The Who, What, Where, When and How of Sailing An 11’ 11” Open Boat Through Tierra del Fuego

Who-  Me

What-  An 11’ 11” modified SCAMP sailboat

Where- South on the Strait of Magellan from Punta Arenas to explore the remote Southwest Islands of Tierra del Fuego

When-  2016

How- This blog addresses the how beginning with fulfilling dreams and on to the inception of the idea, the overall plan, the strategy, the challenges, the boat build and modifications, self reliance, safety, provisioning, the scouting trip, sea trials, shipping, the documentary film, arrival of the boat and departure.

For a number of years my wanderlust filled mind has had me aboard a small open boat sailing north from Goose bay to coastal cruise Labrador, cross the Hudson Strait to Baffin Island before crossing the Arctic Sea at the Davis Strait from Cape Dyer to Sisimut Greenland before heading north to explore Disko Bay. From there I planned to return to Sisimut and either ship my boat home, ship it on to Denmark or cover it to winter over before returning to my working life in the Pacific. This dream like cruising dreams I have had before became a sort of a pleasurable obsession. I love maps and charts and soon found myself digging deeper and deeper into the reality that has to be the foundation of any worthy exploit by small boat.

I employ a specific strategy when I sail and voyage small and this strategy would again be applied to Greenland should I have elected to go.

For some places and conditions, I believe the very smallest of boats are better suited than larger boats because:
      Small boats can be man handled afloat, onto shore and once on shore by one person. The shore piece is important to me as I am quite fascinated by sailing and exploring near shore and making moderate distance crossings rather than long distance open water passages. I do like long distance open water passage making but it is down my list of sailing preferences. Near shore offers many natural wonders and interesting topography up close and personal yet near shore is potentially far more dangerous to sailors than open water.

The 3rd's Equation
      If properly designed small boats can come close to fulfilling or matching what I think of as the 3rd’s equation. This translates to a boat where the hull weight, sailors weight and sail area make up somewhat equal thirds of course acknowledging that the three elements are different. Dinghies and sailing canoes do this quite well. In other words employing the 3rd's equation means I can sail my boat kinetically out muscling the hull weight and when needed over powering or managing the sail area to a much greater degree than a solo sailor on a large hull, large sail area boat. 

The kinetic piece of this is important to me and throughout a life afloat I have refined my sailing technique into a sort of full body mode constantly often standing, shifting my weight, using body parts other than my hands to steer (take a look at videos of small  boat racing sailors). I steer small boats with feet, arms, torso, the small of my back, inside of my thighs, outside of my legs, in short I attempt to wear a small boat and when on hard chance can muscle it to tame and control it.
      The 3rd's Equation In Simplest Form- Sylph

      Small boats make for great solo sailing if thoughtfully set up. Above is a photo of my voyaging canoe Sylph.

      Other Advantages of Sailing Small
      Small boats cost less and are less costly to maintain. 
      I can sail in places far from home at a fraction of the cost of either sailing there taking weeks or months or having to charter. I can hook up a trailer or strap a boat on my car and off I go. In the case of the voyage you are reading about here I added the complication of shipping and have done so before with other boats but none before have been quite this complicated.

      When I am in a foreign country or any where for that matter I can be free from my small boat for long periods of time without much worry. Easy to lock up and looking like a possible poor mans yacht my boats have almost always been left alone. I can tuck them under a pier, hide them just outside of populated areas, etc. I have cruised large boats and have lived in a few different exotic cruise destinations and one of the biggest issues for big boat sailors is security and being free enough to travel around or go back home.

      If something breaks down on a small boat its likely easy to repair or replace as opposed to more than a few nightmare big boat scenarios I have witnessed first hand in numerous places around the world. It has oft been said that many cruising yachts sail from port to port in order to make repairs. I know this isn’t always true but it sure seems a common theme.
      For me sailing small is more immediate and in a sense more satisfying. I happen to be happiest the closer I am to the magical water/air interface feeling every movement of the boat.

Comfort is another question that may tip either way in favor of small or in favor of large. There are defined comfort levels at both ends of the spectrum depending on how you see it. I have slept and lived on both large and small boats. If the design is right little pocket yachts can be very comfortable if your not too interested in throwing stand up cocktail parties aboard. Well this said I believe my new boat could host four for a yachting gam!
S    Small boats are easiest to store when not in use and simple to launch and retrieve. 

Self rescue is often much easier on a small boat. I practice self reliance and personal responsibility for my actions and do not believe in putting others such as the coast guard, marine police or other sailors in harms way.

Back to Greenland:

If it was a winter over I thought to return a season later to sail further or to retrace my course back to Baffin Island and south to my original launch point of Goose Bay Labrador. This sweet dream occupied my mind for so many hours over about five years that often found me airborne between the US mainland, Japan, the Philippines, China and Micronesia. These flights sometimes of 14 hour duration were fodder for dreams of places I’d like to sail and explore on foot while I still had it in me and with the physical abilities possessed by younger men. Greenland was it and if all failed then I had a long list of places I had yet to explore.

Time is a Slippery Slope
Time is a slippery slope if we let it be. Hours pass as days and days as weeks on to years and before we know it sweet dreams fade away. Always having fancied myself more doer than dreamer I decided to go for Greenland aboard a small boat that I would design and build solely suited to that purpose. So I began the process by drawing a stout little vessel born from a mix of collective experiences afloat and the design work and sailing adventures of others. I suppose this was a good approach. I first sketched my little dream ship on a long flight across the Pacific and would occasionally pull it out and tweak elements. Soon I felt I had the right boat and sent it off to a naval architect for refinement. This began a collaboration that went on for a year and a half and was about complete when friend Josh Colvin emailed a design to me asking for an opinion.

The design was the first iteration of John Welsford’s SCAMP but it didn’t fully suit my purpose as she was too small. I noted this to Josh but did find the boat quite intriguing having no issue with pram bows and buoyant little boats after all I had been cruising a Mirror Dinghy for several years, which is one of the worlds great small boat success stories. My voice about SCAMP being a bit small was a moot point as the question was already being addressed by others and shortly I had a new drawing of the boat and that was it.

I understood the boat immediately and my attention was diverted away from my design because I thought the SCAMP would work as a good base to develop to my particular needs and it was available then and there in kit form thus jumping my plans ahead. I noted that she was just fine as a small or micro mini cruiser just as she was but I had other thoughts in mind. So sight unseen and before the prototype (SCAMP #1) was completed I ordered two kits with the aim of building a completely stock boat and testing it before making decisions on modifications.

New Information
With the purchase of the kits in late September 2011 I realized I had just fired the start gun on a long held dream. This is how it works with me. I dream, dream and dream some more and these remain in that state until the day I spend the first dollar, then it’s all on. Soon I was well into preparation for the voyage to Greenland. Because I sail other boats I had gear suitable for them and for land based exploring already in my small boat quiver and much of this gear was perfect for a long sea voyage to Greenland. The process sped forward.

One thing lead to another as I worked away in Pohnpei anticipating a trip to the states in late December 2011 and so I contacted Josh and told him I was flying into the States and could I come to Port Townsend to take a look at his newly minted SCAMP #1. He replied not only inviting me but offering to let me take her for a winter sail and over night if I wished. More on this later. For now I will spin forward to put a period on the Greenland chapter and the why behind sailing in Tierra del Fuego.

New information came to light that movement and/or diminishment of the ice along the western side of the Arctic Sea (the eastern shore of Baffin Island) had begun to impact the movements and habits of the Polar Bear population. There was a marked spike in Polar Bear attack incidents as food was scarcer for them and this became a serious issue for me. I had thoughts of bears swimming out to my boat at anchor, attacks on land, etc. 

I began looking into electric bear fences, which seemed to be ineffective and how would I carry one on such a small boat. I looked into weapons including a pump shot gun and 357 magnum pistol and asked friend to help me learn to shoot because I know nothing of guns. Then it came to me like a clear blue sky, “What was I thinking?”…………..I’m not going to shoot a bear or vector a long diag course away from the shores I wished to explore just to get to Greenland.

Bears weren’t the issue I was the issue as I would be in their territory not them in mine. For a few weeks I chewed on and moped about this situation and continued to think I could find a way until one night I awoke startled from a dream. In my dream I was anchored off of Baffin Island (or some similar shoreline) in a small quiet cove. I had put up my tent on a placid evening, fired up the wood stove and turned in to sleep with a half watchful eye. I awoke as large white paws began to pull my boat over on its side. In my dream I desperately tried to fend off the bear, raise sail and sail away. It turned into one of those nightmares where I was running through deep snow or mud and something was after me. That was it, Greenland as I envisioned it by small boat was over.

The Dark Side of the Moon

Some years ago I sailed and paddled a folding sailing kayak through Tierra del Fuego and after three and a half months mostly alone I had pushed west up the Beagle Channel into the prevailing westerly winds and snow. It was getting late in the season and there I was one morning standing in a windy blizzard of hail and rain looking further west into the eastern edge of the Southwest Islands. The Islands begin behind me in the photo below. I am west of Timbales on the Beagle Channel about to be covered in another snow fall, almost out of food and out of time. In my time there I had explored south into the Wollaston Islands and had doubled Cape Horn before returning north to sail west up the Beagle Channel. It was time to turn and head east back to the Chilean navy base Puerto Williams.

I knew my time voyaging was up and it was time to return to my other life. The view to the west was dark and foreboding yet so intriguing, at that moment I thought I must be looking into a place akin to the dark side of the moon a place so few people have seen, perhaps one of the most remote places left on our busy planet.

I vowed that someday I would return. Enter the slippery slope of time and the years rolled by. It was now 2014 and I had made a firm decision not to sail the coasts of Labrador and Baffin Island with a crossing of the Davis Strait yet I had the boat development program underway. Why not the dark side of the moon? I had thought of it over and over through the years and so it was on, I would return to Tierra del Fuego (TDF) and fulfill a promise and a dream that had been pushed to the back of my mind like so many others.

Far More Complex
Sailing a small boat built of my hand through TDF would be a wholly different challenge from sailing to Greenland or from any other small boat voyaging I have done from every perspective thinkable.

Stay tuned and I will continue to unfold the development of a dream, building a boat and modifying it to be suited for arguably the roughest ocean environment on the planet, the over coming of many challenges and where I am today…………..sitting in a small café looking out at the Strait of Magellan. My voyage has begun but not at all as I had planned, they never do.

Thanks for reading. I plan to post every Wednesday and if I miss a day then within a week after. I look forward to any comments, ideas, suggestions, feel free to post.


  1. Howard, I like your idea of the 3rd's equation. My way of looking at it is simpler: I want man to match the boat; I don't want man to be greater than the boat or boat to be greater than the man. It's a little like what I once read about warplanes: in the first war, man was greater than plane; in the second, man and plane were matched; and now, plane is greater than man. I got rid of a 31-footer because I couldn't fully understand or control all the systems. My current boat has no power or water or cabin and I can step the mast myself. Small boat, small problems.

  2. You might enjoy reading Rockwell Kent's "Voyaging Southward from the Strait of Magellan". The beautifully illustrated account of his adventures in 1923 attempting to round Cape Horn in a lifeboat converted to sail.

  3. That looks like a lot of fun. I did not know they made a Scamp boat. Is it the same brand that makes those little travel trailers? I would like to go sailing someday. See the world and meet new people. That is a really tiny sailboat, though. I would be afraid to fall out of it. Maybe they have something a little bigger.


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