1st of March 2008
South Isla Canning
‘Zephyrus’ left Puerto Bueno five nights ago, we headed east into Estero Peel and sailed up into the Northern arm.
A fantastic day of journeying at around thirty miles. The day filled with sunlight and ice, and an escort of dolphins, two in particular who joined us at the start remained throughout, one with a triangle nick
out of his dorsal fin, and the other with three white spots on his back, the whole day they stayed with us surfing off the bow then charging ahead only to come streaming back in, turn suddenly and begin at surfing the bow again. At times one would lie on his side and look up at you.
When i am around these creatures; or more when they are around me, i feel an overwhelming sense of happiness, they bring out the childlike wonder in us all, and for no reason i know why, but; i also feel safe. Perhaps its their playful all knowing smile that puts us at ease.
We wanted to push further up into the northern arm but time and daylight were against us and so we anchored for the night.
In 1956 H.W.Tilman sailed his 1906 Bristol channel cutter ‘Mischief’ along with six crew, out from the UK across the Atlantic into the Magellan channel. Once past Punta Arenas, they set off North west up the Magellan, on entering canal Smyth they wound their way North through the maze of channels. Since that time our route of some three hundred miles has mirrored theirs. Their ultimate goal Estero Peel and to find a way up onto the Southern Ice cap.
Tilman and two others eventually did this, making the first traverse of the southern ice cap. They then returned back to Peel, via the Calvo glacier, to rejoin the ship. From here Mischief sailed out North into
Canal Pitt and Canal Conception, on and into the Pacific without use of the engine. They finally sailed back to Britain via the Panama Canal.
Tilman was famous for his mountaineering and sailing exploits; the idea being to use his boat to access hitherto ‘unacessable areas’. Mischief and successive boats, over a twenty two year period, saw him travel the southern ocean where he visited Patagonia and many sub Antarctic isles, Greenland, Spitzbergen, the list goes on.
He once said ‘if you cannot plan a journey on the back of a cigarette box then its too complicated”. That said, he was zealous in preparation, but always with the underlying key of simplicity.
It is in his writing that i am endeared to the man most, he is at once prolific, stylish, candid to a point, and yet always managing to see the humourous side in himself and the goings on around.
Mischief and crew went on eventually to land Tilman and two other climbers at Calvo Fjord. The ship had to cope with several weeks of poor weather whilst fending off fast flowing ice. During which time the ship ran aground at a spot a little further North of Calvo Fjord, what is now know as Agnostura Mischief, where they spent a fraught week of unloading the iron ballast off the ship and eventually kedging her off. ( It is here they damaged the propellor which negated the use of the engine for
the rest of the journey.)
Since i came to Patagonia it has been a dream to visit this area along with names such as Hielo Sur (the southern ice cap) Calata Tilman, Calvo Fjord and Agnostura Mischief (‘Agnostura’ being a narrows with a fast flow of water) have all filled me with the desire to go and see.
And so as i lay in my bunk in ‘Puerto Bueno’ five nights back i opened Tilman’s ‘Mischief in Patagonia’ and read.
His words do more justice than mine, and our journey mirrors. So to Tilman.
“We left the following morning, the calm weather of the previous day continued. There was no wind no rain no sun. Peel inlet opens off of Canal Sarmiento abo t eight miles north of Puerto Bueno round Cape
Antonio. The northern side of the entrance is formed by the the shore of Chatam island, and between cape and island, across the six mile wide entrance, are a few small islets. Off the shore of one of these a large object in the water caught our attention, and when we realised it was not a boat but an iceflow we examined it with increased interest but with no great concern. A few miles up we passed the very narrow entrance to Pitt Channel leading to Canal San Andreas and thence to the main channel. Several more flows, some of fantastic shape and delicate blue colouring now drifted by close to the ship, and were greeted with pleased cries, much as some ignorant clown might meet the first few ranging shots of a hostile battery. It is ridiculus to think that we went out of our way to photograph these feeble harbingers of the coming hordes.”
“The Northern arm which we were now entering is narrow and enclosed by high walls on both sides. Its western wall is formed by the large Wilcock penninsula with mountains running up to 5,000ft., and many small glaciers none of which reaching the sea; while of course the eastern shore forms the foothills of the Cordillera 8,000 or 9,000ft. above. It must be rememberd that the lattitude here is about that of London, and presumably the combined effects of the extent and height of this range together with the weather which accounts for the accumulation of snow and the consequent size of the glaciers. The permanant snow line in this latitude is about 3000ft. It is said that the coolness of the summers rather than the severity of the winters is the most important factor in maintaining so low a snow line, the glaciers, and the snow field from which they descend. If we include the Darwin range in Tierra Del Fuego (where the snow line is about 2,000ft.), this ice mantle covers a length of 700 miles and is broken only at the straits of Magellan and the Rio Baker, which separates the two great fields of inland ice at latitude 48 degrees.
The two together form the largest glaciated region of the temperate zone. Its northernmost glacier the San Rafael, reaches the sea in lat 46 degrees 40,south,further from the pole by any Alaskan glacier by 10 degrees, and 20 degrees further than the Jokelfjord the most southern of the Norweigan glaciers which reach the sea. Darwin puts it even more strikingly. He says of the San Rafael glacier, 15 miles long and in one place seven miles broad, that it pushes its ice into the sea at a point on the coast where, within less than 500 miles palms grow.”
After a good nights sleep in what is an unmarked bay but is recorded as Sea lion Cove, we entered the Agnostura early on the morning of the 27th and headed North up Estero Peel.
“The ice was here, the ice was there,
the ice was all around,
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound”
‘The Ancient Mariner’
On up and into the farthest reaches of Peel, the day had started with pelting rain but once through the Agnostura we were gifted a glorious sunshine. Majestic peaks soon rose from the clouds whilst like two
school boys in a sweet shop the inner climbers shouted at one another look at that line ..yeah but look at that one with the curved ridge, overhangs, slabs, shields, and endless faces of perfect granite all
boarded by incredible waterfalls falling thousands of feet. And each peak crowned or capped by ice, white and blue, deeper blue seracs.
No anchorages are noted in our pilot and whether anyone has checked them out we do not know as nothing is recorded, but we poked around two excellent spots making sketches and sounding them with a lead line.
Like climbing a new route, you get to name it, so two anchorages on the eastern shore of Seno Peel are now named. ‘Leker Ding cove’ and ‘Bobblin bay’.
We headed on up past glaciers hundreds of feet wide, past acres of granite, hillside forests thick with ancient trees and all to the tune of calm flat water and the ear splitting pop as the air inside ice escaped. The chart goes to ten miles and we made a further two at the end. This not being a case of poor navigation or Zephyrus finally ascending a peak!. Just simply the map runs out!. At the head we sat in a bay where two glaciers meet, brewed up a cuppa and watched thousands of years old ice tumble into the water.
Time to leave came and all too soon and we set off back, with just one or two moments to keep us entertained, although Zephyrus has been here for some time i have not yet managed to get a definitive heres my boat with full sails up, bowling along beside a glacier Raaaraaraa, and arn’t we great picture!.
We found a perfect glacial front full of high pointed seracs. And lowered the dinghy into the mirror calm waters. I rowed off into nowhere. And Mag’s the more experienced sailor headed toward the ice, he assures me that had any tumbled off he was out of range of even the highest of the serac.
From my position the boat was dwarfed by the ice and suddenly i wanted to be back onboard, and out of here.
Then sails up, ‘full sails of course’ we wanted to make this a good one!, previously we had thought the toughest job would be to make the sails appear full of wind and give the impression of her sailing along….And then the great Patagonian joke unfolded into our laps WIND! acres of it!!! and not a breath all day…..
It’s nice to laugh at these things now, but suddenly Zephyrus was heeled over, her sails full with white foam under her bow and she was off steaming across the bay, Seracs in the background, gleaming toothy bergs in the fore..
And so we made the shot, and i believe; it is fairly defenitive, if you look closely you can make out the full sails, even the glacier, just behind the whites of Mag’s eyes!.
The following miles back to the Agnostura involved a sedate putter in sunshine where once through this section, a sudden rise in wind had us check the Barometer, which neither of us had been paying much attention to given the days weather.
The wind was increasing and a concern was that it (the barometer) had fallen some five points in the last twenty minuets. The weather was begining to turn and on arrival at our previous nights anchorage (sea lion cove) we found it to be choked with ice.
The decision was made quickly that we should sail the twenty miles south to Calata Valdivia.
The next miles were the most exciting twenty i have ever coverd, downwind under jib alone our speed averaged 9 knots reaching at times 11 and 12. The following seas grew larger and the fronts of wind
turning the breadth of the bay behind us a wall of white, with williwaws whipping up indiscriminate miniature tornados all over the bay, the fronts would catch us, pass over leaving us feeling at once both exhilarated and on edge.
‘One thing about the wind that evening it was incredibly warm although we had foul weather pants and boots on we were both more or less in T-shirts, strange and delightful’.
We dropped our sails only once to clear an area of ice even then under engine alone we were making 7.5 to 8 knots.
As dusk was approaching the warm following winds faded and cold wind and driving rain came in off the bow, the rain was being driven with tremendous force i could not believe the speed of change, by now we had only a few miles to go and our dolphins had returned. At times as i crouched on the bow looking into the water for ice, i would catch sight of ten or so torpedos of grey and white as they played and jossled one another on and under the waves.
We reached the Anchorage just as darkness fell, anchoring and the lines ashore being tied in darkness.
The next day dawned blue, and full of sun we slept till ten, ate pancakes and lounged around under warm skies, so we had come and seen Seno Peel and the ice cap. We had been allowed in and shown all in its splendour and then its splendid force, i am nothing but awed and humbled.
We left the following morning, the 29th now heading north through Canal Pitt.
Wind North West 20 knots, rain, sun, hail, rainbows. 90 miles to Puerto Eden and our half way mark of the journey thus far.