Monday, April 30, 2018

Passage to Easter Island

[Kyle]When Bahia Tierra Blanca began to get sloppy again with swell coming in from an approaching front, we knew it was time to leave.

The wind shift from N to SSW was to be in the middle of the night, so we left in headwinds, leaving enough daylight to clear the island and find deep water.

We reefed everything down, but were still bashing our way into thirty knot gusts and big seas. Our only consolation was that it was to be short-lived. It took a little longer than we thought, because our speed was slowing the relative overtake of the front behind us. Just after an exhausted Maryanne handed the watch over to me at midnight, the headwind dropped to almost nothing and then sprang up from astern. Three hours later, I had the spinnaker up and we were tearing a groove in a calming sea.

A squall came through a little while later and the wind built to almost twenty. That's way more than I like while the spinnaker is up, but getting it down alone is a huge ordeal in those winds, so I just steered dead downwind for a bit to lessen its intensity and held on for a fifteen-minute gallop until the cell passed and the wind dropped back into comfortable single digits.

Birds and other boats were rare sights for much of the trip
Unlike sunsets and our own ship

When I woke Maryanne, all had been reduced to a gentle swaying downwind ride with the background hiss of our fast wake. That's the stuff! As we were doing weather/breakfast/emails, another shower arrived and the wind started to pick up again. I went on deck and studied it for a bit before assuring myself it was isolated and not part of a bigger system. I decided to do the same as that morning and turn downwind to ride it out. The wind got up to 22 knots and the boat to 13 before things started to calm down again. We were just sitting down to breakfast when there was a slow boom (if you can imagine such a thing). I looked at the spinnaker and saw only a triangle of sky framed by the sail's flapping hems. The main fabric had peeled away like a banana and fallen into the sea ahead of us like a big tongue. Damn!

It took us a while to wrestle the remains out of the water and stuff it into its bag. Now all we had left was normal sails. How boring.

Boring wasn't really the problem. Our normal working sails are great, but on deep downwind courses in anything other than flat seas, it's almost impossible to get them to set without banging back and forth as the mast swings around, whereas the spinnaker just sways gently from side to side. Former spinnaker, that is. Well, it is what it is, so we used every sail trimming trick we know to try to keep them calm while trying our best to tune out any remaining racket.

The direct course to Easter Island was WNW, but there was a huge area of headwinds that way, so our only choice was to sail almost due north for several hundred miles to reach the trade winds, where we could find easterlies to push us West. It was disheartening to know Easter was to our left, while each new forecast told us the best course was to keep going ìsidewaysî to the north, putting us few miles closer. Adding to the stress was that since I had left and reentered the country to get parts, a limiting factor for us was the number of days Maryanne had left that she was allowed to stay n Chile. Going the wrong way was making our stay in Easter looking like it was going to be shorter and shorter.

It was a week before we were finally able to curve west, making a long arc around remote Felix and Ambrosia Islands. I had the light on Ambrosia for company at night and the top could be seen receding the next morning. It was still not quite the right direction, but it was closer. Easter was now WSW of us.

That day, Maryanne caught a fish. She's always so disappointed every time she tries, but this time, it happened like it does to other people; she decided she wanted a fish, she put in a line, and a few minutes later, she caught a fish - a yellowfin tuna just the right size for two or three meals. When she pulled it out of the water, I noticed its buddy swimming alongside. Are we about to callously eat half of a couple? I prefer food where I don't have to look their mate in the eye before ending their life. Anyway, I did my best to put it out of my mind. Maryanne is a wonderful cook and that fish WAS fresh.

We then had days and days of tailwinds weaker than forecast and mostly cloudy skies where what little sun we got was invariably on the opposite side of the sails from the solar panels. Our batteries suffered and we had to run a motor for a few hours every day or so to keep them from dying. We ran them more than we had cumulatively in the past six months. The forecasts kept saying not to turn left yet. No wind, slatting sails, lots of motoring, and we still aren't going the right way. When will this trip end?

The only event of other note to mention came on Day 9. We spotted not one, but two fishing vessels traveling the same course about ten miles apart. The second one looked to be coming quite close. He did not seem to be trailing any gear and was showing no day signal for fishing, so he seemed to be just a big power boat at the moment, making him the give way vessel. Maryanne called them to verify this and was told they were expecting us to stand on (maintain course and speed). They would give way. She then had a longish chat with them. They were a Spanish crew on an Ecuadoran boat that spent three months at a time fishing.

As they approached, they seemed to be distinctly not altering course. Every time a change in wind would change our speed, they seemed to alter course TOWARDS us. Maryanne called again and was told quite vehemently to stand on. She was worried about making a change that would block his impending course change, so she kept standing on. He WAS on a course to pass ahead of us, but only by about fifty feet. When he got too close, Maryanne disconnected the autopilot, spun the helm to leeward and backed the sail. I emerged from bed just as his wake slammed into us. What the hell? I guess the lonely Spaniards wanted to get a close look at the cute English woman.

It was well after we should have already been there when a front passed to the south of us and changed the headwinds there to tailwinds. All we had to do was motor across a hundred miles of calm to get there. Fine.

We spent a day motoring in flat water, which was nice, but loud. We shut the engine down, bobbed around a bit and then gradually, the wind arrived. It was enough to keep us moving, but not enough to keep the sails from banging around in the building swell. The afternoon after that, the wind arrived in earnest and we were finally moving smartly. Twenty-four hours after wishing we could find some bloody wind, we were double reefed and careening down big swells and I was wishing it would start to die down, already. I like medium wind. At least we were ticking off the miles.

On day 20 of our 14-day passage, I awoke during Maryanne's day watch and decided to say hi. When I emerged, she pointed out a mound of red rock ahead topped with golden grass - Easter Island. Well, I'll be.

It took us most of the day to sail around to the main harbor at Hanga Roa, which was almost at the far extreme from our direction of approach. About halfway, we passed into the lee of the island. This had the welcome effect of calming the wind and seas, but also gave us our first smell of the island. It smells mostly of dry grass and dust, even though it's not particularly dry or dusty, with occasional areas of Eucalyptus and a few other fragrant herbs. It smells like a hot summer day when the fields have been freshly cut.

One other noticeable thing to us was the lack of birds. Everywhere else we have ever made landfall, the last two hundred miles or so has been marked by an increasing incidence of seabirds. Usually, we see more dolphins and fish as well.

Approaching Easter, we had none of that. We saw one lone Frigate bird before we saw the island itself. Easter is in an area with very little plankton. Without them, everything up the chain that feeds on them is also absent. This makes it pretty boring, marine biology-wise, but makes for some of the best underwater visibility in the world.

That visibility helped us when we dropped all of our ground tackle overboard onto a sand patch that we could clearly see from on deck. It was eighty feet below the water's surface. We could also see several moai from the boat already!

We had just shut off the engines when we were boarded by the authorities. With formalities complete, we tidied Begonia up and both got to have our first full night's sleep in weeks AND at the same time!

Finally Land Ho! and after another half day we were anchored in sight of some of the famous Easter Island Moais

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Robinson Crusoe Island - Bahia Tierra Blanca

[Kyle]It was blowing hard from the south all day after our exploration of San Juan Bautista. We spent the time aboard getting ready to go to sea and just trying to hold on while the chop in Cumberland Bay threw Begonia around. Getting the Pudgy into lifeboat mode was like we had both been strapped to a mechanical bull. I wore nothing but swim trunks for the procedure, which turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, but only just.

Maryanne spent her time being teased by the internet, which is less exhausting, but at least as frustrating. She kept getting two bars just long enough to connect before losing the signal. After a day's work, I think all she was able to do is see that she had some emails, but not much more than the subject line.

By morning, the bay was flat and clear and calm. It seemed like a perfect morning to go ashore, but the dinghy was all trussed up with safety gear and lashed into her crook in the transom. It was a trick by the weather anyway, meant to lull us into a sense of security before the ambush.

We laboriously pulled up the anchor as well as all of the chain and rope we had deployed when we arrived and headed out to the other side of the island, where we would be protected from the fierce winds approaching from the North. There was no hint of them yet. We didn't even have enough to even consider trying to put up any sail.

After a few hours motoring, we arrived at Bahia Tierra Blanca and redeployed all of our ground tackle at the center of a semicircle of high cliffs to the North.

The sail around the Island was quite stunning

Along the way, we had imagined we would don snorkel gear and find a beach to which to swim. Looking at it now, we realized it was all folly. There was no beach, only steep cliffs. Every semi-accessible ledge was occupied by big fur seals vigorously competing for the best spots. The leftover 3m swell from strong South winds of the day before were slamming into the cliffs, exploding in great fireworks of spray and then sending the remainder reflecting back into the bay. The sea was a mess. The chop in the bay was from no discernible direction, other than all of them, but it was big. The bay looked like a giant ballroom full of square dancers all repeatedly stretching apart, grabbing the edge of the next group, and pulling back together. Yuck! At least we had the bay to ourselves.

The bay is a rookery(?) for Jaun Fernandez Fur Seals
It may be hard to see them on the photos but they are everywhere!

For a while, at least.

Just after sunset, the lights of three other boats arrived and began poking around for spots to anchor. Maryanne noted that the four of us had been the four biggest boats in Cumberland Bay that morning (the only boats not here were small open fishing boats). It was now us, a big steel fishing boat, a slightly smaller steel fishing boat, and the Armada's patrol boat. The wind was really starting to blow by then and they each took several tries to get their anchors to hold.

The offshore wind had the welcome effect of organizing the waves so they were all gong the same general direction and flattening them slightly, so we stopped bouncing around so much. Under the lee of the cliffs, the wind swirled into vortices that spun round the bay until they got far enough from shore to be flattened by the general blow. Forty knot gusts would have us pulling hard on our nylon rode and bridle, which we could see stretching under the strain. Then the wind would die to nothing and Begonia would spring forward. Before she could coast to a stop, another forty knot gust from a completely different quarter would veer us in another direction. Occasionally, the gust would come from behind and we'd pick up enough speed to be able to see eddies form in the wake of our hulls. When we got to the other side of our circle, Begonia would snap around to face the new wind before it died again. Times like this are why you don't skimp on ground tackle.

We had a fitful night of light sleep interrupted by frequent trips on deck with a floodlight to check on everything. There were no lights ashore and few stars visible, so it often took a few nervous minutes to verify that we were staying put. This wasn't helped by the other boats, who seemed to be in a new position every time we looked.

As the day broke, the wind was howling loudly enough that Maryanne and I had to shout any time we weren't sat right next to each other. The big fishing boat had moved way over to the other side of the bay and seemed to be holding okay. The smaller one (still bigger than us) was having a rough time. They were in yet another position. We watched them for a bit and after ten minutes or so, it was apparent that they were dragging. They would let it go another five until it was obvious their anchor wasn't resetting, and then they would pull it up, go find another spot and repeat. They had only a small anchor attached to what seemed like not nearly enough rope and no chain at all. We felt bad when we realized it had been like that for them the whole dark, stormy night.

After a while, they finally gave up and got out an anchor it looked like it took all three of them to lift and dropped it over the side before sprawling out on deck for a rest. That anchor held twice as long before they realized they were headed back into deep water. Rather than haul the thing up, the skipper would gun the engines and tow their anchor behind until he found another spot. We cringed and braced for a lurch when he circled ahead of us, waiting for his hook to catch our rode. The bay was deep and our anchor was WAY ahead of us. It didn't happen, but he seemed to really like the spot where it was. He would stop ahead of us, let the anchor fall, rest for twenty minutes until it was apparent he was getting a little too close to us, and then go back up for another try in the same spot. The chances we would both end up out at sea trying to untangle ourselves from each other's anchors increased each time.

The Armada was dragging as well, but they seemed less concerned. Somebody was always awake at the helm, so they would just start 'em up and re-anchor every hour or so.

We were getting ready for another stressful night, when we saw the men in the fishing boat ahead heave up their anchor and start steaming for the end of the island. The other one followed and then the Armada joined in. Before they left, the skipper called us and asked if we were going, too. We told them that since the wind was to be from the North for a few days, we would stay where we were. We had already arranged such at the office and they knew we would be leaving the island directly from Bahia Tierra Blanca.

He didn't seem to like this and started a difficult to understand argument about how the wind was going to come from the South and so we needed to leave. He seemed to be working from a forecast of the general area that he had printed before he left Bahia Cumberland. Our more specific forecast was for about six hours of ten knot winds from the South before switching back to the North again. There was no way our Spanish was up to explaining the nuance of this to him, so we just kept saying our anchor was secure and we would be safe. I was worried he was going to order us to leave, but he thankfully stopped short of that, saying something to the effect of, Okay, but you agree to assume all responsibility

Yes. Fine, fine. Gracias, Buenos Noches

We spent the next three days aboard in lovely weather. Apart from an occasional fishing boat in the distance during the day, it looked from Begonia like we had all of Robinson Crusoe Island all to ourselves.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Robinson Crusoe Island

[Maryanne]Robinson Crusoe Island is one of the islands on the Chilean Juan Fernandez Group. It is the island where Alexander Selkirk was alone for over 4 years and it is Selkirks story that is the inspiration for the (fictional) Daniel Defoe novel 'Robinson Crusoe'. It has a population of around 700-900 and a small runway so does have a smattering of tourists. It also has the best diving visibility in Chile (20m+) so scuba diving is a big draw. There is only one town on the island: town of San Juan Bautista at Cumberland Bay (where we anchored). In 2010 the main town was mostly wiped out by a tsunami so many of the buildings seen now are temporary (e.g. the post office is a shipping container) or newly and beautifully constructed from local wood. Note there is also a Robinson Crusoe Island near Fiji, but that isn't this one...

The island is also very special for its native species. According to the Island Conversation Organization "The islands host fifteen resident/breeding bird species, six of which are globally threatened, and 131 endemic plant species, of which 96 are globally threatened. More than 440 endemic invertebrate species, three endemic land-bird species, and the endemic Juan Fernández fur seal depend on these islands for their existence." It also has a little competitive edge with the Galapagos and regularly shares that "The islands are sixty-one times richer in endemic plant species per square kilometre and thirteen times greater in endemic bird richness than the Galápagos". Whatever the case, we know we are especially lucky to be visiting.

Two endemics:
The hummingbird: Juan Fernandez Firecrown
Feeding on the Cabbage Tree flower

[Kyle]Having arrived at the island around sunset, we landed the dinghy the following morning on the rocky beach and walked to the Armada to check in. The Armada in Chile is always friendly, but I’m getting a little weary of the process. Every time, instead of looking at our existing zarpe and checking us in on their computer system, we have to go through the whole procedure anew as if they have never seen us before, answering a zillion questions so they can prepare and print us a new zarpe, even though all of that information is already on the zarpe we just handed them. We always think we’ll just pop in for five minutes, but end up staying over an hour or more. {Maryanne: Poor Kyle remains 'surprised' every time it happens, but it isn't so terrible and the folks are always so nice..., we just have to learn to plan for the extra time.}.

During what was left of our day, we went to CONAF (the Chilean National Parks Department) and paid our fees to enter the park, which encompasses the whole island outside of the one town. There wasn’t time left to tackle any of the many long trails in the area, so we spent the rest of our day exploring everything within the town and adjacent, before rowing back for an early night. Among the highlights were the Caves of the Patriots (where Spanish patriots were exiled after Chilean independence), and the older fort wall, and plenty of WW2 war fortifications along with some much older cannons. There is also a beautifully built wooden walkway built into the hill with numerous gazebos from which to chill and enjoy the views, a perfect place for a stroll.

Rain was forecast the next afternoon, so we made a point of hitting the beach at first light to get on the trail to the Selkirk lookout before it got wet. As we were making our way up the hill on the town’s roads, we encountered lots of friendly dogs and cats, all looking for a scratch. At one hostel, a Very large (scary large) black dog that looked part German Shepard, part Rottweiler got up and came to the open gate to see us. The only threatening thing about him was his size, so I took a chance at giving him a pat on the head.

That was it. We were friends now. He was so excited because he knew where we were going and was going to show us the way, bounding ahead in full puppy mode. The climb was steep and we were going slowly, but he was always just ahead at the next bend, waiting for us.

When we made it to a gazebo at a viewpoint about three quarters of the way up, he plopped down in a corner like he owned the place. From high up, we could see the whole valley. A freighter had arrived as well as a giant cruise ship! We beat that crowd.

We continued further up to the top, where we were supposed to be able to see down the other side of the island. All we could see on that side was thick fog as the approaching weather rushed up the slope, broke through the saddle and tore into fragments as it headed down the Cumberland side.

We stopped for a break, sharing some of our snacks with our new friend. He was so gentle, we could hardly feel him taking his share from our hands.

When we started back down, he got a second wind and had a jolly old time diving into bushes and streams and digging for something he wanted to root out that we never could figure. At some point, Maryanne figured out he really liked the little red berries that were growing alongside the trail. Most of them at his height seemed to be gone for some reason, so she plucked a few high ones for him to his delight. Great! How are we supposed to fit him in the dinghy?

As we got to the edge of town, he tore off, chasing something or other. We thought he was gone, but then he returned a few minutes later wet and covered in another layer of mud. He was so clean when we met him. How were we going to explain this?

After running off a third time, at which time we were pretty sure he went home, a Conaf truck passed by and offered us a ride. The rain had already been late in arriving, so we took him up on it.

As soon as we started rolling, that big black dog came bounding out of the trees and started chasing the truck. He kept up for a while and then veered back into the trees. We came around a switchback and there he was again, sitting on the sidewalk. He made eye contact with me and gave me a look that cried, “Why?, why did you leave me?” I felt like such a traitor.

I had a pretty good mind to go back up to the hostel and pet him goodbye, but we needed to go to the Armada first to collect our papers. After that, we got swept up in a stream of cruise ship passengers headed the same way on their way to a party.

We chatted with one of them and found out the ship (the Oceania Sirena) was on a luxury around-the-world cruise. They had just arrived from Easter Island. It sounded like an amazing trip.

The other side of the mountain was totally cloaked in mist
The temporary post office (after a recent tsunami) remains
And the party is all ready to roll

At the party, we had to fend off the advances of the waiters holding trays of empanadas and Pisco Sours (they assumed we were from the cruise ship). In retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t have. They were just most likely going to throw the unused stuff away.

The party was just getting into full swing when we climbed into the dinghy. Right after that, the sky opened up and it rained hard for hours. By the time we were back at Begonia, our clothes were stuck to us and the music ashore had stopped. Several hours later, we heard the ship’s horn blast and were just able to see them disappear into thick fog and rain.

Leaving for Robinson Crusoe Island

{Maryanne: I'd really wanted to spend some time in the museums and more socializing generally, but we were suffering from a host of computer issues and knew we would soon be well away from internet of any speed - I felt compelled to try and 'fix' and update (and test) everything possible, even in our last minutes while Kyle was pushing to leave with the tide. Every '5-minute job' I was trying to complete turned into several hours... Eventually we just had to give up and go without.. Sigh.. But it also meant I sacrificed my expected Museum time on the darn technology.. Ugh! In the midst of all the pressured 'rush' our kind neighbours aboard Sea Rover cooked for us again which was both a wonderful pressure relief and another fantastic evening.}

[Kyle]Our new marina-friends came and waved us off as we left Valdivia for the sail to Robinson Crusoe Island. We had three days of strong winds and big seas, which were made a little less uncomfortable by both coming from way aft of the beam. I wouldn’t characterize it as pleasant sailing, though, and we were both glad that our good progress was making it look like a fourth night at sea wouldn’t be necessary. When the wind started to die off on the last day, we had to deploy the spinnaker to make it to the anchorage at Cumberland Bay by nightfall.

Farewell to the Chilean mainland
and 'Ata 'ata and Sea Rover II