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Around the End of the World - Tierra del Fuego

By Sue Richards last modified Apr 20, 2011 12:53 PM

Published: 2011-04-20 12:53:13
Countries: Argentina , Chile

S/Y Kilico around the end of the world, Tierra del Fuego - South America's tip

There are not many land areas as far south on the planet as the southernmost part of South America. We are talking about south of the Rio de la Plata. With the exception of a small part of Australia and New Zealand it's just the sea all the way around. The landscape is very flat on the east side with the big pampasareas and the west side is dominated by the mighty Andes mountain range.

Our trip around Tierra del Fuego and the southern tip of the continent began in the Argentine coastal city of Mar del Plata 10 January this year, and it would take 3 months before we arrived in Puerto Montt on the Pacific Coast. The voyage would take us round the headland to the south where the Drake Passage provides passage between the mainland and the Antarctic Continent. Continuing west through the Beagle Channel and north through the Chilean fjords to Puerto Montt on the Pacific Coast. Overall a trip of approximately 3100 nautical mile.

While the population of Argentina and Chile together is between 50 and 60 million people, the southern tip is very sparsely populated. Nature shows an incredibly diverse area of the vast pampas on the east and the mighty Andes and the amazing Chilean coast with all the fjords and islands on the west.

Weather and Climate

From Mar del Plata on 35°S, down to the southern tip of the 55°S and up to Puerto Montt on the 41°S, the climate varies from the beaches, sun and warmth in the northeast, to the colder climate, sometimes with quite cold weather, sleet and rain even in summer in the south and west. Other times, with temperatures around 20° C.

We cruised through the "Roaring Forties" and "the Fourius Fifties" both southbound and northbound. This is a tough area in terms of weather and climate. The temperature drops quickly when sailing south and there is strong pressure systems that pass consecutively.

Relatively dry on the Atlantic coast, but a lot of heavy precipitation on the Pacific Coast. The trip from Puerto Williams to Puerto Montt took us just over 7 weeks and 6 of these were with a lot of rain.

On the Atlantic side the wind varies as the pressure system passes, but on the Pacific side the prevailing wind direction in the summer season is from NNW. Very seldom you can get W or SW.

It is said that there are only two dominant seasons here, summer and winter. And it is also said that there is more wind and rain in the summer and that in the winter you can experience periods of more clear sky. Winter is naturally colder, with shorter days and the precipitation will be as snow instead of rain.

Formalities

The countries of South America are bureaucratic. While there still are relativly few cruisers in this area they use much of the same formalities for us as for big ships.

In Argentina it is Immigration, Aduane and the Prefectura Naval that has to be cleared. You get a 3 month visa for the crew and we got 8 months for the yacht, but this may have have been changed later to three months.

In Chile, the Immigration, Aduane, Armada de Chile and the Agricultural authorities have to be cleared. Also here you get 3 months for both the crew and the yacht. For the crew one can later extend for a new 3-month period with an additional cost of about 100 U.S. dollars or take a trip out of the country and back again. For the yacht, it is possible to extend up to 2 years.

In both countries one must obtain a sailing permit, called a Zarpe, for the area you want to sail. Specially Chile wants the Zarpe very detailed and with ETA for several places along the route.

We experienced, however, Argentina more bureaucratic than Chile. Chile is also more modern and accurate. We have visited quite a few Prefectura Naval offices in Argentina and certainly none of them have a photocopy machine and we have hardly seen a computer in a Prefectura office. Here they still use carbon paper and it's not always they have enough of this either so it still has to be written several times. But, of course, it employs a lot of people.

All the way south of Mar del Plata in Argentina, we had to report our position twice a day and the same rule for Chile. It is, of course, also in our own interest in case something happens. However, we did these reports by email once a day and never got any comments.

In Puerto Williams the Chilean Armada had a long checklist and strong focus on how the yacht was equipped, safety equipment, how much food, water, diesel, oil, etc. we had on board. This to make sure that we were prepared for the trip. Very good.

Mooring / Anchoring

In Argentina, the yacht clubs mostly offered from 3 days and up to a week of courtesy. Later there are relatively reasonable prices. Water and electricity is available. Internet is also available in some places.

Yacht Club Micalvi in Puerto Williams offers water and electricity, but not internet. Puerto Montt however, has all facilities, including a self-service washing machine and dryer.

Otherwise there are rather limited anchorages on the Argentine coast north of the Beagle Channel.

In Chile, however, there are unlimited anchorages all the way up to Puerto Montt.

Security

No problems with regard to security in this entire area.

Supplies

In Mar del Plata you get mostly everything except equipment for yachts.

In Puerto Deseado there is also a good selection of food and fuel available.

In Ushuaia, the selection of food is surprisingly good and the prices are reasonable. Diesel is available from cans or barrels.

Puerto Williams has limited selections for food. Diesel and gas are available.

In Puerto Eden one can get diesel and it may be possible to preorder gas. Otherwise, the selections of food is rather limited.

In Puerto Aguirre it may be possible to obtain diesel and the selections of food are limited, although better than in Puerto Eden.

From Isla Chiloe it becomes better with most things.

But as said earlier, spare parts for yachts are not available at all in this area.

The Argentine and Chilean people

Very friendly and helpful all over. The language is Spanish all the way and there are few places where English is spoken.

Travelling around

Public transport is very cheap in this entire area. Particulary the busses are cheap. No train, but some flight connections in certain places.

Conclusion

An incredibly fascinating, challenging and wonderful journey. Beagle Channel was perhaps what made the biggest impression on us with respect to the beautiful scenery and magnificent glaciers. On the west side, the great view to the big mountains was limited because of a lot of rain and low clouds.

One should be well prepared to be totally self-sufficient if an accident should occur and you get an injury. This is as much for the crew as for the yacht and equipment. One should also be mentally and physically prepared for a period of wilderness with little or no contact with other people. Large parts of the trip takes place far from civilization and if an accident should occur, it can take a long time to get help. There may be several weeks between each time you see other people than your own crew.

A very good way to have contact and very often help, is to join the Patagonian Cruisers Net every morning at 09:00 local time at 8164kHz. This covers all this area.

We were sailing from east to west and it's really the wrong way according to the weather systems. If we made the trip again we would probably do it in the opposite direction because of this.

Lillian & Kare Horntvedt
S/Y Kilico, Norway

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