Monday, April 30, 2018

The Other Side of Easter (Easter Island Part 2)

[Kyle]After leaving Hanga Roa and moving around the Easter Island to a more protected anchorage, the wind increased as predicted during the night. We were protected from it by the cliffs at Vinapu, but the incoming swell was wrapping all around the island and pushing us to the shore end of our tether. This is disconcerting at best, but when combined with the sound of surf hitting the rocks just astern and then exploding into spray, made for a very fitful night of half sleep, half panic.

It was worse for the other boats, who had elected to stay at Hanga Roa. Even before first light we could hear bits of conversation breaking through the squelch on the radio. Every one of them had had a miserable night and the talk was all about getting the hell out of there and going to the other side of the island.

By the time we weighed anchor, two of the others were already zinging around the point. By the time we had our sails up and pulling, they were half a mile ahead of us and a third boat was on our heels. Nemo, the fourth boat, elected to go the other way around the island and have a look at Anakena.

Damn! There was only one other anchorage on the protected side of the island, called Hotuiti, and too many boats were all racing for it. Our “Head start” didn’t count on the rest having their anchors up at the first hint of light. Depths there were also supposed to be 24m, which meant putting out all of our ground tackle, which would give us a swinging circle with a diameter of 350m. The info we had indicated that there was nowhere near enough real estate for four boats to do that simultaneously.

To complicate matters, the other boats were going back and forth on the radio with the Armada about what to do. When they announced their plans to go to Hotuiti, the Armada came back and said it wasn’t safe. The conversation was broken, but after several tries, we heard the Armada say,”The charted position at Hotuiti is unsafe now because of rocks.” Rocks are bad because, a: an anchor can get wedged in a gap and be irretrievable at 24m without SCUBA gear, and 2: chain can wrap around them as the boat swings. This can reduce or eliminate the sag of the caternary and thus the chain’s ability to absorb shock, making it more likely to snap or rip the bow roller out of the deck. They recommended Anakena on the third side of the triangular island. Anakena was protected from the long swell arriving from the south, but not from the strong north winds. Since all four of us had to sail past Hotuiti to get to Anakena, the other boats explained they would have a look at it anyway as they went by. The Armada stopped short of outright prohibiting them to do so, although it sounded like they really wanted to. They just kept saying in an authoritative voice that. “Hotuiti is unsafe. Recommend Anakena.”

I keep saying “they” because we could never reach the Armada on the radio ourselves. We had started under the cliffs at Vinapu and were sailing closer to shore than the others, so our antenna may have been blocked by terrain. By the time we were all halfway to Hotuiti, the Armada said they would lose us all because their coverage was bad on the eastern side of the island.

Since we couldn’t get them by radio, we sent them an email via satellite. Technically, we were supposed to request a reposition before we left, but Vinapu was deteriorating, so we left first and then asked. The Armada here is pretty cool and we were sure they would understand. One of the three other boats on our side of the island considered stopping at Vinapu and we talked them out of it, explaining that we were bailing out. There was subsequent talk about “another catamaran” and “a fourth boat”, so we figured the Armada was in the loop.

An hour or so later, we received a short email reply saying, “Reposition Hotuiti approved.” Great!

As the four of us approached the anchorage there, it looked like a huge mess. A big swell was rolling in and turning into great big surf crashing onto the rocky shore. The group of three had been spooked by rock problems in Hanga Roa and didn’t even alter course toward the anchorage. They just sailed on by and pretty soon were disappearing around the island. The Three went to Anakena. Nemo ended up at La Perouse, in the next bay over from them.

We decided to have a look at Hotuit anyway for a couple of reasons. First was that the bay had an outcrop of rock on one side. We have been a few places where that is all that is needed to diffuse the swell and create a milder patch inside that is not apparent from further out. Second, we had the list of anchor positions for each of the island’s five anchorages, but we also had found another obscure source of info that told of a triangle (like Bermuda, only a lot smaller) of coral-free sand at a slightly different location in the bay. I was really hoping it was true.

Fortunately, the water at Easter is so clear that it’s easy to see the bottom way down at 24m. I stopped the boat in the middle of the triangle and it was indeed good, clean sand. We were outside of the surf in long 2m swell. We dropped the anchor and then let out everything we had. Up at the surface, it still felt like we were on a pretty rough sail. We had 72m of chain out, with its caternary, plus 90m of nylon rode, which can stretch another 36m before reaching 50% load, plus two high load bungees on each leg of our bridle. The idea is that we can heave up and down and sway and surge a few boat lengths each way without the anchor having to know about any of it because the shock has all been absorbed by then.

This, of course was all dependent on us not getting it all wrapped around a rock or coral head. While Maryanne wrote the Armada telling them we were safely anchored, I went for a long reconnaissance swim to check things out. I first swam to the anchor, which I couldn’t see. I saw our trip line emerging from the sand and about 15m behind it, the anchor chain appeared along the sea floor. It was good and buried and the first half wasn’t even moving. Excellent! I then swam a big spiral around the boat to find where the sand ended and to make note of any obstructions we might get wrapped around. To my surprise, the triangle was all sand and everything out of it was mostly coral heads and rock. I swam a long way and could not find another spot with a large enough patch of sand to lay out our chain. We had the one spot in the bay. It was uncomfortable on board, but we weren’t going anywhere.

When I climbed back aboard, Maryanne said, “We got an email from the Armada. You’re not going to like it.”

She was right. It was clearly translated using software. It was pretty incomprehensible, but it did not sound good. Here is the text in its entirety:


What!? I read it over and over and couldn’t figure it out. The one part that did seem pretty clear was the last line. In Spanish, ‘Earth’ and ’Land’ are the same word. ‘Drop to land’ is an expression meaning ‘to land’ or, ‘make a landing’. What was the point of coming to Hotuiti to escape the next six days of north winds if we couldn’t go ashore? Was it because they thought Hotuiti was too dangerous? Or were we being punished for not contacting them before we left Vinapu?

We were sure there was some kind of misunderstanding, but the only way to clear it up was to ask for clarification, which would mean acknowledging that we got their email. If we did that, we would lose the ability to make the argument, thin as it was, that we never got their message and didn’t know we couldn’t go ashore, which we really wanted to do because that’s why we sailed all the way here in the first place.

We took a deep dive into the rest of the email. ‘Funded’ was a misspelling of one of their common words for ‘anchored’. In Spanish, the word for ‘surrender’ is also used for report (as in to report) and deliver. That made it sound slightly less ominous, but still almost as confusing.

It was cleared up when we got a call from the Armada on the radio. I told the guy I was surprised to hear from him because I thought they said they had no signal here. He told me he was in a truck doing a lap around the island to check on all of the yachts. He flashed his headlights so we could see. He then started peppering us with questions about our last port, next port, crew aboard, etc., as if we hadn’t already told them all of that in Hanga Roa. That’s when it dawned on us that he thought we were a new international arrival that hadn’t cleared in yet. In that context, the email makes perfect (or at least more) sense: Don’t go ashore until you have reported at Hanga Roa for clearance. When we explained what happened to him, he asked us if we felt we were safely anchored where we were. We said yes and he then said to have a nice time on the island. The ride on the emotional roller coaster was over almost as quickly as it started – just like regular roller coasters.

It was getting dark already, so we were relieved to give ourselves permission to call it a day. Sitting in the cockpit, looking ashore, we decided we had the best view of any anchorage on the island. From where Begonia rolled and swayed, we could see no rusty oil tanks, only rolling hills of gold and green and blue surf crashing into white spray on volcanic rocks. Beyond, the fifteen moais of Tongariki stood perfectly centered and facing the Rano Raraku volcano from which they were created.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

First Impressions: Easter Island

[Kyle]After having spent twenty days to get there, our next challenge was getting ashore. There is much written about how treacherous the approach to the main harbor at Hanga Roa can be. Most of the people we have met that have actually been there insisted the only way to get in was with an inflatable equipped with a powerful enough motor to get it to plane. The entrance often has surf breaking across it and it is critical to shoot in quickly during a gap.

Our Portland Pudgy/Torqueedo combo is marvelously efficient and durable, but it’s not fast. It was suggested that our best option would be to either flag down a local fisherman in a panga or hope another boat is in the anchorage who wouldn’t mind letting us tag along.

There were four other sailboats anchored off Hanga Roa when we arrived. Three of them seemed to be a sealed unit of friends that had been sailing together since at least mainland Ecuador. The fourth, called Nemo, were deep into a tricky engine repair and hadn’t even had the time to start thinking about inflating their dinghy yet. The officials who came out to perform our agricultural clearance were vague about it, but said something to the effect that they didn’t think the pangas did pickups any more.

Luckily for us, it was unusually calm and the swells were not too bad, so we decided to give the Pudgy a try. It turned out to be completely doable for us. Thinking about it later after a few round trips, I realized the “You MUST have a dinghy capable of going twenty knots” advice suffered from a kind of confirmation bias. People with dinghies that fast use them to go fast and have probably never tried a low-speed entry. It was hairy for them, so they incorrectly assumed their speed was the only thing that saved them. The pangas do it, too, probably because that’s how they were originally taught and how they’ve done it ever since.

Plus, it IS faster. They bounce stories off of each other and in short order, everyone agrees a fifty horsepower engine is the minimum needed and then it enters into common knowledge.

Now, I’m not arguing that there aren’t times when that is completely true, but the proportion of those times to the total has probably been artificially inflated, the way some people think a mile is too far to walk because they always hop into their car if they have to go that far.

We essentially used the same technique they did of timing the waves and using strategic bursts of speed to minimize their impact. We just had to go through three waves each time instead of one, which is also exactly what the surfers and va’as (outrigger canoes) did. When arriving, we would match our speed to the breaker and surf in. Leaving, as one approached, we would stop, let it break under us and then speed to the next one.

Some of the sights on route from the harbor to the crater

Setting foot ashore for the first time, we were not given any sort of a buffer as we wandered in search of the real Easter Island. Looming over the harbor was our first Moai, gazing beneficently over the green hills with a look of proud peace. The rest of the adjacent area had the pleasant air of a laid back tourist town. There were dive shops, souvenir stores, backpackers hospedajes and several surprisingly appealing restaurants, but they were all support structure that seemed superfluous to the real thing; the Moai. Nothing is more archetypal to Easter than these enormous ancient statues. Standing in its shadow, one cannot feel like they are anywhere else. After a lifetime of seeing it on documentaries portrayed as an amazing and remote place, we were finally here. It certainly made it feel like many of the compromises we had made over the years had ultimately been worth it, even though it was often hard to tell at the time. The kid deep within me was thrilled. We had made it to the ancestral home of the Easter Bunny.

After the requisite visit to the Armada to confirm our presence out their window, we started to explore the local area. This started as a brief familiarization with the village of Hanga Roa but, in the way these things do, it quickly morphed into much more.

Much of the blame was on the weather. The wind was forecast to shift in the middle of the night and Hanga Roa was not going to be safe. We needed to move to the leeward side of the island and we needed to do it today. I calculated backwards from the latest time I wanted to be dropping the anchor and came up with something like six hours for us to explore. This meant we had to make some hard choices to delay seeing some of the things we wanted until a later day, which carried the risk of turning into never if the weather didn’t cooperate. The thing we decided we just had to try to see was the ‘Orongo volcano. From the harbor, we could see a trail snaking its way up the flank to the rim. We decided we should at least try to get to the top.

It was a bit of a slog. The slope was about forty degrees, which gets a little tedious very quickly. This is not helped by the fact that Easter is still a low tree environment (the island was deforested during the Moai era). The morning sun was just about perpendicular to the slope and we were baking in a big solar oven. Stopping eased the muscle burn, but did not allow us to cool off.

Helping to keep us going were our companions. Like in Robinson Crusoe, we were adopted by not one, but two dogs who were determined to accompany us to the top. Not having our ability to perspire, they dealt with the heat by panting. They never gave up, though, and once even tried unsuccessfully to clear a small herd of cattle out of our path. By the time we were closing on the rim, Maryanne remarked that it sounded like we were being accompanied by two steam locomotives.

We were starting to doubt the wisdom of the whole enterprise ourselves when we crested the rim and saw the expanse of the Rano Kau crater. Filled with rain water, the 1km wide lake is Easter’s largest endemic flora reserve. The rim gave us a 360 degree view of the whole island.

We had intended to see the view and get back, but the trail continued just a little further (and up) the rim to what looked like some more cool stuff. We looked at our watches and decided we could probably just make it. Our locomotives wandered off to find other people to help and we felt strangely abandoned for two people who didn’t even have pets an hour and a half earlier. At the end of the trail was the ‘Orongo ceremonial village. Built of circular walls of stone, the village was the residence of the Island’s supreme ruler – the Bird Man, where he would spend the year in monastic isolation until replaced by the next Bird Man. The village was amazingly well preserved and quite extensive, having over 60 different buildings that were very robustly built to a very high standard. None of them were apparently ever occupied by anyone other than the Bird Man except briefly for ceremonies. It reminded us of other Neolithic sites we have seen in the Orkneys and Shetlands in the British Isles.

The Bird Man thing is nuts. It is essentially an athletic and daredevil competition that was held every year to pick the leader. It started at the village. Competitors then ran down the loose and steep slope of the volcano to the sea, where they would then swim to Motu Nui through treacherous currents. Once there, they would wait, sometimes for days if necessary, for the return of the Sooty Terns. The first one to gather an egg, swim back, climb the volcano and present their egg unbroken was declared Bird Man, whose prize was to spend the next year ruling while having as little contact with others as possible. Apparently, they still have the event every year and they still have a regular supply of competitors who think of the Ironman and the Eco Challenge as cute little warm-up events.

Crater and some of the village buildings and carvings

We lingered at the village just a little past our turn-around time and had to make a point of Bird Manning it down the trail to the harbor. When we got there, we ran into trouble with the dinghy. Because of the surge, the harbor is crisscrossed with heavy ropes. Boats tie a line to the wall and another to the ropes to keep from banging into the wall. We did the same, but in our absence, the tide fell about a meter. My knot around the big rope was too high for me to reach. It would be too late to leave in daylight if we waited for the tide to come back up, so I had to figure out how to get to our line. I thought about shimmying out, but then I realized I have probably reached an age where I only think I can do that. I eventually ended up climbing up on the bow of a panga and leaning way out to untie our line with my fingertips. I noticed people were starting to gather and I knew it was because they were hoping to see me fall in. If I had been a betting man, I would have sided with them. If asked, I would have given myself about a 30% chance of success. In a way, I was almost hoping I would go in. Losing my battle to stay dry and maintain my dignity would have freed me up to do a larger range of stupid things to get our line back, thus improving my odds. To everyone’s surprise, I was able to get our line untied and after a few long, wobbly seconds, managed to fall back into the panga, instead of over the rail.

Back at Begonia, we made quick work of getting the dinghy up and getting the anchor raised. Our route took us around the ‘Orongo volcano and past the Motu Iti and Motu Nui. I scanned the slope looking for some route down that was not obvious from the top, but all I could see was steep, loose scree all of the way from the top down to the water. It is the kind of terrain where if you slip, you won’t stop sliding until your body splashes into the sea.

We came around the corner and anchored at Vinapu, just off the opposite end of the island’s enormous runway from Hanga Roa. We had chosen it because it was only one subway stop from downtown, but it turns out the subway was still in the very early planning stages, so we got no help there. The anchorage was small and deep, requiring a huge kerfuffle of trip lines and chain floats. The swell broke over the rocks all around us and we could see no safe way to land the dinghy. In addition, our view of the island was dominated by two large, rusty oil tanks, which ruined the atmosphere of the place as ancient and unspoiled. We decided our Vinapu stop would be one night only.

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