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.
Our destination that day was Fiordo Quintupeu. Since Alex or Roni had said little about it, the three gringos on board had little idea of what to expect. As we closed on the Andes over the course of the afternoon, the anticipation built. Eventually, a small slot opened in the near-vertical green wall ahead of us. From a distance, it was hard to get a sense of the scale, but inside the little opening was a fjord, which revealed itself as we sailed through the gap in the clear afternoon light.
It was my second religious experience in as many days.
With the exception of Somes Sound in Maine, I’m a fjord virgin, but this place was very special. If you could sail a boat into Yosemite Valley, the experience would be similar. The waterfalls were huge, wild, and stunning. No one on board could utter a word. And this was just the northern tip of a wilderness that stretches southward for another thousand miles to legendary Cape Horn.
The inviting Chilean channels beckon sailors to keep cruising south.
Eventually, we came to our senses, dropped the hook in 75 feet of water—anchoring in 500 feet in the fjord’s center wasn’t an option—and ran three lines ashore in the dinghy. That evening’s sunset and morning’s stunning light were beyond my ability to capture with words.
Finally, the long stretch of clear weather was coming to an end. High clouds approaching from the west obscured the sun, and the forecast was for rain and strong winds. Our time was running short, so we made the long daysail north to the busy commercial port of Puerto Montt, where we’d dock PataGao until it was time for her to return to Valdivia.
Looking back on the trip from a cruiser’s perspective, my own preference is for warmer places. And Patagonia is far away; sailing your own boat there from any port in North America would be a rigorous, time-consuming affair. The first part of the trip was fun and interesting, but with slight modifications to names, places, and foods, I’ve cruised similar areas before.
When PataGao stretched out on a screaming reach (above), she ticked off the miles at a steady 10- to 14-knots. Photo: Kenmore Henville
But the fjord opened my eyes to the strong attraction Patagonia holds for many sailors. Looking southward on the chart and imagining the empty, pristine, and beautiful cruising grounds, it’s impossible not to want to keep heading in that direction. Certainly the farther south you sail, the wilder the conditions. The williwaws can be unsettling, if not dangerous. Anchoring in many places is insecure and a challenge. But if it becomes too much at any point, you can spin northward to more temperate conditions. It all seemed doable.
Will I ever take the time to sail my own boat back for a cruise? Probably not. Few people do. However, having a new boat built 100 miles from Patagonia practically demands that you stay there for at least one season to savor one of the world’s most spectacular cruising grounds.
I can’t wait to do it again sometime.
Dedicated to the creation of safe, comfortable, high-performance cruising multihulls, yacht designer Chris White has continuously refined his work over four decades. When not sailing Javelin, their Atlantic 55 cat, Chris and his wife, Kate, the parents of two grown sons, reside in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.