Friday, July 24, 2009

Marooned on a marina !

As winter re-fit work continued day after day, we knew that the storm that had ravaged the coast of the River Plate and Punta del Este three weeks ago and taken ashore 18 boats, was not going to be the only one during winter.
Daily, when sending emails, we check the next five days forcast, to see what conditions will be like for work; can we do inside work or will it be shorts and T-shirts in the sun? Last Sunday it showed us that this week was going to be one hell of a windy week, with no real let-up before Sunday the 26th.
Xplore lies at rest in the marina complex in Piriapolis which is between Montivideo and Punta del Este on the Uruguayan coast of the Rio del la Plata (river of silver). We are tied to shore fore and aft, meaning that our bow faces the concrete dock and we have buoys which have heavy chains going to the sea bed. In total we have six heavy lines securing her.
On Monday, by the afternoon we had electrical storms and torrential rains which were forcast, and that was the pre-frontal warm air mass before the blow.
Audrey (Troll) and I made a dash in full wet weather gear to the partially flooded town centre to pick up food supplies and some finally-to-arrive hull paint that had taken over four months to materialise and find its way here! (Even after seven years in South America, I still get astounded by some of the inefficencies we experience here.)
So tucked back on board, dripping like wet rags, we eased our lines on the bow to let Xplore sit back further from the dock as we do every night in case weather turns, and that night she did.
By first light on Tuesday morning the winds had started to blow, they actually had started around midnight, so we could feel whilst lying in our bunks the change of the motion as the waves and wind hit Xplore from side on.
We had a friend from another boat who came over on the dock to see us, and by 9.30 am we could hardly hear his shout as the winds had already increased. The barometer continued its drop. We went to the bow to see if it was going to be possible for us to bring Xplore closer, but the strength of the wind and the motion of the boat had all lines bar tight. To ease a line even half a meter at this point would only put us in trouble.
We waved "Cheery Oh" to Tony and got back to work. By mid-morning and coffee break, the barometer had bottomed out, and it was now a case of how fast would it rise. A fast rise is just as bad as a fast drop in air pressure because the rapid change in barometric pressure means that even though it is rising, it's just a sign as to how the Low is moving away and gives an indication as to how fast the next High pressure system is moving in. When it changes fast, it means that its going to blow hard, and hard she was proving to be.
At the dock lunch time was like a beam reach in 25 knots, dinner time was like close hauled in 35 to 40 knots, and this is tied with six lines! During the afternoon, the seas had built to large rollers that were now breaking fully over the breakwater walls and dumping thousands of tons of water on the fishing boats tied on the inside of the "So called" protected walls of the marina.
We settled in for the night, hoping that these winds would start to at least ease a bit by morning. With clenched teeth and a hope that none of the mooring buoys would let go, we headed for bed that felt more like a washing machine on "Heavy duty cycle."
I woke a number of times during the night, it felt like the winds eased a bit, but by 6 am it was still black, both the night skies and the winds! Troll had been up as well, and even though sleep had come, it wasn't the type that brings rest. We had held alright and everything seemed fine on deck, but we have now been marooned onboard for two days and with winds being as equally strong as yesterday morning, the saying goes that if its blowing hard in the morning it will blow hard all day.
Maybe we will just keep on working away at the jobs list like yesterday, but even that was hard at times. Cutting aluminium was hard to keep straight with all the bouncing around, and to hold the Sikaflex sealant gun on a straight line was nearly impossible, as every gust of wind brought the the boat to a different heal as she strained at the lines and then they would snap taunt with a jerking motion. Oh well, maybe I should have taken up knitting as a hobby! I certainly know some people who have been onboard that would be seas sick here at the dock in these conditions.
So we wait, we work and we stay on watch for a change, good or bad in our little marooned little island here in the marina.
Stephen Wilkins

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tall Ships to round "the Horn" once again.

In the depths of a southern hemisphere winter in Ushuaia July 2009, I met with three Admirals who were visiting from Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago Chile. What could have brought these desk Admirals to the coldest ends of the South America continent at this time of the year ? Skiing ? Not likely, but a dream to celebrate 200 years of when Argentina and Chile first made moves to cut ties with Spain and establish themselves as new countries of the south, that was in 1810 and a lot has changed since then.

My meeting and dinner with them at the sleepy airoclub also inspired me, because their plan to celebrate the bi-centenary was to bring together one of the largest fleets of Tall Ships that still sail and to make a regatta by rounding of South America. From Rio de Janeiro Brazil, south with stops in Argentina and Uruguay around Cape Horn, then north along the Chilean coastal historic ports to Peru, Ecuador, through the Panama Canal to Venezuela, Dominican Republic, then a finale when the fleet reaches Veracruz in Mexico, 5 months of sailing and some of the most spectacular coast lines and historic sailing ports. (see

Xplore will rendezvous with this currently confirmed fleet of 12 Grand "Ladies" of sail when they arrive at Staten Island off the coast of Tierra del Fuego, where we will commence the first 2 week period of sailing in company as an official support / photographic vessel to the fleet.

From Staten Island we will sail the eastern stretches of the Beagle Channel into Ushuaia, a brief port stop, then we will head for Cape Horn, a place that for all sailors around the globe, it is the Mecca that symbolizes achievement in sailing. (please see the included Cape Horn extract below)

After "Doubling the Horn" we head to the central and western reaches of the Beagle Channel and make sail with the fleet up the Straits of Magellan to the Chilean southern most city of Punta Arenas (Sandy Point) where we will end this first leg.

To sail in company will be amazing, to see this all in Tierra del Fuego is a once in a life time experience, interest is starting to mount as word gets around that this may be the last time to ever see a sailing Armada afloat in this part of the world.

Xplore has posted their entries with Argentina and Chile and has been officially accepted at sea and in port. We hope with strong interest, that we will continue to follow in company of the fleet the complete length of the west coast of South America and possibly through the Panama Canal to finish the regatta.

We ask that anyone that you know who maybe interested in joining Xplore for this experience to contact us, as group and longer passage discounts are possible.

So "ahhhhh me hearties, swab those decks and you'll get a bottle a rum"

Come sailing with us onboard Xplore and see those grand ladies under sail like you never will again.

Stephen Wilkins