• iainmacneil

Week 7 - To The Horn - And Back Again!?


Day 42 Tue 11/01

With the wind having swung round quickly to the NE, and blowing at Force 5-6, we heaved up the anchor at 19:12hrs to slip out of our secluded anchorage in Bahai Marino Bay. We adopted a course SSW to hug the South American Coastline all the way down to Cabo San Diego. All was calm and the crew had settled down for the evening and were watching a movie in the saloon.


At 22:00hrs there was a very heavy vibration and our initial thought was that the sound on the movie was fantastic… A split second later Iain, Paul and Mikey all simultaneously whipped off their Bluetooth TV headphones and were on their feet, with Iain and Mikey heading to the bridge and Paul checking over the stern and the engine room. No one ever wants the feeling of running aground - but that’s what it felt like.....

Reducing the engine's RPM removed the heavy vibration and nothing was visible astern, so we were all thinking ‘what just happened there..?

Paul’s checks revealed that we had lost 15 litres of oil via our stern seal, which is an arrangement of seal rings held in position. It has two separate functions - to ensure that water does not enter the engine room and to allow the propeller shaft to rotate as smoothly and freely as possible.

This seal allows the propeller shaft to vibrate without causing damage to the shaft (or reducing the potential level of damage) and during that 15 second period, the seal opened slightly and released 15 litres of oil into the engine room bilges before closing up and resealing itself.

This all suggested that something had fouled our propeller, which is 1.7m in diameter and rotates between 200-300 RPM, which is comparatively slow for a small motorboat.

We had been running at half speed for 20 minutes while making these checks, and as we started to slowly build up speed we heard a ‘thwack, thwack…’ in the area of the nozzle around the propeller, indicating that whatever had fouled us was still there, or at least remnants of it were. With there being no more we could do, we settled down for the night at reduced RPM.

Day 43 – Wed 12/01

I woke up just before 04:00hrs and my first thought was that all trace of vibration had gone. I went straight to the bridge and Dan said he had checked the steering flat at 02:00 with Mikey and all was clear. I continued at reduced RPM until 06:50 when Engineer Paul woke and came to the bridge. We built up slowly to sea speed over the next 20-30 mins, with checks of the steering flat and stern seal after each adjustment.



By this point, we had now crossed Latitude 50° South and it was notably colder, with the radiators now turned on and everyone (except Paul) needing extra layers of clothing. Paul is still in his shorts! The skies now look very similar to those of the same latitudes of the UK/NW Europe.


Day 44 – Thu 13/01

The day started with a wonderful sunrise that lasted for over an hour, from 04:30 to 05:30. It was notably colder today and we passed the opening from the South Atlantic to the Strait of Magellan.

Day 45 – Fri 14/01

We definitely all had a feeling of anticipation and excitement over the last couple of days as the reality of reaching Cape Horn set in. Our expectation was to be there at Sunset/evening twilight.

At daybreak Isla De Los Estados (Statten Island) was clearly visible from 45 miles away. The coastline to the west of us looked decidedly like the Outer Hebrides and Statten Island looked very much like the Isle of Skye from a distance.

We approached Cabo de San Diego running at 11 knots with 2-3 knots of current with us, but as we rounded Cabo de San Diego and headed SW for Cape Horn we found ourselves battling against 4 knots of current. The engine was brought up to near top speed (12 knots) and we were making only 8 knots over the ground.

For Iain, the 80 mile run from Cabo San Diego to Cape Horn felt very like the crossing of the Minch from Ardnamurchan to the Isle of Barra, which is perhaps not so surprising as Cape Horn is at 56°S, while Barra Head is at 56°N and both locations are battered by almost continuous SW'lys, without any protection from the expanse of an ocean.

At 22:30hrs in position 56° 02.3’S, 067° 15.0’W we passed south of Cape Horn. It looked much bigger and more daunting than expected, but it is a fitting monument at the foot of South America and certainly does not disappoint!

"While I have not done this single handed and I have a very competent crew on ASTRA, I found , while preparing for this trip, the one reference that conveyed the enormity of sailing around the Horn was that since Edmund Hillary conquered Mount Everest in 1953, more people have climbed Everest than have sailed ‘single handed’ round Cape Horn. In seafaring terms, it is very a special place".




However, our passage around the Horn did not go peacefully. We had intended to proceed around and turn up through the channels to Ushuaia to refuel. I had chosen not to take a full load of fuel in Montevideo in case the seas were lively at the Horn and I didn’t want Astra too heavily laden. Therefore, I had to call at Ushuaia to fuel for the next 1,800NM leg to Valparaiso.

At this point, the lone lighthouse keeper at Cape Horn (which is a Chilean Navy appointment and tends to be a married Chilean Naval Officer with children) called us on the VHF and said that we could not enter Chilean territorial waters. I was beginning to get a sense of the Chilean over-defensiveness over sovereignty and their ongoing friction with Argentina over a number of border/territory disputes!

So unable to take the route we wanted around the Horn and up through Bahia Nassua and Canal Murbay, and in a position where we did not have enough fuel to stretch it out to Valparaiso, the only option remaining was to double back 80 miles and then head along the 60 miles along the Beagle Canal to Ushuaia. Aaaaaaaaaargh!


Day 46 – Sat 15 Jan Our run down the Beagle Canal was very similar to sailing through the Sound of Mull, only calmer. We had to take a pilot to enter port waters and we berthed on the large cruise ship berth in Ushuaia that, during their summer months, seems to always have 4 cruise ships alongside, either cruising in Patagonia or going to Antarctica.


Once we were all fast alongside, a team of 3 divers arrived and, after their checklists were completed, checked our propeller arrangement and reported that all was ok. However, our later close views of the video footage revealed what looks like a length of approx. 30cm (12”) of 10mm rope straggling from two of our 4 propeller blades.This is consistent with the type used in fishing nets and suggests we perhaps sucked a fishing net into our propeller.

At this point we noted a rapidly developing weather system to the SW and winds gusting over 50 knots on the coast. With the decision already made to remain in Ushuaia for at least one day, we moved from the cruise terminal to the anchorage.


Day 47 – Sun 16th January



The first 3 hours of Sunday morning were spent assessing weather windows to leave Ushuaia and proceed back east through the Beagle Canal, down to Cape Horn and get sufficiently far enough to the north before the next storm comes blowing through. It appeared that the best time for us to leave would be Tue 18/01 at 12:00hrs, putting us at Cape Horn on Wednesday morning and giving us two clear days to get up the coast before the next storm arrives.


Our earlier reconnaissance of Cape Horn on Friday evening made the assessment of when to pass the 2nd time a lot easier, as we now had first-hand knowledge of the approach from the NE to Cape Horn punching into 20 knot winds.


Periods of apparent inactivity alongside a berth or at anchor are the times when the Chief Engineer is busiest. He needs all the available time that the machinery is not running to deal with maintenance that can only be carried out when the engine is shut down.



While Paul had a ready list of jobs to undertake in Ushuaia, our list of priorities changed in the 12hrs beforehand as the fuel oil we received in Montevideo was starting to wax-up due to the cold weather (air temps of 3°C and sea temperatures of 5°C). After a lot of work changing Racor Filters and increasing the cleaning of the fuel oil purifier, Paul transferred the balance of the fuel that was waxing back to the tote tanks on deck. Our strategy is to bring through the new higher spec fuel received in Ushuaia and consume that for the first 4 days until the ambient temperature gets above 20°C. We will then consume all of the fuel that has been waxing before we arrive in Valparaiso.



Sunday afternoon finished with Dan jumping in for a refreshing dip in the waters of Ushuaia! (perhaps I should have put this pic in Nature Notes? ....Ed)


Today was Mikey’s birthday and to give him a break, Iain cooked Sunday Brunch and Dan did the Sunday dinner, where our roast lamb was accompanied by a fabulous bottle of Argentinian Malbec (Catena Zapata) that was a gift from our local agent.



Day 48 – Mon 17/01

We continued with the maintenance jobs and routine work that can be done at anchor and moving around a lot of our reserve oil, recharged the internal reservoir tanks of hydraulic oil and engine lub oil, etc. Paul also had time to strip down our Alfa Laval Purifier and replace the gravity discs. A purifier is a centrifuge that separates impurities from fuel oil, which can be both solid particles and liquid/water.


Day 49 – Tue 18/01

The day started with some gusts exceeding 50knots in the anchorage. However, we know our anchor is well bedded-in and we had put out 70 metres of chain in 10 metres of water depth to give us a long lead. The seabed is very good holding ground, showing as Sand/Mud on the chart and we can see what looks like clay in the immediate shoreline.

Our pilot was due at 12:00 hrs to take us the initial 7 miles down the Beagle Canal and then we will be heading along the remaining 40 miles to open water at a steady 6 knots, arriving there about 21:00hrs tonight before turning for Cape Horn, which we will fully pass round after daybreak on Wednesday before heading up the Western coastline of Chile.

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