Black(b)log: Seno Escondido Smack


February 7, 2016

Katie McConnell

Shhh! Don’t tell Keri, but while she was out with the paleontologists we ran aground for a hot second!

Seno Escondido stretches East to West, starting with a round belly of a bay. Heading west out of this bay, the Seno abruptly turns into a narrow snake of a run that ends in a tidal mudflat and isthmus to the open sea. Just getting in to Seno Escondido with a sailboat begins with a thread-the-needle maneuver, zigzagging up a narrow 5 meters-deep channel between a rocky shoreline and an ankle-deep sandspit marked by a small flock of giant petrels.


This is my fourth excursion sailing with Saoirse, but my first time as a crewmember. In the past, I worked for Vreni Häussermann as her assistant and SCUBA diver doing underwater biological surveys of invertebrates, fish and algae. Now, I have found myself alongside Keri and Greg, spending hours sounding out the entire entrance route to Seno Escondido in the dinghy, all the way into the inner lagoon to a safe, intermediary anchorage. Since our paleontological survey sites are accessible only by dinghy, it is important to keep Saoirse, our safe home base, as nearby as possible.

That was yesterday, and today we left our muddy bay to venture westward towards a presumed whale cemetery awaiting our scientists. Keri took the paleontologists in the dinghy this morning, while I stayed with Franco, Seba and Greg to complete oceanographic stations (CTD, Niskin and Plankton Net casts throughout Seno Escondido) and assist with the boat.

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Seno Escondido, entrance is by passing the sandspit on the east side

The whole safari up the breezy lagoon was “smooth sailing,” an easy 6-7 meters depth and frequent stops to complete oceanographic sampling. We even stopped for a moment and drifted while we ate lunch. Back on the road again after tea, with not too much farther to go before our planned anchorage, when 6 meters…

6 meters…

6 meters…

6 meters…


3.4 meters 3.2 meters 3.1 meters!!!

The whole of Saoirse sluggishly lurched to a muddy stop as the port side liiiifted up slowly, my watery plankton sample creeping up towards the starboard rim of its glass jar. The engines cut as Greg immediately took the motor out of gear. I closed the lid on my jar and looked to the bow to make sure Franco was still there—he was. He was laughing and carrying on, taking a syringe full of water out of a niskin bottle hanging from the rolled up jib.

“Vrrrommmmmmmm…” went the engine after Greg took one breath and kicked Saoirse back into gear, pulling us sternside off the sandbar. Like a moth colliding with a lightbulb, the sailboat did a sloshy couple of 360’s and was back on track, leaving a murky trail billowing away from a brown poof! near the bank. We soon found 8 meters and threw anchor for the night.

Woops! A watery cloud marks the spot near the bank. (c) Katie McConnell 2016

Working as a crewmember with Keri and Greg is a very enriching learning experience. Navigation in Patagonia is a real doozy, starting with the fact that we have three sets of nav charts on board, and each is about a mile and a half off in any given direction (if it has soundings at all). Tonight as we talked about tomorrow’s plan of action, and Greg mentioned, “Oh yeah, we are doing fabulously—I didn’t even think we’d be able to make it to Seno Escondido, and here we are way back up inside of it!”

Today the girls did a spectacular job putting in yet another full day’s work in the sun, wind, rain, stench and flies while surveying some 50+ whales at varying states of decomposition up along the entire southern shoreline of Seno Escondido to the head. At the head, the tidal flat is flanked by sand dunes on the SW side and fed by two brackish lakes tucked away in the forest to the NE. Ana, Fernanda and Alexandra reported back to us today that this area seems to be a true whale cemetery, with sets of whale skeletons from conspicuously different time periods. Keri led the beach expedition, and was filming and photographing each finding.

Keri-Lee Pashuk bends over a whale in Seno Escondido, gathering material for a future art exhibition (c) Katie McConnell 2016

Keri also took a moment to bolt across the isthmus, summit the sand dunes, and take some photos of the beach on the other side. After dinner this evening, she showed me some of her shots: A small rocky point extends out from the left side of the beach, and some chest high waves peel leftwards between the point and a whale-sized rock outside of the break, to the right. Although it looks a little small and mushy, it does, in fact, look like a bona-fide left point break, it you can believe it!

Writing from my bed tonight, I am jittery with the excitement that I might be able to surf tomorrow. It just looks so fun, so wild and so doable. The feeling is hard to describe; I mean, why does it matter if I surf anywhere? Why is here any more exciting than my home break? What does surfing really do for anyone, really?

One might say that maybe I am surfing for a cause—yes, I am surfing for whale awareness! Yes, for global warming! For science! What if I am surfing for exploration’s sake? Or for a brand? Or any idea? Anything?

…Maybe not, huh?

One thing I have become conscious of is a strange attraction towards this little wave simply because I think I might be the first person to surf it, and perhaps become the first person to surf in all of the infamous Golfo de Penas. Since I can even remember, my favorite childhood games were always those where I was on an adventure or exploring, discovering new things in places no one has ever seen before; however, a new sensation has colored these visions recently, especially now that this expedition is in the position to gain momentum for worldwide attention. “Wow!” think I, “maybe a picture of me will come out in the papers!”

Wow, I can see it now: “Katie McConnell Becomes First Person to Surf Some Mediocre Wave in Some Piss-Poor Weather.”

A-ha, this is a notion I should probably let go of.

But, this could be a reason for why I continue trying to push my surfing to new arenas and different experiences. For instance, even if timing makes it impossible to actually surf this particular wave, the experience of searching for these dreamscapes can reveal aspects of my life which do no service to me or to others. When faced with situations such as these, perhaps we are given an opportunity to fine-tune our perspective. Then, when I do get in the water, I am washed clean. And, if I am lucky enough to catch a wave, it is there that the door to silence whispers open, until it comes crashing down on me and I come up with a smile full of sand.

Somewhere near Seno Escondido… (right barrel off the point not shown).  –Photo by Katie McConnell 2016





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