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Our Six Top Spots in Patagonia

Laurence Roberts and Mary Anne Unrau

Traversay III
Waterline 43', Cutter-rigged steel hull
May 23rd, 2018

We had always planned to sail to Europe. I had dreams of going to the opera in Vienna and Ravenna; re-visiting galleries in Venice and Sienna; relishing wines in Portofino and Riomaggiore, and playing Albeniz’s piano works in Almeria and Malaga. Larry yearned to return to the Spanish coast, which he’d sailed years before in Traversay (the 1st!) and the opportunity to spend a winter tied up in London (his birthplace) at St. Katharine Docks.

But take care … spending too much time in the wilderness can damage your best-laid circumnavigational cruising plans! We were recovering in Buenos Aires from our arduous trips through Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia in the winter of 2008, and just waiting for the chance to head over to Europe. But something had happened to change both of us. We’d stayed too long in Patagonia and would just have to go back.

This was not new. The same bug had hit us in 2002. At that time, we had very reluctantly left the warm, lovely island of Kauai in Hawaii and headed north. I was especially sad, because I remembered leaving from the same beautiful spot – Hanalei Bay – in 1994, and I realized that bikini weather was going to be over for me for a long time to come.  We would be going into some ugly seas. Previously, we had at least had our home and friends in Vancouver to look forward to. This time, after suffering through the North Pacific, we would probably end up isolated – and definitely cold – in Alaska.

We sailed past Kodiak and directly into the fantastic scenery of Nuka Fjord. It was so warm the day we arrived, I again donned the bikini (I’ve since given up that type of behaviour!). We celebrated Larry’s birthday in a wilderness anchorage and served salmon in the cockpit. A bear swam by looking somewhat too interested. He then clambered ashore, stood on the bank and shook himself off – just like a dog – with the glistening sheets of water streaking from his shiny coat. Soon afterwards, he disappeared up into the dense green forest. We were both enchanted at being alone in such a beautiful wilderness and in our own little home!

So in 2003, we actually avoided Hawaii and headed directly to South-Central Alaska from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We’ve re-visited that coast many times since.

After a very brief consultation, in 2008 we postponed our travel to Europe and again opted for more Wilderness Experiences. It was a lucky choice, because otherwise we never would have cruised the Argentinian coast and we would have missed two of our ‘Top 6’ Patagonian anchorages.

Our top 6 anchorages in Patagonia

How did we choose these six anchorages out of the 60+ beautiful anchorages we’ve enjoyed in Patagonian South America? After we’d narrowed our choices down to only six, we realized they shared compelling characteristics. Of course they were beautiful, safe to anchor in, truly untouched wilderness areas, with access to walking into the surrounding area and (for us) offered excellent scuba opportunities. They could not lack more than one of these parameters to qualify.

So here they are in order:

1. Estero Coloane – Brazo Suroeste, Chile

Number One: Estero Coloane

It’s surrounded by high mountains and has a number of glaciers. We were totally alone there for a week over Christmas and New Year’s in 2008-9, and it is beautiful both in sunny and gloomy weather. You can ascend up to the ‘heights’ in any direction and the photography opportunities are stupendous from all perspectives. We didn’t go diving there because the water was very cold, and with the freshwater glacial run-off, the marine animals would have been limited.

Estero Coloane – High mountains and glaciers

Estero Coloan Flowers

The anchorage is untouched by humans, but – embarrassingly – Castor Canadiensis has made his irreversible mark on the environment. The only possible Chilean predator for the Great Canadian Beaver (haven’t we heard that appellation somewhere in years past?) is the puma, which doesn’t live this far south. So when you do climb upwards where you can look down from the esoteric far-away vistas, you also see lakes surrounded by trees bearing very visible tooth-marks.

Coloane beavers at work

2. Caleta Olla, Chile – just off the Beagle Channel

Number Two: Caleta Olla

It again has spectacular scenery with a seemingly limitless panorama. The walking is very good, but that energetic animal from Canada is also hard at work here, turning the shoreline into a swamp. When you get up to the high country, you get beautiful views of the Beagle Channel and the Hollandia glacier, with guanacos grazing and condors soaring high above you. We didn’t dive here either. We need to have steep rock walls in close proximity to the anchored boat to have a good dive.

Olla and Hollandia glacier

Caleta Olla

3. Caleta Brecknock, Chile

Larry walked high above the anchorage to take this incredible shot of our boat tucked into the stark mountainous terrain.

We had some wonderful dives and took photos to show the contrasts among the mountains and clouds, with their grays, blues and blacks, “The Shriek” style trees and the vivid and beautiful sea-life in the waters below. The winds are so strong this far southwest that the trees have a tortured look (which would have appealed to Klimt) but they seemingly do not appeal to the normally hyper-active castor.

The reason the saltwater animals in the Pacific NW, Chile and Argentina are so colourful is that they reflect the opposite colours of the rainbow to the blue spectrum, and thus become invisible to their predators in the underwater light. It’s a good survival strategy and terrific for scuba-diving humans, who are tired of the rain and low visibility above ground. Larry uses a strong light (separate from the camera) to catch these magnificent colours.

While we were anchored, Ben appeared and tied his boat, Philos, alongside Traversay.  We socialized with the BBC crew he had aboard, and he showed us some ‘mud maps’ of Antarctica, which inspired us to get over there to see it for ourselves.

4. Puerto Profundo Chile

Number Four: Puerto Profundo

This turned out to be our very favourite dive site. Larry took over 300 excellent, high-resolution, underwater photos. The scenery of the mountainous and glaciated terrain of the mainland was very special. It wasn’t the best place for going ashore, but it had a number of inland passageways that you could safely explore by dinghy. This is especially fine if you are ‘locked in’ for a length of time due to unfavourable weather. The twisted scraggly trees are also safe from the beaver population in this location.

Profundo anemone

5. Caleta Horno, Argentina

Number Five: Caleta Horno

We were forced to wait here until the date our insurance would take effect further south.  But we were not unhappy – it’s a fantastic, and very different anchorage!  Commerson’s dolphins escorted us in, and we met up (briefly) with some lovely young folks in a small charter boat, who were hosting a group of Argentinian marine biologists doing a wildlife survey.

Commerson dolphin

Argentinian Marine Biologists

There was only one suitable anchoring point and because the rocks are very rough, we had to tie up using chains (ropes would have chafed through). But first we had to wait for high water and for our new friends to unchain their boat before securing ours. Ashore you can see feral sheep, with their long, matted locks, beautiful short-lived cactus flowers, and ancient middens from the time indigenous peoples lived here. We had the place to ourselves for several weeks, and enjoyed some fantastic dives in the clear, cold water.

Cactus flowers

6. Puerto Hoppner, Argentina

Through a somewhat tortuous path, leaving little space between a rock and a hard place, (see photo) we came to this oasis of peace. The water was so calm and reflective that we often show the anchorage photo upside-down!

Number Six: Puerto Hoppner with narrow entry

Puerto Hoppner (right side up)

The flightless steamer ducks saw no reason to leave. The racket they make as they go through their cleaning rituals and chase each other around the bay (throwing up water and sounding like small motorboats) actually disturbs the peace. We climbed high in the hills and dove in the pristine waters. While there, we were joined by a French couple, their guests and their daughter – Adelie – named for an Antarctic penguin, which were numerous on their charter trips further south.

Steamer duck

Puerto Hoppner mountain view

So, amongst the many beautiful anchorages we’ve enjoyed during our three trips to Patagonia, these are our favourites.

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  1. Rita Balaam says:

    Hi Mary Anne. I always enjoy reading about your adventures. You are an amazing writer! Greetings, Rita.

  2. David B. Zaharik says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article!! Thoroughly!

  3. Jim Bowen says:

    You two will probably never know how many countless cruisers you have inspired with your incredible sense of adventure. Your no-nonsense and modest approach to exploration of this beautiful planet has always struck me as something to aspire to. It was a privilege to be part of the team who built Traversay and is a pleasure to hear about the wonderful places she has taken you.

    Cheers,

    Jim Bowen

    1. Mary Anne Unrau says:

      Thanks for the comment and for the Fantastic work that you and the others did all those years ago. We felt empowered to make the voyages we did because of the quality of the boat you and your co-workers built for us.