Tree Murder In the Chilean Channels

10 Aug

I cruised solo from Terra del Fuego through Chilean Patagonia. You can seldom anchor in these parts because the water is too deep. You have to tie your boat in every night with lines led to trees or rocks ashore. This is simple in theory, but it always took at least an hour, sometimes two if I had to make the dreaded four-point tie-in. When I asked Ken, another solo sailor who'd come south through the Chilean channels, what you do with yourself in the channels. He answered, "Mess with your shorelines."

One night I thought I’d be real tricky and get a line around a tree without having to launch the dinghy. There was deep water right up to the wall, with a few promising trees sticking out. I nosed Condesa in, ran up to the bow, checked it all out, and it seemed do-able.

I got my longest shoreline ready to go with a loop tied in the end, and nosed Condesa in again. There was a merciful pause in the williwaws. I poked the line around the tree with the boat hook, hooked the loop and pulled it back. Ha! I’d done it. I just had to pull the looped end back and run it out so that both ends terminated on Condesa.

I ran the line out and it came taut, with Condesa exactly 225 feet away from the tree, because my rope was 450 feet long. I could now use the tree as a pivot point to maneuver Condesa and anchor the bow. As I was doing this Condesa uprooted the poor tree and pulled it into the water.

Now I’d lost my pivot point in a very tight little fjord, plus I had 450 feet of line–and a tree–in the water to further crowd my movements. The only way to undo the mess without getting smashed into the wall by a williwaw was  to motor out of the fjord and into the sound where I could get some sea room. This was about an eighth of a mile.

So I motored down the fjord, towing a tree: a moment of intense seamanship transformed into a moment of intense silliness. It was a good sized tree too, plenty of dry green foliage above water, flowers, moss; a whole arboreal ecosystem. I swear to God a bird almost landed on it, but then thought better.



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