Final Preperations in Puerto Williams
The Beagle Channel is one of of those areas that cruisers will often argue over as being the most spectacular in the world. Its a stream of water that separates Argentina’s southernmost tip; Tierra del Fuego on the East, from the many islands belonging to the thin country of Chile to the West. It marks the beginning of the journey for Antarctic bound cruisers.
We docked in Puerto Williams late afternoon, a harbour which owes it’s character to a charming old sunken naval ship; the Micalvi. Decommissioned in 1961 and anchored in Puerto Williams harbour as a pontoon; it was declared a historical ship and museum. It is the main docking pontoon of the harbour for boats to tie up alongside.
In 2007, part of the ship was cleverly refurbished as a clubhouse and restaurant. Flags and memorabilia’s signed by crew from all around the world on their return from expeditions around Cape Horn and Antarctica fill every inch of the walls.
The excitement of the expedition truly hit us as we celebrated our pre departure with a few too many of Chile’s famous pisco sours, I let myself be consumed by the jet lag and fell asleep on the couch as the crew continued the celebration. I woke early morning to the sound of creaking timber floorboards as the crew eagerly assembled on deck for the final preperations for departure. We rigged the safety lines and rechecked all lines were secure and then headed up to port captain’s office to officially check out of Chilean waters.
The weather window had opened up the day I was due to arrive, however with delays to two of my flights, I arrived half a day later then anticipated. We missed the opportunity to check out with the harbour master in Puerto Williams the previous day and had no choice but to spend the night stay in Puerto Williams. This was a set back which created a bit of pressure on the voyage because we now only had six days to cross the drake passage before a low pressure system was predicted to sweep over the passage, bringing some dangerous winds.
We knew we would need anywhere between four and ten days of good weather to get there and the same for the return passage. This dictated how long we would be able to cruise the peninsula and also the amount of supplies we would need. Cathie had spent the week preparing large quantities of soups, stews and curries to freeze down so that they just had to be heated up on the passage. Conditions were far from ideal to attempt to cook simple meals, therefore every meal was pre planned.
Vigorous planning had gone into every aspect of the expedition, to ensure we would be undisputedly self sufficient. We had to accept that there were going to be unpredictable sailing conditions and understand that there would be no one to depend on in an emergency. It isn’t uncommon for small sailing boats to flip 360degrees in these conditions, the weather can suddenly change without giving the crew time to prepare. We had to ensure the boat was secure enough to endure such a situation and come to terms with the fact that there would be no access to fuel, food or medial assistance; we were unequivocally on our own.
With the approval from the Australian and Chilean governments, a very large stock of pasta, rice, potatoes and tinned tomatoes, extra gas, extra fuel barrels, full water tanks, spare sails and a five day weather window to cross the drake passage safely, we were confident to set sail for Cape Horn.
A few hours later we finally had the paperwork sorted and we were quick to release the lines and watch as Puerto Williams faded away in the distance. We glided along the ocean in a steady breeze on a truly spectacular sunny day, it was the perfect start to the journey. However, it wouldn’t be long before we reached the horn where the weather would turn chaotic and violent, and the excitement would really begin.