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.

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