It's been a whirl wind of activity since I returned from Chile with work, a house and boat shop piled high with snow and a to do list about a mile long. It is also nice to be back in the boat shop for rigging and mounting of some final hardware. I am reluctant to mount all the needed hardware until I begin sailing in order to determine exact locations to ensure the leads work.
A Key Element
One of the key elements to putting together a micro voyager or really any sailing boat for that matter is to ensure that sails can be trimmed to flat or full and the rig can be struck quickly and smoothly. Where I will be sailing Southern Cross means I have to be absolutely certain I can reef, trim and strike sail faster than ever because conditions change so quickly. The wind and weather changes that happen in Tierra del Fuego are legendary for their unpredictability and ferocity.
One of the more complex yet really interesting (at least to me) rigging elements is the system I have designed for running head sails and furlers forward from my position in the cockpit.The idea being to be able to pull a sail out from below, snap on halyard and sheets, run it forward, hoist it, trim it, furl it, strike it and bring it back without leaving the cockpit and this has to happen for two and likely three different head sails. Designing the set up was easy, finding just the right hardware much more of a challenge. A few sailing friends have visited the shop and marveled at the hardware and a few have made statements like "Wow Howard she looks like a complex racing boat." Hardly I tell them. I explain that sometimes the apparent complexity of hardware is deceptive because the complexity actually leads to simplicity and simplicity typically leads to a higher level of safety. So it looks like I have the head sail system set and solved, sea trials will tell.
Here is a photo of "some" of her hardware laid out before final mounting.
In the photo above there are additional blocks and fairleads that have yet to be placed. Those laid out on the port side are half of the number I will use for head sails. The final pieces will go on after initial sea trials. I may be adding an additional head sail to the three I now have. I am carrying a furling 110% genoa, a furling spitfire jib (which can be hoisted from the end of the bowsprit or the stem) and a small (lower cut foot) furling working jib.
I may add a small asymmetrical chute to the mix, although as I write this I know an asymmetrical sounds a bit over the top but having one aboard may fit nicely with my voyaging strategy. One must have a very solid strategy for sailing the waters of Tierra del Fuego. Mine is a bit odd to some sailors I meet. Their eyes widen when they hear I am planning to sail solo south down the Strait of Magellan and out into the Southern Ocean. When asked what size boat I am sailing the wide eyes often turn to looks of astonishment. I suppose there are many or most sailors who believe size equates with safety (big boats are safer in just about all situations) to which I get the wide eyes. I see it the other way for most applications.
Small vs Large
For sailing the waters of TDF I believe small and well found equates with safety if the sailor can handle less comfort or better yet comfort defined differently than that offered by a larger boat. I don't mind the level of comfort offered by small boats as I have never been much of one for throwing stand up cocktail parties aboard and in spite of the cold climate in the far south I have a means to get warm and dry in most situations.
I also know it would be close to a nightmare to have to navigate where I am planning to sail in a large yacht and the history of the region bears this out. So many ships and yachts have been wrecked in the waters of the Strait of Magellan and south not to mention the waters around Cape Horn. One of the prime reasons I went to Chile was to meet with the Chilean navy up front to inform them I am coming and will be very well prepared.
The Certificate That Made a Difference
The document below was presented to me by the Chilean navy years ago and it made all the difference in the most important meeting this trip. Having it means I came to Chile once before, followed Chilean navy rules for sailing their waters and ended up a good citizen in their eyes. In the key meeting of the five I was involved in I made a short power point presentation about my coming voyage plans.
One of the slides was this certificate. When the slide came up the room went silent and in a second the officers started to talk amongst themselves in rapid fire Spanish and at first I was concerned and then understood. The commander (the person who has yes/no power over any vessel sailing in Tierra del Fuego) told the others that he also holds one of these rare certificates. They talked back and forth in a very animated manner complete with amazement that their Commander had also rounded Cape Horn solo.
The mood in the room changed in an instant as he put his hand out to me and in broken English said something like "as brothers."
I was glad John Welsford was with me as he not only added design content to the discussion but was also allowed (after the certificate moment) to film the end of the meeting. We went into the meeting wondering just what might happen and walked out feeling we had made friends. I will still have to prove the seaworthiness of my boat to them when I return in order to obtain the Zarpe (permission to sail) but the process is in motion in a most positive way. I am working on filing official papers now and John is doing some requested calculations, which will be tipped into the request I make.
I was concerned about just showing up with my boat and hoping for the best, which I didn't do last time I was there. The reason I went to Chile this time instead of shipping my boat was to work out unknowns and there were several I just couldn't seem to solve long distance ranging from shipping, customs, storage of the shipping crate, provisioning and permission from the navy. I was confident about the navy but very uncertain about customs charges and shipping logistics. Last round I worked on and off for a year gaining necessary permission, which was unfortunately denied when I arrived due to a circumstance out of the control of the commander of the Puerto Williams navy base.
Bound For Six Months In Antarctica
I ended up solving the situation by giving up on Cape Horn by shipping out on a junk rigged sailing ship bound for Antarctica. The Chilean navy couldn't stop me from departing in this manner and I had a plan. I figured once we were out of Chilean waters deep in the Drake Passage I would ask to jump ship and figure a way to make my way back north and west to the Wollaston Islands. This was a dicey proposition but I had few choices and I knew I had a well prepared boat and body.
The MV Heraclitus in the background with one of the crew (Ibis) running me to shore in Puerto Williams. She was 90 feet of amazement, ferro cement and steel and in my estimation one dangerous set up of a boat. The crew was extremely young, green and the task ahead of crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica daunting.
My boat lashed off deck in the bollards aboard the Heraclitus. I was very afraid of lashing her on deck as the rig on the Heraclitus was sketchy at best and looked like it could come down at any time. Some things never change, note the jib deployment/retrieval system similar theory I am using on Southern Cross.
Heraclitus was a pre socratic Greek philosopher credited amongst other accomplishments with this statement,"The only constant is change. Everything flows and nothing stands still." The Heraclitus was Antarctica bound with the purpose of collecting plankton samples to introduce into the Earth Biosphere in Oracle Arizona. The expedition leader ended up as one of the seven biospherians. With my boat strapped off deck in the bollards we set sail across the Drake Passage to Antarctica where I would have spent six months exploring if I wanted to hitch a ride back with them. The crew of the Heraclitus had offered me not only passage to Antarctica but access to food they had aboard. Three days out of Puerto Williams after some serious stormy weather I asked to jump ship. My boat was being beat to pieces due to the extreme weather and the rolling of the round hull Heraclitus. After some worry and hand wringing by the crew I set off solo in my tiny boat before they headed over the horizon south to the ice. It was lump in the throat for me and I suspect for them as well for we were out there.
So back to the meeting with the navy. Making the effort showed them I respected them and recognized how difficult their job is and that I plan to not be an issue for them. The officers present were hugely impressed that I had traveled there from the US just to meet them and that my friend John had traveled all the way from New Zealand for the same. How do I ever thank a friend like John? He designed my boat and he and I have collaborated on some of the many changes I have made to his stock design and then he offers to join me in Chile for the scouting trip! Amazing and what a great experience we had together.
I am sailing engineless, which makes a huge difference to the navy as they have had a litany of incidents over the years of well found ocean going yachts and ships being wrecked and causing fuel spills. As mentioned I wouldn't be very comfortable sailing aboard a large ocean going yacht through those "mountains in the ocean." When the Chilean navy goes out to rescue someone they can't just send one gun boat or one helicopter, it's too dangerous, they have to send two. Wicked weather and the unprepared have caused them to be very careful who they allow in.
The Small Boat Strategy
My strategy for sailing in Tierra del Fuego is to go small, light and manageable with the ability to lay on sail when the wind window shows a few hours of lighter breeze. At the same time the boat needs to be simple and quick to reef and the rig able to be instantly struck. So its a combination of sail as fast as possible when possible (that won't be often) and be able to strike all sail in seconds and get to the oars or hang on for one wild ride.
My little pocket yacht was built tough and can be manhandled by me alone under sail and can be man hauled up on shore when I can find a suitable place. If caught out on hard chance (sudden squalls, which are just about daily occurrences) I can also use my weight and muscle to get the rig and boat under control. As mentioned I am sailing engineless by choice and this means I will have to be very careful and just a bit lucky...........if luck is a real thing. Some sailors push the sensibility question believing their engine will save the day............until it fails or it is too late. One of the excellent small boat stories about the region is "Two against Cape Horn" by Hal Roth. In the book he recounts the ordeals that he and his wife Margaret endured including being ship wrecked (blown off anchor) just north of Cape Horn in their 35 foot well found yacht. I talked with Margaret before I traveled to Chile to sail and paddle south and she was was an excellent source of information.
Another of the small voyaging boats I have built and use.
Having the month in Chile was a nice break from the hands on part of the project. Although this said I do enjoy working on the boat very much as being aboard conjures up so many "what if" scenarios and I have to think my way through each one. It is quite interesting to be aboard thinking about where I will soon be sailing and trying to imagine what it might be like to be caught in a 60 knot Williwaw and the moves I will have to make instantly and simultaneously to avoid being capsized or having something break. I find this sort of thinking while building fascinating and just a tad frightening as having sailed the waters of Tierra del Fuego once before.enables me to remember those moments when I wished I was somewhere else.
One of the last of the Cape Horners- Punta Arenas
The Weather Machine
It's not just the Williwaw winds that are a concern (they happen frequently in the channels and fjords of the Strait of Magellan and south all the way to Cape Horn) but also the general weather of the region known as the stormiest on earth.
Once out of the channels and into the Southern Ocean means fewer Williwaws but the daily possibility of high winds and huge waves goes up exponentially. The region is a weather machine and this can easily be imagined if one looks at the macro mechanics of the weather.
South America is a relatively warm land mass (although it is cold by any measure), six hundred miles south is the worlds largest ice cube, Antarctica. The ocean between the tip of South America and the ice of Antarctica is known as the Drake Passage and this narrow passage squeezes the unrelenting and unimpeded Roaring Forty winds and by squeezing them the Bernoulli principle comes into play on a large scale. In simple terms, squeeze or constrict a moving medium (air/liquid) and it will speed up. Add to this speeding up the temperature differential between the relatively warm tip of the continent and the ice of Antarctica coupled with a relatively uneven and shallow sea bed and you have one nasty weather machine operating 24 hours a day throughout the year. This produces perhaps the roughest ocean environment to be found anywhere.
So I am preparing carefully and thoughtfully and not marching to anyones drummer other than my own, which is hard to do given the fact I have agreed to have a documentary film shot of the voyage. More on the film later.
A Nice Flat Main
Here is a photo of my boats main taken three days ago. I am fitting reef lines, attaching mast hoops, calculating the location of the peak halyard, etc. I had all sails cut very flat and this one with two reefs, the mizzen has one reef. When I say flat I mean flat. I had the pleasure of working with Bob Pattison of Neil Pryde Sails. I know Pryde sails and having used them for many years like them very much. Bob was great in that he took my design work coupled with Johns and added his knowledge. The result are sails that are strong and as flat as I wanted them. I did specify a loose footed main so I can power it up when needed in spite of the flat cut.
John Welsford and I spent just shy of one week in Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan with a day crossing of the Strait of Magellan to Porvenir. As mentioned in my last post I had been there some 28 years ago and how things have changed. The population has tripled, new airport, etc. What has not changed was the very European feel about the city center. The architecture is a mix of Spanish colonial and uniquely Chilean design. Punta is a lively small city and one of the furthest south settlements on earth. It is separated from the more populated parts of Chile in the far north such as Santiago by over a thousand miles of impassable mountains, fjords and islands, it is really out there.
We learned this distance thing by trying to drive south getting as far as Hornopin and also trying to drive the distance to Punta Arenas through Argentina, the only way to get there by road. In the end we gave up on the road trip and flew from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas arriving at nearly 1am to cold, wind and driving rain all topped off by a taxi driver who knew how to drive fast through the night, what a ride.
Here is a photo of two of our new friends in Punta Arenas. We were befriended by the wonderful staff of the El Bodegon restaurant and spent many an hour there conversing with them (owner Mauricio, Karla, Tony, staff and Mauricio's Mom) and struck up such a friendship. Mauricio has graciously offered to store the shipping crate for my boat while I am sailing. He has a nice fenced in yard behind his fledgling brewery. Great folks and superb food if you are ever in Punta Arenas. El Bodegon is going to be our HQ for the weeks I will be in Punta before setting off. So our thanks to new friends!
........and Karla Garcia who became a friend through the restaurant and whom John interviewed on film for the documentary. It's nice to have such friends in Punta Arenas, which as it turns out is likely our favorite city in Chile. Both John and I agreed there was just something about Punta Arenas in spite of the changes since I was last there. A lovely town full of life plus Chilean friendliness and hospitality.
(Thanks for the photo Karla, I didn't end up with a better one from the interview so I used this one)
Staging and Launch Site
The very first spot I discovered ended up being the place we both agreed made sense, although not glamorous it is perfect for a tiny yacht. I can tuck my boat up against the customs dock seawall and stake it to the ground. The wind blows hard in Punta so I need a place that offers protection from at least three sides. If it blows in from the east I can haul her higher up the beach and tie her off to the large pipe and bury a couple of anchors. Not much of a place for looks but quite functional for a small boat sailor.
One issue I have about staging in Punta Arenas is privacy. My plan is to be in Punta when the shipping crate containing my boat arrives. I will open the crate with Customs officials, unload it, assemble a small trailer, get the boat onto the trailer and then move it to the water front. All this has to happen in one day as Customs charges storage by the hour. So I have to get the boat off the dock and quickly onto the beach and so adjacent to the dock makes the most sense although it is a very public place. The wall in the photo is the outer boundary of the customs dock and staging area for shipments to Antarctica, perfect. John and I can get the boat on the trailer and literally roll it out of the customs dock area by hand.
The privacy issue is the number of foreign (seems mainly European) and Chilean visitors who come to the waterfront and walk along it. In my last post I mentioned that Punta Arenas has become a mecca of sorts for travelers seeking one of the remotest places on earth for a passport stamp and so they come to Punta Arenas, stay a couple of days and fly off to warmer, calmer places. However they do walk the waterfront and I believe seeing a tiny sailboat there will be a real curiosity. There is also a coffee shop right on the beach and my boat will be in sight. So with this in mind I may seek a different staging/launching site but this causes another issue, convenience to the center of town and ease of getting stores for provisioning. The convenience of walking would be nice.
It is quite chilly in Punta Arenas even in the summer. Here are two cyclists we met with dog and they are dressed lightly for summer bike riding. Seems the dog grew up riding on the bike and was one happy pooch.
A cold Kiwi crossing the Strait of Magellan to Porvenir on a typical good weather day. It was very cold and windy as is the case most summer days.
..........and just for fun here is a photo of my set up the last time I sailed Tierra del Fuego and down around the Horn. This is sailor, boat, food and gear for four months. For a unsponsored rookie attempt everything worked. I reckon any small boat voyage is all about planning just like painting a house is 90% preparation and 10% painting. Yes all of the gear in the photo fit in and on the boat.
My coming voyage is nothing more than a small boat going sailing. In spite of the fact a documentary film is being shot what I am doing is in my mind not remarkable just really interesting.
The film being shot will in no manner be anything akin to reality TV nor am I a faux adventurer i.e., (Man vs Wild). I don't know what the definition of "adventurer" or "adventurer sailor" is. I suppose folks like labels and so I have been labelled as such by others. Like most of us I just enjoy a good sail now and again.
I am not out to save the planet, baby seals or anything else remotely noble. I am not collecting water samples to save the oceans (the last sixteen years of my working life have focused on that). I am not trying to set some nebulous record in a world that seems overly focused on firsts ranging from pogo stick jumping across the America to the fastest to row around some island or the largest, smallest, fastest engineless or any other meaningless measure.
I think many of these self proclaimed "look at me" records are chest pounding at its tackiest. I am not a super man nor even a particularly talented sailor. I am just curious, always have been. I am more interested in what is just over the horizon than I am about my own back yard. I like to hike, bike, sail and climb and for this exploration of the remote southern islands of Tierra del Fuego I have chosen to go by small boat because there is no other way to get there. If I could do it by bicycle or on foot I might go that way. The small boat I have built for this trip is simply a tool to me, essentially no different than an ice axe or a set of crampons................although this said I do have quite an attachment to her as she is a boat of my hand. Nice to know I am sailing a boat I know every square inch of.
The Sponsorship Question
Because of the nature of the voyage I know I could have gone the full on sponsorship route and courted companies for freebies (boat, provisions, gear, clothing, airfares, accommodations, etc, etc). I didn't opt for to go for sponsorship because I am not comfortable about our overly commercial world and the slathering on of corporate logos and the commercial marketing of a small boat voyage that I do not consider exceptional, challenging and interesting yes but exceptional, no.
The Documentary Film
David Nichols is producing the film Below 40 South and any sponsorship or fund raising he does is for the purpose of making a film (equipment, filming, post production, marketing etc) and does not trickle down to me in any manner. Dave has been very cool to work with and is not paying himself anything from funds he raises for making the film. If the film is commercially successful some day then good for him.
When he first proposed a film to me more than three years ago I was a bit taken back and stated "Theres really no story, who would be interested?" As the film project developed I began to understand the value. I would like to see a good small boat voyaging film and if being involved in one might also inspire others then that is good enough for me.
I was also counseled to be a part of the film making effort in order to have some say over what is depicted in the final cut. Dave actually offered this ability right up front allowing me 100% control over what ends up in the film. I went through a struggle and messy process last summer trying to find a way to allow a film to be made about something I am doing that is personal and really nothing more while ensuring my story is told and not someone else's version of it. No one else will be there except me and as set I will be shooting some 90% or more of the film because I am not interested in a chase boat, helicopter or film crew. In the end I gave up on having any part in the film development process other than to go sailing with cameras running. Dave can do as he sees fit with the images I bring back for post production.
The act of voyaging in a small boat is a sacred thing to me and in a sense straight forward and pure. I don't want to "have to" do something because I have "sold my soul" to sponsors because to do so can be dangerous.
OK all this said I am sponsored............eegads, What?
Meanwhile Back To Sponsorship
As it turns out about three years ago I talked with a friend about the voyage costs and he offered to approach Neil Pryde (because he is a good customer of theirs) about the possibility of a discounted price on a suit of custom sails, even a tiny discount. At the time I had been doing quite a bit to help develop the SCAMP (the boat design I am sailing) and many of the boats sold are equipped with Pryde sails. I am not implying anyone owed me anything, just stating a factor in the mix. In addition in a previous life I worked very closely with Pryde (when I was the Mistral National Sports Promotion Manager and One Design Director) and so felt a close kinship with them. Putting a boat and voyage like this together is a pricey proposition and so why not ask for a small discount if a sailmaker could see a reason to offer something. I was happy and prepared to pay full price but quietly hoped for even a percent or two off of retail.Why not?
Bob Pattison at Pryde Sails got very excited about the voyage and said "no charge for the sails" but for the record I have twice offered to pay for them but understood after talking with him that his offer had no strings attached and should be seen as a sailor assisting a fellow sailor and nothing more. Neil Pryde has not asked for anything and I am not in any manner obligated to them. Very cool in my book. Thank you Bob, Thank you Neil Pryde! I am very pleased to have the "Best" sails on board.
The fact that I offered to purchase the sails in my mind gives me a pass on having accepted sponsorship. OK, sticky situation but made all the more palatable by the amazing goodwill and helping hands from so many of my friends that continues to this day.
Just today I received a package in the mail from my friend Simeon Baldwin......(a Merino wool shirt!). Is this sponsorship or the goodwill wish of a friend who simply doesn't want me to be cold?
It is an act of genuine friendship and concern for my well being. Simeon knows his stuff and as my friend he has a right to be concerned about me and so he did the best thing he could and that was a practical gift. Thanks Sim, I will proudly wear the shirt and as I sail I will think of you because of it.
My friend Simeon Baldwin
This just keeps happening and man does it make me feel great to know I will be sailing with so many of my friends in spite of being solo.
Another example is Chuck Leinweber from Duckworks, another friend who lent a hand with gear that I ordered/purchased but was not allowed to pay for. I was amazed when he refused payment and asked for nothing in return. I tried to pay him but..............nope. His words meant everything to me that day in Austin Texas as we sat together with Dave Nichols.........(I paraphrase here), "It's because I consider you my friend" he said and it was clear and plain as day to me. Like Simeon he simply wants me to be safe and to come back. Thank you Chuck!!
My friend Chuck (looking over a fence.......I think;-)
How about my friend John Welsford who spent his own money and not a little of it to come to Chile to both be with me as a pal and to offer what he could in meetings with the navy. John is coming back to Chile to help me uncrate the boat, to do some test sailing aboard Southern Cross on the Strait of Magellan and help provision up before setting off. He has also become a key piece of Dave Nichols documentary film about the voyage. Thank you John, no words can thank you for this kind of friendship. We had such a great time together including a real adventure in the wilds of Patagonia as we attempted to push south by truck. Self rescue on a steep mountain road was a good one, team work got it done and we have some of it on film!
My friend John posing for a group of 125 5th grade students who are following my adventure. He is wearing a pin from their school..........Go Greyhounds!
Speaking of friends here is a photo of a few of the Ortiz family from Santiago Chile with John (Sophia and her father Jorge) missing are Pilar, Cristian, Pablo and Francisco..............I count real wealth as friends and little else. The Ortiz family has become a big part of my experience in Chile and both John and I very glad to know them. Sophia is helping with translations of important documents and sat in a high level meeting with us in Santiago. What a fine bunch of folks, some of the best!
I could ramble on about help from some fifty to sixty friends ranging from Josh Colvin (Small Craft Advisor Magazine) and even to my wife but suffice it to say.....Thank you to each and every one of you!
In the greatest tradition of the sea there is an unspoken code "sailors aid fellow sailors." I have always practiced this code and know I have assisted so many sailors along the way.
Thanks to all of you who have helped me get this far!
I don't know exactly but think perhaps people are somehow inspired by a small boat sailing in a wild place, perhaps something they might dream of doing but would never do for any number of good reasons. I don't for a moment think its the sailor they are inspired by. Instead I think its the pluck of an under 12 foot stick built open boat sailing in such a place that inspires. I also believe a few sailors out there are curious about the technical aspects of voyaging a very small boat in such a place.
When I think about the why behind a solo voyage such as the one I am working on it is aptly depicted in this painting. This sums up an age of sail I missed, the age of true exploration, of hardy men in rough hewn ships sailing into the unknown to places where there be dragons and the edge of the known world. The feeling I get from this painting is etched in my DNA, it is the hot coal in my heart that will never go out. I have created my own modern day (low tech) version that is 11' 11" in length and rigged for adventure. I do know the life of the sailor on ships such as this was incredibly hard and I reckon my coming voyage will be a bit of the same.
So in short I am simply going sailing and see little remarkable in that. I am going because I am curious and love a good challenge for in a good challenge we have a chance to meet ourselves for better or worse.
Thanks for reading.
Next weeks posting will be about the film "Below 40 South"