Dec 28, 2017
Caleta Olla, “cook pot cove,” is a bowl-shaped basin with a black cliff on one side and a grassy mole on the other connected by a curved, tree-lined beach. Above the cliff, a condor soars, his primaries spread wide into the gray sky like fingers feeling for the updraft. Across the channel, a pinnacled mountain is colliding with an incoming cloud, and the snow at its saddle ridge is lifting in spirals high in to the air. I hear a passerine. I see gulls and a red-nosed cormorant. Wind coming down-channel is strong this morning; there are white-caps in The Beagle. In the cove it is still.
I write to my wife, “It is beautiful here. I am building a cabin on the beach. Please bring red wine and good books.”
But I stayed only two more nights.
On my last, a boat arrived from Ushuaia, CHUGA, whose owner, Olivier, had helped Tony Gooch in making arrangements for MOLI’s unplanned arrival there. He is French, as is his crew of five. They are cruising the channels for the summer.
Dinner, an engaging curry of fresh lamb, a local staple, and my bottle of champagne intended for the Horn. I talk too much. I have a story tell. Even if half the table has but a passing graps of my language, my story will out. Olivier struggles to keep up the translation. The others nod, smile, reach for the wine bottle.
Finally I am silenced by music. As if by magic, an accordion appears, and after months of attending to the crashing wave and the song of wind, I laugh like a boy at the warm, familiar sounds.
Next day, Ushuaia, 35 miles further east down the Beagle. An uneventful motoring exercise through a corridor of ragged and snowy mountains impossible to distinguish from similar channels in SE Alaska, save for the lack of serious trees here. The only mark of civilization, a coast guard station, until one turns the corner, and there is the town, spread out over the sloping land like mould on a petri dish. Housing communities create stark, rectangular cuts into the forest. A jet rises into the air. Cruise ships.
Mo and I are met at the pier by Laura and her husband, Fede, from OCEAN TRAMP, a local charter boat, who come with fenders (which I didn’t bring for my non-stop) and Roxanna, who immediately whisks me to the several agencies who wish to approve my entrance with a stamp.
Then to domestic issues, which Roxanna intuits from my appearance. “Here are the showers with heated floors,” she says, “over there the barber shop where you may wish to make an appointment before the holiday (beards so unkempt, the mark of a local in Alaska, are unknown here); and there is the lavandaria.”
And as suddenly as that, Mo and I have left the wild.
A planned 240-day cruise has ended at the bottom of the world after exactly 60 days at sea.
The wind tears down from the mountains, first from the north with rain in the harbor that leaves a dusting of sugar on the peaks, and then from the east, dry and bitterly cold. “It is the only problem with Ushuaia,” says Laura over a dinner of empanadas and red wine aboard OCEAN TRAMP, “we don’t get summer here.”
It is December 28, six days past summer solstice. Mo and I are far from home.