All was going well, until about 10 days ago. Elated by finishing off the transect dives in Canal Martinez we turned Saoirse’s bow south to rendezvous with the next stage of the expedition. As I have previously mentioned, Canal Messier and Canal Baker have some extremely deep spots in them. The chart shows measured depths of almost 1400 metres in a channel only a couple of miles wide. The astonishing scale off the drop-offs evident in the vertiginous cliffs bordering these channels must therefore be mirrored below the dark sea-surface. Though these transect dives can give us some hints, what lives down there, nobody knows.
These depths are far in excess of what can be reached by human divers; enter, the robot. The Huinay Foundation based in Comau Fiord owns a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) capable of diving to 500m, only a third of the depth of this, the deepest channel in the world. We were to finish out the transect dives, head south with all speed to Puerto Eden to rendezvous with the rest of the scientific team from the Huinay foundation who would arrive by ferry from Puerto Natales with food and fuel. Another ship toting the ROV and its own support boat would then arrive from Puerto Montt and we would tow the entire shebang 50 miles back up into the Messier Channel to deploy the ROV into the abyss to obtain the first look into a place on earth yet to be seen by human eyes. That was what was supposed to happen. One can certainly approach these things with optimism, but unfortunately for us, this part of the world pays no regard to the level of synchronicity required for a plan like that to work.
As we manoeuvred Saoirse into Caleta Conner, 40 miles or so north of Puerto Eden to take a final rest break before the onslaught, backing as usual into the tight confines of a typical Patagonian anchorage, I was just about to tie a mooring line to a large rock when Keri’s voice cut in on the radio with a terse command. “Get that line on now, I cant drive the boat, propeller seems to be stuck!”
“What do you mean, stuck” I replied with equal terseness, “That cant even happen”
Sure enough though, I returned to Saoirse and found that the Hundested variable pitch propeller seemed to be locked in full reverse. All attempts to free it from inside and outside the boat using the divers just seemed to make it worse. Saoirse, for all intents and purposes, was now immobilized. We were, well, STUCK.