26 Aug 14 Essential Items For Outfitting Your Boat To Sail The Patagonia Fjords
We learned a lot while cruising in the fjords of Chilean Patagonia, the Beagle Channel, and sailing around Cape Horn. Of course you can watch the sailing videos here to see what life on board at the end of the world is like, but among our biggest lessons was learning about what to bring, and how to prepare our boat. There aren’t a lot of cruising guides online for Patagonia, and we intend to detail our trip in the blog, to follow along with the videos. Let’s start with how to prepare your boat.
We survived with 3 heat sources, but we could have had some better solutions had we intended to stay longer at high latitudes. We could have made it with no heat, especially in the Austral summer, but it would not have been pleasure cruising.
Our primary heat source was a cheap Chinese forced air diesel truck heater. After an installation learning curve, this heater performed flawlessly for us throughout our trip. The 5000 model was enough to keep our boat warm enough inside but was underpowered in below-freezing temps and icy waters.
We also carried two small plug-in electric heaters (one 110v and one 220v), which we used on rare occasions at a dock. Ushuaia, Puerto Williams, Puerto Aguirre, and Puerto Montt, are the only places where plugging in is available, and prepare for unstable power supplies and long cords.
A note on wood heaters. It is possible to use a wood stove. We know of at least one sailboat in this area that does this. This is what heats all of the old fishing boats down south. There is a special type of wood in the fjords that burns when damp, but you will need to be able to identify it, and all the fishermen carry chainsaws. It does add an element of risk of a blowdown fire, which is the #1 reason for house fires in Southern Chile. As romantic as it sounds, we would stick with diesel.
We consider a 0-degree sleeping bag for each crew member a must. We have four on board, two as spares. They are small and light to carry and make for a welcome cocoon on cold nights when it is blowing 40 and hailing outside. We also consider them important for safety. In case of injury, hypothermia, or heater failure.
There are a variety of options on the market to suit all types of different preferences and budgets. Ours are mummy type bags, but keep in mind that though warmer, they do restrict the movement of your feet just a little. Depending on how extreme your cruising will be, you may be able to compromise a bit in this area. No doubt though, a 0 degree sleeping bag of some type on board your boat in this weather is a must!
You won’t find this in any cruising guide, but we loved making coffee, tea, and ramen noodles without Jet Boil camping stove while sailing in Patagonia.
The gas bottles can be found in Ushuaia, Puerto Williams, and Puerto Montt. It saves on our main stove propane supply, and lugging the larger propane (gas or gaz) for refills.
Most of all it helped keep condensation at bay. We made our coffee in the companionway with the hatch open, allowing the steam to escape the boat out of the open hatch.
We aren’t brand loyal here, consider the term Yeti used by us like Xerox for copy machines. We recommend some stainless steel vacuum double-layer mugs with sipping lids. We use these Yeti Rambler Tumbler / Coffee Mugs pretty much every day.
Not only do they stop spills on the boat, but more importantly, they keep the steam in the cups. This keeps it off of your ceiling and from raining back down on you from your through deck fasteners.
They work well for hot drinks, and they are also a stable and spill-free platform to enjoy your Chilean Carmenere red wine on a gusty evening at anchor.
Since we touched on the topic of condensation, you are beginning to see how much of a problem it is. Our boat is not insulated (we would highly recommend an insulated boat, or installing boat insulation, if intending to spend many seasons down south) but we did take some steps to control heat loss and minimize condensation.
We used foam mats which we cut to fit our windows and hatches. We also covered two of our windows with foam and shrink-wrap tape. This was a cheap and temporary solution that worked well for us.
We would consider more foam mats inserted above our headliners and against our outer hull, especially in cabinets with little ventilation or clothing.
Most long-term boats had added a second lexan layer to the interior of their hatches and windows, making them essentially double-pane windows. For a one-time pass-through, we would say this is nice but not required. If staying for a while, it would be a good idea to do. Keep in mind though, it is important to be able to open your hatches and ports to ventilate and dry out the boat on the rare nice sunny days.
As one can imagine, a heater, large temperature fluctuations, condensation, and dampness are a nasty combination that can ruin the wood interior of a boat and cause mold growth.
As tempting as it is to load the boat with provisions and spare parts, don’t pack all of your cabinets so full there is no airflow. Make sure there is room for the boat to breathe.
We would encourage vents in damp lockers and bathrooms. The marine solar vents work well, but get the sealable type for extreme conditions.
Dorades are also wonderful. Our boat has 4 huge dorade vents which give the cabin excellent airflow. Don’t forget to vent your anchor locker and aft Lazerettes. This can be done by just opening the hatches on good days.
Our fans we used all the time in the Caribbean, we thought would have little use in the cold high latitude sailing climates. They came in handy to move air around the boat.
If you can’t tell by now, condensation is really the worst enemy of your boat in these parts.
This may be the first thing most picture when thinking of sailing in this area, and most cruising guides cover this topic in more depth. We originally arrived hoping to buy them in South America….forget about it! Just buy your shore ties before you leave.
Mooring line reels were awesome (we only had one). We suggest buying two or having some fabricated.
Our two primary shorelines were each 100 meters long. These were 3/4 inch 3-strand polypropylene floating ropes. This worked well.
Our secondary lines (we used these for the bow) were 1/2 inch 3 strand polypropylene, each 110 meters long.
This setup worked well and seemed a good compromise of weight and strength for our boat. There were only two anchorages where we wished for more shore ties (6 ties in total) and in those instances we strung together some old Jib sheets and dock lines.
Along with our shorelines we also had 2 cables, looped at each end, for wrapping around rocks, which we used a few times and came in handy. These are easy to source locally and can serve a secondary purpose of a dinghy lock when traveling in more “civilized” areas.
Small Sails & Reefing
We were very glad to have our staysail set on an inner forestay. it was used often here. The third reef in the mainsail is also a must-have in Patagonia. We suggest addressing these items before you leave your home port, as sailmakers are few and far between in these parts.
We also had a 4th reef in our mainsail and carry a storm Jib.
We haven’t had to use each (we used the 4th reef once to test it and set the storm jib to practice and learn), as we are careful with weather routing, but we are happy to have these at the ready. Think, if we do our weather routing jobs correctly, we should never have to use these items, they are an insurance policy.
Our storm jib was made by Andy @ Evolution Sails Chicago, give him a ring and tell him the crew at Sweet Ruca sent you. He has extensive experience discussing our specific needs for high latitude sailing aboard a performance cruising sailboat. Both our 4th reef and our storm jib were sized specifically for our boat, our existing sail plan, and the conditions we would likely have to use them in (real storm conditions).
Keep in mind most “storm” sails on the mass market are normally designed for racing minimum sizes, or for wind conditions the majority of cruisers will see. In the cold air and big storms of the deep south we found things a bit different, we put together a well balanced and usable setup to allow the boat to sail well off a lee shore in sustained winds above 45 knots. https://www.evolutionsails.com/sail-lofts/usa/chicago/
We only used our primary anchor here, and never used a stern anchor in the fjords. We do carry a second spare anchor, just in case. There have been reports of lost anchors due to deep snags in some anchorages.
We chose an oversized Rocna 33kg anchor for our boat (the maximum size recommended by Rocna on their website, which Peter Smith personally confirmed was adequate when he saw it on the bow of our boat). We think any similar modern anchor will fit the bill as well.
Our primary anchor also has 200 feet of 10mm G4 chain, and 200 feet of nylon 5/8” 3 strand rode spliced on the tail. We are prepared to anchor in up to 200 feet of water in an emergency. Twice we anchored out in the big ship anchorages in 90-100 feet of water, and we were very glad to have this ability when needed.
Our secondary anchor is an Aluminium Fortress FX-37 anchor with 50 feet of 10mm chain and 150 feet of 5/8” nylon rode.
Lastly, get yourself a sickle or tree pruning saw to cut away any kelp that comes up on your anchor. We aren’t joking! We had so much kelp on our anchor once, our big Rocna floated in the patch of weeds! We used a small folding saw, locked at a 90 degree angle, and lashed to an extendable boat brush handle, this worked great. We also had a machete on board, which also comes in handy if you need to get through the thick brush on shore.
If southbound fuel is less of a concern, but if northbound, against the prevailing wind and current, be prepared to carry more fuel! We bought our extra cans in Uruguay and Puerto Williams, but if buying in South America be prepared for slim pickings, and don’t expect to see a Budget Marine or West Marine! Parts for yachts are hard to find. You can find some cheaper options for jerry cans than those marketed for boats, such as those containers used for bulk oil sales or industrial chemical shipments.
We wished for more built-in fuel capacity (we have 90 gallons of tankage, but would have loved another 30 built-in). Another option we have seen used is fuel bags, dedicated expandable tanks which can be strapped down on deck for extending the yachts range. We opted for standard 20 Liter (5 Gallon) jerry cans, 19 of them to be exact on board our boat! We purchased O rings for our Jerry cans to seal them better and stored them below why sailing (make sure to secure them). We aren’t a fan of cans on the deck while sailing for multiple reasons: better sailing performance, trip hazards, lines, stability.
You will need Jerry cans to shuttle fuel as fuel docks for yachts are difficult here. If you are coming from the USA, make sure not to get the EPA nozzles, as they are a real pain to fill with large boat nozzles (think buying your fuel from the same hoses as huge fishing boats) because of the little plastic piece inside. Once out of the USA, no one cares what color your jugs are.
Navigation & Weather
With the advent of Starlink, this game has changed. It worked for us throughout the fjords, and we were perhaps the first sailing yacht to go through the area with it. We did find that many of the local fisherman were using it as well.
Access to weather information is the key to a safe and fun trip here. Predictwind offshore app worked well and also allowed us to download satellite AIS which was handy.
C-Map charts were junk here, except for in the main shipping channels of the Magellan Straight and Puerto Montt.
We used mostly the iSailor app which was recommended to us by multiple Chilean Armada captains and by the Antarctic charter boat crews. We supplemented this with Navionics and Sat2Chart in OpenCPN. We didn’t touch our paper charts with the exception of Cape Horn, and that was just for nostalgic purposes.
Patagonia Cruising Guides
There is only one you need, the Bible. The Patagonia & Tierra Del Fuego Nautical Guide. Some of the information is a bit dated at this point, but for the most part, all of the anchorage information and depths are pretty spot on (we always used caution and worked slowly in uncharted waters using our depth sounder and suggest you do the same, there are keel crushing sized rocks down there).
The tide and current information was OK, but we never quite found an extremely accurate source of data for this, as even the Navy here acknowledges that the tides running between all of the small islands are too complex to forecast. The data in the two guides though gives you a good overview and we never had any problems timing the tides with a careful eye and a wrist watch.
Any others we consider supplements, many carried the Imray and the RCC guide, which have some details on a few anchorages not covered in the Bible.
Getting parts in South America is a pain in the bottom! Expect a minimum of 2-3 weeks to receive anything offered online (even if you next-day air it) and sometimes up to 2 months. Just throw out any ideas of ordering what you need and getting it in a few days. Bring what you need from your home port or somewhere like St. Maarten.
Here is a short list of maintenance items to bring:
Engine Fluids (oil, trans, coolant)
Heater Repair Parts
Head Repair Parts
Rope Clutch Spares
Winch Rebuild Kit
Furler Repair Items
Mast Cars or Bearings
Sail Repair Kit
Dinghy Repair Kit
Epoxy (We like GFlex in the mixing tube)
We didn’t use most of our spares. We did go through an engine impeller, a set of fuel filters (primary and secondary), and two oil changes (oil and filters).
We would possibly consider adding windlass spares to this list, especially if yours has some miles on it already. We suggest going to Amazon.com and creating a cart or a wishlist, searching for your needed spares, and adding them to your cart or list. Save it for later and you will always have it at hand to quickly go back and order from. This has saved us quite some time over the years.
Make sure your safety gear is up to snuff. One should have all the offshore gear already on board if venturing to these parts.
The only special item we added for safety while sailing here was immersion suits (some call them Gumby suits). This is true cold-water sailing, and help could be days away in the remote areas of the canals. We didn’t have to use them, but we were happy to have them on board.
As with sailing in any new place, there is always a learning curve. The bottom line is to be prepared. Don’t expect help from others, but do have the ability to help those in need. That is the way we travel and the mantra has done well for us. Safe and fun sailing to all!
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