A New England yacht designer sets his sights on the Chilean channels as the locale for the sea trials of his latest 57-foot cat. From our June 2012 issue.
The next morning, we continued eastward through the channel. The northern tip of Chiloe was to starboard as we passed two navy vessels trolling for wreckage from a recent ferry sinking. The favorable current was running at about six knots. Great big eddies were marked by diving birds and numerous seals and penguins fishing up a storm.
Entering into Bahía de Chacao, we turned right down the eastern side of Chiloe, which is about 100 miles long and sits some 30 miles off the mainland. Sailing along its beautiful, serene shore, we saw scenery reminiscent of Maine or Nova Scotia: numerous islands and coves, and rolling hills and pasture with an occasional farmhouse. But when we looked east across to the mainland, the sight of the snow-capped Andes with smoking volcanoes interspersed between the craggy, 15,000-foot peaks was evidence that, figuratively speaking, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
On board PataGao in Patagonia were Jim Whalen; my wife, Kate; Roni Klingenberg; me; and Alex Wopper.
Alex and Roni—both incredibly intelligent, multilingual, and, most important, fun to hang out with—are quite a pair. The founder of Alwoplast, Alex built a cruising boat in Germany as a young man and took off around the world. He fell in love with the wild regions of southern Chile and settled in Valdivia some 25 years ago to make a living building boats, gradually working up in size from Tornado racing catamarans to a variety of commercial and pleasure cats, both sail and power.
Now that the boatyard has grown to employ 50 people, Alex runs the business end of things and his right-hand man, Roni, manages the shop floor. Born and raised in Chile of German descent, he’s an engineer by disposition as well as formal education and a born problem solver. One seldom sees him without his head buried in an instruction manual or performing mechanical surgery on a piece of faulty equipment. It was a great crew to have on board a new boat for a shakedown cruise, especially because, as we all know, new boats can have some gremlins.
Our first anchorage in northern Patagonia was at quiet Isla Mechuque, part of a cute group of little islets offering many protected bays. The weather was overcast and raw, so we all were content to sit inside the heated pilothouse and watch the 12-foot tide slowly recede in our little cove. The next morning, a fellow in a small rowboat came alongside and asked if we’d like some shellfish. Why, of course! Thirty minutes later, he came back with a huge bucket filled with a variety of mussels of different sizes and three types of clams. He was all smiles when we happily agreed to his modest asking price, the equivalent of just a few U.S. dollars.
We gave the thumb’s up to the fellow who came alongside asking if we’d like some fresh shellfish.
The day was clear and provided a fine sailing breeze, so we weighed anchor and continued southwest toward the small but vibrant fishing and farming town of Dalcahue, on Chiloe, about 20 miles away. Alex was keen to show us the Saturday market, and though we were well provisioned, it was hard to resist buying lots more of the incredible local fare: smoked salmon and mussels, sun-dried clams, edible seaweed, local cheese, delicious corn, unusual varieties of potato, and all manner of vegetables. Cruising in this region of Patagonia is definitely not part of a weight-loss program.