new colours at Pozo Delfin divesite.
porania antarctica colour variant
 archidoris fontani nudibranch

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Small challenges

In Canada, a typical boating adventure involves driving the car to the supermarket, visiting the fuel dock with the boat and heading away.  This is roughly the same for a Chilean boater with their boat in Puerto Montt if they are planning a short trip around the nearby islands and inlets - with the exception that their entire itinerary has to be approved in advance by the Navy.

Our trip is longer so things are different.

Isla Chiloe Scenery
As we passed north along the shore of Isla Chiloe, it started to become obvious that, while our food and fuel would just last to Valdivia, the chocolate, peanuts, cookies and wine would be exhausted.  Oh no!

So we fit in a stop at the city of Castro on our way north.  This regional center boasts a good supermarket. Also the fuel needed for a margin of comfort after covering the additional distance to Castro was easily purchased at a truck-stop.  Fighting the relentless winds and currents in the channels on the way north had increased our fuel consumption more than we could have imagined.

Getting these easily purchased items aboard our anchored boat was somewhat more problematic.  The tidal range here is six meters from low water to high water and only the Navy have floating docks that move up and down with the tide.  With our purchases, we wheeled the dinghy down onto the beach from where we had left it safely above the sea in a parking lot.  Did I mention our dinghy has retractable wheels?  After loading our five twenty-liter jugs of fuel  and our groceries, we sat in the warm afternoon sun in the dinghy until the water returned and floated us up and off the beach. We even had an audience for this exercise and the locals would no sooner notice what you were about and they would come running to help.

Since we had stopped at a town with a Navy base, we had to present ourselves and our documents (twice) to obtain approval for the remainder of our voyage to Valdivia - which had already been approved in Puerto Natales.  We are not troubled by this. It is connected with a concern for our location so we can easily be rescued.  A minor addendum to these procedures is that the ports are frequently closed to small vessels (like ours) in the sort of inclement weather that doesn't really trouble us.  The boat has, after all, gotten itself here from Canada.  We rushed to get the dinghy aboard  and the anchor up in the gathering wind, somewhat worried that the port would suddenly close and we would have to start all over getting our permit to leave.

Against the background of solving these sort of problems, the large alternator on our engine has failed completely requiring us to run a separate generator for electricity even if the engine is running.
We can't really fault the thing.  It has been spinning 10000 hours or so and was just tired.  A worn brush slipped out of position and it's spring chewed up the copper slip ring and spat it out as a fine powder around the engine compartment.

Lacking time in our schedule to research repairs - the guy who sold the device eighteen years ago doesn't answer his phone - we have ordered a new one.  It is on its way but will stumble in Santiago on its way to final delivery until I find a broker to run interference between myself and customs.  Theoretically, parts for foreign vessels in transit are duty-free but I have my doubts that will happen.

And, like everything else here, this is all a challenge to my slowly-improving but not-yet-good Spanish, the language in which everything happens.

We are now back in civilization.  The mobile phones and wireless internet now work about 1/2 the time.  The land, all islands, is covered with little farms patched onto the rolling hillsides.  It is a sort of "Shire" from "Lord of the Rings"

Shellfish culture floats
The water, less scenically, is covered with enough fish farms and oyster culture areas that sometimes we can hardly believe there is a route into the anchorages where we spend the nights.  Of course, in the morning we discover the last sentence to have been an exaggeration as we easily see the obvious way back out to sea.

But all goes well.  The scenery is still very special and five more days, including an overnight open sea passage, will see us in Valdivia making our final preparations for the return to Canada.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

A Christmas Portfolio in Red & Green!

Christmas Tealia - British Columbia
Gorgonian coral - Chile

Centolla - Chile

Rose Star - BC

Urchins and Algae - Chile

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Essential gear for cruising in Patagonia

If you plan to come to Southern Chile south of the Golfo de Penas in your sailboat, here are a few things that we use that really help:
The ‘Italian’ book: ‘Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego Nautical Guide’ (by Mariolina Rolfo and Giorgio Ardrizzi). They’ve listed over 400 usually safe anchorages.

You need 4 shore-ties. These are described in various books and in an earlier blog by Larry.

If you have a fairly small vessel, you’d be wise to read ‘Winter in Fireland: A Patagonian Sailing Adventure’ by BC resident Nicholas Coghlan. He and his wife Jenny sailed their Vancouver 27 – ‘Bosun Bird’ from South Africa over to Brazil via St. Helena and down the coast of Argentina. They spent time in Ushuaia and Puerto Williams and came up through Patagonia in the winter. His research into the history of the area and his description of the hold-ups they faced will give you an in-depth view of a sailor’s life and how to deal with Patagonia in a small vessel. Even if you’re not a sailor, you’ll admire the story of their life working in Argentina and later in the Canadian diplomatic service.

‘Marine Benthic Fauna of Chilean Patagonia’ edited by Vreni Haussermann and Gunter Forsterra details the geology, maritime and oceanic conditions here in addition to its primary focus on underwater creatures. In some preliminary information it states: “From 42 degrees south, the dominance of bad weather is increasing each year. In some places, like those exposed directly to the action of the air masses, the highest concentration of winter depressions results in more than 25 days of rain per month.” The book later states that 6,000 mm of precipitation falls annually. Increasingly bad weather has also been noted by Greg and Keri-Lyn of ‘Saoirse’ who have been running charters to Antarctica for many years.

We find that negotiating these channels with a bigger boat makes it easier. Although we still face lots of challenges, we can carry more fuel and have a more comfortable time in the cold. Since this is our only home, we made sure that we would have good insulation and a working furnace instead of having a faraway roof or driveway to maintain for disconsolate renters.

Before we left Canada, I knew we’d be making this trip along the Canales. So I bought some essentials. Several unsolicited gifts have also been the source of great warmth.
1. Heat Factory hand heaters … get them at MEC in BC or REI in Washington.
2. Scandinavian model dive mitts. These are great for pulling wet lines out of the 9C water when you are tying to trees. A gift from  Norwegian friend Rune (SV Opportune)
3. Down-filled mitts available at Eddy Bauer – Amanda Neal of ‘Mahina Tiare III’ told me about these. Get 2 pairs – you can wash them.
4. The special ‘Fashy’ German-made hot-water bottle. It’s double-insulated and it comes with a cozy fleece cover. This was a gift from Kania and Gregorio – the physiotherapists who run Centro Praxis in Valdivia. It’s a lifesaver!
5. Get thin merino wool long johns, toques and neckwarmers – they are warm, good under rain gear in rain and they’ll dry quickly. You’ll find yourself using lots of layers. Remember that once socks get wet with sea water, they rarely dry!
You will need the usual heavy-weather sailing gear. Make sure to use the neoprene ‘oilies’  bottoms for putting out and pulling in lines. But on top we use our gore-tex jackets. They keep out most of the rain, while allowing us more ease of movement.
We also use really warm (and much cheaper) neoprene fishermen’s boots. They’re warmer and lighter than sailing boots and Larry likes them for navigating through the shallows prior to tying to trees ashore.