Island hopping on the Capricornio

In early 2005, which is summer at our southerly latitudes, Capt'n Germán invited me to do another sailing trip on the Capricornio. If you have arrived on this page without first reading about our previous trip, you might want to take things in order and read that story first!  That said, I can assume that you have read it, and that you know very well that sailing on this boat always involves quite a bit of work!

This trip started from the Quinched Marina on the main Chiloé Island, where the Capricornio was moored after a trip the Capt'n did with his father, former Capt'n and builder of the Capricornio. However, it had been a slow trip, due to a thick layer of algae and barnacles that had grown on the hull. We were in for some work before we could weigh anchor. Here you can see our proud vessel, installed in the dry dock that nature has build in Chiloé: The tides are so marked that even vessels much larger than ours can easily be set dry for cleaning, just by putting it aground and waiting for low tide!

Tides reach several meters here. But for the Capricornio, we needed just two meters, so it was child's play! As the hull started coming out of the water, the keel resting on logs anchored in the ground, the Capt'n and Martin started scrubbing the hull. The Intrepid Boatswain couldn't come this time, blocked by a lack of vacation, so that Martin filled his place. Since it was his first time on the Capricornio, he was the "boy" for this trip!

I did not have to do any scrubbing - my tasks were of a higher nature! As the official photographer of the crew, I had to document the process. As the radioman on board, I had to install my amateur HF radio. As the Capricornio's head electronician, I also had to install the specially designed and freshly built voltage regulator for the dynastarter, which together with a small solar panel regulator kept the battery voltage at the optimal level.

But the Capt'n had been working too. Since our winter trip he had taken down the mast, replaced the last of the old and worn stays, and he had also installed a new VHF antenna, after I signed the death certificate for the old one, which was internally corroded to such an incredible extent that I don't understand how we were able to do any radio contacts at all on it, during the last trip! That antenna didn't have any real waterproofing. Now the boat has a new Metz antenna, well sealed, well installed, which should last many years without trouble.

Here you can see the sort of ecosystem that grows on boat hulls. Deep enough under the water line, barnacles dominate the scene, while between them there are a lot of smaller mollusks of several different sorts. Close to the water line, a rich forest of algae grows. And above it, you can see the green antifouling paint, which is supposed to prevent precisely this kind of marine life proliferation in places where it isn't supposed to proliferate!

As the stuff was scrubbed off, it was tempting to catch some of it and cook it for dinner! But unfortunately, once again, there was the Red Tide invading the area, so that it was strictly forbidden to eat any shellfish. For this reason, about half a ton of nice seafood fell to the ground. Most of it probably soon gained a new foothold (or should I say shellhold?) on nearby rocks and, of course, on other vessels!

A while later, the tide had gone down enough to put the Capricornio dry. Here you can see it in all its majesty! The whole weight rests on its lead-filled steel keel. While the water was starting to go down, the Capt'n had moved some cargo so that the sloop heeled a slight bit to starboard. As a result, it was now mightily compressing the fenders against the lateral supports. A good thing, because on the other side there were no such supports, and if the sloop had fallen to port, the game would have been over!

We also made a provisional repair to the helmport, which was taking on lots of water because the nut of the helm bushing had  failed, so that the whole bushing was turning with the shaft, and had worked loose in the wood! The bad nut was cut, reduced in size, and re-installed with a stainless steel clamp holding it together and lots of caulk filling up the voids. We finished that work late in the night, when the tide was already coming back and we were getting wet feet.

Then the Capt'n sent us to sleep. He would wait for high tide, which was at about 3 AM, and take the boat back to its anchoring site alone. I can tell you, it's an uneasy feeling to walk around on and in a boat that is standing on its keel! It must feel similar to sit under Damocles' sword!

All went well, and while the Boy and I were fast asleep, the Capt'n waited for his yacht to come afloat, and anchored it in the bay of Quinched. He was so kind to us that he didn't even start the noisy engine, but instead did the whole maneuver just with oars!

This trip was basically from Quinched to Quellón, where the Capt'n would take another sailor on board and then continue south. But that's a rather short trip, so we did a quite significant detour and went island hopping along the Desertores group, with only an approximate plan on which places we would visit.

Alfonso Gonzales drew us another map, so you can see the trip we finally did. This place is just south of the area where we sailed on the previous trip.

Look at my poor, mangled finger! The culprit was, who else, the Boy! This happened the next day, after we had weighed anchor and sailed to the nearby port of Chonchi to take on some freshwater. The marina's well had dried up, so we had to resort to Chonchi, which is a moderately sized town and has a regular water supply.

While the Capt'n was on land, asking where to get water, we stayed aboard the boat. Then the Capt'n came back, and told us to pull the Capricornio astern a short stretch and make tight alongside another vessel, from which we would get a water hose. So we pulled along the other vessel we had been tied too, and then had to coast over a gap to reach the vessel which had water for us. But the Boy, who was at the bow, misjudged the course he had to give our boat to land where we had to, and instead gave it an extra strong push, which sent us stern-first onto a collision course with the much larger vessel! So I leaned out over the stern, to hold onto the other vessel as soon as I could, and applied all the force possible to slow down our vessel before impact. I was successful at that, making the impact soft enough to even avoid scratching anyone's paint, but then I couldn't get my hand off the other vessel! I hadn't noticed, of course, that the plank I grabbed had a nasty, sharply pointed, rusty nail on the backside, which had gone deep into my index finger! I finally ripped the hand off the plank - I couldn't stay there for good, after all -  but a fair part of my finger stayed put to the nail.

You might remember from teh previous story that I have an easily upset stomach, and that applies not only to seasickness, but also to seeing blood, very specially when it is my own. So I retired into the cabin, and in a matter of five minutes I was in a full blown shock, lying on the floor, feeling hot and cold at the same time, unable to control my body, while in my head I was perfectly fine, knowing that as long as the wound bled enough to clean itself, I would be fine. When the Capt'n found me there in my sorry state, he wanted to haul me to Chonchi's first aid station, but I convinced him that in another 15 minutes I would be fine. And so it was.

The whole accident had a good side to it: Since the wound had to be kept dry, I was excused from dishwashing service for the duration of the trip! The Boy had to take my turns washing dishes!

The first island on our tour was Quehui. Just a few sailing hours from Chonchi, this place offers a nice landscape, and a very good port. The island has roughly the shape of a horseshoe, only that the entrance is much narrower, maybe 100 meters wide and a few hundred meters long. The inside bay is completely protected from waves  from any side, and protected from most wind directions too. A large amount of vessels, from small boats to middle-sized ships, were anchored, stranded, moored here. There was a tiny village, complete with a modest supermarket, and all over the hills there were wooden houses. For roughly every three houses there was a church. A few hundred years ago, the Jesuits came here and organized the locals to build them, in very generous amounts and sizes.

Most of the island is in agricultural use, mostly potatoes. According to the locals, this island's potatoes are the world's best! No wonder, given that the climate and soil is ideal for them, while the relative isolation of the island gives some measure of protection from invading parasites.  Some cattle ranching is also done.

We made fast to a buoy that was anchored in front of this house, which belongs to a friend of the Capt'n, who lives and works a little more than 2000km away, but comes to this place on many weekends, by plane, bus and boat. His sloop was there, so we assumed he too was there. The Capt'n blew his beloved foghorn, which made people come out of all houses within sight, to find out who on earth was making such a lot of noise. Among them was his friend, who looked, went away, returned with binoculars, looked again, then disappeared for good.

After waiting a long time, we inflated the dinghy and landed, to pay him a visit. There we heard a fun example of how the human mind sometimes works, or rather, doesn't work: The guy had heard the foghorn, noticed a freshly arrived sloop, gone for his binoculars, and read the name, Capricornio. Then he had reasoned: "Funny, I know a guy who has a sloop with the same name. And it looks very similar, what a coincidence!" After thinking that, he had returned to his house! The idea that indeed it was the Capricornio, and that his friend was there, trying to invite him aboard for a glass of rum, didn't cross his mind! He thought the Capricornio was still far away in Antofagasta!

The Capt'n invited him on board, they downed their rum, and then it was our turn to be invited for dinner, and specially, for a hot shower. Anyone who has traveled on a bathroom-less yacht knows that such an offer is valuable!

In the late afternoon a generous low-flying cloud paid a visit, giving me an enchanting opportunity to shoot some fog photos. It's impressive how much a landscape can change its expresssion thanks to fog and counterlight, turning from an idyllic little toybox paradise into a dreamy, moody seascape! 

Check any stylish sailing novel, specially one involving pirates and treasure islands complete with buried chests, and you will learn that captains and rum belong together like wind and sail, anchor and chain, or barnacles and hulls. Here you can admire our Capt'n's long honed skill in pouring rum. He doesn't spill even one droplet, regardless of how rough the sea may be. Not that it would have been rough this day, anyway...  The Boy instead gets just Coca Cola - there wasn't enough rum on board for him. And the can of contact cleaner, well, that one was for me, and certainly not for drinking! :-)

Truth be told: The Capricornio was working very well. We were just fixing minor details at this time, things like the anchor chain stowage compartment lighting, which is used perhaps once a year. And I installed a 12 Volt distribution box with multiple cigarette lighter outlets, not for cigarette lighters but for the many accessories that were used on this trip: Two GPS receivers, two cellphone chargers, a vacuum cleaner, a charger for my VHF handheld radio, and so on.

Speaking of radios, for this trip I brought my HF transceiver and a specially built antenna tuner, and spent a good number of hours making contacts as station XQ2FOD/MM. A sloping aftstay, loaded against the salt water plane, makes an excellent all-band HF antenna! In fact, it's what most sailing boats of this size use as antenna for their marine HF radio.

From Quehui we sailed to the island of Apiao. It was a very lazy trip. The Capt'n was hanging out at the bow, but since he was too lazy to stand, he sat down.. The Boy held his siesta, which lasted, well, for most of the day. It was an overcast day, with light wind, and comfortable temperature.

For this trip, the Capricornio had finally gotten its rain deck. This really adds to the comfort on board! One can leave the hatch open even when it rains, one can sit there dry and protected from the wind, and in addition it creates a place where one can leave binoculars, GPS receivers, photo gear, pieces of clothing, and other stuff, always well at hand, while staying dry, and it doesn't slide into the water if the sloop suddenly banks!

The Capt'n had his doubts about going to Apiao. When he asked about the island and its waters, very strange stories came up. The Chiloe archipelago is by far the place in Chile that has most stories of strange encounters, the biggest family of mythological beings, and the most folkloric tales. There are big guides of all these good and bad monsters, the Cai-Cai-Vilú and many others, printed in book form, for sale in bookstores. And according to the stories that we were told about Apiao, it seems that this island is where they all have their headquarters!

Several people advised us not to go there, because the devil, not to speak of an assortment of monsters, were surely waiting for us. When the Capt'n kept asking a self-appointed witch what we had to do to get safely to Apiao, finally she surrendered: "If you go there in good faith and with best intentions, you shall have luck. Go, but don't think any bad thoughts."

A more down-to-sea fact is that entering Apiao has always been a hairy business. The island is almost round, with a big internal lagoon, connected to the ocean only through a long, very narrow and shallow channel. Due to the strong tides, this channel carries heavy currents, which further complicates navigating it. I guess that this channel is the reason why the stories place so many monsters there!

Well, we did it, and here you can see the Capricornio proudly anchored in the lagoon of Apiao. But it wasn't without some funny stories that we got here!

When we arrived on the outside of the island, the Boy and I went to land in the dinghy to get directions, while the Capt'n stayed on board. At that place we supposed was the inlet to the channel, but it couldn't be seen, so narrow and winding was it. We rowed to the shore, since the dinghy's little outboard engine apparently had been killed during routine maintenance by an inept mechanic. On the shore we had seen a fisherman. But as we came close, the fisherman ran away as if we had some horrible disease, and by the time we landed, he had hidden out of reach! Very strange place indeed, this island...

We went searching, and after a while we found someone else, approaching quickly enough so he couldn't run. That man was very kind, and even seemed rather normal! He gave us some good advice about how to negotiate the passage.

We waited for almost high tide, then entered the channel, on engine power. The Capt'n was watching the bottom from the bow, I was at the tiller, the Boy babysitting the depht finder. The Capt'n kept asking me to go slower. The Capricornio really lacks a first gear for cases like this! I just couldn't throttle down the Volvo Penta any further without killing it!

We slowly advanced into the narrow passage, the Capt'n giving his orders, and I obeying. "Twenty degrees port!" I pushed on the tiller. A moment later: "Rock in sight! Thirty starboard!" Around the tiller went... I worked up a nice sweat!

Sometimes the Capt'n simply pointed to which side he wanted us to go. Then at one place it got very shallow indeed, with rocky bottom. The Boy reported fifty centimeters of water under the keel, and the Capt'n got nervous. Suddenly he pointed left like mad, while shouting "Starboard! Starboard! Staaaaarboard!!!!"

To err is human, they say... But this little glitch almost made us run aground!

In front of the island's main Jesuit-built church we found a lively soccer match going on. We talked to several islanders, and learned some interesting facts: This island, which has maybe 300 inhabitants, has 13 soccer teams! Clearly, some islanders must be playing on two or three teams, or it wouldn't work out. After all, ladies don't play soccer here, and there are some babies and very old gents too who probably cannot!

The first person to greet us here was actually a foreigner - well, almost: He lives in Santiago, and spends every summer here on Apiao. He told us that we could broadly divide the islanders into just two types: The drunkard, and the son of God. Both alcohol and an evangelic faith are very powerful here. The catholic church in this photo, instead, gets little use and is in severe disrepair.

Crossing the lagoon back from the soccer field, we saw many seabirds, including a flock of imperial cormorants. These two were resting on an old buoy, and were trusting enough to let us come very close, while I shot my photos.

We spent a good while in the dinghy, then landed on the opposing side of the island. There is a landing strip, built by a salmon farming company and now rarely used, and a little school. Walking along the landing strip came a guy, who certainly was in some trouble, because his zigzag was as wide as the strip! When he got close, he stopped, greeted, told us his many names including several handles, those of his family, friends and relatives, in such a slurry speech that we had trouble staying serious! The smell of booze almost made us drunk ourselves. We tried to get him to tell us about the crossing to Talcan Island. After all, most people here are seamen and know the area inside and out, even when they are drunk. His answer, when we finally managed to understand it, was very folklike, to say the least, and could be translated roughly like "Don't go there, it's !@#$%^&* rotten, (*&^%$ ugly, #$%^&(*&#$% bad!" After the enormous effort of putting the words together, well, almost, the guy sank to his knees, then fell on his side, and slept, in the middle of the island's runway. We left him there, since it was evening and surely no plane would try to land in the light. Probably the next morning the man would be sober early enough, and working again...

We continued the walk, towards the school and a few houses. On the road we met another man, who was walking very straight, and smiling. We greeted him, and he greeted back: "In the name of God, welcome to our island." We tried some small talk about the beauty of the place. "Yes, it is beautiful, because God created it, and He does no wrong." We asked him about sailing to Talcan Island. "If you want to go there, God will surely help you." Not very informative, I would say... We switched matters, and asked about the weather, if any storm was expected. "By the grace of God, the weather will be fine. It always is, for God makes it."  And these clouds above us?  "By God, they are beautiful, aren't they? God made them!" And so it went. We learned that God had helped build the school, that God also had let them built a temple, a real one, small but true, for the grace of God of course, and that this was most certainly NOT the catholic church on the other side of the island!

It must be great to be able to live such a simple life, having a single explanation for everything, past, present and future!

We returned to our boat, still laughing from our encounters with such great samples of the two categories of people inhabiting Apiao. We never expected the description of the summer resident to be that accurate!

This photo is a testimony to the incredible effectiveness of the retroreflecting bands on the Capricornio's new life preservers. I used my flash to lighten up the sloop, when shooting this picture from the beach at f/1.4. Despite the distance, which makes the flash light barely noticeable on the boat, the reflectors shine like high powered beam lamps!

The next day we negotiated the Apiao channel back into open waters, and then sailed to Talcan. We had good wind and relatively calm sea, but it soon started raining, and kept doing so intermittently during all the day. As a result, my photographic action was mostly confined below deck, like here, looking out through the hatch.

The Capricornio was in very good condition, sailing basically alone, in autopilot mode. The solar panel didn't do much good this day, of course, but the battery bank is large enough to run the necessary electric and electronic equipment for several days, giving the engine a rest while there is enough wind.

We got some low fog, which cut the visibility to a few hundred meters and made us navigate just by the map and the GPS. Despite the rainy weather, it was a calm, comfortable sailing, thanks to functioning technology and the rain deck! We even had music! Before this trip, I had repaired the boat's music radio, which had gotten waterlogged a year before, and the Capt'n played the only two cassettes on board, in alternating fashion. One of them was of German sailor songs, and the other, oh well, was of German sailor songs too! After the umpteenth time listening to the same songs, I came to regret having fixed that damn radio!

Once we arrived at the Edwards Bay of  Talcan Island, the last one in the Desertores group,  rain set in with full force, together with some strong wind, from which the bay protected us quite well. So we spent the evening making a good dinner, as you can see here: The Capt'n giving the orders, the Boy peeling potatoes!

This part of Talcan Island is almost completely uninhabited, and covered by dense jungle. It's an extremely beautiful place. It's one of the last islands of the Chiloé archipelago, going west to east, and so close to the continent that it already shares the continent's mountain-influenced climate and vegetation style: Much more rain and much more green than just 40km west. Actually, we heard on my HF radio that the weather back on the main island of Chiloé was still sunny! Here it was raining, most certainly!

When the evening came, we understood why this bay is devoid of humans: There is no room for them, since it's all taken up by enormous and viciously voracious mosquitoes! As soon as the wind got weak, they came flying in squads from the forest, and attacked us without the slightest pity! We closed the hatches, as best we could, but they kept creeping in. In despair, the Capt'n resorted to chemical weaponry in the form of a can of insecticide, but it didn't seem to harm them the slightest bit! Finally, we had to weigh anchor and move the boat into the middle of the bay, where it was harder for them to reach us!

At this point it had been several days since the last shower, and the level of despair was high enough to try bathing in the very cold sea. The Boy went first, then it was my turn. I rowed to the rocky shore, took off my pants, and tried to get into the water satisfying all necessary conditions: Not freezing, keeping the dinghy from being blown away by the wind,  and keeping my injured finger dry! So I put one leg over board, trying to get a firm hold on a slippery rock Then the other leg. And then a gust came, I slipped on the rock, lost balance, tried to hold to the dinghy, failed, fell head first into the water with most of my clothes still on, slammed my poor finger hard against a rough rock under water, and had to swim like crazy to catch the dinghy!

Bad things rarely come alone, they say...

Due to a moderate storm, we spent a full day in Edwards Bay. I used that day to finally fix the dinghy's outboard engine. The mechanic who got his hands on it had mounted the reed valve in a very unclever position, so it didn't work. It was easy to find, fortunately! But I found it only after taking the whole engine apart, and in the murky light I didn't see in time that this engine has a roller bearing between the connecting rod and the crankshaft, that falls apart when disassembling this area. So, we had to pick up 45 little steel rollers from the boat's floor and bilge...  At least, the engine worked after reassembling it, and that's usually a very good sign!

Then we sailed back west, straight across open waters, on the longest leg of our trip, about ten hours. We passed by Queilén, and then navigated the wide and calm channel between Tranqui Island and the the main Chiloé Island. On this photo you can see the Corcovado Volcano, with the southern tip of Tranqui in the foreground. The 2300 meter high volcano is on the continent, raising straight out of the sea. Between the volcano and the island there are 50km of water.

The channel is full of activity, mostly salmon farms and also some shellfish farms. One has to steer around all the buoys and other markers, pass between floating cages, and also evade occasional sargasso banks.

Sargasso wasn't the only kind of sea life that was thick in these waters. Jellyfish were too! We saw them everywhere, in all sizes and states of maturity, dead and alive.  This one was photographed from the dinghy in the bay of Huildad, where we anchored that evening after crossing the sea from Talcan Island. With the newly fixed outboard engine, we zapped around our anchorage, photographed sea birds, including some blackneck swans which found refuge here after fleeing their home near Valdivia, where their staple food, tiny algae, died out because of pollution apparently coming from a new cellulose plant. The plant had been closed down and the situation was being investigated, but the birds had already lost their home, at least temporarily.

I'm digressing... Back to the jellyfish! Its disc was about one meter in size, and it didn't want to pose for the photo! Martin coaxed it into a photogenic position with the oars, but as soon as he pulled them in so I could make a photo, the jellyfish aimed downwards and hid its beautiful colors! These animals might be primitive, but even they have learned that facing something unknown, it's safest to run away!

Our Capt'n at work! Only that he had run out of rum, so he had to steal the Boy's cola bottle! I caught him working in this way, the next day. It was a lazy day, our last on this trip. Everything except one device on board had been repaired, the weather was nice, and we had just had a half day's sailing in store to reach Quellón, the destination port of our trip. So we spent the morning in Huildad.

The Boy and I went fishing in the dinghy. He caught a beautiful salmon. But he has a sort of agreement with Poseidon, which consists in giving back the first fish he catches on any given day. So he put the salmon back in the water. Either that salmon quickly ran and told all others not to bite that tricky thing, or it was Poseidon who was offended by the Boy refusing his gift! In any case, Martin didn't fish anything else, and we had to open our last cans of tuna!

It has often been said that everyone on earth has to pay for his deeds. After spending so much time "working" in his very own way, the Capt'n, being the closest thing to an hydraulic engineer on board, had to fix the loo when it choked for good! This high-tech device has a number of valves, a pump, and is cleverly designed to work like a charm. You do your thing, then pump a few strokes on a handle, and all is nice and clean.

But after 30 years at sea, the charm had evaporated for the most part. As it was by this time, you had to haul a bucket of water in, wet the bowl, do your thing, then combine pumping with pouring water from the bucket, and while pumping, water would sprinkle in all directions and finally flood the area. At least, that was how it went while the boat was anchored, or running under engine power. When sailing, the results of any attempt to use the loo depended on wind direction: Port, and you had to haul three buckets of water because the pump wouldn't prime. Starboard, and you got a wet stern!

In any case, the Capt'n dug deep in what he found there, replaced seals, unclogged valves, and then the loo was like new!

With the Capricornio functioning like a dream,  we left Huildad in the mid afternoon and sailed to Quellón, a little bit sad because this trip had been all too short. But vacations were running out - they are never long enough! We passed by the Chaiguao Point in late afternoon, and then had a gorgeous sailing along the Quellón channel, into the setting sun, reaching port when the night had come and enveloped ships and men in its black cloak.

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