Week 9 - Nothing is Easy in Chile......
Arriving at Valparaiso
At sea, it's important to ensure that, as best as you can, every occasion is acknowledged, otherwise there is a danger of the days all blending in to one. After Mikey’s birthday last week, it was Carlos’ birthday this week and of course, with so many Scots on board, we had to acknowledge the birthday of Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet.
Burns night (25th Jan) is usually celebrated with a dinner of Haggis, Neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). However Kat, being Welsh, had overlooked the matter of storing up on haggis before we left ("yup.....Ed"). Luckily, when we called to Montevideo in early January we had ordered several kg of blood sausage as a substitute (blood sausage in South America can be even larger than a Haggis!).
However, as the weather got drastically colder in the 7-10 days either side of Cape Horn, our diet had increased its ‘stodge’ and carbs ratios and we had worked our way through our stock of fresh potatoes. This meant we had to to the storage drawer known as ‘The Neil Armstrong’ drawer, which contains emergency dehydrated food and a stash of powdered potato mix.
A fine meal of Uruguayan blood sausage was enjoyed and, as usual, the protein left over from the formed the basis of the next day's soup. However, I don’t think blood sausage soup will catch on!
Day 57 – Wed 26 Jan
The day started with one of 'gosh its a small world' moments. At the Witherbys office in Scotland we have 5 large ship models of between 2-2.5m (6.5-8ft) in length. One of them was based on the British Gas (formerly BG, now owned by Shell) LNG Carrier called ‘Methane Patricia Camilla’ and I was rather startled to see her familiar shape and colours overtaking us on our starboard side, also bound for Valparaiso but making 20 knots.
However, in the best style of the ‘tortoise and the hare’, we arrived into Valparaiso 2 days after ‘Methane Patricia Camilla’ and had berthed and departed while she was still at anchor awaiting a berth at the nearby LNG port of Quintero.
Shortly afterwards, we had to avoid another ‘old friend’, in the shape of another coil of 50-100 metres of large white mooring rope that Carlos had spotted directly ahead of us.
While no-one onboard remembers previously passing discarded mooring ropes at sea (although they were famously always traded at the Suez Canal) barely 1/3 of our way into the trip we have had to alter twice to avoid them and at an earlier point we had either a mooring rope or fishing net wrapped around our propeller.
Day 59 – Fri 28 Jan At 13:00 hrs, we arrived at Valparaiso, where we were asked to wait at anchor. During preparation for this trip, after leaving the shipyard, one of our jobs was to seal the spurling pipes and make them watertight.
A spurling pipe is the name for place on deck that the anchor chain is fed throughto self-stow in the chain locker. This is, typically, the weak spot on the main deck for water to get in to the forward spaces. Astra has 2 x 183kg (400lb) anchors, each with 110m (360ft) of anchor chain that passes through its own spurling pipe and stowed in its own anchor locker.
Merchant ships undertaking an ocean crossing, where heavy seas are expected on deck, will seal the spurling pipe, typically by placing a heavy piece of canvas in the mouth of the pipe and filling that with a bucket load of cement. Our spurling pipes are much smaller and we sealed them with expanding foam before leaving Lanzarote. Fortunately, we sailed with 12 canisters of expanding foam as we have had to anchor and wait at 3 of the 4 ports we have called at to refuel.
(However, a word of caution for boat owners, don’t purchase large canisters of expanding foam as they are one use only. If you only use 10% of the contents of the canister, the tubing will seal up solid, meaning you have to open a completely new canister the next time one is required. (Hmmmmmm, that sounds like the voice of experience.....Ed)
Safely moored at anchor, the port health authorities boarded to undertake antigen tests and check, among other things, our sanitary and hygiene arrangements onboard. We got a gold star for our absence of cardboard packaging as Chile is very concerned about the import of bugs and insects. Soft fruits is an extremely important crop for Chile and such bugs are often transported as eggs in the corrugated cardboard packaging around food stuffs. They were also delighted that our food was all packed, or re-packed. in vacuum bags. So a big thank you to all the work from Kat and James Easton, supported by Una Lynch,who in Lanzarote ran an industrial vacuum pack machine non-stop for 5 days in the week prior to sailing.
As we were issued with ‘free pratique’ (health clearance), we were advised that we were expected to berth at 20:30 hrs so, settled at anchor, Paul (Engineer) and the rest of the crew sorted out the numerous odd jobs in the engine room. Iain took the chance to carefully check all fuel tanks in calm waters in preparation for bunkering that evening. We had arrived with just over 11,000 litres of fuel onboard, with 11,000 litres being exactly the amount of fuel we had loaded in Ushuaia to see us safely around the Horn and up the coast to Valparaiso.
Our actions may have been different if we had pressed on to Valparaiso the first time we reached the Horn, when the Chilean Coastguard would not allow us in to Chilean waters. It had gone through Iain’s mind to continue to Valparaiso with the fuel we had onboard, but there was a risk of running on fumes if we did!. While the delay of four days meant we hit some weather, which resulted in increased fuel consumption, it is a good example of how critical the fuel calculations are.
However, it was not until 23:45hrs that the port called us up and informed us to be at the Pilot Boarding Station in 30 minutes.
Day 60 – Sat 29th Jan At 01:06, when we had only just moored alongside one of the large container berths, we were informed that we had to vacate the berth at 05:30!
Several van loads of provisions were waiting for us: frozen, fresh, fruits etc, but as we were moored to a berth designed for a ship 10x larger, we could not pass the stores onboard and so had to quickly remove the canvas covers and bring the aft crane in to operation. We brought the stores onboard in 6 or 7 large sling loads (1 CubM sack), followed by an exercise bike and two further sling loads with 24 x 20 litres of engine oil.
With the provisions and stores completed we were able to start refuelling. I had ordered 34,000 litres of fuel to ensure we had more than was actually needed as we were fuelling for the Pacific crossing and I wanted to leave full to the brim!
It turned out to be just as well that I ordered over, as the road tanker that arrived said his capacity was 32,000 litres and that was all they could bring for us. Fuelling began at 02:00 into 4 internal fuel tanks and 17 IBC/Tote tanks on deck and was finished at 05:10hrs.
The volume of fuel we had just taken onboard (ie 32,000L/8,500 US gallons) is the size of that carried by largest fuel truck that you will see filling up a road side service station/garage. We managed to take onboard the full contents oin just over 3 hrs in to 21 separate tanks onboard.
After 20 minutes of furiously signing and stamping all the receipts and delivery notes, at 05:30 our Pilot was back onboard to accompany us to the harbour entrance. At 06:12hrs we were back at anchor and then had to wait 2hrs 30mins for port clearance, which allowed us some time to get our decks all clear and ‘ship shape’.
One of the forms we had to fill out prior to departure included questions on the number of days sailing range we had, which for us is 50 at economical speed, as well as the number of days food onboard, which was approximately 100 days ( even without breaching the Neil Armstrong drawer!).
So....Valparaiso all sounds pretty straightforward - but it really wasn't - but that's maybe a story for another day!!
As we settled down for dinner that evening, with Valparaiso 50 miles astern of us and the Pacific stretched out in front of us, we had a very happy Mikey and Daniel, due to the quality of the stores we had received. Where we can, we try to increase stores based on country speciality. For example, in Montevideo, we increased our meat order six-fold, while in Chile it was soft fruits. The majority of the berries were bagged straight away and placed in the freezer, as these will be the main ingredient for our frozen banana smoothies for breakfast when we get back to the tropics. And there was chocolate cake - to belatedly celebrate Mikey's and Carlos’ birthdays.
As we left Valparaiso, we had the longest leg of the circumnavigation ahead of us, at 4,400 miles across the Pacific to Tahiti. Our specialist weather router at Passageweather.com has agreed with our approach of crossing the Pacific by taking a dogleg north in the route between Valparaiso – Tahiti. This should keep us in the main body of the anticlockwise rotating winds and currents that dominate each of the Southern Oceans. This we used to great effect on the leg from Saint Helena to Montevideo.
Day 63 - 1st Feb
We had a Southerly wind on our port beam for the first 3 days, meaning that we were rolling but this has moved to the SE and we are now starting to get a little push from the weather.
I have been considering how to convey what the crossing of The Pacific Ocean feels like on a 24 metre motorboat. Its a bit like when you make a paper plane with the goal of throwing it from one end of a room to another. You know it can be done, but you have to launch it just right, not too fast, not too slow and with the right balance of weight and no cross winds (or adverse winds) to make it happen. We have now sailed 10,000 miles on the circumnavigation and 9,000 miles in the training and preparation in the 5 months before we departed. All of these miles helped to meet the goal of refining and optimising settings for this extra long passage...... and now we are there!
This week sea lions were a feature.
In another coincidence, an old friend who is the Chief Mate on the container ship ‘Maersk Lima’ had joined in Montevideo four days before we arrived and, as we were in contact, I mentioned that we were going round to Valparaiso. Joe advised us to watch out for the sea lions. He wasn’t kidding - no one onboard has seen as many sea lions as we have over the last week. Most people don’t get the chance to see sea lions outside of a zoo, but in these waters the South American Sea Lion (aka Southern Sea Lion or Patagonian Sea Lion) are in such numbers, that they are like pigeons in a European city, with an estimated 265,000 sea lions in the area. However, the sea lions are preyed upon by killer whales and sharks and there are locations where killer whales will beach themselves and grab an unsuspecting sea lion near the shore.
Note/. You can follow Joe and his adventures on Maersk Line ships on Instagram: @joethesailor