The wind finally abated in the night and it was game-on the following day. Sunshine and big, open couloirs were the “menu del dia” and we feasted like a bunch of famished hobos.
Chilean Independence Day is best celebrated with roasted meats and gratuitous amounts of wine and my friend Mario invited us to join him on his organic farm. We all showed up with armfuls of wine and got to work chopping wood to roast the suckling pig that Mario had procured for the occasion. The sun shone all day, music echoed from the hilltops, exceptional food was enjoyed by all (all of it grown on Mario’s farm!), and the revelry lasted late into the night.
We spent a couple days gathering all the supplies we would need for the trip and we capped everything off with a big pichanga dinner with Clint and Reina at the oldest bar in Puerto Montt.
I started installing it and the threads were cut a little bit crudely, but if I really gave it the business with a big monkey wrench I could get it fairly well seated. I tried firing it up to no avail and realized that it wasn’t quite sealing properly on the tank. The new burner didn’t have any spare washers and the old burner’s washers had long ago disintegrated so I was faced yet another conundrum. If we couldn’t get it sealed, we couldn’t cook and we couldn’t keep sailing. I started wracking my brains for potential solutions that’d be able to conform to into the crevices of the gap, but also would be able to withstand the high heat of the burner. Eventually some ideas came to mind and I started tearing the boat apart to find pieces and parts I’d stored away in the depths. I had some silicone emergency tape that purported to be “high temperature resistant” but found that it didn’t quite seal properly and started burning a bit when the burner got up to temp. I had a number of washers of different types of metal, but none of them would crush enough to seal either. A bunch of different types of epoxy claimed to be good with high heat, but would take several hours (or days) to cure properly and would mean that I couldn’t fix the burner if it failed again. Lots of bad options.
During the course of trying several of these options out, I managed to start a good number of kerosene fires that required the use of the fire extinguisher to put out. Just when I was beginning to despair and think about planning a return to Puerto Montt for parts, my eyes landed on an old baked potato that had been rolling around our kitchen since our asado with Clint and Reina. I’d wrapped it in foil and cooked it in the coals and it was charred around the edges, but for some odd reason we didn’t have the heart to commit it to the sea. The glint of the foil caught my eye and a plan slowly hatched in my head.
It was quite late at this point, so we decided to pack all of the scattered pieces and parts back away, eat some guacamole Jess had put together, and go to bed. When we awoke, we were quite ravenous and the wind was raging hard enough outside that we definitely wouldn’t be going anywhere for the day. It was time to hunker down and put our robust new burner to work.
First on the menu? A quick crab and hollandaise appetizer. In fact, there may be no better way to start your day.
We got an updated weather forecast from my brother that afternoon and it sounded like things would calm down the following day, but when I first woke up early the next morning the wind was still blowing 25 knots through the anchorage. I let out a quick ‘bah-humbug’ and went back to bed for a bit. Eventually I dragged myself out for a quick spin in the dinghy to see what the sea looked like out beyond the island. Surprisingly enough, the sea didn’t look too rugged and I made the call that we should go for it. I knew that our next hop down the coast was of substantial mileage, but I rationalized that we’d be going plenty fast with such a strong north wind blowing. I also wanted to try and meet up with Clint and Reina from Karma who were one anchorage further south than us. I had no idea just how big a day we were getting ourselves into.
I returned to the Rascal in her cocoon of shorelines with the wind raging and waves gently rocking her back and forth. It was obvious that it would take some time to extract her and we got to work immediately. The trick was the sequence in which we removed them so that we could avoid ramming into the rocks when we only had one line left attached (the wind was still gusting over 20kts in the anchorage). There wasn’t much room to maneuver, so we decided it would be best to just drop the lines from the Rascal, have me motor out of the anchorage with a full head of steam, and leave Jess behind to retrieve the lines in the dinghy and then meet me around the corner.
All of this was much easier said than done and it was around 10:30 by the time we were able to rendezvous. To begin our downwind run, we first had to beat upwind into 20kts for a mile to get around the corner of the island. The waves were piling up on the shallow water and sloshing the Rascal around like a rubber ducky, but she powered through it and we were soon running with the wind like a bat out of hell.
My brother’s forecast had predicted nothing more than 20kts decreasing down to 5-10 after noon, but at this point the wind was a steady 30kts gusting higher and the Rascal was doing 8 kts over the ground with the main lashed down and just a tiny scrap of jib up. I was peeking down into the cabin, mentioning to Jess that the waves had gotten pretty big when all of a sudden we both heard a loud “Poppp-TWANG”. My heart leapt into my throat. I turned around to find the Superhighway slowly drifting backwards and the tattered shreds of the towline dragging in the water behind us. “Shit!” I yelled down at Jess, “Get up on deck now!”
I put the tiller over hard and started working back upwind towards the Superhighway. The waves are still enormous, so you could only ever spot her when she happened to be on the crest of one at the same time as you, and at this point the wind was whipping dead into our faces. With that kind of sea running and that much wind, its not easy to maneuver up on a moving target, but we went for a first pass towards her and were off by some 20-30 feet. By this time I’d fired up the engine and Jess was up on deck and we pulled out the boat hook to try and grab the Superhighway on our next pass. This time we came within 15 feet, but still not nearly close enough.
I know that it’ll be easier to maneuver if we drop all the sails, but I also know the Rascal could easily get knocked down in these kind of seas if we don’t have some sail up. After two more closer, but ultimately unsuccessful passes we realized that there isn’t much of anything to hook onto now that the painter is in tatters, but we also remember that there is a bunch of tangled shoreline in the dinghy still and figure that perhaps we can get a hook into that. The shorelines are classic for tangling up on everything in the dinghy when you’re trying to deploy them, but when we finally managed to hook one our fifth attempt, we found that it slowly dragged its way out of the dinghy without wrapping around a single thing until its entire 110m length was dragging behind the Rascal and slowly getting wrapped around the windvane.
This created a bigger issue because if it got caught in the propeller, we would be in an even bigger mess. We had to get it untangled in a hurry, but it took nearly ten minutes and the Superhighway was drifting away the entire time. We were just barely able to keep an eye on her and once all the line was clear we raced off after her, sighting her on the wave tops every 20 seconds or so. At this point, it was still blowing at least 25 with driving rain and our chances of ever boat-hooking the Superhighway seemed non-existent. There seemed to be only one other option to retrieve the Superhighway so and I grabbed the key to her outboard, tightened my life preserver, started giving Jess instructions, and we looped around for another pass.
Our six path was nowhere near the Superhighway, our seventh pass literally hit her in the stern, and our eighth pass seemed like it was as good as it was going to get. Just as we passed her beam, I took to the air, and with the grace of a swan, I dove across the 6-8 feet of ocean that separated us.
My adrenaline addled body landed with a mighty thud in her cushy, inflatable bottom and I gave a quick prayer of thanks to Poseidon for delivering me. Time to get to work. I quickly built a new tow line out of the one remaining shoreline that was in the dinghy and put a backup loop to a ring in the inside of the dinghy should something decide to break off again. I fired up the outboard (started first pull, thank god!) and started blasting off across these mammoth waves in pursuit of the Rascal, which was about a quarter mile away at this point. I was absolutely drenched and every 3rd or 4th wave would crash over the bow and into the bottom of the boat. I’d covered about half the distance to the Rascal when all of a sudden the outboard coughed, sputtered, and with an indignant snort, cut out entirely. Shit.
There was obviously no chance of rowing the couple hundred yards that separated us, so I went to work trying to diagnose what the issue was. Water in the fuel? Totally possible. Water in the air intake? Also totally possible. Luck run out? Seems likely. Finally I looked down in the floor of the dinghy and saw that one of my feet braced against the floor of the dinghy had pinched a fuel line. Five or six pulls later, she fired back to life and before I knew it, we were approaching the stern of the Rascal.
The wind was still blowing 25-30 kts and the Rascal was quite a scene of chaos when I got back to her. Jess had been pointing her into the wind, hove-to, with the jiblet flogging around on the foredeck where the wind had thrown her loose of her sail ties. Sheets were dragging in the water, twisted around each other, and the mast was ticking back and forth 90 degrees as each wave came and passed. Surely she must’ve been shitting her pants, especially when it looked like the engine had given up the ghost, but Jess kept her calm and kept the Rascal on course as I approached. With a dip of a wave and exceedingly lucky timing, I was able to cut the engine of the dinghy and step up onto the Rascal with one hand around the kill switch and the new towline and the other clutching onto the Rascal’s stern.
We cleared that carnage off the Rascal’s deck and soon we were pointed back down wind, and we both breathed a big sigh of relief that we had all survived the ordeal with out any major injuries or mishaps. It was still blowing hard and the Rascal was still making insane boat speeds of 8+ knots.
It was dragging through the water at 8 kts, attached by an old spongy fuel line, bouncing and jumping all over the place. We quickly put the helm over to heave to and I started dragging the tow line back in by hand. Even hove-to, the Rascal was moving too quick to be able to get the Superhighway alongside and we were both expecting the fuel line to break lose at any moment. I unclipped my safety tether again, and prepared myself for another swan dive.
Jess gave me high marks for form on this dive and, against all odds, the gas tank, with its rusty hose clamps, managed to stay attached through the whole ordeal. I slowly tugged it back in and, as the Superhighway was still attached to the Rascal, getting back aboard was much easier this time. I threw the fuel tank down into the cockpit and we pointed the Rascal downwind once again.
At this point, I came really close to making a sarcastic comment to the effect of, “When I got back from the first dive into the Superhighway, I never expected to be making a second!” yet I decided to hold my tongue. Best not to tempt fate, right?
Five minutes later, we looked back at the Superhighway, who I had decided was out to commit suicide, and we saw that the engine cowling had somehow popped off and was dangling precariously by the pull cord. At this point, I was fully committed to the cause and I made the jump for the third time. I landed atop an oar that has been guilty of cracking ribs before, but my life preserver cushioned the blow and I grabbed the engine cover just in time and latched it back on.
Despite the fact that we were still blazing along at a ridiculous speed (we peaked at 8.7 kts), we’d lost a lot of valuable time in wresting with the Superhighway and we were now way behind schedule. We both agreed that I would’ve been totally hosed (and the Superhighway would’ve likely been successful in her suicide attempts) if Jess hadn’t been there to man the helm of the Rascal while I was practicing my gymnastics.
The wind and current slowly started abating as we sailed south and we eventually made radio contact with Karma to see where exactly they were anchored. We mentioned that we’d had a pretty big day and they offered up a big chili dinner and a sipper of Jack to warm our spirits. As we navigated between islets and around rocks on the final approach, the clouds started breaking up and a glorious sunset spread across the sky.
Stay tuned for the next chapter - when we finally reach the San Rafael Glacier!