If you venture to Puerto Williams and don’t speak spanish, there is a good chance you will meet Igor Bely, a remarkable, generous man. Born at sea, he lives on the similarly remarkable Kotik, a 62′ steel yacht his father built. Rumors are he speaks 6 languages. Igor has been hugely helpful to me to get situated here in Chile, including loaning me a kayak to get to shore, showing me around town, buying me SIM card, having dinner aboard his amazing vessel, etc. etc. etc. All for a stranger that showed up unexpectedly but needed help. But this is how Igor rolls. After Sparrow dragged into town, he has been similarly helpful to another yacht that stopped in needing provisions.
Both an adventurer and sea captain here in Puerto Williams, Igor has been to Antarctica for 32 Summer seasons, meaning he has lost count of how many times he’s actually been there. He once crossed the Pacific on a Hobie Cat that took 14 months. Yes, you read that right, a Hobie Cat. Pretty sure he became more sick of dehydrated food on that trip than I currently am on my trip.
Kotik was built explicitly for the ice and high latitudes. Insulation under the deck appeared to be at least 10 inches, the hull six inches. He explains that Kotik is more comfortable when its truly cold, say below 5 degrees F because the condensation on the inside of the steel hull freezes so the interior is not as damp. Appropriate for an expedition yacht, she is solid, comfortable with simple and reliable systems. She has a weighted centerboard allowing her to “anchor” temporarily just by dropping the board in shallow areas. She draws about a meter with the board up, allowing her to beach with the tide to work on the underbody, including the propeller and rudder. All her systems appear to be easily accessible for easier inspection and maintenance to minimize surprises. I have to say, there is nothing quite like a well maintained steel yacht to instill confidence as everything is so solid.
Igor takes passengers aboard Kotik for 4-8 week trips to Antarctica, but this COVID year he is taking a group of friends in just a few days. All groups – whether tourists, researchers, mountain climbers, or adventurers – he takes are through word of mouth, and you don’t book a berth, you book the yacht. Further, he doesn’t just take anyone. You have to pass some qualifications (not physical) to be lucky enough to join him on one of his expeditions, and I won’t divulge what his qualifications are lest anyone attempts to game his intuitive system.
Igor exudes competence from many years of living at sea. It’s evident from the way he maintains his vessel, to his systems knowledge, to his knowledge of the area, to the way he handles his dinghy. This competence yields to comfort to those around him that everything will be OK, and all will be right with the world. It’s an honor to have met him, and I am beyond grateful for his assistance while I’m here in Puerto Williams.