The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Not for the Faint of Heart: Our Passage from Easter Island to Valdivia, Chile

Mary Kruger

Fraser 41
February 27th, 2024

We had been nervous about the passage from Easter Island to mainland Chile for some time before the trip. While still in Ecuador, Dave brought up the fact that this passage would be challenging, because of the variable winds and the succession of lows that pass through the area. Little did we know just how difficult it would be. The challenges actually began before we even left Easter Island, as the anchorages there were untenable.

After one week spent at Easter Island, we decided to get out of dodge! During our short stay at Easter Island we fought terrible anchorages, spending the majority of our time circling the Island looking for sheltered waters. Even the town came with a surf landing. On Sept 11, 2023, we cut our visit short and prepared to check out for Valdivia, Chile. We radioed the Armada (Customs) and in Dave’s Spanglish (a little Spanish and a little more English) we asked to check out. We were told to meet the Armada ashore at noon. We waited on shore for the Armada for 3 hours. Eventually, we called them on the radio to inquire why they hadn’t met us. After a confusing radio conversation (with our beginner Spanish), the Armada sent a police car to pick us up and drive us to their office. They finally gave us a zarpe (necessary paperwork to clear out of Easter Island) for Valdivia.

After checking out, we had a wild dinghy ride back to our boat, with a squall providing too much wind raining down upon us, and waves splashing continually over the dinghy.

An anchorage on Easter Island – just us and the big boys. Here’s Mary, returned to Synchronicity after a rough dinghy ride to shore. Time to go!

Easter Island hadn’t finished with us yet. We had one more go around with freeing our anchor from the bottom. In the large swell the chain had fouled on the rock and coral bottom, causing the boat to snub up hard. We had put a float on the anchor in hopes of ensuring that we could more easily free the anchor when the time came. While using the boat hook to snag the float, a large swell came through, burying the float below the water level. The boat rose up, the float stayed under, and the boat hook pulled the float out of Dave’s hand. With these kinds of conditions, we feared that upping the anchor could tear our windlass off the boat. We had to work on the anchor for quite a while to free the chain. Pulling this way and that with huge swells snubbing the chain tight, we eventually got free and were able to recover the anchor. At 4:30 p.m. Monday, Sept 11, 2023, we upped our anchor and set sail for Chile.

We hired Commander Weather to provide forecasts for what we knew was going to be a somewhat challenging passage. What we didn’t know was how challenging! Commander Weather’s forecast said it looked good for four days with some weather late in the week to keep an eye on. We had three days of decent sailing with the wind on the beam and the sun out.

A sample forecast from Commander Weather service.

Commander then told us to go south for a day to avoid a front. Wind came with the front right on the nose, so we sailed due south very slowly for a day. Eventually we turned back to be on course, and the wind was ahead of the beam. The second forecast from Commander Weather said that we would get 40 knots of wind. In that period, we had squalls with 40 knots, and other squalls with hail. The sky was without light, the hues turned from gray to black, adding to the dread we felt. Night was worse, with poor visibility and waves breaking over us. And the temperatures started to drop. Clothing layers were added.

Every day the squalls lined up like soldiers, ready to pummel us with their intense wind. We started looking at these weather bombs as constant weather, not squalls, since they hit one after another.

Our wind vane, Windy, was a solid and reliable third hand. When a small period of calm arrived, we tried to use the autopilot. It was acting up once again, even after bleeding it to remove any air. During this passage, our one-year-old wind generator blew up and quit working, so Dave tied it down. When the wind lessened, Dave released the generator and then it blew up again. Once again, Dave tied it down. The next forecast from Commander called for gusts up to 50 knots. Commander said to go north to avoid a cold front, which would later have made us fight to get south to Valdivia. We ignored Commander’s advice and held our course. Our daughter, Leah, was also providing weather info to us. She agreed that we should hold our course. That night we went through the front. Winds were high but they were on the stern and we were able to sail it. The next day we realized that we had gone through the front, and the weather opened up with winds finally looking favourable. Dave said it was a miracle. At times I was so worried and prayed that all would be well, and then twice we saw rainbows. Those rainbows were a sign that gave me reassurance we were going to be ok.

We relied on Starlink for internet as well as our InReach to chart our course. Once a day we turned on Starlink and heard from our family. It was a highlight to our day. Electronics are challenged in boat environments. Our iPad and iPhone started to act up due to the continual moisture. Neither wanted to charge. This was followed by a loss of internet and satellite for three days. We felt sick. Leah was used to hearing from us daily. She was our communications person. After Day 3, our Starlink and InReach miraculously started working again and we received an InReach message from Leah.

It said: “I decided I would wait a week before contacting the Chilean navy. I figured that would be as much time as you would want to spend in a liferaft.” I bawled after reading her message. Guilt filled me that we were causing so much anguish to our family. And the harsh reality of what could happen sent shivers through my body.

For the most part, the waves were strong and crashed relentlessly into our hull. 15-footers smashed over the cabin top and dodger, hitting the hull hard numerous times. I often jumped when the hull was slammed by the water. The waves cascaded over the port side windows looking like thunderous waterfalls. They had no rhythm. Swells came in different directions which only added to the chaos. Movement was treacherous.

Our view from the port side windows.

September 18, 2023. We continued to beat into the weather. Commander Weather’s forecast called for 45 knots that night. I burst into tears. I was terrified. I was plagued with the thought that I couldn’t do this anymore. Well, that wasn’t an option. So, I pulled up my big girl panties. I practiced taking deep breaths and reminded myself of my coach Pam’s words, “You’ve got this.” Honestly, there wasn’t much I could do other than hang on and pray. We were sailing with the staysail and a small handkerchief of our jib out. Daughter Leah sent an email with a quote from David Levithan: “There are all these moments you think you won’t survive and then you survive.” There was some solace knowing our family was at home in Vancouver rooting for us.

That night winds were as high as 40 knots. Dave crawled up to the bow and took the staysail down, replacing it with the tiny storm staysail. We put the drop boards in and relied on the AIS to watch for shipping during our watches, with occasional popping our heads over the boards to check for traffic. Fortunately, there were no ships in the area. We weren’t even halfway to Valdivia.

Then at one point our rigging came loose – the Cap shroud. Thankfully, Dave spotted that it was slack on the leeward side. It kept unwinding itself, so he put a wrench on it and taped it to the lifeline. We could have lost the rig, but thankfully Dave caught it in time.

With all the water coming over our boat we found leaks everywhere. The worst was the port side where the stanchion leaked – the butyl tape had failed. Prior to leaving Canada, we re-bedded all our stanchions, changing from 5200 sealant to butyl tape. We learned too late that in the extreme Mexican heat, the butyl tape melted and started to squeeze out of the stanchions. Now that we were back in cooler waters, the seals were gone. Salt water poured in behind the stove, through a locker, and onto the floor. I was sponging up puddles three times an hour. It was very disconcerting. Thankfully, the bilge pumps kept up and our sponging helped. I hate to think what could have happened if the bilge pumps had broken down.

The leaks were everywhere. Leaks in the aft cabin caused our bedding to get wet. I made hammocks of plastic and wrapped our soggy mattress in plastic so we could still sleep there when off watch. Unfortunately, that didn’t last as the water seeped in again. We were down to a couple of small, dry blankets that we used on the port side of the boat on our curved settee. Sometimes we slept laying down, sometimes sitting up. Sometimes the motion was so violent we couldn’t sleep at all.

Dave and Mary, taking turns sleeping in the last available dry spot.

We discovered that the port side aft cabin locker where I stored all the eggs also leaked; the shelves were wet for the whole trip. A ceiling leak in the galley almost took out the light. Fortunately, Dave spotted the light filled with water, and got it drained before the light burned out. The light under our dodger turned itself on because it was full of water. That light was discovered too late to save. It seemed at times that everywhere you looked, water was leaking into the boat.

At one point, the motion was so bad and the leaks were everywhere. I turned to Dave and asked him if we were going to die. I didn’t really think we were going to, but it had crossed my mind and I needed to hear him say no. He turned to me, and with a big hug said no, we would be ok. Somehow, that was a little reassuring. Dave offered the option of turning around and heading back to Ecuador. I looked at him incredulously. I said no way were we going all that way back! Miraculously, even though the motion was the worst we have encountered, I never once got seasick – and I didn’t even take seasick medicine. I even managed to cook most days. Instant noodles became our go-to lunch. At one point the stove stuck under full gimbal. That was a first. A few of the day’s meals were eaten cold as it was too dangerous to cook.

Our stove, gimballed to the max, and refusing to right itself!

We stuck to our three-hour watches. Three hours on, three hours off. The motion (yes, worth repeating again) on Synchronicity was excessive, on-going, and relentless. In over 30 years of sailing (including a world circumnavigation), we have never seen motion like this. No matter what you did, you had to hold on. I gripped so hard to stay upright that I ended up with blisters and then callouses on my hands. No movement could be made without a tight grip on a hand hold, and a plan for where to grasp next. Going to the head required gymnastics, balance, and sheer strength just to hold on as the boat plunged. Plus patience, as I would inch along to get to the head and strip off my pants. I’ve often thought that in these conditions, a tail could be very useful.

My body ached from bracing myself when doing any movement. One night as I opened our aft cabin door, a large wave hit. Before I knew what was happening, I came flying out the door and was thrown 6 feet across to the galley, hitting my head on our stove and sliding to the floor. I sat on the wet floor taking stock of my body and hoping nothing was broken. Tears streamed down my face. My shoulder hurt, the back of my head had a bump, my thigh and back were bruised. Thankfully, nothing was broken, except maybe my pride.

For almost the whole trip, we had a triple reefed main and storm staysail. At times we could unfurl a little of the genoa to help with the speed. During the worst of it, we sailed with a tiny handkerchief of a storm staysail. The winds pushed us north. Then came one more miracle. As we approached the Chilean coast, the skies slowly lightened and the sun peaked out. The wind clocked, and we were able to sail directly to Valdivia, with a couple of better sailing days bringing us to our destination.

When we finally arrived, Dave said that this passage was more of a challenge than he ever thought it would be. Yet we made it after 19 mostly terrifying days. These 19 days brought us closer as a couple and as a team.

Smiles all around as we arrive safely in Valdivia, Chile.

Oh and our wind generator…we sent it back to the manufacturer. They said that they had never seen anything like it. In the manufacturer’s words, the wind generator had suffered “catastrophic failure”. I wonder what the winds really were at times. Maybe it is better that we don’t know. I think we are done with long passages in the variables for a while…


  1. David+B.+Zaharik says:

    Wow, what a gripping account. Thankfully all worked out well and your both are stronger for it. I had to chuckle at the comment about having a tail. I too took a header mid-Atlantic. I was standing in the only place on the boat where I had more than a few feet around me. As I bent over to reach the crotch strap for my life vest the boat lurched and I went horizontal head first into the cabinetry! I was okay and thankful no bones were broken and no skin either! No damage to the cabinet as well! Phew. Great article…

  2. Mary Kruger says:

    Thank you for the kind comments. Yes you know what it can be like out there. Glad you were ok too.

  3. Isabel says:

    Wow Mary, your writing sure nails it and reminds me of the rollicking fun of sailing through fronts, storms and rough weather north of AotearoaNZ ! Shame so much took to leaking — that must’a been bad for the morale and worrying too. Sailing in rough seas can sure feel like childbirth at times, don’t you think? Not that enjoyable and no way to escape.. So glad you had a few days of easier passage-making sprinkled in there, and that you arrived at your destination safely. Phew!! I was biting my nails for you as I read along….

    1. Mary Kruger says:

      Thank you for your comments. Yes childbirth is a great comparison. Fortunately Chile has made up for it. It’s incredible!

  4. Stefanie Schulz says:

    Hello Mary& Dave!
    Thanks for sharing this incredible part of your journey. I had tears running down my cheeks reading about your daughter’s note and the emotional roller coaster you have been through. We are aiming for El Salvador next, hoping that one day we’ll meet in the PNW laughing about all these adventures with a nice glass of red in our hands. Godspeed!

    1. Mary Kruger says:

      Great to hear from you. We loved Bill and Jean in El Salvador. They are awesome. Can’t wait to catch up and share stories. Maybe this summer in the PNW?

  5. Marlow Currie says:

    amazing! an inspiration for when things don’t go your way. Sail on i look forward to your updates

    1. Mary Kruger says:

      Thank you! We have very positive experiences to share soon in Chile.

  6. Nancy Carlman says:

    How wonderful you can be smiling after such an uncomfortable voyage! Your description of the Easter Island “harbour” and “anchorages” reminds us of an Australian friend’s experience there in 2011. His sailboat was in the harbour without an engine while the engine was being worked on ashore. When the Japanese tsunami was forecast, the Armada towed our friend’s boat out of the harbour and anchored it until the tsunami was over, a good thing since the harbour was devastated.

  7. Mary Kruger says:

    Wow that’s an amazing story. Glad your friend and boat was ok. It’s crazy how many people had tough experiences at Easter Island but never talked about it. We just keep hearing more stories.

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