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.

Puerto Williams, Chile

In my last post, I was thinking Ushuaia, Argentina was the place that would have the best infrastructure in the area to support repairing Sparrow. Alas, this was not to be. As I made my way West down the Beagle Strait on December 28, Ushuaia refused not only entry, but also even anchorage. The authorities there refused to assist a mariner in distress. I was crushed, and got emotional on the radio not knowing what to do. This all happened on open VHF channels, with many folks here in Puerto WIlliams, Chile listening in. The last sailboat to arrive in Puerto Williams was March, so Sparrow’s arrival to the area was a bit unusual.

After a brief exchange on VHF, the Puerto WIlliams Harbor Master allowed Sparrow to anchor off Puerto Williams temporarily while they determined what to do with me and Sparrow. Puerto Williams is on lockdown and a curfew due to COVID and Chile is not accepting foreigners so if they did anything it would be through a waiver process.
Puerto Williams happens to have a significant Chilean Naval presence and apparently the Navy took an interest in my case. The local authorities moved extraordinarily quickly and in the morning of the 29th two officers were onboard Sparrow taking pictures of my passport, vessel documentation, and some of the damage. Some hours later they allowed Sparrow to move into the inner harbor to a mooring, and in the afternoon there were 6 authorities in uniform onboard Sparrow where they asked me some questions, gave me a health inspection and then stamped my passport with a 90 day tourist visa. Boom.

It was all so fast I didn’t realize they had issued the visa until the next day.

But that is only the beginning of the reception I’ve received since anchoring in Puerto Williams. After receiving the visa, the captain of the Isaza, one of the naval vessels here and the number 2 Naval officer here invited me for a hot shower, meal and some lubricating beverages. 3 hours later I left with clean skin, a full stomach, two blankets and maybe a little woozy from pesco. Commander Guerrero had just received a promotion that day so was in a certain mood!

In the background also, two english speaking high latitude cruisers that are here also listened in on the VHF transmissions and have acted as both translators for the harbor master and also coaching me on what’s going on here and how to navigate entering the country, what are the lockdown and curfew rules (allowed 2 – 3 hour periods per week to shop, curfew 10pm-5am), where to find tools, supplies, groceries, banks, and most of all how to ship parts here. Their help and generosity has been extraordinary and astounding. I will write more about these two extraordinary people later, but I will say for now that they will be separately heading across the Drake Passage to visit Antarctica in about 2 weeks. One for the first time with his family, the other for something like the 30th time.

It’s hard to express how grateful I am to the authorities and people of Puerto Williams and Chile. The comfort of having safe harbor is an amazing feeling. Humanity is alive and well here.

Finally, just today Cmdr Guerrero came back aboard Sparrow to do a short video interview and left with my dirty laundry promising to deliver it back tomorrow! Nothing short of incredible hospitality that is now perhaps getting embarrassing.

And now my attention turns to repairs. I can see while waiting for parts to arrive, Sparrow may take a little cruise westward to see glaciers and who knows what else.

Happy New Year everyone. Take care of each other.

Ushuaia Bound

Heading for Ushuaia for repairs. Should arrive tomorrow morning. No idea what will happen with Customs and COVID. The port side double turning block ripped out of the deck this morning, complete with broken backing plate. This happened while I was heading upwind through the straight in 20 knots, smooth seas. This is on top of the traveler failure the other day, which I am unable to repair at sea.

No further decisions have been made.

Here is the repair list, dunno what’s going to get done before Sparrow moves again:
Deck Gear
⦁ Gooseneck Pin (2)
⦁ Traveler cars – Harken Big Boat
⦁ Turning blocks – new backing plates all around? New Core material? ⦁ 3rd Reef Outer Block lashing
⦁ Jib Halyard
Deck Leaks
⦁ Coachroof cracks
⦁ Dodger leaks
⦁ Hatch leaks
⦁ Chainplate leaks
⦁ Deck track leaks
⦁ Keel joint?
⦁ Upper Rudder Bearing (squeal and leak)
⦁ Jib Battens and repairs
⦁ Mainsail batten cars
⦁ Code 0 (tough)
⦁ A2? Top furler? Sock?
⦁ NKE GPS Antenna
⦁ NKE WiFi Box
⦁ Echomax XS antenna?
⦁ New clocks
⦁ Battery Monitor
⦁ Solar Controller programming
⦁ Main Alternator Regulator programming
⦁ Watt& Sea Blades
Masthead tricolor
Better provisions
⦁ Watermaker – fresh water salinity
⦁ Galley wall

Cape Horn!


An emotional morning after not much sleep last night. Sparrow finally rounded Cape Horn! Delayed due to a period of no wind and mainsail traveler car issues last night. I’m grateful for the delay and the good weather this morning as it allowed me to see the surrounding area. Snow on the Andes! It’s really spectacular country down here.

Chilean Coast Guard checked in with me for which I am also grateful.

Special shout-out to Brian Boschma for the Chardonnay! I little early, but so very welcome! Another special shout-out to Jamie Cantu for the Capilene insistency. The long underwear has made a cold trip tolerable.

So nice to have a few hours of relatively calm seas here in the lee of South America. Somehow seeing Cape Horn this way has made this whole effort feel worthwhile. Stage 2 complete.

Now for a little lunch, and some sleep.