Patagonia In a Nutshell

Powerful winds, ever changing currents, tight anchorages, and the occasional wander into uncharted water are all part of what makes Patagonia a dreamscape for a thrill seeking sailor. 

We were way behind schedule, finding it hard to leave both the places and the people we’d fallen in love with. Panama, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, and Peru were all stops that pushed our arrival in Patagonia further along. After 8,000 miles from Rhode Island to Puerto Montt, we had finally arrived at its gate. With the boat fully provisioned with as much fresh produce as we could fit in the hammock, a chocolate bar for each day, and a few hundred pounds of rice and beans, we were ready for escape.

Dirck on the bow during a moment of calm

For five weeks, we sailed south through Patagonia. With a strong breeze at our stern most every day, we slipped through the web of channels under the spell of wind and canvas. Beneath our bow, we were continually visited by austral dolphins, every so often glancing a curious eye up to us, both of us in a state of shared curiosity. In a rainforest, we lived in a state of constant sogginess. Our clothes and mattresses never felt truly dry. Below deck, every precaution was made to decrease humidity. Pasta was strained overboard and beans were released from the pressure cooker on deck, minimizing the possibility for each drop of moisture to cling to the glass on the windows and drip into our bunks. When the sun did poke through and the wind was calm enough to lay our gear out to dry, the deck was covered in wet socks, damp foulies, and waterlogged mattresses. We were soaked, but content.

Eli, soaked but content

Each night we spent anchored in small nooks, some barely wide enough to fit the boat. Rachas, intense gusts of wind accelerating over the cool land, would strike us in the night. A windless sleep could be interrupted by a 70 knot gust, lasting only a few seconds, but strong enough to send us into the rocks. With an anchor off the bow, we ran lines ashore, one off each quarter, tied to the ancient cypress and lenga trees that secured the sailors before us. 

Eli viewing the carnage outside the anchorage

We entered civilization twice to re-provision. Once, in Puerto Aysen, a port town founded not long ago, after land grabs put in place by the Chilean government led to bank erosion from destabilized soils made the old port upstream, unreachable to boats with deeper keels. 

Our second stop was in Puerto Eden, one of the most remote towns in the world, founded in the 70s in an attempt by the Chilean armada to have further control over passage through the canals. The population is in steady decline, as initial inhabitants have passed away  or the environment compelled them to relocate when red tide led to the collapse of the fishery.

The town is a home to a few of the Yaghan people, the once nomadic natives that  traveled the fjords in dugout canoes, the hulls lined with mud to allow for a fire to burn for warmth against the bitter cold. They  moved their camps from shore to shore, not staying too long, taking only what they needed, careful not to waste the shared resources. While the culture and beliefs of the people are preserved through generations, they have been forced to re-adapt to the modern way of living.

Mussel shells surround a fishermans shed, relics of a declining industry

When time allowed, we would bushwhack. There are very few trails in the fjords of Patagonia, and I find peace in hoping this will likely always be the case. The thick, undisturbed forest made any land expedition an arduous task. Around the ponds and lakes where the forest  cleared, sphagnum bogs and diverse types of moss cushioned each step, thousands of years of growth under each footprint. We explored glaciers, sometimes perhaps a bit too closely. Their cracks and groans, echoing in the valleys as they slipped down the mountain, brought their power to life. I watched them calve, sending chunks tumbling into the ocean below. With each piece, I felt pangs of guilt.

At the foot of the fjord's very architect

As we drew closer to the Strait of Magellan, the end of Patagonia and the beginning of Tierra del Fuego, the snow line crept down the mountain sides, eventually finding its way to our deck. Leaving Patagonia, I felt deep appreciation in knowing a place like this may be left alone. Storing more carbon per acre than the Amazon Rainforest, each breath of clean air we are fortunate to breathe is due in part to Patagonia. Places like these give me hope. Hope in the fact that we recognize the importance of sometimes simply letting the planet be.