From Uruguay we went up the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires, where
we were relieved to arrive in June 2002 and settle down for a 5 month winter break.
Most of this time was spent working on the boat, preparing for the wild conditions
to come as we continued south to Patagonia. We also replaced the old Sailomat with a Monitor that we bought used from
some friends in Brazil, added 20 m of anchor chain and a bigger (44 lb) Bruce anchor, serviced the transmission, had the genoa
recut and a storm staysail made, painted, varnished, added a stainless stern frame for the solar panel and our new wind generator.
A busy few months, but we still had time for some travelling inland and to enjoy the delights of Buenos Aires, also the great
everything was ready and the time was right to set off down the nasty Argentine coast a scarey area in which to sail very
little good shelter, serious weather, strong currents and high tides, so any shelter that is there often tends to dry out
at low water. We stopped at Mar del Plata, Necochea, and Puerto Rawson, visited several remote Patagonian desert anchorages
on the N side of Golfo San Jorge, and spent Christmas in Puerto Deseado where the wind howled every day. Despite being very
cautious and patient with the weather we still needed to heave-to several times, including a rough night off the entrance
to Puerto Deseado, where we sat in a howling 45 knots for a few hours before the tide turned and we could enter the port.
At least the strong winds in this area are generally from the west and therefore blow offshore. Lots of other boats we met
had problems along this coast, and several turned back north. Our nerves
were restored after a peaceful Christmas with plenty of Argentine vin rouge, and we carried on in the next weather window
a 4 day crossing direct to Isla de los Estados, the remote island off the SE tip of Tierra del Fuego, at 55 deg S. Despite
all our fears, we were lucky and actually had a very calm trip; we even found ourselves becalmed off the Straits of Magellan
near Cabo Virgenes, where we changed up from the small yankee to the big genoa not at all what we were expecting !
Arriving in Estados
is great - it looks a wild and unlikely destination on the chart and is only about 100 miles NE of Cape Horn, but the inner
anchorage at Pto Hoppner on the N coast is totally protected. We sat there for a week in virtual calm, watching the clouds
fly overhead as the wind outside howled, often reaching 55 knots according to the radio. With 4 lines to shore, the woodstove
warming the cabin, and beautiful snowy peaks all around we felt like we had finally arrived in the Real Patagonia. After this,
the worrying exposed crossings are over, as from now on you are into the famous Patagonian channels not exactly relaxing cruising
grounds, as the weather gets a little wild at times and it is very remote, but at least there are plenty of shelterered anchorages
in which to take cover. The change is abrupt from the arid desert scenery and blue skies of the east to the wet, windy, glaciated
wilderness of the Beagle Channel and the Pacific coast.
Between Estados and Tierra del Fuego lies the notorious Estrecho de Le Maire:
about 20 miles wide, relatively shallow, wide open to the waves and winds of Cape Horn and with currents flowing up to 12
knots, it can generate impossible sea conditions when bad weather opposes the tide. Unfortunately as we started our crossing
the wind backed to the SW and, naturally, picked up to gale force. It was close to slack tide, but even so, by the time we
finally made it to Buen Successo on the Tierra del Fuego shore, every freezing cold wave was breaking right over Vire Nord,
from bow to stern as we were hard on the wind with 3 reefs in the main + staysail. Not pleasant conditions in the cockpit
! Good foul weather gear is essential in these parts. Open to the E, but with reasonable shelter from the W and good holding
in sand, Buen Successo is a small bay half way through the Estrecho and became our home for the next 5 days as we were pinned
down by a series of westerly gales, unable to even get ashore, with winds often well over 50 knots. At least we were in good
company our French friends on their beautiful 50 ft steel schooner (a Damien) Libertaire were stuck there with us. Captain
Fitzroy on HMS Beagle apparently also had the same problem when they passed this way. Finally we got away, rounded the SE
point of Tierra del Fuego and headed up the Beagle Channel under sail in light easterlies to reach the port of Ushuaia just
in time to meet our new crew member, Mikes father, who joined us for the next
couple of months.
From the toursity port of Ushuaia (the most southerly city in the World and
Gateway to the Antarctic) you exit Argentina and head back E to enter Chile at the small navy town of Puerto Williams on the
S shore of the Beagle Channel.