15.03.08 – cruising choices and heading north

From Ushuaia the choice of cruising grounds is easy – the Cape Horn circuit, the Antarctic Peninsula and the Beagle Channel.

Cape Horn is only 60 miles away as the condor flies. Unless it is a mark on your ocean passage however, it is just an island like the thousands of others. The charter yachts wait for the weather so their passengers can feel like Eric Tabarly without getting seasick. In a weather window last week an Australian Top Hat nipped round under spinnaker.

Antarctica is a popular alternative. So much so that it is usual for yachts in Gerlache Straits area to have to share anchorages. You need about 3-4 weeks for the standard circuit, but it is now too late in the season. The wildlife has gone and the days are too short. The pundits recommend October/November for South Georgia and January for the Antarctic peninsula, both of which will have to wait for next time.

I have devoted this summer to the last of the three, the Beagle Channel. This is Tainui’s 3rd trip through and each has revealed a different face of this wild and remote place. The 2 arms of the Channel have unparalled grandeur – deep and mysterious fjords, massive glaciers calving into the sea, towering rock faces and huge waterfalls. Solitude in wonderful anchorages. I cannot imagine better cruising anywhere. On this last circuit we saw only one vessel – a local fishing boat – in an entire fortnight. I hope the pictures which follow give some sense of the beauty of this lonely area.

Ushuaia is a tenuous long term anchorage and with charter vessels bedding down space is at a premium at Puerto Williams. Some boats do remain and cruise Patagonia in winter – the antarctic high comes north and there are apparently long periods of calm with cloudless skies. But it is cold and the days are very short. For Tainui it is time to go north. Buenos Aires, we think.

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