Notes For First Time Cruisers to the Chilean Channels

January, 1999 by Eric B. Forsyth

Introduction

The Chilean Channels provide some of the most unique cruising in the world. It is also fairly tough cruising with little in the way of navigational aides, few ports and weather than can turn nasty very quickly. Fuel is available in only a few places by jerry jug. In the major ports at either end, Puerto Montt in the north and Puerto Williams in the south, one can find experienced skippers who have often traversed the route and are only too willing to offer advice to the neophyte visitor, seek them out. Because facilities are very limited in the ports, especially Puerto Williams, it is the purpose of this note to help the first-time visitor arrive in Chile with some foreknowledge of what is in store and, perhaps more important, ensure specialized supplies and equipment are on board.

The cruise on my yacht FIONA (a Westsail 42) began in late November from Puerto Montt and we took four weeks to reach Puerto Williams, probably the minimum time required to make the passage while still providing some opportunity to make side trips. I believe the north to south passage is easier than the other way – we were able to sail for about two-thirds of the distance with northerly or westerly winds predominating. A Belgian skipper I talked to in Puerto Montt before departure told me he had powered almost all the way north from Puerto Williams – this requires careful consideration of your powering range and refueling options. Other cruisers I talked to in Puerto Williams who were planning to sail north said they assumed it would take at least two months so that they had time to wait for favorable winds.

I found the Chiloé region to be very pleasant cruising reminiscent of eastern Maine and Nova Scotia. When we were there the weather was relatively warm (50’s F) and dry. An open-sea passage is required across the Gulf of Penas (Spanish for A penance- that says something about this leg), south of the Gulf the country changes dramatically; grassy fields give way to forbidding rocky shores, it gets colder. This is like Newfoundland. When you finally get to the Patagonian Channels the scenery is starkly beautiful, similar to Labrador. Glaciers abound, you will learn something about sailing in water studded with floating ice. Finally as you head east along the Beagle Channel you will come to a gentler region, sheltered by mountains to the west.

The primary guide to the Chilean Channels (discussed below) is fairly specific on where and how to secure the boat each night. What is not mentioned is that rather specialized gear, not normally found on a yacht, helps a lot. This consists of a reel or reels to conveniently handle hundreds of feet of mooring line, often needed to attach the boat to shore. This technique; both anchoring and tying the boat to trees on the shore, is not simple, particularly in gusty winds. For the crew member who takes a line ashore it is physically demanding, often requiring them to tie up the dinghy while holding onto a heavy mooring line and then scrambling up nearly vertical rocks to find a handy tree. Anchoring and mooring, and the reverse in the morning, can take a considerable time each evening, particularly in gusty conditions.

The Chilean Navy takes a paternal interest in all visiting yachts, requiring authorization at major ports and attempting to maintain radio contact. I found them to be very professional and helpful, but an English-speaking person is rare. Time and again, at each major port, they told us not to eat or gather mussels or clams, they are contaminated by the “Red Tide”. A great shame as succulent mussels abounded at every anchorage. Before leaving you need a authorization from the Navy. Apply two weeks before departure. This authorization must be shown at ports with a naval station. The application should list only major ports with approximate dates.

Below are more detailed comments on boat equipment, publications, communications and, finally, FIONA’s itinerary for the passage. If some of the legs seem rather long, recall that in early summer there is, on average for the trip, about19 hours of daylight.

Equipment

Each person should have good foul weather gear and waterproof, insulated, gloves and boots. You will spend a lot of time at the wheel compared to an ocean passage as the winds in the channels are often too variable and gusty to permit the use of self-steerers. During FIONA’s trip we experienced considerable rain and even hail, often for a few hours. A boat heater is virtually essential to keep clothing dry, to say nothing of the crew.

FIONA is fitted with a small Espar heater which was barely adequate. Before leaving home I modified the engine cooling system to include the core from an auto heater. This provided heat in the main cabin when the engine was running, and very welcome it was. The whole area is vulnerable to williwaws which can develop suddenly and blow for several minutes or hours. We did not experience williwaws higher than 45 kts but they have been known to reach 100 kts. The anchorages are often deep – we anchored in depths up to 90 ft. In Puerto Montt we exchanged our usual 45 lb. plough anchor for a 65 lb. Fisherman’s, which I figured would be better for rocky bottoms and kelp. The plough was kept on the second bow roller as a back-up. The fisherman’s was attached to 280 ft of 7/16 inch chain, sometimes we used all of it. Obviously an electric windless is very useful when it comes to retrieving the anchor. We usually buoyed the anchor with a trip line and float. The problem with deep anchorages is that the rocky shore is often fairly close. With lots of chain out, a wind shift could put the boat on the rocks. Thus, the technique of mooring the stern to trees. To do this you first need a dinghy which can be launched quickly. We used an 8 ft rigid dink carried on the foredeck. Whether you anchor first or moor first depends on several factors: The topology of the anchorage, the wind direction and speed, etc. Each anchorage is different. We carried three lengths of 3/4″ nylon mooring line, two equipped with thimbles at one end, these two lines also had about 6 ft of chain with shackles to loop around trees and rocks. The longest line was 300 ft which we stored on a reel (about 12″ dia. and 36″ long) attached to the boom gallows. The reel was designed to be stored knocked down and we assembled it in Puerto Montt. A crank enables the line to wound up quickly. Two other lines were less frequently used: 200 ft and 100 ft. The 100 ft line was too short for some anchorages, probably 200 ft by 5/8″ thick would have been of a better choice. When it comes to navigation, the GPS was useful but cannot be depended upon for precise positioning: it was not uncommon to find a mile or so difference between the GPS readout and the charted coordinates of an identifiable land mark . Radar is much more useful when trying to find a narrow entrance or cove. We carried 180 ltr of jerry jugs for diesel fuel. Good 20 ltr jugs are available in Puerto Montt.

Publications

Without doubt it is essential to have the Chilean Atlas of Hydrographic charts on board. This huge volume contains over a thousand Chilean charts reduced to a common size and bound in one book. The large-scale charts showing detailed anchorages are excellent but the small-scale general area charts are too cluttered even when using a magnifying glass. For route planning a set of small-scale charts such as DMA 22335, 22370, 22395 and 22032 would have been very useful. The Atlas lacks an index of names. We found it best to mark on each chart the penciled numbers of related and contiguous charts. For example, marking the numbers of all large-scale charts contained within a chart of the current general area. This way you can flip rapidly from large-scale to small-scale, as needed for the current location, without constantly referring to the list of contents. The charts are in numerical sequence, the order does not necessarily correspond to a definite geographical progression from north to south. Many of the charts are rather old, besides the question of accuracy and GPS datum commented on above, they did not show many navigational beacons which we observed on the shore. The Atlas is available in Chile or, in the US, from the Armchair Sailor*. It is expensive. Another valuable publication is a Chilean guide written by Alberto Mantellero entitled “The Yachtman’s Navigator Guide to the Chilean Channels”. ** I bought a copy for $30 at the Marina del Sur in Puerto Montt. The book gives details of hundreds of anchorages between Puerto Montt and Cape Horn with sketch charts and much local information. It is written in Spanish with a quaint English translation next to each page. By no means are all possible anchorages covered and much additional information is provided by various Seven Seas Cruising Association*** pamphlets, including corrections and comments on Mr. Mantellero’s book. I also had on board the appropriate pilots, tide table and list of radio signals.

Communications

When first clearing into Chile the navy provides a small booklet of information for the cruising yachtsman (in Spanish). They emphasize that your current position must be given on Ch. 16 each day at 0800 and 2000 hrs. local. In practice you will only get a response from manned light houses and the odd naval station. If passed by a Chilean navy ship, they will request identification, destination and ETA. The weather facsimile station at Valparaiso provides a reliable signal on 8677 kHz at 1115Z (current situation) and 2010Z (forecast). Despite active listings, the Navtex stations, at Puerto Montt and the Magellan were not transmitting. I had no problem receiving an Argentine Navtex station (identity 0) which is useful if you plan to head into the S. Atlantic when you leave Chile, or if you approach Chile from the east.

 

*543 Thames St, Newport, RI 02840, Tel. 401-847-4252, Fax. 401-847-1219.

**Alberto Mantellero, Petalonia 205, Jardin del Mar, Viña del Mar, Chile.

***Seven Sea Cruising Association, Inc., 1525 South Andrews Ave., Site 217,Ft. Lauderdale, FL 3316, Tel. 954-463-2431, Fax. 954-463-7183

FIONA’s Itinerary

 

Day

 

GPS POS

 

Log, nm

 

Comment

 

START

 

0

 

Marina del Sur, Pto. Montt, left early morning with high tide at 0316 hr. local. This gave favorable currents for much of the first week as far as the Gulf of Corcovado.

 

1

 

Not recorded

 

41

 

Los Banos Cove, Llancahué Is. Anchored in 25′. Bathed in thermal spring water ($4) at the white building.

 

2

 

41°19.45′ S

73°15.27′ W

 

33

 

Anchored E of Mechuque Is. Salmon farm nearby.

 

3

 

42°28.69’S

73° 45.47′ W

 

45

 

Castro, Chiloe´ Is. Nice place, many shops and restaurants. Checked in at the Naval HQ. Anchored in 50′.

 

4 & 5

 

44°44.14′ S

73° 21.54′ W

 

154

 

Good N wind so we crossed the Gulf of Corcovado at night. Anchored Pangalillo Bay in 50′

 

6

 

45°09.52′ S

73° 31.15′ W

 

25

 

Anchored Pto Agiurre, 30′ plus 2 lines ashore, just north of the port. Checked into the naval HQ, plus bought 106 ltr of diesel in jugs. Limited supplies available.

 

7

 

45°27.61′ S

73°56.85′ W

 

32

 

Small cove on W side of Empedrado Strait (Darwin channel). Anchored in 55′ + 2 lines ashore.

 

8,9 &10

 

47° 45.09′ S

74° 33.87′ W

 

212

Beat out of the Darwin channel. Contacted Cape Raper light house. Reach across Gulf of Penas. Contacted San Pedro light house. Tricky entrance to Pto Francisco in the dark. Anchored in 80′.
 

11

 

0

Heavy rain. Explored Pto Francisco by dinghy, did some fishing in the streams.
12 48°29.64′ S

74° 23.57′ W

 

46

Anchored in Connor Cove plus 1 line ashore, 25′. Famous tree with a dozen boat plaques nailed on it, caught some trout in the stream.
 

13

 

49° 07.64′ S

74° 24.82′ W

 

35

Anchored first opposite the naval HQ at Pto Eden, then moved to the inner harbor. Anchored in 30′ opposite the school.
 

14

 

0

Bought 180 l of diesel fuel. Limited supplies. A lady baked us 4 loaves and made supper for a modest fee. Nice shore walk.
15  

49°14.0′ S

74° 06.67′ W

61 Visited the fabulous Pio XI glacier in Eyre Sound. Anchored nearby in an unnamed cove on S. side of Elizabeth Bay, 35′. Be aware that if you anchor near a glacier you may be surrounded by ice in the morning.
 

16

 

50° 10.89′ S

74° 48.99′ W

 

68

Anchored in Tom Bay, W of Bond Pt. One line

ashore.

 

17

 

50° 59.27′ S

74°12.98′ W

 

56

Anchored in Pto Bueno, 70′. Lovely stream and lake to explore in fine weather.
 

18

 

51° 18.71′ S

74° 04.31′ W

 

18

Anchored in 50′, Pto Mayne.
 

19

 

52° 09.67′ S

73° 35.58′ W

 

61

Anchored in Isthmus Bay, 18′. Lots of kelp around.

Watch for the rocks – not shown in Mantellero sketch chart.

 

20

 

52° 37.60′ S

73°38.92′ W

 

27

Anchored in Burgoyne cove (40′) with 2 lines ashore.
21 53° 13.18′ S

73° 22.24′ W

 

46

 

Called Fairway Is radio en route. Entered Strait of Magellan. Weather miserable. Anchored Pto Angosto, 75′. Lots of williwaws. Lake is a nice climb.

 

22

53°41.44′ S

71°59.41′ W

 

50

Anchored in 30′, Gallant cove, Fortesque bay. Strong wind in the early morning caused us to drag near the sandbar at the river mouth. The only time we experienced dragging – use plenty of scope, the holding is not too good.
 

23

54°19.19′ S

71°54.75′ W

 

56

Short cut to the Cockburn channel via Pedro Sound. 20′ near the island at O=Ryan pass. Anchored Pto Niemann. See sketch chart, details in Mantellero not correct. Required 3 lines ashore.
 

24

54° 32.68′ S

71° 54.62′ W

 

18

Three yacht raft at Breckneck cove. Wonderful, scenic anchorage. Great walk to lakes above. Anchor with lines ashore.
25  

54° 53.24′ S

71° 00.41′ W

50 Anchored Fanny Cove, Stewart Is, 60′, gusty winds, 2 lines ashore.
 

26

 

54° 47.75′ S

69° 37.78 W

 

48

Explored the Pia glacier formation. Enter at 54° 50.49’S, 69°40.98′ W. Take first channel on right. Anchored in cove E of small peninsula. Anchor in 50′ plus 2 lines ashore. Small bergey bits surrounded us in the morning. Visited the glacier using the inflatable.
 

27

 

54°55.39′ S

68°19.37’W

 

54

The Beagle channel, calm. Picked up mooring opposite the naval HQ, Pto Navarino.
 

28

Not recorded

 

Total mileage

Fuel Use(incl. heater)

 

29

 

1287

Approx.

Tied up to the ship “Micalvi”; the YC at Pto Williams.

 

 

500 ltr (130 gallon)