Wreck of Williams
Tied to the Ponton Micalvi, the stranded naval vessel that acts as dock in Puerto Williams, are boats of two varieties, all moored onto one another in rows with the last to arrive outside. There are the charterers, with their trips in the summer to Cape Horn or to Antarctica, and there are the cruisers, stopping for a few months at the tip of South America before they turn north from here. But one yacht’s never left Micalvi in the years we’ve known the place, innermost boat in the innermost row throughout that time, next to Micalvi with six visitors outside. An enormous wooden schooner with the paint lost from her planks long before, adding to her folkloric appearance. To port, the name on the bow was now incomplete. The starboard bow read ‘Victory’.
People said that the boat was owned by the nearby hotel Lakutaia, itself owned by businessmen with several more branches locally, including the airline. And these owners must have had doubts as to whether a restoration made financial sense, so advanced was the deterioration already. She had sunk, at least as far as the shallow water allowed, more than once. Those who climbed across the decks could startle one of the little minks to which this was a home, its form stiffened for a second before it darted down a hole. Birds built nests in the masts above.
As to how such a boat had arrived in Puerto Williams, as to what she had been prior to the hotel’s purchase, there was nobody to care. Until Herman came to Williams as crew on the traditional old Tehuelche, and became the sole sailor besides ourselves left around in the winter, finding work on the crab-fishing craft which put centolla pots out in the Beagle. Herman’s from the island of Chiloe, the boatbuilding area of Chile, and he’s a carpenter as his main trade. He’d look with longing at the sinking Victory.
The yacht seemed like she’d been constructed in Chile, he said to us, and could be the biggest still to survive made by methods used in Chile historically. ‘I want the Victory,’ he told us, ‘I want the Victory.’
‘You do not want the Victory.’
On a mission: Victory’s history
The boat’s tale started earlier than its launch in 1986, started a decade earlier, in the seventies. The Californian Ben Garrett, in Easter Island on his yacht Grace, had a near-fatal diving disaster and was flown to mainland Chile. The American’s yacht was stolen while he was in hospital, being discovered as a wreck beyond repair eventually. Added to this, he was unable to walk unaided after his accident due to the serious damage done to his spine. His next boat was the 75-foot cypress-wood Victory, from plans of William Garden’s, replicated in Chile. She was launched in Ben Garrett’s then home of Puerto Montt (near Chiloe) to be used in the charter/tourism industry. He met his local wife at church in the same city, both being Christians of the evangelising variety. Victory’s purpose was not commercial merely but also missionary.
Five years on, Ben and Monica Garrett, who by then had started a family, brought their Victory to the very south of the country. She’d been chartered to be the ship Beagle in a documentary, somewhat comically in view of the dissimilarity. While in Williams, the Garretts visited Villa Ukika where the last Yaghan Indians live (the small number is an unintended partial result of missionary efforts in a way, with colonists having brought diseases along with religion as occurred commonly). The Garretts were enthused when they read about one missionary, that of Gardiner, whose death by starvation ended his soul-saving in the vicinity. They took it on themselves to continue the mission that Gardiner had left incomplete.
Over the next couple of decades the Garretts became a bit of a Puerto Williams fixture, as did their Victory, which was soon in business going on charters to glaciers nearby. Their entrepreneurialism was extensive, in addition to their creation of a church (the Ukika Indian Church, which seems to have closed since). Besides becoming the local suppliers of internet services, the missionaries soon owned various tourist-centred ventures in the city. They would live out the rest of their lives in this remote little place.
Sadly for their daughters, two of whom were children at the time, the Garrett couple both died within a short space. The Garrett daughters moved elsewhere.
So ended these eccentric missionaries’ eccentric story.
In the course of Ben Garrett’s illness and demise, his boat became the hotel’s property, but fell into disuse. Then came Herman’s proposal to take over Victory, not that he could offer to pay money. Save for a scheme to make an artificial-island bar by filling the hull with concrete, the owners lacked alternatives. Finally they did indeed donate Victory.
Hence Herman finds himself the skipper of a just-about-afloat wooden 75-footer, whose restoration is shortly to start with the replacement of the engine. With this done she will set off north to Puerto Montt, her original home, where it’s hoped that restoration can continue.
Though we were recently betting on when the old boat would founder for the last time, instead we’re looking forward to a sail around the bay. Pics if it takes place!
– Information from Victory Adventure Expeditions, from the skipper Herman Marcelo Dominguez, and from sailing friends locally