Sailing in the glaciers: Space Oddity’s first journey

After so much time in Williams, and after much work on Space Oddity, we started the year by taking the boat on what was (for us) her first long sailing journey. The famous Canal Beagle or Beagle Channel cuts through Patagonia slightly above South America’s most southern cape (the Horn of course). In fact it consists of two forking channels which have a landmass of reasonable size, Isla Gordon, in the middle. In the course of a month we ascended one arm and descended the other arm and went round Isla Gordon in this way.

Chart of Canal Beagle
Credits for this useful illustration to the Chilean navy actually, as it’s the permission they issued us for the journey

Sailing in the Beagle (nasty weather, nice scenery)

The wind in southern Chile blows from the west almost invariably; we were beating along the north channel on our outward journey, and as it narrows sometimes to half a mile, much tacking about was necessary. As well as their narrowness the channels are tall-sided, carved out by now non-existent glaciers in between cliffs still glaciated today, and these tall sides divert the wind’s direction and funnel it or block it from place to place, gusting from 30 knots to nothing on a normal day. These redirected winds become williwaws if they strike down at the surface forcefully, and they’re then seen rushing over the water in what’s best described as a sort of spiralling cloud of spray, or better described as something not good to be getting hit by. So all of this made the sailing somewhat demanding technically, rather fun on those atypically sunny days which shone on the first week of our journey, more tiring in the freezing sleet which followed subsequently. On the return section we could run with the wind behind us the whole way, still taking some attention to steer but easier certainly.

Sailing in the Beagle
Sailing in the Beagle

We moored in the small caletas at the end of each day, I suppose one could call them coves, each one consisting of a tiny notch or bay. Due to the wind’s strength besides the caletas’ size, we could seldom swing at anchor freely. It’s more usual to tie the boat into the cove with two to four shorelines, so there’s a lot of daily taking in/towing out lines with the dinghy. Each is fastened to the trunk of a wind-gnarled nothofagus tree, the main plants save for some fungi and the thorn-bush calafate. (The conditions aren’t such that life thrives here in much diversity.)

Isla Chair caleta

But it’s the Beagle’s glaciers that are probably the most famous aspect of its scenery, and many can be seen from the channels while sailing by; others came down into the bigger caletas in which we’d stay. Due to the depth in front of them it’s impossible to anchor nearby, but in some cases we could cross the caletas in the dinghy. Rivers of snow compressed into ice in its descent from the peaks above, these vast frozen structures are subject to frequent avalanches, and ice-chunks crash off their fronts constantly. I’ve posted a lot of glacier pics on our FB and Insta already, so I guess I won’t go overboard with that here! Check the links at the bottom of this site for more.

Glacier in the Beagle

What’s next? More wind/rain/snow apparently!

Due to the pandemic Chile’s maritime borders are still closed as are many, and although most summers bring a few boats to the Beagle, in the current circumstances we were out there alone. Having tested Space Oddity (and the crew of Space Oddity, canine/feline especially) on this sailing journey, we returned thinking to move on from this area finally. It looked like Brazil’s earlier restrictions would have allowed us to enter there, as a Brazilian and his wife. But unfortunately these restrictions have increased since.

So will it be a third frozen (if beautiful) winter in the extreme south here, or will restrictions relax so that we can reach some sunnier climate? All we can do is prepare to depart whenever it becomes a possibility.

We hope at least to explore this area more in the meantime!


2 thoughts on “Sailing in the glaciers: Space Oddity’s first journey

  1. Joaquín Corssen

    Such a rad place to be sailing I can imagine. You guys are inspiring! The scenery looks marvellous but. Enjoy it while it’s not freezing conditions yet and hope you can make it towards the north before that. Keep it up!!



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