Lessons Learned in Puerto Williams

With their time in Puerto Williams, the Galactics are learning important lessons, in both sailing and life.
Lessons from a native speaker. Invaluable Mike Litzow


One of the recurring themes of our travels is what a bubble we sometimes operate in on board Galactic. When we’re out on the water or anchored up in some lonely cove, we’re separated from whatever country we’re visiting. We live in a little microcosm of America, and aren’t forced to interact with people from the country we’re in.

Even when we’re spending time in a town, as we are now, we still tend to be insulated from the host country by the company of other traveling boats. We easily interact with other sailors, with whom we share a common life of the sea, and who usually speak English quite well.

There are some great aspects to this separation that comes from living in on our own world on the boat. It makes long-term travel with the family possible. But there are downsides. We’ve been in Chile since last Christmas, and the boys still speak no Spanish.

Striking out on his own – riding the dinghy to sailing school. Mike Litzow

But! We Galactics are rarely ones to shy from a good travel interaction. One of our goals for this time in Puerto Williams is to get the boys interacting in Spanish. And things are starting to happen along those lines.

We had the great good fortune to meet Carlos Vega, who runs an eco-tourism/trekking business here in Puerto Williams. He’s been coming by the boat every morning this week to give Elias a one-on-one Spanish lesson, and, not incidentally, some concentrated Spanish conversation for me. Magic doesn’t happen in a week, but we’re getting Elias started.

And, the local sailing school here has given the boys a chance to interact with local kids. Elias has been twice and Eric once. When the weather is bad, as it can be here, sailing school consists of watching sailing videos inside and eating some junk food. Both boys left us looking quite unsure of themselves on the first day, and came back transfixed with joy.

The process. Mike Litzow

In our so-tight nuclear family lifestyle, independent interactions for the boys are much less common than they would be on land. It was a pleasure for Alisa and me to watch the boys sailing out from the safe harbor of family life and coming back with big grins over the state of things in the world outside.

The Life Micalvi

The Micalvi is the ship that was scuttled on the outskirts of Puerto Williams to make a dock for visiting yachts. But it is also something of an iconic name for a certain kind of sailing. The Micalvi is where people spend a season between their trip down the Patagonian canales and their trip to Antarctica. It’s a place that we’ve heard about a hundred times, a shorthand name for an adventurous sort of sailing life that gets you to out of the way places like this.

And now, after hearing about it for years, here we are.

Alongside the new playground, the Micalvi. Mike Litzow

The Micalvi itself is something of a playground for the kids. The bar inside is closed for the winter, but the wheelhouse, which is still quite a luxurious place, has served us very nicely as the setting for a BYOB social with the other yachties that are here at the end of the winter.

And the yachts – what about them? You’ll see in the pictures above that the place is completely full of yachts waiting out the winter months. We hear that prices have gone up in Ushuaia, the Argentinean port just thirty miles away on the other side of the Beagle Channel, and that more boats are wintering here as a result. And of course there are more and more boats in general, especially here in the far south. A place that only a few crazies visited two decades ago is now available to any crazy who can get together enough money to buy a boat.

Elias on the bridge. Mike Litzow

And how about those boats, and the people sailing them?


I’m happy to report that the boats are a pretty ordinary lot. Nothing too fancy, as you might expect, and nothing too flash. The people, too – pretty run of the mill, unassuming sorts, no superhero complexes among them. A good group.

If we had our druthers, we’d be just about ready to go – tanks full, stores full, slip the lines and go get lost again in los canales. But we need to get a variety of life issues beaten into shape before we can do that again. In particular, I have a full load of science work that will keep me dependent on the internet link here for a month or so.

But, if everything goes according to plan, we have a tremendous Austral summer ahead of us – Tierra del Fuego at first, then Christmas in the Falkands, and who knows what else.

The result. Mike Litzow

It’s not too hard to put in a little stationary time first.

When we left Alaska to sail to Australia with our toddler for crew, we thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But then we had our second child, and bought our second boat, and sailed across the Pacific a second time. We’ve been living aboard for seven years now. Sometimes we wonder how long we’ll keep at it, but all we know for sure is that the end doesn’t seem to be in sight just yet. Click here to read more from the Twice in a Lifetime blog.

Ice on the seno this morning. It’s still winter. Mike Litzow
The teenager on Mollymawk has a skull collection that impressed the Galactics very much. Mike Litzow
Penguin skull! Mike Litzow
Johan on Alea. Mike Litzow
Optimist training in Beagle Channel. Mike Litzow
Elias coming back from sailing school. He loves it. Mike Litzow
Family walks are a big attraction. Mike Litzow
Parakeets in winter – too cool. Mike Litzow
A leftover from a tense time with Argentina. Mike Litzow