South Atlantic Bliss

29S 33W

The great sailing continues. 5 knots of wind, 6 of boatspeed, basically on course. Could be going faster if I emptied the ballast tank and had racing sails. With her crazy sail area to displacement ratio of 45 and relatively narrow waterline beam, Sparrow is bliss in these conditions. Very exciting to be north of the 30 degree parallel! Recife is at 7S, so still a long way to go but more than halfway there!

I get more time on deck today, putting my chair in the shade while daydreaming and reading. It’s a good day when all you have to do is finish a book and admire the changing scenery with sooty shearwaters. The shearwaters have been with Sparrow for some days now, I zone out watching them perform their graceful ballet in the swells. My skin is telling me I may be getting too much vitamin D.

A little drama yesterday. Wind popped up to 20 knots and Sparrow was romping comfortably at 12-14 knots. I looked down into the cabin and noticed water under one of the windows forward. “That’s weird, a window leaking?” I thought to myself. A few minutes later after opening the electrics cabinet, I see a stream of water spraying out of the kelp cutter tube. Turns out someone had tried to fasten the electronics cabinet directly to the tube by putting holes in it. Fine if Sparrow is not moving, but move fast enough and seawater will rise up the tube. I slowed Sparrow down to under 10 knots by deep reefing, then plugged the hole with a screw and butyltape. Then noticed still more water is leaking down the tube. I remove a holding bracket and yes, find two more holes in the tube hidden under a bracket with water spraying out. Keep in mind this is where Sparrow’s main 12 volt distribution panels are, along with all electronics, including VHF, AIS, Radar, radar reflector, battery monitor, clocks, barometer, NKE instruments. This water ingress has been a major source of problems. Indeed yesterday my voice capabilities are now shut down. The satphone charger succumbed to the seawater, along with the phone used for the main satcom system.

Stunning that there were 4 different direct leaks with that tube, including the deck penetration. Stunning that whomever built it didn’t see it coming, and left the holes in the tube. One of the niggling projects in the back of my mind before I left was to move the entire electronics cabinet over to a proper nav station to starboard, and cut out and plug that tube. The interior could have a lovely table in the center with comfortable seating around it. It just seemed too much effort for little gain so I left the existing setup. The sea always finds your weaknesses. Pretty amazing I haven’t had more electronics failures. I don’t know whether to be mad at myself for taking so long to find all the leaks, or mad at whomever did this setup. It’s similar to the seawater flooding down into the aft compartment through the rudder bearing. A ridiculous setup that should never have been built. Another one of those niggling things that I didn’t address before I left. Anyway, Hopefully all is well there now, and I won’t have any more issues with seawater spraying into my electronics.

Shortly I will write a long post that describes everything that is going right and what has worked well. There is lots to discuss there.

Now off to enjoy the shearwaters, work on a book, and work on my sunburn.

Passing 40S Parallel!

I’ve been slowing down intentionally waiting for a pesky low pressure system pass by to the north. Basically just waiting for the last 2 days while we get tossed around in some of the most confused seas I’ve ever seen. Quite the washing machine in the cabin. Except instead of getting clean, I just smell more and more funky. What is that smell, anyway?

One funny thing I’ll mention. The gooseneck pin is still falling out. Apparently when the boom moves from side to side it slowly unscrews the top nut. I should have had Steve drill a 3/32” hole in the pin so a cotter pin could retain the nut. Amazing how the sea finds any little detail amiss. So, it looks like the gooseneck pin holder-upper will be reinstalled. Didn’t see that coming, except I did keep the pieces for some reason…

Sparrow will soon cross the 40S parallel! This would be a sort of demarcation for the end of the Southern Ocean. It won’t feel like it until this low passes by (cloudy and rainy today), but still it’s warming up! My fingers and toes aren’t numb anymore! I can’t see my breath! Hopefully we will experience some champagne sailing soon, and I can enjoy beverages out in the cockpit again. Maybe even the sun will come out.

No regrets about not continuing around. It was an unfortunate set of occurrences, but the right call was made. Doing my best to enjoy the remaining month at sea. Getting some great reading done.

Small Gale & Another Full Gale on the Way

48S 48W

Yesterday Sparrow found herself in a small gale – 35-40 knots. Not normally a problem but the furling line parted at the bow and the jib unrolled completely.


I spent about 3 hours up on the bow dealing with the mess. I ended up taking the sail down and putting up the storm jib. Very rough. Poseidon apparently had to throw one more punch from the 50 South latitudes before I escaped to the 40’s. I managed to have seawater go up my sleeves and soak my only fleece tops. So now I hide under blankets while below and race north for warmth.

Today we are seeing 25 knots from a favorable angle and I’ve kept the storm jib up with double reefed main. Seas unusually rough.

Fast moving low coming off the coast coming at Sparrow. Looks like I’m going to get blasted. Will be an interesting couple of days.

All OK aboard.

Inelegant Departure

Lalo, the Director of Cedenas, Cmdr Guerrero of the Naval Armada, and Rene came out to Sparrow with bread and gifts, to retrieve the dinghy they had loaned me, and with a starting battery. They were gracious and lovely as always, and I was sad to have to leave them.

The starting battery was necessary due to a big mistake I made. The last few days had been without sun, and I had been charging all my devices and not looking at the battery meter. I ran the battery down to the point where the engine wouldn’t start. With lithium that means REALLY low. Sparrow left with a jump starter, but it succumbed to sea water on the way down. Sparrow also has charging options: sail off and use the hydrogenerator, or even wait for the sun to shine. I could have sailed off the mooring. Still, it was a humiliating lesson. Making mistakes is a huge component of sailing and I still make them all the time. The trick is to keep them from being major or life threatening. Natures way of keeping us on our toes.

Speaking of mistakes, I had another near-miss departing. I untied the last line and Sparrow started to move. Much more quickly than I anticipated. I panicked and rushed aft on the boat she was rafted to and had to make a little leap, clutching the lifelines to get back aboard. Then rush back to the engine controls to put her into gear as the shore was fast approaching. Not the smooth departure of my dreams. Then of course I ran over a big patch of kelp.

I had hoped to head West to see some glaciers, but the weather would have none of it. 25 knots on the nose and Sparrow’s 20hp engine is just not up to the task. I don’t recall wanting a big honking engine with a three bladed propeller to match before. So unfortunately no glaciers for Sparrow this trip. As I write I am passing Isle de Estados on my way east after a long sleepless night going through the Beagle Channel. I shall gybe soon to pass south and east of the Falklands. The weather looks good for the next few days, but there are two lows coming off Argentina later next week that I shall have to keep an eye on.

Still struggling to find my sea legs. I guess it always takes a few days.

Puerto Williams Departure

As of this morning, Sparrow and I have been cleared to depart Chile. Sparrow is all patched up, ready for her venture north. First I shall try to motor upwind to the west 50 miles or so to see a glacier or two, then turn east, then north around the corner. I can’t say the weather is good for going west, but it’s good enough to get moving and the barometer is rising. The tracker is on, pinging every hour.

Just waiting on bread. I’m told it’s worth waiting for! I have no doubt as I have been breadless for a long time now and it’s been lurking as a secret craving. Other than that, diesel tank is mostly full, water tank is full and I’ve plenty of food aboard. Everything is stowed and ready.

I shall forever remember the warm, kind, and generous hospitality here in Puerto Williams. I dare say I shall be in touch with a number of them as I am so grateful for their help and kindness. From loaning me a dinghy to hosting dinners for me, it has been a delightful visit.

Puerto Williams is a growing hub of activity. Each year more boats arrive to tour Tierra del Fuego or launch to Antarctica. Rumors of expanding Micalvi, and even a new wharf to support small cruise ships to areas even farther south.

I shall report back soon from the Western Beagle Channel.

Repairs Almost Complete

Box of Parts Arrived Right on Schedule!

Packaged beautifully by Steve, the box of parts arrived right on schedule apparently moving through Customs unopened. The last few days have been busy here, and I’m down to just a few items left. I will finish all but one today, the batten box and car installations due to the weather. It has dramatically turned worse, cold and rainy with 20-30 knots of wind making it untenable to raise the main. The winds are also keeping me from shore to attend to some administrative and connectivity matters to set up a properly working cell phone.

There is a non-profit sailing school here called Cedenas that does amazing work teaching children to sail. I looked into donating Sparrow to the school here, but it doesn’t look like it will work out due to tax and tariff laws. So Sparrow will be heading north up through the Atlantic to the East Coast of the US. Mostly due to my lack of confidence in the deck and rudder bearing, some due to COVID restrictions driving countries to close their borders to visitors. So my goal of sailing around the world is ended, but I accomplished the real goal of experiencing life’s amazing highs and lows. One amazing high being rounding Cape Horn, one amazing low being denied anchoring by an inhumane Argentinian bureaucrat. I am looking forward to some more weeks at sea, hopefully uneventful.

As to the next port of call, I do not know yet. There are a number of US Ports of Entry, but fewer with the draft Sparrow needs and available space. Port Canaveral is a possibility, but there is no available occupancy due to COVID I am told. This could change by the time I’m in the neighborhood. Newport, RI has the depth, but not sure of availability and I don’t relish heading up there in March.

I expect to depart in a few days, weather permitting. I will start the tracker up the day of departure.

Repair Progress

Puerto Williams Harbor at Midnight

Repairs have been progressing slowly, partly due to cold, rainy weather and partly due to some depression about my circumstances. The loneliness and cold and feeling stuck wears me down and some days I just don’t feel like doing anything. Over the last two weeks though, some progress has been made. After a few days of getting a visa and learning what’s what here, I assessed the damage on Sparrow. The list grew longer, of course.

The big news is the parts shipped last week to Miami where they hopefully departed for Santiago yesterday. It was rather a big job to specify everything, buy everything, consolidate the parts into a carton and ship it out. A huge shoutout to my longtime friend Steve who did an amazing job helping me specify parts, order them all, consolidate everything and ship them out. As of now, there is a 55 pound box on it’s way down here. If everything goes perfectly (sure) the box will clear Customs and meet the weekly ferry to Puerto Williams to arrive on the 23rd. There is no way I could have pulled that off from down here, so thank you so, so much Steve. I’m certain I have taken on a debt that I cannot repay.

Before the parts arrive, I’m doing everything I can both to make repairs and adjustment, and prep as far as possible to be able to quickly install the parts. With luck I should get everything done in three days after the parts arrive. So here is a list of repairs and status:

  • Rudder Bearing – cleaned and inspected. Bearings looked OK, but cracking (top only) in deck around upper bearing housing. Leak covered with 2mil poly bag material.
  • Turning Block hole in deck – hole filled with epoxy. Turning block not installed due to no backing plate. Will use padeyes and blocks as work around. 2 blocks shipped.
  • Gooseneck Pin – New pin shipped
  • Jib Halyard – old halyard removed, mouseline in, new halyard shipped
  • Mainsheet Sling Chafing – Chafing material shipped
  • Mainsheet Turning Block – replaced with spare 100mm block
  • Jib Battens – Still need to cut two battens and sew pockets closed (pockets torn)
  • Mainsail Cars – All car pins need to be replaced due to multiple failures; 2 new cars and carriage ordered; new pins and nuts ordered
  • Mainsail Batten Boxes – 4 broken boxes need to be removed; 4 new boxes shipped
  • Traveler Cars – Old cars removed; New cars shipped
  • Center hatch – Old hatch removed, new hatch shipped
  • Keel Box Leak – photographed keel joint, confirmed damage limited to fillet material.
  • Battery monitor – new part shipped
  • Laptop charger – new part shipped
  • Tricolor reverse polarity switch – new part shipped
  • GPS Antenna – new part shipped
  • VHF Antenna – new part shipped
  • Wind Sensor – Remounted but still moves affecting AWA, TWA maybe 5 degrees
  • Echomax XS Antenna – new part with mount shipped
  • Watermaker – High salinity. TDS meter shipped but resolution unknown. Will depart with full tank of shore water
  • Chainplate Leaks – unresolved
  • Jib Track Leaks – unresolved
  • Forward and Aft Hatch Leaks – unresolved
  • Winches – all cleaned and greased

So, with some work and luck, Sparrow will be ready for the open ocean again by the middle of next week, maybe the 27th?

Meanwhile I also muddle on where Sparrow is going…the U.S. East Coast or keep heading East? Looks like the option of heading up the Chilean waterway is not practical for singlehanded Sparrow. COVID and getting late in the season argues for heading up the Atlantic. Possible regret and doing what you said you would do argue to keep going around. As I lack sufficient life wisdom, I dither. But this topic will be for another post as departure draws nearer.

Now is the time for tea with a blanket and to read about Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem and its implications for determinism and AI while rain patters on the deck. I continue to be astonished at what I didn’t learn during 20 years of formal education. Although perhaps after 58 years around the sun maybe I can finally begin to put some pieces together.

I keep hearing COVID is raging back in Los Angeles. Puerto Williams feels like a safe place to be during the pandemic, even though the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in Puerto Williams. Everyone stay healthy.

Please Meet Igor Bely

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 in Puerto Williams

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. He can be found on Instagram @polaris.kotik oh, and yes, he’s single.