January 31, 2010 – Isla Riesco, Chile
By Herb McCormick
If you ever find yourself shipwrecked, there are worse places you could wash up than on the shores of Bahia Mussel on the regally titled Chilean island of Isla Carlos III. Yes, it’s cold and damp, and there certainly isn’t a town, or even a soul, for many, many miles, but you definitely wouldn’t starve to death or die of thirst. For a clear, cool stream running out of a lovely mountain lake empties out at the head of the deep, protected bay, and the rocky beach itself is covered with hundreds of thousands of tasty morsels of shellfish. It’s certainly no mystery how the place got its name. The shores of Bahia Mussel might as well be called Mussel Beach.
Ocean Watch’s continued tour of the beautiful channels of Southern Chile continued today, but with minimal progress along the wide waterway known as the Magellan Strait. After an overnight stay at anchor off Isla Carlos III, the crew set out early this morning bound westward down the Strait. But howling headwinds of 35-knots had the waters churning and roiling, and after pounding into it for just a couple of hours, skipper Mark Schrader decided to seek shelter in another taut anchorage off nearby Peninsula Cordova called Bahia Borja. It’s no doubt a coincidence, but the tall peaks of Borja, complete with weeping waterfalls on high, bear a striking resemblance to the South Pacific paradise of Bora-Bora. That is, of course, if the summits of Bora-Bora were also speckled with snow.
At the moment, waiting for the winds to wane, we may not be covering great distances, but we are getting the opportunity to have a good look at some of the breathtaking scenery surrounding us.
Last night, once the hook was set, I plopped my Little Wing carbon-fiber kayak into the drink for a nice paddle in the calm anchorage, but the highlight of the outing was when I pulled the boat ashore and started climbing. My water booties, it turned out, were just the ticket for a hike on Isla Carlos III. To say the tundra was spongy would be a major understatement. It was mossy, soggy and bouncy; traction was more of a concept than a reality.
An old sailing friend of mine named Bill Storandt has sailed his sloop across the Atlantic and all through the Mediterranean Sea, and he has a habit I’ve tried to adopt whenever possible. Once he’s suitably anchored for the evening, he rows ashore, climbs the highest hill possible, and takes a snapshot of his boat for posterity. With Bill in mind, though the footing was sloppy, I aimed my sights for a steep ridge and started walking.
It turned out to be worth the sweat. Once I’d reached the top and caught my breath, the view of the anchorage, Ocean Watch and the majestic waters of the Magellan, lined with snow-capped mountains, was truly awesome. I lingered for a while, then tripped and stumbled my way back to sea level, where I startled a pair of geese that went flapping hysterically to either side of my head, just a few feet away. It scared the heck out of me, but I guess the birds were probably thinking the same thing.
The highlight of this morning’s brief underway foray was a pair of breeching humpback whales – a mother and a baby? – for which this current stretch of the Straits of Magellan are known. Once we were secure in Bora-Bora – er, Bahia Borja – another shore party dropped the dinghy in the water and had a wet hike on the peninsula, which they likened to a rainforest. For those who’ve read Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, the name might be familiar. It was on the shores of Bahia Borja that Slocum tacked a wooden “name board” to a tree labeled with the name of his boat, the Spray, an age-old tradition amongst sailors in this part of the world.
This afternoon, when it appeared things were calming down, the skipper decided to give it another shot, and Ocean Watch again headed out into the Strait. But it was a short-lived venture, for the westerly was still piping. Back in we came, not much worse for wear, and we re-anchored in pretty much the exact spot where we’d spent most of the day. Before long, the sun broke through the clouds and just astern was a low, lovely rainbow, with one end on the water and the other, amazingly, on a white goose resting on a rock.
“It’s the goose that laid the golden egg,” said Dave Logan, and we all had a laugh. Well, maybe, but one thing is beyond reproach: It’s not something you’d see on Bora-Bora.
-Herb McCormick with additional photographs by David Thoreson
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