After almost a year in the Deep South Scott and Mary finally leave their base in Ushuaia and begin their ascent into Chile

Position: Puerto Williams, Chile

After almost a year in the Deep South Scott and Mary finally leave their base in Ushuaia and begin their ascent into Chile

Friday 30 November
We finally succeeded in refuelling but it wasn’t easy. The Argentines in Ushuaia closed their only fuel dock to yachties as AFASyN Yacht Club didn’t want fuel drums rolling down the dock as they have done in the past – to be honest the boats fuelling this way haven’t always been diligent in not spilling fuel, in fact one large charter boat was fined for a fuel spill the other day. Then the following day the owner was fined for smoking while refuelling – duh.

We fuelled from a truck with four 1000l fuel bladders tied to a secret dock. We took 3600l (950 gallons). It went without a hitch?if you understand Argentine fuelling; there was no fuel nozzle, only a single speed pump, which was too fast, and we were nervous about the prefectura (coastguard) catching us in an unauthorised fuelling spot (there are no authorised spots). We managed to fill both main tanks and three fuel bladders with no fuel overboard – we don’t need fuel bladders for the trip north to Puerto Montt, Chile but it’s simple economics, for every gallon we load here we save money when we reach Chile. Fortunately the fuel hose was thin and I could regulate the fuel flow by folding it over but it took two hours and 20 minutes. Thankfully the wind held off until we had finished and paid the bill. Then we headed back to base at 25-40 knots. We anchored when we got back but the tide was too high to do a controlled downwind crash into the dock. We stayed anchored for an hour, cleared the kelp off the anchor chain in 30-plus knots, and then crashed into the dock during a lull at just 25 knots, once the tide had fallen a bit. Thank goodness for lots of oversized fenders.

Cruising in this place isn’t easy. Yesterday the Polish charter sailboat docked forward of Egret, a 50ft ketch, had a guy up the mast in 40 knots. Spray from the chop was flying over its deck and it started to rain. Then it started to hail. The large, square guy had his short, round legs wrapped around the mast holding on with one hand while trying to do wiring with the other. Another large square guy at the base of the mast wasn’t paying a bit of attention. He was more concerned about keeping his cigarette lit. Wild! Watching scenes like this makes us want to hug our little white fibreglass ship every day.

Saturday 1 December
Today the Polish boat left while it was gusting to 45 or so. They used a bow spring line (aft of the bow) and a huge round fender to rotate from the dock. The captain knew his stuff but the charter weenie on the spring didn’t let the line go. Then it hit the fan, or should I say the fan hit it. Lots of yelling ensued until a spectacular crash brought the boat back into the dock. They finally escaped on their second attempt. Shortly afterwards the 60ft French aluminium charter yacht that was rafted outside as the Polish guys left decided to do a controlled crash with its toy fenders just in front of Egret. The boat approached during a rare 45-second lull in the wind and just after passing Egret and clearing TK (Turkish Steel, our monster anchor) the wind hit. Seconds earlier and TK would have had the last laugh.

One of our guilty pleasures is watching the herds of charter passengers arrive in their brand new Gor-Tex outfits, carrying their designer duffel bags down the dock (sailboat charter in Ushuaia isn’t cheap). They wander down the dock buzzing with excitement and probably a little trepidation. They find ‘their’ yacht and pile aboard with their stuff. Meanwhile the sailboat skipper and wife/mate frantically try to ready themselves after a short turnaround with provisions, repairs and fuel. The passengers all sit outside on ‘their’ sailboat looking around and talking. In time they figure out they are cold and wet and head down into the cave only to reappear now and then. With the wind ripping the rigging realisation starts to set in…slowly…heavily. This is the real deal – this isn’t like hazy summer Wednesday night races around the buoys. In time they embark to tackle Cape Horn, the Drake Passage (twice) to Antarctica and back. Along route I’m sure more than a few wonder why they are spending a fortune to be scared witless, risk freezing to death and pass time dry heaving into the darkness. In due time they arrive back at the dock a little the worse for wear. However, they have survived an adventure they will never forget.

This afternoon Mary and I were invited to an asado (cookout) at the yacht club hall, which was great fun. Two birthdays were being celebrated. One was Mariolina Rolfo, co-author of Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Nautical Guide. Earlier this evening she and her partner Giorgio stopped by Egret for a visit and they are truly lovely people. We gave them a CD of some of our favourite photos to display on their website (www.capehorn-pilot.com). Working on a large Italian sailboat in the Med this past summer the couple fell in love with a used N46 for sale in Malta, although they’ll need to sell a few more books before they can buy one. They too are leaving the Deep South, although for them it is after 10 years.

Sunday 2 December
Now we just need to get some last-minute provisions. Today is fresh fruit and veggies day and a chance to make some last minute phone calls. We will be unable to communicate for two and-a-half months, except for emergency Iridium time if necessary. Tomorrow we will pick up our bread order (10 loaves just baked and wrapped) from the French bakery before we leave Argentina. We have been planning to leave for some time so there should be no last-minute panic or loose ends to tie up.

Monday 3 December
We have just said our final farewells, which was pretty tough. We left Ushuaia at 10:50 local time and it was blowing 25 knots, after leaving the dock it was gusting to over 40 – a proper send off from Ma Weather reminding us she is still in charge. The next adventure begins with a trip back to Puerto Williams, Chile to get our ‘zarpe’ (cruising permit) to Puerto Montt, Chile, 13.22 degrees north and two and a half months away (by choice).
It is difficult to get to the Deep South and it is tough cruising ground but it is equally as difficult to leave. We have enjoyed our year in this wild frontier. Will we return? We hope so as we certainly have some unfinished business.