May 4, Caleta Gallant, Strait of Magellan Day 2

(written May 4, 2010 on Persimmon. Bahia Tilly, Strait of Magellan, Chile)

We are all gathered around the table having breakfast at 11am. A rather late start compared to previous days. Well, we are not sailing today so we can afford some luxury. I only got out of bed 30mins ago. I am not feeling a 100% today and felt like a decent rest. I am so grateful that we are not sailing. It would have been tough. We have also acquired a guest.
Bob, is an Australian sailor, who is single handedly sailing around the world joined us for dinner last night and self-invited himself for breakfast (and I have a feeling the rest of our daily meals) this morning. Bob started his trip in 2002 and is taking his sweet time to finish his trip. He is trying to sail (instead of motoring) as much as possible which is commendable and explains his slow progress. Let’s go back to our dinner party from last night. Yes, we did throw a dinner party on a boat in the middle of nowhere and wait until you hear about our feast. But first things first.
Yesterday morning we woke up at a reasonable hour – 8.30am which is our usual getting up time. Soon after we got up, I was fidgeting about the cabin, getting the boat ready to depart, when I heard the boys talking to someone outside in Spanish. I quickly ran out because I suspected what was happening and happily confirmed my expectations. The night before as we were coming to the anchorage spot we spotted a small fishing boat that had stopped for the night. Ian had got us talking about centollas (crabs) even before we left Ushuaia. That is why we had prepared ourselves by buying some ‘exchange’ cigarettes that we could trade in for some freshly caught crabs. In the last few days I had talked about crabs everyday as I have been getting tired of our carbs intense diet of potatoes, pasta and rice and have been craving fresh fish and seafood. So, when I heard the boys talking to the fishermen that morning I was ecstatic. We thought we would have to look for them but instead they came to us asking for cigarettes. We were more than happy to trade with them. They went away for a few minutes to get the crabs and came back with six deliciously looking sea spiders, still very much alive and kicking! We got them all in exchange of three packets of cheap cigarettes. Ian had told us that they had previously traded only two packs of cigarettes but I didn’t want to be stingy. I asked the guys what they thought about the exchange rate and we all agreed to give them all three packs. By the look on their faces I’d say they were happy. They probably thought they’d even cheated us. That night half of these crabs made for a delicious meal for four for less than $3. More about that later though. The fishermen grabbed onto the cigarettes rather vigorously and desperately. We thought they hadn’t had a smoke in a while but when we asked them we were surprised to find out they had only smoked the day before. They must have been desperate.
This ‘cigarettes in exchange of fresh crabs’ trick is very nice. It is nothing to do with the value of each item. Under normal circumstances nobody would trade so many crabs for three packs of cigarettes. But here in the Chilean Canals, such barter is rather popular due to the remoteness of the location. Good for us.
We got our crabs, took our photos, stocked them in a bucket and shoved them in the bathroom. Not a great last resting place but the best we could offer. The buggers were trying to crawl out and escape! We were not losing them by keeping them in the shaky cockpit. So, we finally got ourselves ready and left Caleta Gallant, our first anchorage in the Strait of Magellan. That morning we decided to sail instead of using the engine but the water of the strait were unusually calm. To an observer we were standing still, rocking on the small waves. To us on the boat it felt like standing still. The only thing detecting any movement was our speedometer, indicating a staggering 0.8 knots! And that is before it went down to 0.6 knots. Which is about 1 mile per hour. We could have floated there all day. We stood there observing the same little lighthouse for over an hour. Rather frustrating, the boys playing with the sails, pulling and tying everytime the wind changed. And it changed every two seconds. After a while when another change of sails was about to take place I suggested we better wait a bit before we waste any more energy into useless adjustments. After a while we all decided our sailing efforts were useless and that we needed to start the engine if we were to get anywhere that day. The rest of the day we spent mostly sailing. After a bit of motoring we got into a section of the strait that had reasonably favourable winds if a northwesterly wind is considered favourable when you are sailing west. In order to catch the wind we have to position ourselves at a 45º angle which means we can’t sail in a straight line most of the time but in zigzag. Imagine a straight channel and now imagine the boat going back-and-forth widthwise. That means that we are doing a lot of miles but only gaining a few towards our destination. It involves a lot of work pulling ropes and constant attention. You don’t want crashing into the coast. Which we almost did yesterday.
It was Liam, Mario, and I in the cockpit, hanging out, sailing. We had to ‘tack’ (sailing term for that zigzag maneuver) often, in short time intervals. The current on the right side of the channel was with us and we tried to make the most of it, which involved many mini zigzags in the right half of the channel. Each time we try to get as close to the shore as possible as to gain more distance forward on our next move. So this time we all got distracted talking and before we knew it we were too close to the shore of this little island. Mario looked at it and before he had time to say ‘We are getting pretty close here…’ we were a mere 15m away from the rocks. Next thing I know Mario jumps and pushes the steering wheel to the right, while Liam is rolling the genoa (a type of sail). Obviously we didn’t hit anything but we sure were close. Liam didn’t realize how close we were until we had tacked and turned the boat. He didn’t even know there was a small island right in front of us. As for our dearest captain – he didn’t even know what had happened until he read this post a day later. He was in the cabin when it all happened.
After all this excitement almost all went against us – the wind died, there was no more favourable current, and it was getting dark. We went on for a little longer and then we attempted to tack again. Another fun thing happened here. I was behind the steering wheel while the guys were winding ropes, etc. As I was turning I must have done something wrong because the boat just stopped. There was no wind to turn it the way we wanted it to be and our only option was to turn 360º in the opposite direction before we could continue. It was funny! Going round and round. For some reason it reminds me of a funny children’s song:
The wheels on the bus go round and round,
round and round.
The wheels on the bus go round and round,
round and round…
-It is really embarrassing when this happens – Ian said looking at me.
– Well, what can I do, the wind died – I defended myself.
– It never happens to me – he said, smiling mischievously. As long as it doesn’t happen twice in a row – he added still smiling.
After this little fun we had, we tried to sail for a bit longer, but the wind had really died down. In order to catch it we would have to go in the wrong direction and we really didn’t have much daylight left to allow for any experiments. We switched on the engine and powered through the last couple of miles. I steered into the anchorage leaving only the last, tricky bits to Ian.
The Aussie sailor, Bob, was already there and we simply tied ourselves to his boat, instead of tying our own ropes to the shore. Well, at least this was the initial idea. Later, Ian decided it was better to use our own lines to the shore as an added safety measure. We released the anchor after some fidgeting as something had gone wrong and the mechanism wasn’t functioning properly. We pretty much had to pull it down with our own hands. Mario and Liam hopped into the dhingy (inflatable boat), rowed to the shore and tied the ropes onto some mighty looking trees. Every time we tie the ropes we hope the trees are strong enough to hold us. After all this was done it was time to focus on our dinner. What a dinner it was…!
While the boys were busy with ropes in the dark I quickly undressed from my sailors outfit, tidied up the cabin a bit and get on with making a cake for desert. It was then time to chop up the crabs but not until Mario scraped all the eggs from the lady crabs (which was most of them!). Now that was a very unpleasant procedure, for the lady crabs that is, as we stole all their babies and probably hurt them in the process. All that after we had let them suffocate for a whole day. Very cruel indeed! So back to chopping off those legs…Ian advised me to not bother with the body as it didn’t hole any meat. It was obvious as soon as you lifted the back of it.
I didn’t think there was enough crab meat for all of us that’s why Liam was also preparing a nice vegetable curry. As I was chopping the legs off though the pile grew larger and larger and I realized that there would be plenty for all. I used sea water to boil them and I only prepared half of them. We made a nice butter-garlic sauce and the feast was on! I forgot to mention our entrees though. While I was busy chopping legs off, Mario opened a couple of bottles of Argentinian wine, and arranged some crackers, cheese and cold meats on the table. I mean what is a dinner party without starters!
Crabs were ready, and we wasted no time in cracking them open with pliers, knives and forks. The meat was so soft and tender; it almost melted in my mouth. Add that melted butter and garlic and you have achieved perfection. Once we were done with the crabs, it was time for Liam’s scrummy cabbage curry. Another success story!
Once we have devoured it all Mario kindly washed the pile of dirty dishes and pots which is rather an accomplishment when you have to economize on the fresh water. Better yet, do not use it. We wash most dishes with sea water gathered in a bucket. We prepare some soapy water in a side bowl, soap everything and then rinse it in the bucket. At least this is what I do. But I know the guys all have their own ways.
It was then time to relax and rest. I was pretty tired by the end of the evening, having spent the whole day out on the deck. And so was everybody else. Bob, Ian, and Liam though got into this major philosophical discussion which got us through the small hours of the morning. It was 1am when Ian finally said he was going to bed. The shut Bob up and the party went their separate ways. Of course we couldn’t go to bed before another rope was tied to the shore from the front of the boat. Ian’s added safety idea. At 1am. Sleepy Liam volunteered to row to the small island in front of us and tie the rope.
When all that was done, we all went to bed. Another excellent day of sailing. Fun.
PS I forgot to mention all the wild life we saw that day. Cormorants among other sea birds are a constant, we also see sea lions jumping in and out of the water rather often, and sometimes, only sometimes if we are lucky we see penguins swimming. Today we also saw a steamer duck passing by the boat. It is a rather funny creature – it can’t fly but it makes up for it by almost running on the water, and flapping its wings in circular movements. You will be surprised how fast it can go. The fishermen we got the crabs from also offered us some sea urchins (a furry ball full of eggs basically). More on the wildlife later…
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