The "Iron Lady" in the CaletBrecknock
Anyone who sees a nautical map of the island and canal world of the Chilean coast of Patagonia for the first time feels like in a maze. And whoever is right in the middle of it all, sometimes too. Islands, boulders, fjords, canals, passes, deep cuts, long bays, arms of glaciers, lagoons. Glacier lakes that give the landscape a deep three-dimensionality that often gives the impression that there is another canal behind the next chain of hills.
While we find our way through this labyrinth of waterways with the help of GPS and electronic nautical charts, we often think back with awe of the seafarers who explored the sea routes many generations ago, of the first cruising sailors who just a few decades ago searched the coast for safe anchorages without a guide. CaletBuen Refugio (Bay of Good Refuge), Puerto Bueno (Good Harbor), Puerto Yates (Marina), BahiShelter (Bay of Protection) are just a few names on the map that testify to the relief of knowing that your own ship is safely moored against the storms that regularly blow through the Chilean canals.
The nautical chart reads like a living history book. There is the CaletFog, into which the fleet of the "HMS Beagle" withdrew in 1830 due to a sudden fog. Or the Islas QuarentDias, the islands of 40 days, so called because the lighthouse keepers stationed there had to wait 40 days until the weather conditions allowed the next supply ship to land. Captains, admirals and navigators are namesake for countless canals, bays and fjords.
On our own search for safe anchorages for the night, we discover bays whose name alone suggests to seek protection elsewhere. There is the Puerto Engano, the port of lies. A seemingly safe bay that, due to its high mountains, can turn into a cauldron when the winds, deflected by steep walls, change their wind direction and sweep across the water in violent gusts.
The BahiFiasco, the Bahicomplicad (complicated bay) or the Fondeadoro Fantasm (ghostly anchorage) also sound anything but inviting. We need almost a week to cross the BahiDesolada, the desolate bay. 40 miles, the sky gray on gray, the wild nature of the surrounding mountains only shadowy outlines, the roaring Pacific not 18 nautical miles away as the crow flies. At the PuntVuelta, the Cape of Reversal, in the Brecknock Canal, we fight against a 25 knot wind from the front, gusts of wind speed across the water at double the speed. Close your eyes and through, we have made 15 nautical miles since we set out that morning. Giving it back and sailing back at 6 knots space sheets is out of the question. A fisherman literally takes the Puntde Vuel and soon disappears astern in the next shower. We hold out and are happy about the opportunity we took of an almost wind-protected side arm, the Ocasion Canal.
Photo gallery: Through the canals of Patagonia
A hundred-nautical-mile detour takes us into a fjord north of Puerto Natales, to Puerto Consuleo, the port of consolation. The green hills of the area, the flamingos and swans, the hospitality of the people, their warm, wood-fired kitchens are probably doing after weeks of solitude.
We have made the most difficult part of the journey, from now on we will be making miles straight north, no more labyrinths, no more tangled serpentine courses. The roaring Pacific is now 50 nautical miles away, separated from us by high mountains and chain of islands. The landmarks now have presidential or animal names, hot otter bay, wood pigeon fjord or sea lion island.
At 48 degrees south, a German expedition ship has apparently made a name for itself in the survey and let its imagination run wild: IslJungfrauen, Seno Otto, IslKlüverbaum, Seno Waldemar and Rompiente Alberich are in close proximity to each other, and the Seno Alps is not far either.
We are getting closer and closer to the climax of the oracular naming, the Golfo de Penas, the Gulf of Suffering. The typical reaction of every Chilean to our destination Valdivi does not exactly inspire courage: "Oh, you have to go over the Golfo." Accompanied by dramatic opening of the eyes with compassionate shaking of the head. "Please write to us when you have arrived!"
With a worry line on my forehead. Or: “My wife no longer travels north by sea, not across the Gulf, not even in an emergency.” Even seasoned captains have a slight flicker in their eyes when they talk about the 40 nautical miles of open Pacific. We are now seasoned Golfo captains too and are entitled to pronounce the name in a slightly ominous voice. We trembled before the crossing, we had no storm, nothing happened to us, but we suffered like the dogs.
It is worth taking a look behind the scenes of the nautical chart, be it with the history or dictionary. Many a name comes to life, so many lonely bays come to life, thanks to the ships that anchored in it generations ago and many an anchorage discarded because their name does not bode well. Nomen est omen.