Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Isla Robinson Crusoe

We finally pulled in the dock lines at 11:00 on March 18th leaving Puerto Montt Chile (S41°30.159' W072°59.399') for our long passage north. The first 8 hours of the trip took us between islands and through channels before the open ocean. The extreme tidal range here is only matched by the strong tidal currents, so even though it is only an 8-hour run out to the Pacific, you can't do it with one ebbing tide, so we stopped overnight at a cove called Ensenada Codihue (S41°48.113' W078°21.644') before continuing.

The next morning after traversing through the Canal de Chacao, we picked up the ebb current and were doing 12 knots over land. We soon reached the expansive Ocean with 7 or 8 dolphins escorting us a distance to wish us fair winds!

Winds were very light at first but by evening we had 15 knots pushing us. The stars were incredibly brilliant in the moonless inky sky. Early the next morning, a snap shackle broke on the head sail sheet (line) so Jordan replaced the sheet. Winds and seas really picked up by 11:00 so we doused the head sail and hoisted and poled the staysail but were still doing 5.5+ knots.

The next day under mostly cloudy skies, the wind speed increased to 17 to 25 knots with rolly 10-foot-plus waves. Jordan saw a huge sunfish directly in front of us and almost ran over it! That night it was very dark with light clouds and still no moon.

The night of March 22nd and most of the next day, we were pushed along in a gale that Sea Turtle handled with no problem. Just a few days ago I was telling another sailor that since we left Victoria, we had never experienced a gale at sea. So there we have it now.

Land Ho! March 23rd at 13:45! Made a difficult anchorage in Cumberland Bay at 18:00 (S33°38.359' W078°49.541') at Isla Robinson Crusoe with winds blowing and williwaws gusting. Four other sailboats were also present.

Isla Robinson Crusoe is part of the Juan Fernández Archipelago consisting of tiny Isla Santa Clara which is 1.5 km from Robinson Crusoe and uninhabited, and also Isla Alejandro Selkirk, about 180 km west of Robinson Crusoe. Alejandro Selkirk has a few fishing villages only during the fishing season who then relocate to Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe has a current population of about 850 at the only village of San Juan Bautista. No hospital or bank here but there is a school, cemetery, new soccer field, tourism office, Chile Armada, a few markets and bars, and police. About every 3 weeks, the village receives supplies via a ship from mainland Chile.

Busy unloading supplies onto the dock

Two years ago in February of 2010, Chile experienced the 2nd strongest earthquake ever recorded. The resulting tsunami hit the village here causing extensive damage and 16 persons perished. There is a great deal of reconstruction happening but you can still see the remains of foundations as stark evidence of the disaster. Incidentally, the largest recorded earthquake was in the 1960s, if I remember the facts, and it was also in the same vicinity.

A little privacy please?

Another notable fact: The Robinson Crusoe novel was based on the real life experience of Alexander Selkirk who, in 1704 after an argument with the captain, jumped ship at this Island (not at Isla Alejandro Selkirk) with minimal supplies and not only survived but coped quite well for 4 years before he was picked up. (The islands were renamed in the 1960s to attract tourists and I assume that Isla Robinson Crusoe was named as such as more people are aware of the fictitious character than the real one.)

The Island is something you might see out of the South Pacific with verdant spiry peaks ringing obvious prehistoric volcano hollows. The village is on the north side, protected from the predominant south winds.

Snapped from atop a peak when we were hiking

Their meager economy is dependent mostly on lobster fishing, some government jobs, and a yet to grow tourist industry. Visitors have to take a small charter flight that lands on the arid east end of the Island about 15 km away, and as the terrain between is precipitously near vertical in most places, no road connects the village. So most are ferried by a 2-hour boat ride. The other option is by land but only half the way is by road - then you either hike or arrange a horse ride for about 7 km up and over stunning ridges topped in mist a lot of the time.

Topographic of Robinson Crusoe

(Bahia Cumberland, where Sea Turtle is anchored, is front and center in topographic photo.) There are lots of steep hiking trails and camping spots to different vistas, one of which we did named Salsipuedes. The trail took us through eucalyptus and pine forests, and up vertical switchbacks to a ridge with vertical drops straight down to the sea as evidenced by this topographic at the tourist office. It was a great photo op of Sea Turtle anchored in front of the village.

Sea Turtle and village WAY down there

During World War I, the British navy was in the vicinity and intercepted a radio call from the German battleship Dresden searching for coal for its engines. They coralled it in the bay and shelled it until it sank to about a 150-foot depth. We saw where the shells from the battle lodged into the rock face.

We tried to do emailing but it was intermittent on and off, mostly off, and when it was on, painfully slow. We got some basic emails done though. The winds were strong during our stay and even though we were on the protected side of the Island, extremely strong gusts funnelled down the lee side of the mountains, through the village, and knocked us about on a strained but holdfast anchor. We tried to get fresh lobster but all the fishermen were holed up because of the high seas in their netting areas. So we found a restaurant to accommodate us but were disappointed as the large lobsters were served cold and with no hot butter!

One night, 2 big deep-sea fishing boats came into the bay to escape the high winds but they didn't anchor, they just meandered around under power and large bright lights for the crew to mingle around an open fire on their aft decks. At one point, we were down below and I felt a bang. Jordan jumped up and out the hatch as the big boat was trying to back away. Jordan told them in no uncertain terms to get the hell away and stay away. To add insult to it all, the next morning our decks were speckled with black soot from their bonfire. What a mess!

When it came time to leave, the procedure is to get a new zarpe (exit permit) from the Armada office. Once that is done, we had to go directly to the boat and not come ashore again. However the plan to pull anchor was delayed a day and a half as the winds were atrocious.

But early on the 28th, with the winds decreased enough, we pulled anchor and said our goodbyes through the camera lens for our long passage north, nonstop to Galápagos about 2,000 nautical miles. (For you land lubbers, that is about 4,000 km or 2,700 mi.) Robinson Crusoe was a great island to visit as we thought about the man that was marooned were we stood!

As the Chileans say, "Ciao, ciao" (goodbye)

1 comment:

Mark Bruder said...

Awesome report! Hope to make it there in the next 3-4 years from Pennsylvania, though I won't be sailing.