Chile: Cruising the Channels in Patagonia

Interesting report from Dan Stroud who is cruising the Channels in Patagonia and who had to divert to Ushuaia in Argentina.

Published 4 years ago, updated 2 years ago

yachts at anchor in the southern channels of patagonia
Cruising the Channels in Patagonia

December 2018

Forced to head to Argentina as a “force majeure”

I thought I would take a minute to share my experiences so far, may be useful for others.

I left Puerto Williams for the channels. The Zarpe is issued there and then. You must make a list of your route with estimated time and date of arrivals. They appreciate it’s not easy to forecast. I did mine in 100 mile chunks. They didn’t seem too interested to be honest, as long as they had a rough idea. They have their own route which they recommend on the zarpe.

 Leaving Puerto Williams was straight forward in which case. I was requested to send two reports per day by email to tell my position. You can also report to the radio control posts as you go by by vhf. Very little English is spoken by any of the authorities etc.

 My engine broke in Caleta Olla so I had to return to port.

 Puerto Williams authorised me to go directly to Ushuaia in Argentina as a “force majeure” or “entrada forsoza” without clearing out of Chile, because of my engine problem.

 On the trip, I had to send in a report every two hours. Although I had been sending repeated emails to Contrase Ushuaia they failed to respond until I arrived close to the port. They called me on 16 and welcomed me to Argentina!  I was given a tow to the ASYFYN yacht club and put alongside.

 Clearing into Ushuaia was straight forward. The YC is very friendly and helpful, Roxana is the source of all knowledge! There is also the Club Náutico, run by Uka, apparently it’s more friendly there and half the price but facilities appear more basic.

ASYFYN has good showers, warm club house and library, good wifi, a workshop for public use, a haul out facility or beaching facility. Most of the people there are in big charter yachts and is fairly quiet.

 Mooring on the quay at ASAFYN is tricky for a small boat. You are against vertical wooden planks and the tidal range can be up to 2 metres. When the wind blows from the north and north west it blows you sideways off the quay which is a little stressful in 45knot winds. It’s worse if there is chop. I’ve ended up using 25mm stretchy lines which seems to work. Point being, make sure ur deck cleats etc are all sound and use beefy stretchy  lines!

 When the wind blows from the east it brings a swell, even in just a few knots, and when it blows hard they recommend running lines to shore or going to anchor.

 I’ve had to combine fenders with wooden planks to keep off the wall. Having been to YC MICALVI in Puerto Williams I would say that that option is by far the best to leave a boat, although it does get a little crowded. Ushuaia is very exposed and the wind can come from 4 different directions in a day at times, contrary to the forecast.

 Ushuaia is everything that Puerto Williams is not; no shortage of outdoor shops and coffee and cake, bars, restaurants, laundry, hardware/industrial stores. You can buy fuel here but apparently it all has to be transported in jerry cans with nowhere to fill up directly. Apparently the diesel in Chile is of superior quality to Argentina.

I think I may have had the dreaded “inspection” by the argentine Prefectura. He just wanted to see the basics but was keen to see certificates/receipts/contracts etc.

January 2019

Cruising in the channels, Chilean Patagonia.

 I would say that in a small sailboat with a small engine such as mine, going solo, making passages northbound from Puerto Williams in the direction of Puerto Montt, through the channels, is quite a challenge. I ended up taking on a crew member to help me.

 Magellan Strait

yacht at anchor in a sheltered bay waiting for a window to sail the Magellan strait
Waiting for a window in the Magellan Strait

A small yacht is quickly overwhelmed by wind and waves when blowing more than 10 knots on the nose. The contra wind raises a steep chop which greatly slows progress to an impractical speed.

We experienced many squalls, especially in the Magellan Strait between Canal Pedro and Isla Tamar, this was the hardest part of the passage, tacking and sometimes motor sailing, making as little as 7 miles forward progress per day at times, and this was when conditions were relatively calm! It was hard work, lots of freezing rain and hail and plugging a 1 knot current the whole time. Thee are many bays to take refuge and anchor, though some suffer badly from williwaws.


 About 50 miles into the channels from Puerto Williams (PW) my engine broke. After comms with operations at PW I was authorised to make an emergency entry into Ushuaia ,Argentina, without leaving Chile. I waited one month in Ushuaia for engine repairs at the ASAFYN yacht club where I found the people very helpful and was able to locate a local mechanic to help me fix the engine. Upon arrival to Ushuaia the Prefectura sent a guy who did a fairly extensive inspection of the boat but nothing as comprehensive as outlined in the safety inspect document issued by the authorities. He was mainly interested in certificates and electronic devices on board. When I left Ushuaia I was informed that I would have another inspection. In the event, a guy came to the quay and asked me if I had everything that was required and that I was following the rules, to which I replied the affirmative. He bid me fair winds and left without setting foot on the boat. I bought diesel at the local fuel station and hired a guy with a van to ferry everything from A to B etc. the fuel was cheap but I did find that there was a little sediment residue in each container as I emptied it out on my trip, I found the fuel from Chile a lot cleaner.

Puerto Williams

From Ushuaia I returned to PW whereby I re entered the country in all respects, though the customs guy wasn’t happy that I had breached the entry/exit conditions, even though I told him I had authority from PW Operations to make the emergency entry to Argentina.

 I stocked up on a mass of fresh fruit and veg in Ushuaia. The Agriculture customs guy inspected the boat and obviously saw my provisions. He emphasized that as long as none of the produce came onto the land that it was ok to continue. I promised that it would all be gone by the time of arrival in Puerto Montt. The current management of Yacht Club Micalvi in PW was between bosses both times I was there and I ended up staying on the mooring and alongside for nothing. I would expect this to change when the management position is filled permanently. I bought diesel from the local gas station who only accept cash. Fuel cost a lot more than in Ushuaia but a lot cleaner, I think. I also recharged my British gas bottles in PW, the first opportunity I have found since I left UK.

view of the bay looking towards Puerto Williams
Puerto Williams

I would say that mooring at Micalvi YC is very secure and sheltered. I would not say that about Ushuaia where it is generally quite windy and a small boat can experience quite a lot of movement with wind and swell. The Club Nautico across the bay is a lot cheaper for mooring alongside.

 Getting the Zarpe for the channels at PW was straight forward and having submitted a rough itinerary for the whole passage, I was issued with the Zarpe there and then. You have to pay a fee in dollars cash for the lights/lighthouse system along the route.

 PW I would say is actually quite ok for provisions. They have a ferry arrive on Saturdays with fresh fruit and veg which generally stay in the shops for a couple of days. Simon and Simon are the biggest supermarket and sell quite a wide range of produce. They have quirky imports which are always changing. I found acceptable black tea, Scottish Marmalade and Danish ginger jam as well as crunchy peanut butter from Germany. Real coffee is limited and the good stuff costs 8000 pesos per pack – but is definitely worth it!

Notes on Cruising the Channels

 Cruising in the channels can involve a lot of waiting in a small boat for the right conditions, we have been very lucky so far but have also used the motor quite a bit, either in calms or motor-sailing and tacking. We used about 160 litres of fuel by the time we arrived to Puerto Eden where we were able to replenish stocks. It was expensive, 1200 pesos per litre at time of writing. There is no ATM or card payment facilities that we saw here, dollars and pesos are accepted. The only WiFi is at the school but is very sketchy. There is a data signal that is pretty good considering how remote this village is. We bought fuel from the guy in the shop near the Carabineros quay, where we were able to go alongside for a couple of days, though it did get a bit busy at times with other boats coming to refuel etc.

 All of the anchorages in the blue book that we went to have been great. We did drag anchor quite badly in one bay due to williwaws etc. Definitely we needed the means to cut kelp away from the anchor chain which gathers there in great swarths! None of the radio stations along the route as far as Eden spoke English which could be tricky without any knowledge of Spanish.

 It’s worth mentioning that sometimes the chart on the electronic plotter and the GPS actual position do not line up at times and we definitely saw rocks in real life that were not represented on the chart at all, so a good degree of caution is not a bad thing and possibly a reason not to stray from the recommended routes especially at night.

yacht near the Estero Peel Glacier
Near the Estero Peel Glacier

We have a wooden burning stove on board and there was a ton of dry wood in PW, but dry wood became scarce as we progressed as the environment is so wet and most wood was either rotten or saturated. We’ve had a fair bit of rain but not as much as I expected.

Dan Stroud


Related Links:

See Dan’s report on Anchorages in Patagonia


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or the World Cruising Club.

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