A Little Light Music

We were late, as we nearly always are since we always tend to make too-challenging itineraries for ourselves. No sooner had our keel touched the water from the refit in Puerto Natales than we were heading south and east again to reach Puerto Williams as the checkout point on our way to the Falkland Islands. For our scientific program in Patagonia, this thousand-mile side trip may seem a little bit out of the way, but our lengthy sojourn to the Falklands was both an imperative and a developmental necessity for various reasons. First, we were hard up against the due date for our permit to be in Chile; second, we had recently bought a mountain of gear to replace some of the ageing equipment aboard Saoirse. A new generator and 100m of anchor chain being two of the more mission critical items in this list. This sort of stuff is patently impossible to import into Chile, so in order to do an end run around these difficulties we elected to have it all freighted down to Port Stanley, where the shipping is a decidedly more user friendly process.

These tedious practicalities however segued nicely into a scientific study plan which had coagulated around them. Just after our last excursion to the Golfo Tres Montes to begin the studies of the live sei whale population there, we had become aware of a parallel project which was being commenced in the Falklands. There, Caroline Weir, a whale researcher working under the aegis of Falklands Conservation, had begun studying the burgeoning sei whale population which in recent years has become a new feature of the coastal areas around these islands. After our experience with the mass die-off of 2105 in Chile, this seemed a very encouraging sign for the possibility that whales are returning to these southern waters after the whaling holocaust of the early 1900s, so we were attracted by the possibility of some sort of collaboration between these two research efforts. We hatched a scheme then to make a short data gathering cruise around the understudied west coast of the Falkland Islands with volunteers from Falklands Conservation aboard, both to have a short preliminary survey of the sei whale activity there and for us to learn some of the methodology that allowed Caroline to collect a valuable catalogue of some 80 individual sei whales last year.

Also, there was the added opportunity to engage the serendipity effect and try to visit as many of the abandoned lighthouses which are strung out along our Southern Ocean route as possible. This has become something of a hobby of ours in the last few years, ever since we discovered that some of these structures, though they have fallen out of purpose and are now dead, their skeletons can be given life again by playing music in the marvellous acoustical spaces sheltered within. I play the cello, Keri sings and plays an assortment of strummed instruments, and we have found that some of these structures can return a sonic resonance reminiscent of those baroque churches which are favourite venues of classical musicians who play in more amply populated regions. It’s a way of admitting a little poetry into the rigid spreadsheet-generating disciplines of science and the oily expletive-generating discipline of boat maintenance. This part of the trip presented two possibilities; the “Lighthouse at the End of the World” (a copy of the one described in the Jules Verne story of the same name) on Staten Island, and the Cape Pembroke light at the eastern edge of East Falkland Island.

On board from Puerto Natales to Stanley were our friends Giff and Liz of the Springcreek Conservation Society who provided such sterling help in the boatyard and who have accompanied us on many a mile aboard Saoirse, along with Mark and Rosie whose sailboat had been parked next to ours in the repair dock, courtesy of a badly-placed rock in the Chilean channels. We were racing a particularly pernicious weather forecast. Puerto Natales is no place to be moored in a westerly gale, better to run down in front of the torment of the Straits of Magellan, so we hauled up the anchor and whirl winded our way east, arriving a few days later in Puerto Williams to check out, then helter-skelter across the South Atlantic to the Falklands. There at the entrance to Stanley was the welcoming ten-second blink of the Cape Pembroke light.

As we arrived, Christmas was consuming the efforts of the populace of Stanley and we raced to collect together all Saoirse’s presents from their various storage depots. We fastened the new generator into the engine room, replaced the old rusty anchor chain with the shiny new one, mounted a new life raft on the coach roof and took delivery of myriad other pieces of equipment which will help us with the whale studies next year. All this was accompanied by much noise contrary to the Christmas spirit of the town, so we relented on Christmas Eve, bagged up the cello and ukulele and headed out on foot for the 5 km trek to the Cape Pembroke Light tower. I say we walked, but in reality it was more like hobbling, our fitness level having greatly suffered in the boatyard and my shoes were quickly jettisoned in the soft sand to avoid blisters. The light itself does not inhabit the old light-tower, it is now relegated to a utilitarian-looking stake in the ground nearby, so it was a delight to be able to insert the massive iron key into the base of the tower and prise open the door for a glimpse into a now-disappeared world in which men tended the light as their sacred duty.

Keri and I set up the instruments by the lighthouse-keepers desk at the base of the spiral staircase that leads to the lens and began to play a few tunes, being rewarded with the beautifully mellow return echo from the cylindrical heights of the tower, along with a smattering of applause from two much-bemused visitors; one Spaniard and one Irishman who at least were able to recognise one of the songs we played, The Dawning of the Day. We gratefully accepted their offer of a lift back to Stanley in their car and, once back on Saoirse, dreamed of sound waves beaming out from the tower, not as a warning of a mortal hazard to ships and menl but as a message of peace.

Next Up. Whale Studies in West Falkland.

I Sei, I Say, Yo Se

We are happy to be sitting on a mooring built for a 260 ton vessel here in Beaver Island, one of the westernmost of the Falkland Islands. I say happy, since the weather outside seems to be amping up to its normal 40 knot level and we are being forced to sit tight and wait for a break in the wind long enough to sprint back across to South America to take the reins of this season’s projects. Thanks to Jerome Poncet, whose harbour we inhabit, we can use this time to relax, reflect on what we have done over the last couple of months, play some music, and start installing the mountain of equipment that we picked up in Port Stanley just before Christmas.

This sojourn to the Falklands was a necessary part of our overall vision of studying the lives of sei whales in Patagonia, for reasons which I’ll explain later, but now its high time to recap the events since we left our haulout spot in Puerto Natales. Our exit from the boatyard there was as precipitous
as has become usual for all our South American boatyard visits. The haulout facility in Puerto Natales is brand new, aimed at servicing the large fleet of brutish looking fishing vessels which regularly prosecute the centolla (king crab) and alga (seaweed) fishery in these southern waters. The management of the haulout had been somewhat equivocal about accepting sailboats into their yard.
“Un poco complicado” was the general attitude at first, when we had asked about the possibility of beaching Saoirse there for some long overdue maintenance. Loosely translated, that means we are a total pain in the arse, our long keels and relatively flimsy construction means that they have to take special care when hauling yachts, far more complex than the usual trade of hauling ashore the fishing boats. Saoirse was clearly going to be one of the bigger challenges, we were definitely in unknown territory with her 3.3m keel and deadweight approching the 50 ton limit of the
travelift. Still, the yard was virtually empty when we arrived there and we decided to give it a go, with the proviso that we would make ourselves scarce when the centolla season finished in early December and all available space would be taken by the fishboats. That was good, sine we had anticipated the occasion by building a massive cradle for her to sit in, strong enough to resist the powerful winds prevalent in this season.

The problems started when we approached the travelift dock for the first time; with the minimal tides on offer we could only bring the nose of the boat to the inside of the lifting dock. With some proficient juggling though, the travelift was coaxed into hauling the stern bodily into the dock, from where it could be lifted, Saoirse’s massive keel plowing a route through the soft mud. All was to no avail though, since the hauling straps proved to be too long and we had to ask for some shorter ones to be sent from Punta Arenas some 250km away. Two days later we were set for another try, a virtual replay of the first, but this time we were rewarded by seeing Saoirse’s keel clear the edge of the lifting dock by a mere 2 cm, with her boom touching the crossbar of the travelift at the top. “Cuarenta tonneladas” (40 tons) intoned the crane driver. Clearly, she is about the maximum size sailboat which will ever be hauled here, and we were extremely relieved to see Saoirse snugged at last into her cradle

Puerto Natales is a very dry place, which should be perfect for painting. The dryness comes at a price though; this is a fohn type wind and it whips across the bay here almost daily at storm strength. By the end of the month we had registered winds of up to 69 knots blowing laterally across the decks. Even with the mast tied to the comcrete ramparts of the dock wall, the boat quivered nervously in her cradle. Still, we managed a huge amount of work, enough antifouling to last several years, anodes, topside paint, engine overhaul, new transducers and new 12mm lexan windows in the pilothouse to replace the aging 6mm panes. All ready to gracefully descend into the water and head for our rendezvous in Port Stanley. Which, of course, is the point where Robbie Burns descends into the fray with his immortal line “ The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay”. To re-enter the water it is necessary to try to engineer the confluence of several factors: zero wind, high tide, daylight, absence of Chilean public holiday, engine recomissioned and tested,short straps, garbage cleaned away and bills paid and permission obtained from the Port Captain. In other words, the situation is completely out of your control, expect delays. On December 2nd, , after 10 days of careful engineering we finally managed to convince the crane drivers to lift Saoirse in the middle of their weekend and set her down into the water which was unfortunately only
2.5m deep. Unable to escape the dock, they left her partially suspended in the slings and went home, promising to return at 2am on Sunday morning to see if the tide would rise enough to set her free. At that point a fresh 20 knot wind piped up and hurled steep little waves at us, directly into the mouth of the exposed lifting dock, the water level refusing to budge as the keel hammered its way further into the mud. Finally the crane drivers showed up again, and under the glare of the lights of their pickup trucks they managed to pull the keel clear of the mud by the stern and, assisted by full engine power, “urged” the boat into deeper water. We were free. Or so we thought.

Keri’s voice rose amid the chaos, “The engine is overheating!”. Sure enough, as we accelerated away from the dock into the rising sun, the high temperature alarm was screaming its warning and she shut down the engine immediately. I dumped the anchor and 60 m of chain into the water which luckily bit deep into the mud and we swung there wondering what had gone wrong, since we had carefully tested the engine before launching. After some hours of deep thought I opened the coolant tank to check again the level of antifreeze, perhaps to add a little more. Twenty litres of glycol later, the tank was finally full. And so, off we went.


View from dry land from Saoirse’s pilot house (photo: (c) Keri-Lee Pashuk)

We should have been hundreds of miles from here, somewhere down in the Beagle Channel, sailing east towards Puerto Williams. Our plans had us arriving in Puerto Williams in two days time, re-provisioning, hosting a Music Cafe at Errante Eco Lodge, checking out of Chile on Monday and then sailing out the eastern Beagle Channel, through the Strait of LeMaire and onwards to the Falkland Islands to arrive well before Christmas.

We should have known better.  Especially since I am always the one to say “the only plans you can make here in Patagonia is that nothing will go to plan”.

Saoirse is still sitting on dry land. Our futile attempt to re- launch her last week was thwarted by gale force winds.  Further thought of launching was completely nixed as hurricane force winds thrashed the harbour and had Saoirse rocking and wobbling disconcertingly in her steel cradle.  The anemometer showed the strongest gust at 69 knots though wind speeds held steady between 48 and 50 knots. Fellow sailors, who have sailed around the world, commented they have never seen anything like it in all their years on the ocean. We said, “Welcome to Patagonia”!

Friday, December 1st is now looking like THE day and fingers are crossed that all the stars will align (well at least the winds, waves, tides and boat yard workers) and see Saoirse floating again. It’s been an intense few months of boat maintenance and thanks to Giff, Liz, Sandra, Mark and two Gonzalos, Saoirse is in top form.  Greg though, is looking due for some maintenance!


The Colours of Death and Life of a Whale         Giclee Prints  Limited editions of 8      

On November 15th, I inaugurated my art photo exhibition “The Colours of Death and Life of a Whale” at the Centro Cultura El Austral, a beautiful historic house in Valdivia, Chile. This is my third exhibition of these works which represent the worlds largest baleen mortality in history. Presenting 17 limited edition art photo prints and a two dimensional “Whaling Wall”, my goal is to create an unusual visual documentary about the tragic event which I hope will encourage dialogue, questions and action. The exhibition will be in place until the 2nd of December.

Whaling Wall  (photos:  (c) Keri-Lee Pashuk)



Sei Whale – May 2017                                      (photo:  (c) Keri-Lee Pashuk)

Last May, on our first live sei whale study project, we were fortunate to be able to capture underwater acoustic recordings of what may possibly be sei whales (their were a group of sei whales feeding in the entrance to the narrows where we installed the hydrophone that recorded the sounds).  This was the highlight of the expedition, the deep, resonant sounds giving voice to this elusive, majestic creature.  These voices are the beginning steps into gaining information on the sei whale population of the Golfo Tres Monte Region of Chilean Patagonian, part of the many steps we still need to take towards getting the area protected for the future of these endangered whales and other marine creatures.

Please take time to put on a pair of good headphones or hook your computer up to speakers with quality bass and listen to these voices:

Puerto Natales, Chile
November 27th 2017

Ventus Terra

It’s a typical Patagonia spring day here in Puerto Natales – blowing a gale at 45 knots and gusting to 68 knots.  The water is whipping white on the sea and the port has been closed now for 3 day due to gale force winds. I am so relieved that we are not sitting at anchor, bobbing around back and forth and wondering if the anchor is going to hold.
I’m writing from a dining table in a house up on the hill with the best view in town.  Greg is on Saoirse, and Saoirse is on dry land!  Whether that is a good thing or not as Saoirse has a 3.3 metre keel and a 22 metre mast.
We are here to do some maintenance on the boat before we begin the upcoming austral sailing sea and whale studies.  (more on this coming up!)
Greg just called to let me know that the sailboat hauled out next to us hasn’t blown over yet.   And neither has Saoirse.  Yes, sometimes when you are in the Land of the Wind, it is good to be on land!

Cpr Michael Kean 2017

Christian Suárez Santana, our veterinary pathologist is attending the Conference for the Spanish Association of Cetaceans in Valencia, Spain.  He’ll be presenting on our work with a talk entitiled “Expedition for the study of the sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) populations in the Golfo de Penas and national park Laguna de San Rafael (La Patagonia, Chile). May 2017.”

Come check us out!





ROV Highlights: Golfo Tres Montes


The Deeptrekker DTG2 ROV

Here are a few snippets of video from our adventures with the Deeptrekker DTG2 ROV. We’ve been taking it out whenever we have a chance and we have seen some really cool stuff. Since part of the expedition is focused on the mortality of sei whales, we’ve dove on 10 whale skeletons.  We’ve seen long dead whales, who have had thier bones tumbled into new forms, and most recently deceased whales, who are covered with armies of munida, snails, and urchins. We have also snuck away(With permission and all the requisite saftey gear) from the main group for a few ‘dives of personal interest’ on some really, really cool areas. Hope you enjoy our look at the underwater world of the Gulfo Tres Montes!

MichaelMichael, The Deep Trekker and Saoirse

Intentando ser un Oceanógrafo en La Patagonia


Por Sebastian

Mi trabajo como oceanógrafo en esta expedición es básicamente obtener los parámetros físico-químicos de la columna de agua, para ello se utiliza un instrumento llamado CTD, el cual es capaz de dar los valores de algunos parámetros tales como la temperatura o salinidad a una presión (profundidad) determinada. El trabajo de obtener la información es algo fácil, el instrumento pesa alrededor de 40 kilos y se cuelga mediante un cable o cuerda el cual desciende por la borda de la nave, a una velocidad constante. La profundidad a la que desciende depende de cuál es el valor obtenido por el sonar de la nave, generalmente se desciende el CTD 5 metros antes de que toque el fondo marino. Prácticamente lo más complicado es contar los metros que desciende en el mar para así evitar que choque en el fondo, por un descuido.

La parte mas complicada es comprobar que la información obtenida sea correcta. No hay manera de saber hasta procesar la información mediante un ordenador que todo este en correcto orden. Toma algo de tiempo pero la información obtenida es muy importante para futuras investigaciones, se puede saber los cambios en el tiempo, de cómo las variables cambian en profundidad o a lo largo de grandes distancias, detectar fenómenos anormales, etc. Las variables son la temperatura, la salinidad, el oxigeno disuelto, fluorescencia, todos dependientes de la presión del agua (profundidad).

Durante la expedición el trabajo es rápido y toma menos tiempo en procesar la información, comprobando asi que los datos sean correctos.

Errores los hay, claro: mala calibración, datos erróneos por mucho oleaje, olvidar quitar la tapa de los sensores. Pero al final mejoran cuando se gana más experiencia.

Una vez era martes, es difícil recordar los días de la semana en esta expedición, la vida aquí es algo diferente, uno se llega a acostumbrar el estar en espacios tan pequeños, básicamente un paseo en cubierta es algo cotidiano aunque mirar el horizonte también lo es, esperando a lo lejos divisar algo fuera de lo cotidiano. Mi tiempo pasa lento al estar desconectado del mundo, la Patagonia es realmente hermosa como si no existiese el pasado ni el futuro. Los días en general no son para nada buenos, casi siempre fuertes vientos y lluvias, que aunque leves cambian completamente los planes del día. Mi trabajo aunque rutinario es algo entretenido dependiendo de cómo este el tiempo. Manejar un CTD no es para nada complicado como dije, toma algo de tiempo procesar la información pero a la larga se hace más rápido, lo que da tiempo para simplemente ayudar en algo o solo mirar el mar, que parece igual que siempre. Colocar el CTD en posición es algo rápido en condiciones normales, pero aquí en Patagonia se vuelve algo riesgoso en especial cuando el barco se mueve de un lado a otro, todo depende del viento más que la lluvia. Siempre hay que esperar una durante el día, pero el viento es lo que determina si la tarea del día fue exitosa.


Este día parecía que todo iba a salir bien, se esperaba que los vientos se calmasen paso el mediodía. Salimos del fondeadero en Seno Newman, a eso de las 13 hrs, aun con lluvia, separados en dos grupos, uno en dirección a la playa con el sodiak para el trabajo con os esqueletos de ballenas y nosotros en dirección sur a nuestra primera estación del día, el oleaje era algo intenso, al igual que a lluvia que en ese momento no nos preocupó. Pasada una hora el viento no paraba, de hecho parecía empeorar. Aun así seguimos con nuestra tarea, sacamos el CTD de la cabina y lo llevamos a proa para colocarlo en posición, sin embargo terminamos empapados completamente, no por la lluvia en sí, sino más bien por el fuerte oleaje que había. Lamentablemente era muy riesgoso y abortamos la tarea. El retorno al mismo fondeadero fue lento, llegamos a eso de las 16 hrs, para descubrir que también la misión del grupo que se dirigía a la costa también fue abortada por el fuerte oleaje. En resumen, el día fue un fracaso para ambos grupos. Toda esa pérdida de tiempo y el riesgo para volver derrotados, sin ningún tipo de información, y para variar empapados completamente. Deberemos intentarlo más tarde cuando todo se “calme” un poco.

Además, como parte de nuestro descuido al retornar al fondeadero, a tapa de la caja del CTD, desapareció. En qué momento, nadie se lo explica, nadie se percató cuando se voló con el fuerte viento y oleaje. El problema es que la caja se llena de agua todos estos días. Para nada fue un buen día


Caleta Buena and the Drone / Caleta Buena y el Drone

By Gaston Herrera


After a day of strong winds (12/05) Saoirse finally found refuge in Caleta Buena a small fiord running south east off of Puerto Slight. Here we found ourselves anchored next to Mollymawk, friends of Keri and Gregs and a very interesting family with whom we shared stories of our expedition and scientific studies.With the weather induced “down time” from travelling, gave me some calm time to plan the flight with my new drone Phantom 4 Pro that I acquired specifically for this expedition. My plans for this next flight was to capture a three dimensional elevation of the beach at the head of Caleta Buena where there were still remains of a number of whales from the 2015 and 2016 strandings which Keri and Greg were familiar with.

Planning consisted of defining the lines and heights of the drone flyovers. Without access to precise satellite images or detailed DEM (Digital Elevtion Model) of the area and with no telephone signal here in the remote region, that only left planning flights using visual on sight inspection (which I feel is much more accurate anyways).

Thus, the flight path defined, the weather clear enough to fly a drone and the manual flight settings set with obstruction sensors to avoid collision with the trees surrounded the bay, Sebastian (my assistant ) and I went ashore to a nearby beach to begin the mission.

With the drone in the air and approaching the coast, I passed over the beach at two different heights, one of 40 metres, trying to avoid the trees and another at 17 metres for more detail with the lower elevation being the more difficult with the constant warnings from the drone sensors of dangerous obstructions which in the end I just ignored, the desire to get good image coverage outweighing the danger or crashing the drone.

The result from this flight was 508 photographs of 7 MB which later took one entire day to process. This work ended in a detailed, high resolution photo which can be geo-referenced and which illustrates the to date positions of the whale skeletons on land and the remains below the water ( in up to 4 metres of depth). This material is invaluable to the scientists for revision and comparison with photos from the same beach dating from 2015.

With these sort of photos from this elevation and taken periodically, one can gather a continuing register of whale strandings and the process of decomposition, a view not see by boat or zodiac.

Caleta Buena y el Drone

Después de un día con fuertes vientos (12-05) el SAOIRSE finalmente se refugió en Caleta Buena a un costado del canal Slight. En ese lugar nos encontramos con el M0LLYMAWK una embarcación amiga del SAOIRSE con una muy interesante familia con la que compartimos acerca de la investigación científica que la tripulación de esta expedición lleva a cabo. Esta mediana calma mientras se esperaba mejores condiciones climáticas me permitió planificar en terreno los vuelos del drone Phantom 4 Pro recién adquirido para esta expedición y realizar un levantamiento tridimensional de la playa al fondo de Caleta buena donde se encuentran los restos de varia ballenas varadas hace un tiempo que Keri y Greg conocían.

La planificación consistió en definir las líneas de vuelo y alturas a las que el drone se desplazaría. El no contara tener imágenes satelitales de precisión o modelos DEM (Digital Elevation Model) detallados de la zona, lo que acompañado de la nula señal celular solo nos deja la inspección visual como única alternativa para la planificación (la que a mi juicio es la más correcta también).

Es así que definió un vuelo manual con sensores de obstrucción activos para evitar chocar con los árboles que rodeaban la costa. Junto con Sebastián, el “asistente” designado para esta misión esperamos en una playa cercana hasta una ventana de no lluvia e iniciamos la misión. Con el Drone en el aire se hizo la aproximación a la costa a fotografiar, se voló en dos alturas, a 40 metros evitando los árboles y a 17 metros para mayor detalle, esta última fue la más compleja de realizar por el constante aviso de obstrucciones que el drone entregaba y que se tenían que ignorar en alguna medida para conseguir la cobertura de imágenes deseadas.

El resultado fueron 508 fotografías de 7 Mb promedio que tardaron un día entero en ser procesadas. Pero que nos permitió conseguir una ortofoto georreferenciada de alta resolución, donde se descubrieron las posiciones de los restos de las ballenas en tierra y bajo el agua hasta unos 4 metros de profundidad. Este material fue entregado para que los científicos puedan analizar y realzar comparación con la situación del mismo lugar en años anteriores.

Considero que este tipo de levantamientos si se realizan de manera periódica podría entregar un registro de precisión para análisis de la ocurrencia de varamientos de ballenas y su proceso de degradación, así como permitir el descubrimiento de nuevos y antiguos individuos varados y que no quedan al alcance de la vista desde bote o zodiac.