February 6, 2010 – At Sea, 47º 39’S, 074º 53’W
By Herb McCormick
In Spanish, the word “tiempo” has two meanings: weather, and time. The world “mal,” however, has but one: bad. Today’s weather report issued by the Chilean meteorological authorities for the Golfo de Penas, a body of water renowned for its relentlessly foul disposition, repeats the same phrase again and again and again.
As I sit here in the pitching, reeling main cabin of Ocean Watch – presently being tossed around like a bathtub toy in the miserable Golfo de Penas – trying desperately (and futilely) to keep my fingers on the keyboard and my butt in the seat, I can assure you, they’re not referencing the time.
This afternoon, the crew of Ocean Watch has bitten the bullet and ventured forth into the Golfo de Penas in a somewhat desperate attempt to put the 60-mile open water crossing behind them and re-enter the relative protection of the Chilean canals. The weathermen have it right, it is certainly a day of “bad weather,” but the long-term forecast is far more ominous. A series of northerly gales are predicted to wrack the gulf all week, so even though today is ridiculously crummy, it’s supposed to get worse.
So, boating anyone?
Across the way, skipper Mark Schrader’s stomach seems to be handling all this much better than mine. So, with no further adieu, here’s the latest edition of his personal log:
“The day started early, 0500 early, when those first up turned on some lights, made coffee and powered up computers and instruments to have a look at the days weather forecast. We stayed put yesterday afternoon to wait out the gale raking the Golfo de Penas, the one-hundred twenty mile stretch of open ocean separating us from the next group of channels leading to Puerto Montt.
“Golfo de Penas is famous in this area for its bad weather and big seas. A quick report of the current weather from the Chilean Armada stations at lighthouses on both sides of the gulf contained the words “mal tiempo,”(bad weather) with wind gusts at gale-force and seas in the ten to twelve foot range. Our weather forecast indicated the wind would decrease as the day progressed, the Chilean stations agreed—so we weighed anchor and made a course for the crossing. That plan didn’t last long.
“After twenty miles we emerged from the last vestige of shelter and poked our collective noses into the gulf. The wind and seas very shortly did a good job of pushing those same noses right back into our faces, in other words, we were using lots of fuel and making very little forward progress. Sailors should always have a plan “B,”and probably a couple of options after that just in case they are needed. Logan quickly found an acceptable anchorage not far from our location and we headed for it, sort of.
“All of the charts, cruising guides and official publications warn mariners in this part of the world that the accuracy of the charts should not be assumed, and further, GPS positions should not be trusted to be correct in the channels. Many times on this voyage we’ve noticed our electronic charts tracking our position over land, through mountains and over rocks. As we made our way toward the chosen anchorage fog rolled in, rain started falling and the wind increased. Visibility was reduced to a few boat lengths and, yes, our GPS position relative to the electronic and paper charts didn’t make much sense. The Raymarine radar became our primary navigation aid, and without much more drama helped us find our way to the chosen anchorage. It turned out to be a very nice place for lunch and a nap.
“A later check with the lighthouses suggested the decrease in wind was happening; the barometer was rising with the wind direction changing to a favorable west-southwest direction. We suited up, hauled anchor once again, and headed out—which is where we are now. Ten knots of wind was reported from the lighthouse just a mile or so from where I’m sitting, or trying to sit. Our instruments say it’s 27 knots, seas are six or seven feet, and the wind direction is very close to on the nose—I’d call it on the cheek, certainly not on the predicted ear or back of the head. It looks like it will be a very long afternoon, evening and night. Unless something different happens we’ll be across the gulf around midnight, with another ten hours or so to go until we’re able to ‘dive’ back into the shelter of some islands. I’m thinking crackers and cheese for dinner, maybe some tea for dessert.
“From the Roaring Forties, I’m happy to report all are well aboard Ocean Watch.”
So, yes: Mal tiempo. It’s doubly expressive! For there’s no doubt about it, the crummy weather is certainly not making for happy times.
-Herb McCormick and Mark Schrader with photographs by David Thoreson
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