The Final Push for Safe Harbor

Dec 26. 2am. Anchor down, Caleta Olla, after 20 hours at the tiller.

0500. Underway for Bahia Cook. 50 miles east, a full day. 110 miles to Caleta Olla.

The sea running is still a Southern Ocean sea, but somehow it’s more manageable than I expect, the tiller, now called derisively by the name Nasty, Brutish, and Short!, is not so nasty. The day is sunny and crisp with squalls that bring brief showers of hail, better than rain, drier. A few albatross.

0830. Land. Silhouettes above the horizon only barely discernable from the heavy cloud that piles in over them. Chilling to be approaching such a ragged, saw-tooth coast from windward–no turning back. And welcome. And disappointing. And still far away.

1230. Six and a half hours on the tiller and I’m getting cold, so break for lunch. Lunch and dinner have been the same for days. A can of lentils, a can of raviolis, a can of meat. Put all in one pot, bring to boil. Eat as fast as much as one can to transfer as much of the heat to the body as possible.

Breakfasts have been similar. A pot of oatmeal (different pot) loaded with peanut butter, brown sugar, powdered milk and raisins. Don’t be fussy: more milk, more peanut butter, more raisins, good. Neither pot has been washed since I can remember.

I keep a bag of Clif Bars in the cockpit. Have another. Now. Gotta stay warm and calories equal warmth.

First waypoint in Bahia Cook, 10 miles off. We are over the continental shelf now. Depths have gone from thousands of feet to hundreds, and my fear has been that the heavy offshore swell will lump up and become impossible to steer through. But this is not the case. Mostly. That said, I don’t want to lie ahull here overnight. Too dangerous for tonight’s gale force winds from the NW. Gotta push on.

1500. Am well inside the bay now. Since coming over the continental shelf and its upwelling effect and even to now, the birdlife has been nothing short of intense. Flocks of albatross, yes, count them, 20, 30–shearwaters, skuas, noddies, dovkies… and scores of birds I don’t know … feasting. On? Dahl’s porpoises play constantly at Mo’s bow. The landform is jagged. The sea, still quite high as the bay faces the west. The breakers on the islotes to the north are visible miles off.

1800. I’m just about to make the turn east into the Beagle Channel. Decision time. No place to heave to for more than an hour in Bahia Cook and no obvious emergency anchorages. One option: press on to Caleta Olla, another 40 miles. Nothing else makes sense.

Sea and wind way down. Here I pause to swing the anchor, stowed these last two months, which, again, is easier than I anticipated. The anchor is just at the max of what I can lift over the rail when I’m at my best. But done. And the windlass works. So much else has failed, I was…but it works. Relief.

2100. Well into Beagle Channel. Night is coming on. I am both fatigued and elated. Sure, the steering is easy now on flat water, but that’s not it. It’s this place! Beagle Channel. Such history. Just north of here Magellan was the first to discover a strait cutting through from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The bay we entered was first explored by Captain James Cook. The channel we transit was discovered by Captain Fitzroy and bears the name of his ship on which Charles Darwin was a passanger. I can almost see the HMS Beagle beating up day after day, unsure what would be found at the mouth. South of here Drake went west looking for Spanish gold. Somewhere near here, Slocum spread tacks on the deck of SPRAY as protection against marauding Fuegans.

All european explorers had to pass this gate at the bottom of the world. As now do Mo and I.

The land form is reminiscent of the glacial parts of SE Alaska. Humpy, rounded granite mountains of (I’m guessing) 4,000 feet. The top half covered in snow. The bottom, black rock covered in a jaundiced, mossy grass and stunted, wind-tortured trees. At the divides, I can see the much taller, cut and triangular mountains, still black and snowy, that stayed above the ice. Also at the divides, glaciers, a bluey-gray.

2200. The night’s offshore NW gale brings into the channel a west wind to 25 knots and endless rain with sleet. Stop for dinner and a warm up. It’s been wet for hours. Can’t see much now. Concentrate on the chart plotter course and press on.

0000. At Point Divide, turn northwest for a run of two more miles to Caleta Olla. Suddenly our tail wind comes full-around to 30 knots on the nose. Mo goes from 7 knots over the ground to 4 knots and starts to pound. The sky is low. I can make out the dark cliffs on either side of the channel, but that’s about it.

0100. At the entrance to the caleta, according to the chart plotter. With the rain and sleet, I can’t see a thing. I make the turn and follow my course. Too late I realize that the land form on the radar and on the chart do not agree. I feel a thump and Mo slows. We are aground on what vaguely appears to be a lee mud flat. I see a beach, I think. Ahead, where the caleta entrance should have been is a rock wall, maybe.

Back and fill. Back and fill. The wind is pressing us further in. I’m wet through now. Cold, tired, confused.

Is this how the Figure 8 ends?

0130. Somehow Mo slides out and we are swimming again. Out in the channel, I tread water for an hour waiting for some light. I should wait until 3am, which here is light enough to be called full day, but I’ve lost patience. I press for the entrance, this time (by way of experiment) using the chart on the tablet. This time the radar and the chart agree. Yes, there’s the point. I can see its beach and trees. Turn… And a minuscule bay. We are in. We are in!

Anchor down in 45 feet. Back down hard. Stuck. Good. Go below. Strip down. A beer and bed.

Six days and 400 miles of hand-steering at 56S ends here and ends well.

30 Comments on “The Final Push for Safe Harbor

  1. Well done, Randall. It’s been a cliff hanger watching you on the tracker. So glad you are safe.

  2. Yes, was feeling anxious as was watching the tracker. Know from also doing long voyages how stressful it is coming into land in unfamiliar waters, and added to that was the darkness. So fortunate to slip of the mudbank. Know you were tested to your limits and what a confidence booster to have come through it. You’ve learned so much on this trip. What a schooling! Bravo!!! And Merry Christmas. Imagine Jo will be in your arms soon.

  3. Wow! What an ordeal. We have similar experiences in Haida Gwaii with Gail force winds, chart plotter not accurate but the tablets showing us the way. Of course for us we had two sets of eye balls, daylight and a well protected cockpit but if our steering would have failed and we were on the short emergency tiller outside the cockpit somebody I know would be very cold.

    Rest up today because it will be very busy in Ushuaia. Glad you are safe.

  4. Both thrilling and inspiring for we who are vicariously armchair sailing at the moment.

  5. Go Randall – great you managed your fatigue to pull off a safe passage into the Beagle passage. Watching it all with great interest.

  6. Wow,Wow,Wow!!! Mom put the post on the big screen and barked at the pictures. She is thrilled you made it through, tho she kept shivering, but said she had not a doubt that you would make it. I like the one-pot meal, quite my style!

  7. Holy cow Randall, those moments on that mud bank must have been tough, thank god that was not rock. What an adventure getting into that harbor. Congratulations. Enjoy your rest and best of luck getting everything back into working order quickly. Wash those pots well 🙂

  8. So happy to hear you have found safe anchorage. Watching all the zig zag lines in your tracker made it look as though you were drifting aimlessly in the bay.

  9. My god, Randall. So deeply relieved to see that you’re snug in the anchorage. We are riveted by your adventure — haven’t missed a post. Rest up my friend and eager to see your continued success.

  10. What an exciting and fascinating adventure, Randall. I’m so happy to hear that you are safe and snug in your anchorage, and I hope you get plenty of good quality sleep to revive you for your push to Ushuaia and beyond. Hats off to you, my friend.

  11. Congratulations Randall. Impressive seamanship and very enjoyable writing! Get some rest!

  12. I have been waiting anxiously for your news of a safe arrival! I just can’t imagine how exhausted I would be in your place – couldn’t function – and it sounds like your cognition was getting compromised (lost patience). So glad you aRe safe. Good writing. Aloha, Mary

  13. Congratulations on your trip so far.

    I recently discovered your blog, I think via a KKMI news letter. I have now read it all. I enjoy your writing style.

    I wonder if we haven’t said hello at some point. My boat was berthed a few slips away for Murre for a while. She always caught my eye but I didn’t know her story until I read about her here.

  14. I’m a year older today, and ending my day reading your post and that you made it, made my day !!!
    Go Randall Go 🌝

  15. I hate that running aground feeling. Especially at night in an unknown location. At least you got out of it.. Now is time to rest.
    Looking forward to your next adventure.

  16. Randall started moving east earlier to today (Dec 28, 2017 Pacific Time) and appears to be in the harbor and approaching the wharf in Ushuaia.


  17. Well done Randall! Glad to hear that Laura & Ferdi were there to help take your lines on your arrival in Ushuaia. Now get some very well deserved sleep.
    Sid Shaw [Ben’s dad]

  18. Great relief to see you and MOLI into Ushuaia… be sure all is shipshape then back into the saddle for a very long ride… we all are wishing you the very best… cya in the Arctic come late summer! God Speed!

  19. Yeah! Sweet success! Well done! Hope you can scrape up some new cans of grub for some variety while in harbor.

  20. Happy new year to you and best of luck, stay long enough but not to loong it will get harder to leave by the day

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