Serendipitous Strawberries

It’s true. Photo by Katie

by Greg Landreth

February 13, 2016

We have now parked the boat in a place called Puerto Barosso, a favourite anchorage for the(few) fishernmen who are working the seaweed harvest in these parts. It is easy to see why they choose this place, parked right on the edge of the Gulf OF Penas as it is. Yesterday we were working our way slowly across the Gulf from the east doing the CTD casts when a strong breeze from the north started to work on the long SW swells. We took a last cast right out in the middle of the Gulf, (the one I thought we would not be able to get, as it was  the furthest out!) and scarpered for shelter. Fortunately we had been in here before and I was able to follow my GPS track from last year. Even so, it is a great relief to know that the entrance is uncomplicated, free of dangers, and the anchor holds well.

Saoirse is well equipped to be sneaking into these kinds of places in the dark, It must be
noted that this area is very thinly explored, even the charts I have of this bay are up to
two miles out. Our late arrival this time was due to an amazing discovery some 40 miles away on the other side of the Gulf. Yesterday I had threaded the needle in reverse, following Saoirse’s track out of the narrows guarding the inner anchorage at Seno Escondido. With the San Quintin Glacier again as backdrop, Saoirse ran back east down the coast, shepherding Keri and the “girls” who were surveying the whale skeletons in the dinghy back down towards the end of Peninsula Forelius. The idea was to rendezvous there and scope out a possible anchorage for the night, ready to take on the crossing of the Gulf early the next morning since the weather forecast was as promising as it could be. Entering a huge shallow bay, I could only get the boat to within a mile and a half of the beach. Snatching the last sunshine hours of the day we sprinted in to the beach hoping to be able to cross over what appeared to be some sand dunes and take a look at the swell crashing onto a double isthmus on the windward side. Katie had been hoping to take her surfboard over there, but I had to veto the idea as time, as always, was pressing.

The others took off like hares down the smooth sandy beach, having been confined to the boat for the day. I anchored the dinghy and strolled on across the dunes to see what could be seen. It is usual in Patagonia to watch where one is putting ones feet, as the native ground cover here is uniformly spiny and unkind to the touch, but halfway across the isthmus I suddenly bent down to look at something that looked entirely like a strawberry plant growing out of the sand. A strawberry? It couldn’t really be, could it?

There is a native “frutilla” which grows in the far south of Patagonia for which we occasionally forage for in summer that has the appearance of a tiny strawberry but this plant looked exactly like those which I had picked in the family garden when I was young. Bending down I was astonished to find a perfect, round, red strawberry hanging below the plant. A taste test quickly confirmed it, no doubt about it. Well, I supposed, that where there is one there has to be more. I raised my gaze to be greeted with a stunning sight. For hundreds of meters all around, the sand dunes were covered with strawberry plants, acres and acres of them, literally the “Strawberry Fields Forever”. With that song running round and round in my head, we filled hats and whatever we could carry with the ripe, round fruit and returned red-lipped to the boat.

Sandy strawbs which barely made it back to Saoirse -photo by Katie

Imagine the heaven we were in when, close to the boat we were greeted by Keri waving the
three fat fish which some fishermen had dropped off while we were gone. We feasted greatly that night, alleviating the image of Patagonia as a lonely place of starvation and death.

Ana and the Fishermen 92 dpi.jpg
(c) Keri-Lee Pashuk 2016


Piel Amarilla or Pez de Limon 92dpi.jpg
(c) Keri-Lee Pashuk 2016


February 7, 2016

The crossing of the normally volatile Golfo de Penas from the south turned out this time to be almost a non-event. Waiting a day near Isla Wager for the perfect weather conditions turned out to be by far the best course of action. Not only were we treated with calm conditions for the crossing, we were also able to navigate inside Isla Javier, something I had thought we would never have the opportunity to do since the sea conditions must normally be extremely dangerous in the prevailing west winds. Good thing we did, since this narrow Strait seems to be home to hundreds of whales, and the views of the Northern Patagonian Icecap are other-worldly.

We have burrowed our way into Seno Escondido, a 5-mile long, shallow and tortuously winding sound nestled below the curve of the Taitao Peninsula. The sound itself is mostly navigable by eye, keeping to mid channel, but the entrance from Bahia San Quintin took a bit of careful juggling with the state of the tide and a thorough reconnaissance by Keri and Katie in the dinghy. Towards evening last night we reluctantly gave up our magnificent vista of the vast San Quintin Glacier pouring out of the ice-cap and entered the inner bay, taking advantage of low-slack tide to navigate the islands and sand bars encumbering the entrance. It was worth the extra grey hairs to enter this protected inner bay, since we are now protected from all winds and can concentrate on the work at hand.

Though the weather has been holding since yesterday, the slowly increasing breeze from the NW turns out to be a blessing in disguise. A first encounter with a beach lined with slowly decomposing whale carcasses is a gut wrenching sight at best, but the wind is doing wonders sweeping away the aroma that has been permeating the boat in the last couple of days. I’m not sure that there is any way to ever get used to the smell of dead whales, but I am certain that we will all be glad that Saoirse has a built-in shower once we start working in closer proximity.

As is the same in almost any expedition which is uses boat access to terrestrial sites, now is a critical time. With the oceanographic work taking place mostly aboard Saoirse, and the whale-skeleton surveys taking place on shore at the same time, the general efficiency of changing over from pure navigation mode to include shore side work is of paramount importance. Normally Saoirse would be solely committed to the support of one party, but with multiple studies going on at once in widely separated areas, attention to safety and preparedness for things going wrong must form the basis of further action. More on that tomorrow.