Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

The Ultimate Cruisers' Planning Tool


You are here: Home / Users / doina / Patagonia Memories

Patagonia Memories

By doina — last modified Feb 01, 2003 06:31 PM

Published: 2003-02-01 18:31:29
Countries: Argentina , Chile

Such anticipation we had about visiting Patagonia! We knew that it would be something special. Well it was special! It far exceeded our most exalted expectations. There is no way a place like Tierra del Fuego that could match ones prejudgments about such untamed wilderness!

It did not seem wild as we motored westward into the entrance of the Beagle Channel, which is about twelve miles wide. To the north side laid the high hills of Argentina, and to the south were many large hilly islands of Chile.

As we had been sailing for three days and nights from the Falkland Islands we were ready for a quiet night in a safe anchorage to catch up on our lost sleep. Shortly we did find a fine snug bay on the north side of a small island with protection from the predominate south and west winds. As we were clearing the western end of this island the next morning, had we turned left and gone some sixty miles due south we would have been in the lee of the rocky island of Cape Horn by night fall. As brave as we all are, we would have taken the challenge of course, but luckily first each boat must check in with the Chilean Navy in Porto Williams to get a cruising permit for these southern waters. Ah ha! We had an excuse not to go! Everyone knows the reputation of the wild and scary Cape Horn!

The channel became narrower and narrower the further west we traveled, until by noon we had to squeeze thru between a couple of small low islands. As we approached the island to our north we noticed that the stony beach was speckled with higher tall slender stones. But wait some of the tall stones are jumping in the water. Penguins! Look there are several swimming along the beach ahead of us. We had all seen penguins in the Falklands, but this was our first sighting of them here in Patagonia.

By three in the afternoon we motored past the village of Porto Williams, and into a small bay, more like the entrance to a small river! We tied up next to a fifty- foot aluminum sailboat that was tied to a two hundred fifty foot World War II semi-sunken ammunition ship. This ship was the dock, meeting place, bar and restaurant for the Porto Williams Club Naval.

Porto Williams is Chile’s most southern city as well as a navy base with a population of 1200 people, mostly military families. The town is built on the side of the hill over looking the big bay so the view is great, but they do not have paved roads, and only just recently have they gotten running water to the houses.

Porto Williams doesn’t have much of a grocery store, so we had to clear out the next day and motor 25 miles across the channel north-westward to Ushuaia, Argentina, a very large city considering we are at the tip of South America! Here we had a nice dinner in a restaurant overlooking the harbor and were able to stock up with fresh vegetables and meat.

We returned to Porto Williams the next day in light winds. It then took us two days to clear in, get our cruising permit, and have fuel brought to the boat. Finally we were ready to leave! But when we asked permission to depart the next morning the navy said no there was too much wind in the channel.

We had a late morning start and by one the wind was blowing in our faces at twenty-five knots so we found a small bay, dropped two anchors and hoped for the best. The winds died down by morning, and we upped anchor and motored quickly west! By noon we saw the channel turning gray ahead of us. At the bottom of the gray wall, was water being beaten into froth by the winds. Oh shucks! Here came the big winds that we had heard about that pick dinghies up off the water and whirls them around as it blasts you sideways back down the channel. We needed no part of that and we turned good old Que Sera Sera quickly around, gunned the engine for all it was worth and headed back to Ola bay with bare poles at nine knots with the help of the wind!

We did manage to stay ahead of the dark stormy thing and made it back into the protection of the bay and got one anchor down just as the maelstrom hit us. Whew! That was close, but after having dodged the blast it seemed like good fun. These blasts only last for a little while for it is an unequal distribution of temperatures! So once the temperatures become equal from west to east all is ok. We could have hauled anchors and gotten a few miles further west, but nah; we are going to stay put here just in case there is another blast yet to come seemed like the prudent thing to do.

We got an early start, for dawn comes very early in the summer at this latitude! We got forty miles farther and found a small island cove that protected us from the west winds and dropped our hooks in the mud, had dinner and went to bed.

Next day we are motoring west in Canal Occasion we were looking for our evening anchorage. The chart showed Nieman Harbor a cove between a big hillside to starboard and a lower hill to port. We keep turning right around the big hill, but no cove to our port, yet we keep getting closer and closer to the steep stony walls. The channel is getting smaller and smaller, and yet no cove is showing up. Still further, still smaller until we were forced to slowly turn left. We began to have doubts as to did we have the right coordinates for the place, when we see the low hillside to port part a little and in another two hundred feet Walla! there appears a cove snug under the hillsides with room for two yachts. It was a good thing it was big enough for two for there was another sailboat already there.

We proceeded to drop two bow anchors, one of them twice to get it to hold, and then backed up to within twenty feet of the stony bank. Quickly we lower the dinghy and one of us rows the green line to shore to tie around a rock. Sounds easy, wrong for the guy in the dinghy has to hold on to both the dinghy painter and the green line as he steps ashore.

You must step ashore to get your line on a rock higher than the high tide line so that your line isn’t six feet underwater in the morning when its time to collect it back. So that would mean if the tide is down when you do secure the line that the rocky shore has been under water and very slimy. Slimy stuff is of course slippery.

Picture then the big boat is moving back out towards the anchor, for it has a heavy chain trying to hang straight down from the bow. The dinghy is slipping backwards away from the rocks, the guy stepping ashore has a line in each hand, and has on boots for walking on a sandy beach. Without going into the whole scenario it is enough to say the job got done but there was some serious slip sliding going on.

After getting the boat secure we had time to properly observe what this snug little cove was really all about. In that there was a large rock outcropping between us and the other sailboat we could not see them, so it looked to us like we were the only ones in the anchorage. There was a very small creek with a very small waterfall, about two feet small in front of us about sixty feet away, which we could just make out the cascade or maybe the trickle of it, the place was so quiet.

Behind us are a couple of dozen Bonsai trees. Yea really big Bonsai trees, it is the first time that we have seen Bonsai trees at least twelve feet high. They looked like they were right out of some upscale landscape nursery. This place is beautiful and serene.

The next morning as we were undoing all the ropes ashore and taking up our anchors the other sailboat slid out from behind the big rock and passed across our bow, we waved, spoke to one another in hushed tones across the water, of what a beautiful cove we had had the privilege to share, and they continued on their way.

To be able to gauge how big and deep these big inland waters were the German heavy Cruiser Dresden hid out for a month in one only twenty miles from our anchorage at the end of the war.

Three hours later we are able to reach Harmonie on the VHF radio. They are some thirty miles ahead of us by the water route, but only about fifteen on a straight line. We are talking to them to see if they were waiting for us, or where they would be in a couple of days. As we end our conversation another yacht breaks in and says that they are just five miles ahead of our position, and that they were the boat in our cove last night.

We talk a little more and the other skipper tells us that he knows of a shortcut that we can take that will lead us to the western leg of the Straights Of Magellan. After a quick look at the chart we can see his suggested route, and although it is not approved by the Chilean Navy, and is not included in our cruising permit, we see that it will cut off three to four big days. He says if we will follow him he will do it. You bet we will too, but Harmonie is fifteen miles past it already so decides not to.

It was and interesting side trip, around several large islands, thru a very narrow, about sixty foot wide and shallow gap, against the south flowing current, but once through that it was a beautiful four hour adventure to the straits of Magellan.

We tried to start early each morning before the west winds from up the channel started to blow hard at us as we went northwest. This early start would allow us to get off the straits when the winds started to pipe up in to the twenties or more. This day was not so bad but as we motored along the north shore we were constantly passing potential small bays that our cruising guide said would be good places to hide from the winds.

We were less than three miles from our selected bay when off to port we saw what looked to be a really secure cove, but it was not mentioned in the guide. It looked so good that after a little discussion about its potential merits we decided to venture in and have a look see.

The entry was between two huge black rocks, and the cove was only some two hundred feet wide. It got a little shallow as we entered, but we can cross a twelve-foot shelf with ease so on through the narrow entrance we went. Wow! After we cleared the rocks the bay opened up into an almost perfect circle, with six hundred foot plus, tall hills all around it. Down the hill to the rear of the cove thru the trees a waterfall cascaded, and to our left was another much smaller one coursing its way down the portside hill as well. We dropped our anchors in the very middle of this incredible pool, and stood in awe as a rainbow caused by the mists from the big waterfall filled our private place with its beauty.

To keep the magic going as we were motoring in unusual calm waters westward the next day we heard from Happy Spirit which was now a half day ahead that they had seen whales in the channel near where we were. We thanked them and looked and looked and looked, and sure enough we spotted one spotting us. Spy hopping they call it when a whale comes vertically partway out of the water and looks around. Well this big guy, or big blue or whatever it was did just that, he raised up partially out of the water, some two hundred yards from us took a look at our tiny boat, and then continued slowly plodding along parallel with us, spouting his white fountain.


Now that we are heading northward up the channels the winds are light and we spend most of our time just motoring along with the tall mountains to starboard, and the rugged rocky hilly islands to port. We are passing valleys coming down to the channel with huge glaciers in them high up at their sources. If the glacier is near to our rout they are hidden in the ever-present fog that shrouds them, yet they are close enough to feel the cold air falling into the channel below. This is truly a place of massive raw beauty.

Mention should be made about our first fueling stop since Porto Williams as we had been motoring for eleven straight days. The first opportunity was at Porto Eden, and it has been described in our article on fueling a cruising boat, it’s quite a story. Let us say that Porto Eden was not quite like the Eden in ones mind’s eye. Early American frontier towns of the Wild West complete with a boardwalk over the muddy terrain, as the main walkway around the town would be a more fitting description.

There were many more happenings and experiences while we made our way north to Valdivia, but suffice to say we have given you the gist of what this remarkable area of our world is like. We found it to be a wonderful place of differing wonders never expected, and would some day some how hope to sail through Patagonia once again.

Lois & Don of S\Y Que Sera Sera