Closing the Circle
After enduring a thrashing in the notorious Golfo de Penas, an open body of water renowned for its relentlessly foul disposition-its short, nasty, bottomless cross-seas coupled with gale-force winds made for probably the worst stomach-turning night of the entire expedition-we were rewarded with a benign run up to Puerto Montt. Next was a fast, lovely, 550-nautical-mile passage before brisk southerlies to the bustling Chilean city of Valparaíso, where my old sailing mate Mauricio Ojeda had secured us a berth in the smart little basin of the Club de Yates Higuerillas, in the nearby resort village of Concón.
Following a relaxing, enjoyable week in "Valpo" to recharge the figurative batteries after 4,000 hard miles from Mar del Plata, Argentina, we set sail for the 1,300-nautical-mile journey to Lima, Peru. On the last day of February, some 72 hours later, the inbox for our satellite-based email accounts was besieged with queries: Were we still in Chile? Was everyone OK? Did Ocean Watch weather the tsunami?
Though we were still off the coast of Chile, it was the first we'd heard about the quake.
In the aftermath of an earthquake, tsunamis race across the ocean floor with enormous force and energy, and the one that spun off the devastating Chilean temblor shot across the deep Pacific basin at hundreds of miles per hour. It's when those depths grow shallow, along coastlines and islands, and all that undersea inertia reaches the end of the runway with nowhere left to go, that tsunamis become lethal. At the surface of the vast ocean, however, many miles offshore, Ocean Watch sailed safely on.
One of the first emails we received came from our friend Mauricio, still in Valparaiso: "Ocean Watch was lucky to sail. We had troubles at the club. Although there was not a violent tsunami in our area, the sea completely receded after the earthquake, drying out the marina. Boats lay on the bottom, high and dry. When the sea slowly came back, the level reached an altitude much higher than normal, by eight feet. Most of the boats floated again, but three yachts were sunk. Piers were affected. But our problems at the club are only of material costs. No casualties."
Would the steel, 44-ton Ocean Watch have picked herself up off the ocean floor and survived the grounding? We'll never know. Once again, all we could do was invoke one of our recurring themes: Just how lucky could we get?
Once in Peru, we anchored off the welcoming facilities of the Yacht Club Peruano, in the resort village of Callao, a short distance from the teeming city of Lima. There, as in many of our destinations, we welcomed hundreds of school kids aboard to tour the boat and visit with teachers and staff from Seattle's Pacific Science Center, the expedition's other primary supporter. As always, the bright, curious, engaging students-who seem to understand more about the threats to our oceans than we adults, the creators of those threats-left us cautiously hopeful about the future.
In mid-March, we pushed on for the Galápagos archipelago. According to the pilot charts, in normal years, steady easterly trade winds would fuel the trip from Peru on to the equator. But the strong 2010 El Niño effectively switched off the trades as well as the usual coastal upwelling and northerly currents that generally prevail off the upper flank of western South America. With calm seas and water temperatures nearing 90 degrees F, what should've been a sweet sail turned into an uneventful delivery trip almost exclusively under power. The main diversion was hacking away the discarded longline fishing gear we wrapped around the propeller about midway through.