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In Greenland

Iron Bark

Iron Bark
Under full sail


At Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships Regatta

Blue Water Medal

Blue Water Medal
Blue Water Medal

Books By Annie Hill

  • Brazil and Beyond
  • Voyaging on a Small Income

02 December, 2010

America North and South

Some of those who read my blog may have heard that Trevor and I have been awarded the highly prestigious Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America.  We were astonished to hear that we had been thought worthy of this accolade - and still are.  Part of the deal was that we would be flown to New York to receive it.  What could we say but yes?

Due to my decision at least temporarily to swallow the anchor and to spend some time in New Zealand, as described in an earlier blog, this meant that I would be flying from Nelson, while Trevor would make his way from Chile.  The advantage for Trevor, was that I could make all the arrangements and all he needed to do was to arrive at the correct airport on the correct day.

I left Nelson on 2 March, starting, as I meant to continue, with a minor drama.  Packing my clothes, I got out the new shoes that I had bought for the Blue Water Medal presentation only to find that they were different sizes!  I leapt on my bike and whizzed round to the shoe shop, but it only opened at 9 o'clock, when my friend was due to pick me up and take me to the airport.  Back to the boat and a quick text message - can you come a bit sooner, please? A few minutes later, we were bundling my bags into her car and back we went to the shop, which was still shut.  We went and stood outside the doors and they got the hint. I only take a size 35, so was worried that they might not have any more, but fortunately they found the other shoe (the only one of that size that they had) and the swop was made.  Back to the car and in time to have a coffee with my friend before I took  off.

I have done more flying in the past few years than I ever expected to do in my whole life; and as a result of my (possibly eccentric) decision to live on a 26 ft boat in Nelson rather than continue voyaging on Iron Bark, will unfortunately probably find myself doing rather more in the future.  That said, I love the flight up from Nelson, aboard the little Dash 8 plane, where I always manage to wangle myself a window seat and can admire the country as I fly up to Auckland.  All went smoothly and I arrived in LA a short while before my friend picked me up in Nelson, a fact which I found difficult to comprehend.

I had 2½ hrs in Los Angeles, plenty of time to clear in, collect my bags and find out where to go next.  Or so I thought.  In fact by the time I had been searched and had my bags searched (on at least 3 occasions); my visa waiver (which I'd already applied for and been given) processed; my passport scrutinised; my fingerprints taken and my retinas recorded I had less than half an hour to check in and make my way to the departure lounge.  Here my desperate wish for a decent cup of tea finally foundered: the lounge area served at least half a dozen gates, but there were only 3 retail outlets, none of which offered tea in any shape or form.  Airports and aeroplanes both seem to be excessively dry places, and I didn't feel that a cup of coffee was going to have the appropriate re-hydrating effect. So I sat down and read.

Dear old Qantas had provided me with the window seat I'd asked for, so I had a splendid view over early morning California.  I watched the little map on the screen in front of me and plotted my way across the country.  Everything was uniformly brown, except where it was white from snow.  I had never appreciated just how dry New Mexico, Kansas and those other Western States are.  Over Ohio the cloud socked in, which didn't surprise me in the slightest - my memories of autumn in that state are of continually grey skies - and I caught no more than brief glimpses of the land until we got below the cloud on our way to land in New York.  As none of the movies caught my imagination, I got on with my book.

We landed in New York on a cool, cloudy late afternoon.  I was feeling pretty exhausted by then and was delighted to find that the CCA had come up trumps, arranging for me to be collected by a chauffeur-driven car! The driver, Francisco, came from the Dominican Republic and was delighted when I told him I had been there.  He was a charming man, and an excellent driver, so that my journey from JFK airport to the New York Yacht Club was as relaxing as it could be, considering the amount of traffic and my assiduous rubbernecking at everything around me.  Apparently Francisco owned his car - a big, black beast (Mercédes?) - and made his living as an ad hoc chauffeur.  It struck me as a big investment and a precarious livelihood.  He had got this particular job because his friend, who had been asked first, was already booked and so passed it on. No doubt for a small fee.  Francisco was smartly dressed in a suit and a beautiful (to my eyes) overcoat and the  whole thing was very professional.  I felt a little overwhelmed.  (I had been assured by the genial CCA member who organised the whole Blue Water Medal event that the car was paid for.  Later he reassured me that the tip had been included. After  several years living in New Zealand and Australia, I had completely forgotten about this iniquitous practice and it had never occurred to me to offer a tip to Francisco! Or, later, to a taxi driver that I had to employ.  An innocent abroad, indeed.)

To call the New York Yacht Club overwhelming, is to open myself to charges of understatement.  When I made my number, I was greeted by an immensely tall and patrician gentleman, in black suit and bow tie.  Only his lack of years stopped me from suspecting that this might be the Commodore himself.  In fact he was the major domo and to my immense embarrassment, gathered up my bags and escorted me to the lift.  (I very much doubt that the marble portals of the NYYC have ever been defiled by such a bag as I had: it cost me $2 from the recycling centre and had 'Hawaii' emblazoned on the side.)  Up in the lift (all fitted out in polished bronze and walnut) and along a thickly carpeted corridor to my room 'America' (as in the yacht, rather than the country).  This contained two large beds, a writing desk, a couple of armchairs and what I gathered was a TV/video player in a handsome cabinet. A door led into a dressing room with two wash basins and then another door led to the bathroom.  A further door revealed a large wardrobe, containing a couple of enormous bathrobes and an iron and ironing board.

I unpacked a few things and then got out my little computer to check e-mails (there was wireless access, of course!)

You may recall that there was a huge earthquake in Chile at the end of February.  Trevor, of course, was in Chile and although in Puerto Montt he was well away from the epicentre, even there, there had been some damage.  However, the issue was that in order for Trevor to arrive in New York to be presented with the Blue Water Medal, he had to fly from Santiago.  I had been able to access the Internet from Auckland Airport, but had been too rushed to have another opportunity.  At that time, Trevor had said that there were no flights from Pto Montt to Santiago and that all overland transport to the city were booked up.  He wasn't at all optimistic about being able to get to New York.  His latest e-mail was equally pessimistic and I felt desperately sorry for him, and rather depressed myself.  I had a shower and went down to the bar for a much-needed drink and dinner.

After my meal I went up to my room, checked to see if there was anything from Trevor in my Inbox - nothing - and turned in.  I woke in the small hours and lay listening to the city.  I had my window open and was surprised how noisy it was - truly the city that never sleeps.  I was astonished to hear the regular blare of car horns at 3 in the morning.  As an alternative to counting sheep, I counted the seconds between blasts on the horn.  The longest quiet period was 40 seconds! I finally dozed off again about 5 o'clock and then overslept so that I was almost too late for breakfast.

Back in my room, I checked my emails again. Trevor was still trying to find a way to get to New York and it really wasn't looking too hopeful.  There was a route overland to Argentina and out via Buenos Aires leaving later that day and Trevor had hoped to use it, but when he came to pay for it, he found that his credit card had expired 2 days previously and that he was a few hundred dollars short of what was needed in his other bank account, which only has a debit card.  There was not enough time to transfer money around as he had to leave in 4 hours to get through. I felt so sorry for him, but was keeping my fingers crossed that he might find some way to get to NY  But it was now Wednesday and the presentation was on Friday.

Looking out of the window, I saw that it had stopped raining.  I couldn't tell whether the sun was out: in early March the sun is low and in Manhattan, the buildings are high.  The combination is sufficient to keep New York's citizens bereft of the bliss of walking in the sunshine for weeks, if not months, on end. I should feel like a troglodyte if I had to live there, but I can only assume, unlikely as it sounds, that people get used to it.

I went down and out in W 43rd St to go exploring.  Early on and to my intense, if rather simple-minded delight, I discovered why and when W 43rd became E 43rd.  5th Avenue is the answer.  Subsequently I was little bemused to find that Broadway and 5th are the same, as are Park and 3rd; however, just to completely bewilder non-Manhattanites, Lexington has been cunningly inserted so that 3rd Ave is in fact, 4th.  And I'm not entirely sure if there is a 1st although Franklin  D Roosevelt Drive runs along the waterfront and may, like some of the others, have two names.  To be honest, I found the rigid logic of Manhattan's street and avenues just a little irrational.  But anyway, in case you have never yet worked it out, the (posh) East side is on one side of 5th Avenue and the (proletarian) West side is on the other side.  There aren't that many Avenues: Manhattan is a long,thin island, but there is a prodigious number of streets up to about 174, I think.  And this explains 'the Upper East Side' and 'the Lower East Side', etc.  The really Lower East Side, ie the 20s and below  seems to be beyond The Pale, but I may have got this wrong.  Anyway, when I now read American thrillers set in NY I have a better comprehension of what they are talking about!

My brief sojourn in the NYYC had made me feel extraordinarily scruffy and I had taken advantage of my ability to get on line, to hunt down the local Salvation Army charity store.  This was somewhere around the corner of 36th St and 10th Ave, so easily within walking distance.   It was a substantial building of 3 floors, and a rummage of the racks produced 2 silk shirts, a raw silk jacket and a rather natty blazer in faux suede for a total of about $25.  Feeling a little more confident about my ability to look presentable in the Yacht Club Bar, I settled down to the business of wandering around lower Manhattan.  It was like being an anthropologist on a remote island, I felt so out of place. The shops were bursting with stuff to buy and I couldn't help wondering how there could be so much money about.  But even stranger was the fact that in the same block I would pass, for example, a grog shop with a bottle of whisky on sale for $7,000 - yes, US dollars - and about three shops further on would be what was effectively a dollar store selling a wide variety of tat that surely no-one would want to buy.  I concluded that they must be money launderers.  Come to think of it, how many people would pay $7,000 for a bottle of Scotch?  Maybe they were laundering money, too.  Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed my long tramp, alternately window shopping and looking at buildings soaring way over my head.  I fell in love with the  Chrysler building and felt a sense of awe for those early 20th century architects who had, in truth, designed with a similar passion to those who built the great cathedrals: so often there was intricate and beautiful detail that even if you were looking for it, was too far away to be seen clearly.  It was created for its own sake; perhaps because 'God will see'.  Some of the new buildings did have an innate grace or stature, but not many.  The UN building is possibly one of the ugliest I have ever seen. 

I was well satisfied when I got back to the YC and even more so when I found an email from Trevor saying that he had found a way out of Chile, by bus to Argentina, a plane to Buenos Aires and a further one to NY.  He should arrive on Friday morning, comfortably in time for the Presentation.

Robin Knox-Johnston, who was also receiving a Blue Water Medal, had arrived and was giving a talk at the Club that night. I went along, too, and wandered around looking at all the models that lined the wall and filled several display cases.  When I tired of that, I admired the carvings and mouldings of the vast room and wished that they weren't working on the huge Tiffany skylight, that is usually illuminated at night.  Photos weren't permitted, unfortunately, so you will just have to take my word for it.

Then Robin got up to give his talk and I was struck by how professional he was.  Afterwards I found that the dining room, where I had anticipated eating, was booked for those who had tickets to the talk.  I hadn't (although it had been suggested that I attend), which was a bit embarrassing, but when I explained my predicament to a CCA flag officer whom I had finally managed to track down (very difficult in a room where every single man appeared to be over 6 ft tall.  I had a crick in my neck from talking to them and as they gazed loftily over my 5ft 1in, had difficulty in attracting their attention), he introduced me to a charming man who took me to his table.  He had a great deal of knowledge about the models and their history, so it was very interesting talking to him.

The CCA had wangled two nights for us at the NYYC, and these I had enjoyed, sadly without Trevor.  Some kind CCA members had been prevailed upon to offer us accommodation in their Park Avenue apartment, and the following morning saw me on my way there.  Uniformed door men whisked my back pack and case to and from the taxi and they vanished into the service lift while that designated for people was summoned.  It was a clever security system - only the doorman could send the lift up from the ground floor - which meant that one didn't need to lock one's door. My hostess met me at the entrance and made me feel wonderfully welcome.  She had been told about Trevor's situation and she was relieved to hear that he should make it in time.

I unpacked and ironed the clothes that I'd brought for the presentation.  Then I went for another stroll round before coming back to the flat to shower and change and walk back to the NYYC for a meal for all the Prize winners and some of the CCA committee.  It was about 25 blocks, but the cool evening made walking very enjoyable and I could see into a lot of the apartments, where the lights were on but the curtains still open.  We had a very nice meal.  Sheila McCurdy, the CCA Commodore, is a lovely lady. Robin told stories and Lin and Larry Pardey could not only talk cruising, but also make intelligent noises about racing; I was the only person at the table who never raced (or have ever wanted to!).  I was sent home in a taxi, because although my hostess had told me that it was perfectly safe to walk, no-one else seemed convinced!

Almost as exciting for me, as being presented the Medal, was the fact that my brother was coming out to share the event.  I hadn't seen him since he joined Iron Bark in Tobago at the end of 2003, and we would have four days together. He had arrived on Thursday evening, but was quite happy to go and find a steak bar that he'd heard about and meet me in the morning. While my kind hosts and I were having breakfast, Trevor arrived, looking understandably somewhat tired and dazed.  He had been travelling for ages as well as having been pretty stressed by organising it all.  He was given a welcome cup of coffee and then it was generally agreed that he should go straight to bed to get ready for the evening.  I went with him to our room and we had a quick dry run with the shirt and jacket I had bought in the Nelson op-shops.  He had found some decent trousers in Castro, the shirt was a good colour, a tie that a friend had given me (pure silk, kept for patchwork) went well and the blazer (all NZ$10 of it) fitted like it was made for him.  He looked very smart and it also meant that I didn't have to drag my brother to the Salvation Army to find something else!  So I tucked Trevor up and sallied forth to find my bro.

We had a wonderful time sauntering around and talking about all that we were looking at.  I said that I'd heard that New York was full of nutters,  but even so had been surprised at the number of people - smartly dressed, too - that I had seen talking to themselves with wild gesticulations.  My brother looked at me with that kindly pity usually reserved for the mentally challenged.  'They're using Bluetooth,' he patiently explained. 'They're actually talking on their mobile phones, using a little device behind their ear.'  And I thought that after two days of negotiating New York all alone that I was really savvy and streetwise. But to be fair, if you see anyone walking around Nelson talking animatedly to themselves and waving their hands in the air they are nutters!

We did a fair amount of rubbernecking and my bro (who had been to NY before) took me into Grand Central Station where we both gawped at the wonderful Art Deco features and marvelled at the enormous sums of money that it must have taken to build such a structure.  Before the Great Depression, some people were inconceivably wealthy.

Finally we wandered through Central Park and went to a bar/restaurant by the lake.  Here we sat and did a bit more people-watching and drank a couple of beers.  After that, we went our separate ways for a few hours, to meet at the NYYC for The Presentation.

Trevor was up and looking much more like himself.  I ironed his shirt and tie and we both primped and preened.  I had to wear what the Americans would call 'hose' for the first time in over 10 years.  I can't say that they felt particularly comfortable!  However, the dress that my friend had made, looked lovely with a jacket my Mum had bought for me in Cape Town, which is kept for special occasions.  I wore black opal earrings that Trevor had bought for me in Oz, an antique watch chain and sovereign, which had belonged to Mum and the $20 shoes that had caused me so much worry.  We both looked more than presentable.  A cab was called and the three of us drove off in style.  It was rush hour and I suspect it would have been quicker to walk!

My brother arrived about the same time as we did and was followed shortly by an old friend from Nova Scotia, a member of the CCA and the man responsible for putting forward our names to the Blue Water Medal committee. It was lovely to see him again.  The Model Room was full of tables and people and we were all assigned seats.  The Commodore dealt with some of the Club business between courses and then came the Presentation.
 I think both Trevor and I felt quite nervous and very aware of the long line of truly great sailors who had also been honoured with this award.  We stood and smiled for the camera and then each made a little speech and then sat down with a sigh of relief that everything had worked out so well.  (If you want to see what we looked like in our best bib and tucker, there is a photo on the CCA website.)  There were drinks and conversation after the formalities were over and we found many people wanting to talk to us. Trevor and I walked back to the apartment talking all the way.

Our hosts had very kindly extended their invitation for us to stay in their apartment until we left NY and had offered Mike a room, too.  We spent the next three days exploring and seeing some of the sights.  Mike shouted us a ride to the Top of the Rock(efeller Centre) and a trip round Manhattan on the ferry, waving
aside Trevor's protests by saying that because he was staying with at the apartment he was saving on hotel bills.  The weather was perfect, cool and sunny (when you managed to get away from the shadows of the high rise buildings!) and ideal for walking around.  We spent most of one day in the Museum of Modern Art and after Mike had left, Trevor and I spent another day at the Met Museum of Art.  It was all incredibly interesting and quite overwhelming actually to see some of the things I've only previously seen in photos.

Then it was time to leave for Chile and Iron Bark.  Trevor's flight arrangements had been difficult to confirm after being so radically rearranged and we weren't at all sure that he would even get on the flight to Santiago.  I had brought the print-out that I had been given in Nelson and produced this when we came to check in.  It appeared that Trevor actually wasn't on the flight, but the fact that we had a document saying that the flight had been confirmed seemed to swing it.  Trevor suspected that some poor person had been chucked off, but maybe he just got bumped up!  We flew overnight  and I caught a fleeting glimpse of San Salvador and we stopped briefly in Lima, before arriving in Santiago about 3 in the morning.  The place had been badly knocked about by the earthquake and the whole departure area was closed.  The Chileans had responded magnificently, erecting marquees in the car part with one or two stallholders gallantly making coffee, running back and forth with electric jugs to taps situated yards away.  There were benches aplenty and if it was a bit cool, at least we were out of the wind. 

Stands, tapes, blackboards and ladies standing at lecterns with laptops, organised all the check-ins and moving people to the correct place to catch their flights.  There were no conveyors for luggage and men were running with trolleys carrying bags out to the waiting aircraft.  Everyone was good-natured and helpful.  It was most impressive.  Then we set off on our final leg to Puerto Montt; I hadn't slept well the night before we left and not at all on the plane.  We hadn't been at all sure that Trevor was confirmed for the leg from Santiago to Puerto Montt (although the indefatigable lady in Nelson told us it was all OK), so all in all I was rather tired and stressed.  It was with a feeling of great relief that I looked out of the window at sea and mountains and realised that we were about to land at Puerto Montt.  Blissful thoughts of a good cup of tea and a comfortable bed filled my mind as we got on the bus.  We were about to get off at the Terminal de Buses when a small, moustachioed man in an army uniform turned us back.  There had been another 'quake and the town was on tsunami alert.  So we had to sit and wait for a few hours until we could persuade a taxi to go round the back way and get us to the Club Nautico.  At last we could get back on board and we trundled my bag down to the jetty, where we could see Iron Bark waiting, only to find that the connecting finger had broken away and that there was no way across.  Just before I burst into tears, someone that Trevor knew came along with his children to dinghy across to the island where they lived.  He offered us a ride and we hopped in and finally got back on board.  Trevor poured me a stiff drink and then went to check that all was well with our lines.  That done he poured himself a drink and we sat down and relaxed.  Whew!

We spent the next 2 or 3 days going back and forth to Puerto Montt, which is a typical, scruffy South American town.  There is a small street market which sells a limited variety of fresh food, but what is available is cheap and very good.  I don't know what they do - or more probably don't do - to their food but they can pick it ripe and it keeps.  Avocados with blackened skins and flat patches where they had lain against the side of the basket, were still perfect 2 weeks later.  Their only drawback, if it could be called one, was that they had tiny stones, so didn't take much of a dressing! But there are plenty of other ways of eating them.  Nectarines as big as tennis balls, full-flavoured and juicy kept for over a week and the ripe plums kept for three.  Tomatoes were a bit trickier, but responded well to bleach-washing and then would last ten days or so.  Lovely old-fashioned carrots, not sweet but actually tasting of carrot kept for a month or more.  And of course there were potatoes.  Chiloe, the big island opposite Puerto Montt is the place whence Walter Raleigh brought potatoes back to England. They were, needless to say, excellent and better still to our strange white-man's taste, the small ones were considered inferior and so a lot cheaper!

Half way between the yacht club and Pto Montt is Angélmo where smaller vessels offload the produce from Chiloe.  Not very long ago, many of these would have been lanches de vela, gaff cutters of around 30 ft or so.  They were generally painted black and frequently picked out in yellow; their dinghies were invariably yellow, so Iron Bark and Lisa fitted right in.  There are none left working, but in 

the past few years there has been a revival of interest in the boats and several have been built as yachts.  This perhaps gives the wrong impression, because they rarely have accommodation and most are used solely as daysailers. Trevor told me that when he first arrived, there was a regatta taking place for these boats and that the people sailing them were almost delirious with excitement when they saw what appeared to be a foreign lanche de vela sailing up the sound!

There were a lot of small stalls selling to the tourists who were also offloaded here from the visiting cruise ships.  No doubt the stalls did a great trade on those days, because it has to be said that Angélmo didn't have a lot else to offer!  Trevor had already bought himself a lovely, chunky fisherman's sweater and he bought me a soft, pretty alpaca one with leaves and llamas knitted into it.  In fact I liked it so much, that I went back and bought another one: more practical this time as the first one had a lot of white on it that I reckoned would soon get spotted from eating and cooking! 

We met a great couple, Peter and Ginger on Marcy - friends of friends - and caught up with our old friend Andy O'Grady on Balaena.  He is also a member of the RCC and has done a lot of work on their cruising guide to Chile.

The major drawback with cruising Chile is the bureaucracy and it is a challenge.  If you don't worry about things too much and can speak a bit of Spanish you can keep the hassle factor within bounds, but it can be a nuisance.  The human element are allowed 90 days by the Immigration and then you either pay US$100 or go over the border and come back for another 90 day visa.  The boat is given 12 months by the Customs, BUT this has to be 'renewed' every  3 months.  At a Customs port, which is an increasingly rare commodity as you go further south.  Ideally, you have e-mail on board and you can then work on renewing it by that method and keep up to date with its progress.  Having e-mail on board also makes life easier with the third arm of bureaucracy, the Armada, who like you to write out a detailed itinerary - and stick to it - in addition to calling in every day and confirming that you are where you said you would be.  Of course, you are often out of VHF range or you and the operator are mutually incomprehensible to each other.  If you have e-mail, you just send your lat and long every night and everybody is happy.  The Armada couldn't cope with the fact that not only did we not have e-mail on board, we didn't have SSB radio, either.  Fortunately, they much prefer a lifeboat to a liferaft, so were actually quite impressed at the site of the lovely Lisa sitting upright in chocks on deck, ready to go.  Trevor was not happy when he went to fill in the zarpe because they had started wittering on about having up-to-date flares and other equipment that we don't have.  In the end he just said yes to everything, but was worried that they might actually come on board and check.  You can often get around this by being incredibly stupid and not understanding a word that they say until they get bored with the whole thing, but sadly more and more of the Armada speak English, so this ploy no longer works!  Anyway, in spite of Trevor's forebodings, he managed to get his zarpe and after having had Andy and his new lady round to dinner, we could finally get away and go and see the Chile that I had come for.

We left on a promising day of sunshine and clouds.  A nice N wind filled in and we sailed happily for several hours until it died. Then we motored for a while to get to the planned anchorage before dark.  The wind returned and we sailed again to a pretty group of islands, which contained the little bay of Huelma, which Andy had described as a 'spectacular' anchorage.  As we dragged the anchor when we first set it, I can only suppose he was referring to the scenery, which looked rather dull to me. But perhaps if the mainland mountains weren't covered in cloud I would have had a better impression.  We watched a Chilean yacht with about 5 men on board dragging their hook back and forth over the bottom like they were dredging for scallops and concluded that the holding was definitely not all it could be.  We drank our pisco (not sour, but with hot water: a very comforting drink on a cold evening) and ate.

The following morning, our neighbours dragged onto the muddy shore and after one or two more attempts at getting their anchor to hold, gave up in disgust and left.  After breakfast we did the same, and found a much prettier spot with lots of birds to look at. I had bought Trevor a splendid bird book for his birthday, so we had great fun identifying them.  Trevor is not a polyglot, but by the time he's finished in Chile he will have a wonderful if somewhat strange vocabulary, from translating from the text.  We spent the next few days trying to get a good look at the local steamer ducks, which we both reckoned were the flightless variety, but which the book said didn't go so far north.  It's not that easy to tell, from a distance, because the ones that can fly prefer not to!   (Should you be interested, we decided that they were the flightless type.)

Another day of S winds followed, which was a nuisance, because that was where we wanted to go.  However, we pottered across to the village of Muchuque, a nice little place almost devoid of motor cars, but with a handsome launch in build upon the beach.  There was a little museum there, which really should have been in a museum itself, and the proprietor, whose name I forget, showed us around with 

touching pride.  There were some truly fascinating things and it made me realise - yet again - how hard people's lives were before modern technology came along.  And not so long ago, either, in this case.  It's not uncommon to see oxen pulling carts and ploughs in Chile, and horses are still very much in use for day-to-day transport.  Trevor told me of seeing young men in their Sunday finery, all dressed up like gauchos with highly decorated wooden stirrups and spurs a foot long, but the only Sunday we were 'in town', it was raining and they probably didn't want their best hats and ponchos getting wet.

Muchuque had lots of lovely wooden houses, some of which, known as palafitos, are built out on stilts over the drying harbour: tides are around 4 metres or so.  

There was no comfortable berth for Iron Bark, so we motored back to where we had come from, for the night.

It was pouring with rain when we woke up, but that meant a N wind and so we had breakfast and got underway.  Before too long the weather started to clear up and we had a day of sunshine and showers.  We made reasonable progress and brought to in a nice anchorage off Los Angeles on Isla Quehui (pronounced 'kiwi').  Trevor had been here before and when we went into the 'supermercado' (which, generally speaking, far from being a supermarket really means a small grocery) the lady came out and greeted him like a long-lost relative.  I bought a little shopping bag there, on which she had painstakingly embroidered: Supermercado Los Patos, Isla Quehui.  It's perfect for filling with the salads I buy at Nelson's Saturday market.  The Chileans have the habit of mooring their boats so close to the beach that they dry out most of the time.  I suppose it saves the 

worry of dragging a mooring, but I also suspect it's because many of them can't afford a decent dinghy, and it makes getting back and forth easier in windy weather.  It must rather detract from spontaneous decisions to go out and look for some fish, but as we also noticed, it makes the general maintenance a lot easier.  One chap had his little launch ashore and was using a hatchet to trim new deck planks.  He probably turned it upside down to drive the nails, because he certainly was not over-endowed with tools.  As we walked back a man came toward us driving a couple of vast bullocks a cow and a calf down the road.  He stopped at a junction and turned left, leaving his dog to finish the job of escorting the cattle down to the beach to graze.  In spite of their huge size, they seemed very benign animals.

The next day was one of fine and continuous drizzle, but we went for a stroll anyway.    The island was pretty, with semi-cultivated scenery interspersed with hedgerows.  Fence posts stuck into the ground, were sprouting new shoots and 

branches, so I suppose that is how the hedges start.  There were lots of little birds, including humming birds who seemed particularly to love the wild fuschia 


bushes that abounded.  We met lots of friendly locals, but not only was my Spanish very rusty, they spoke very quickly and with a strong accent, so we had to get by with nodding and smiling, which is not really very satisfactory.

One of our - or more accurately, I suppose, Trevor's - projects was to add to and update the RCC cruising guide on Chile.  Pete and I did quite a bit of pilotage work in Badger days and Trevor got interested in the idea when we first went up the Labrador and started updating some of my earlier stuff.  His technical training and geologist's mind make him a natural for this type of thing and he has completely taken it over.  There was little information about the bay in which we had been anchored, so first thing that morning we chugged all around it while Trevor noted the soundings.  The day was cool and showery with light winds that made for rather a tedious sail.  We were going to an anchorage that Trevor had spoken of very highly (quite rightly) and when the rain became more serious as we entered the river, I was told off to make hot grog while Trevor lowered the sails and motored up the river of Estero Pailao.  We dropped the hook in a wide part of the river, with pretty, semi-farmed scenery on both sides and squadrons of shags - two different species - flying back and forth and gathering in large groups to fish.

The next day, we had occasional warm sunshine and as the wind and tide were both against us, we had a leisurely breakfast and rowed up the river in Lisa.  It was lovely to row four oars again and we could make real progress, to say nothing of enjoying a bit of exercise.  In Nelson, most mornings I cycle to the Botanic gardens, about a km away and the walk up to the 'Centre of New Zealand' (it really is!) a climb of about 500 ft.  It helps keep me fit for tramping and although it's often a bit of an effort to get out of bed and get going, I found I was missing it.

Wednesday morning saw Trevor up early and we drifted with the tide down river in the morning calm.  There were lots of black-necked swans about and the 


inevitable multitudes of shags.  Chile does a particularly handsome red-legged shag, which as well as scarlet legs, also has the same colour on its face and a gorgeous, mottled olive green plumage.  It is by far and away the most handsome shag I have ever seen.  They are also extremely curious (or stupid) and they would detour to circle Iron Bark as we sailed along, going round and round several times, craning their necks to look at us.  In spite of this, I never did manage to get a decent photo of one.

The breeze was fitful and we alternately motored and sailed through islands and channels.  I find that GPS has taken the fun out of pilotage - often when I am trying to work out exactly where we should go next, Trevor will hit the GPS and tell me.  And indeed, knowing that it is there takes away a lot of the satisfaction.  Our destination was the port of Quellón, and as we sailed up the channel between the Chiloe 'mainland' and the offshore islands, we could see 2 large boats in build 


on the beach.  The Chileans still build a lot of wooden boats and obviously enjoy the material.  There were a number of steel vessels about and the occasional fibreglass one, but generally speaking,the wooden ones were much better cared for.  The harbour was full of boats of all sizes, in many cases two or three to the mooring, but although a lively and colourful sight, we felt that we might be better 
off somewhere a bit quieter.  We found a comfortable berth on the far side of the harbour, a quarter of an hour's motor away.

Quellón would be the last town for a while.  I was still hoping to get to Laguna San Rafael, which was for me the major attraction in this part of Chile.  There you can see a glacier coming down to the sea.  These I have seen before, of course, but what is particularly interesting about this one is that it is the nearest to the Equator of any in the world and I was intrigued at the thought: it's the equivalent of seeing one in Northern Spain.

The next day we motored over to town, Trevor fetched fuel and I explored to find the best shops for our needs; the afternoon was spent ferrying supplies down to the dinghy on the beach and out to Iron Bark.  We had,of course, cleared in with 

the Armada, the one advantage of which is that you get to see the  forecast that they usually have pinned up.  This is much easier for us to understand, with our poor Spanish, then the one they read out on the radio.  The forecast was threatening a bit of unpleasant weather for the following night, so we decided to stay put.

It rained all the following day and we stayed on board.  I was busy writing on my computer, but Trevor had read all his books and forgotten to swop any when he had the chance in Puerto Montt, so was frankly bored.  He started talking about mulled wine - it's a good way to use up the cheapest boxed wine that we have experimented with and not really liked and Trevor had already produced his particular version on several occasions - and I suggested he have a look at the recipes in The Joy of Cooking.  He started reading them out to me with increasing surprise and delight.  'This woman's a bloody lush!' he exclaimed as he listed the ingredients of increasingly exotic drinks. Then he got to buttered rum.  'I've heard about this but never tried it,' he said.  'We must see what it's like!'.  So that was the end of any useful work for that day.

I assume it blew overnight, but we were so sheltered that we only felt the very odd gust.  We woke to a gorgeous day and could see the snow-covered mountains at last.  The Andes are incredibly handsome.  Because so many of them are extinct volcanoes their elegant, white cones against the bright blue sky are one of the 


finest sights you could wish to see. We went ashore and finished our shopping.  I bought Trevor another fisherman's jersey - this one had a nice pattern across the front and was a bit better made, with finer stitches and more tightly (hand)woven wool, than his other one, which he'd never had off his back since buying it.  The lady who had made it ran the little shop and seemed delighted by our praise and appreciation of her work.  She gave me a little key ring, with a wine jug on it, as we left. I hid the jersey away for Trevor's birthday and had the great satisfaction, when I gave it to him, of his telling me that he'd forgotten all about it until he actually came to open it!

The tides were such that we set off after lunch and then anchored for 6 hours right at the S end of Chiloe, before leaving for an overnight sail to the island group of Chonos.  Trevor turned in, but knowing I wouldn't sleep, I stayed up, made myself a meal and read until it was time to leave.  The Golfo de Corcovado, named for a magnificent volcano, has a bad reputation and Trevor had been concerned about nasty seas whipped up by the wind over the strong tides, but in fact we had a pleasant sail, although we arrived at the archipelago at around the first of the ebb,which meant a deal of motoring, the light breeze dying completely with the daylight.  Whenever there was enough wind, or the tides permitted it, we sailed and there were lots of pretty islands and birds to look at, with playful fur seals coming by to investigate.  Occasionally, we caught fleeting glimpses of the 

mountains, but most of the time they were hidden in cloud.  Perhaps it's just as well: it would really be criminal to become blasé about such scenery.  We anchored for the night off I Valverde.

In the morning, Trevor rather dashed my hopes of getting to Laguna San Rafael, by telling me that we still had 320 miles to go.  On mature reflection, this seemed unlikely, and indeed when I checked the chart and worked out the route, I discovered that it was about 220 miles.  I've no idea where he'd got his figure from!  Trevor reckoned that to play safe  I should leave from Pto Aysén, which was only about a third of the way back to Pto Montt.  Even so, he remained  very pessimistic about this timetable  until the day we dropped the hook in Pto Chacabuco, the anchorage for Pto Aysén 8 days before I was due to leave.  We got underway and that Monday saw us largely chugging along in a flat calm with low cloud and drizzle - a rather depressing day, really, in no way improved when the engine started playing up.  Eventually, we decided to try changing the fuel filters, which solved the problem, but they were not particularly dirty, so we had a couple of drinks and put it down to One of Life's Mysteries, while I cooked us piping hot chilli and rice.

My diary describes the next day as being one of 'rain, interspersed with showers and the occasional bright interval'. Trevor went off to fetch some firewood for the wonderful little solid fuel stove that he made in Nelson, and I took the opportunity to do a bit of cleaning.  We decided to push on in the afternoon - another day occasionally sailing and then drifting until we got fed up and put the motor on.  Generally what was happening was that the wind was feeding in through the west facing fiords and then blowing up and down the N/S fiords, so we would have a calm period, and then a headwind and then a romping beam reach, followed by a run in a gradually dying breeze.  In the gaps, the breeze was too much to carry full sail and in the calms, the sails flapped annoyingly, so in the end we doused the topsail and staysail and proceeded under main alone in the calms, and main and jib when we could sail.  Like most fiord sailing, it tried one's patience. However, the sun came out the next day and although there were still showers about, we could see the scenery again, for which I was more than a little pleased.  It seemed a shame to come so far and not to see it!  We had some really fine sailing and passed the only other yacht that we saw after Pto Montt: obviously a charter vessel.  Looking up into the blue sky, we thought that we saw a condor.  There are lots of vultures around this part of Chile (well, most of S America, actually), but we both felt that this looked a different shape, with longer wings.  I'm sure that Trevor will see many more before he leaves Chile, but I was thrilled to think that I might have seen one of these magnificent birds.

For the night, we found a pretty little anchorage on I Melchor, up a narrow cut whose entrance was guarded by one of the many fish farms in the area.  But when we brought to in the snug little anchorage, the farm was out of sight, to my relief.  

We planned to explore ashore the following day, but when Trevor went for a wood recce he came back to tell me that the bush was even thicker than it looked.  I can't say that I'm fond of bush bashing, so we went for a brisk row in Lisa instead.  Our anchorage was generally perfectly sheltered, but we were hit by the odd gust, and when we rowed round the corner where there was quite a long, open sound, we realised that it was blowing harder than we thought.  But we'd already decided to stay put for the day.  After our row, Trevor went off on another wooding expedition and I baked a fruit cake.

Later in the day we saw a man rowing a heavy boat towards us.  We invited him aboard and Carlos told us that he lived in a house that we had seen when we went for our row.  He worked at the fish farm.  We chatted for a while and he asked if we had any reading glasses we could spare.  Trevor had stocked up with plenty from the $2 stores, but they weren't strong enough for Carlos.  Then Trevor remembered that he had some extra strong ones that he uses for really fiddly work, so he gave a pair to Carlos.  We also sent him off with a box of wine when he told us that the following day was his birthday.

We got up at first light and set off south and once again, we motored whenever the wind died.  In fact, as so often happens after a day of gales, we had a day of calms and motored most of the way to an interesting little anchorage on Isla Fitzroy.  (So many of the names recall British men and ships.)  As we approached the wind managed to find its way to us, but was unfortunately out of the S.  The anchorage had about a 3 mile fetch from that direction, but there was every indication that it would die down that evening, as indeed it did.  We rowed up to the end of the cove, which forked in two and one arm led quite some way into a pleasingly jungly setting.  Rain forest is rain forest: - tropical or temperate - with lots of mosses and tangly vines and fallen trees rotting slowly away.  Unfortunately, it is pretty impenetrable, too, so we didn't get much time ashore.

The next day brought us within coo-ee of Laguna San Rafael.  We motored in a flat calm, but were lucky with our tides which helped us handsomely overall.  The streams are not easy to predict in the maze of inlets and channels; in theory the flood sets east or north, but often the local topography makes it easier for the tide to run in the opposite direction from what one would expect, so in the end we gave up trying and just took it as it came.  The whole area is very recently (and, of course, still actively) glaciated and unlike so much of the fiord country that I've sailed in, many of the drowned valleys are quite shallow - obviously hanging valleys in a recent existence.  Our chosen anchorage was beyond a drowned terminal moraine, that had a narrow channel through which the tides rushed at speed.  Going against the tide was not an option in a boat of Iron Bark's size, but there was fairly good tidal information for this spot, and got there about an hour before slack water.  We had quite a struggle against the last of the ebb for a while and a back eddy threatened to sweep us past the narrow entrance into the anchorage, but we made it without mishap and anchored just as the sun was setting, having covered far more ground than I had anticipated when we left that morning.

Quesahuén was a delightful spot.  There were several buildings ashore, but only one was occupied, apparently by a solitary man with his dog.  There was an old

 sawmill and so a lot of the area had been cleared, but was starting to grow back.  There were still a number of old trees and I watched a family of woodpeckers busying themselves on one of them.  The anchorage was a sort of lagoon behind a number of little skerries, with a view across the fiord to the beautiful mountains.  It was a lovely spot, and made even better by a midnight visitor.

The sound of rapid footfalls on deck woke me, and when I got up I saw a small, dark mustelid (which we later identified as a mink - an escapee, or one of its descendants, from a fur farm).  He had obviously climbed up the anchor chain and was not particularly afraid of me, although he decided to hop back over the side when I got too close for comfort.  I went back to bed and about half an hour later we heard him again.  This time Trevor got up armed with his camera.  Just in time, as our visitor was about to come down the hatch!  Again he was curiously


unafraid, and not a bit aggressive when cornered.  He hid under the dinghy and played hide and seek with Trevor for a while, before finally walking back down the anchor chain and swimming away.  But not before he'd put his cheeky little head over the forehatch coaming to say hello to me, still lying in bed laughing at his antics.  We named him Don Descaro - Master Impudence!

We woke to a perfect day, with the mountains shrouded in mist, coloured pink by the rising sun.  As we set off towards the glacier, the mist gradually burned off,

revealing a magnificent landscape, doubled by the reflections in the perfectly calm water.  We had the tide with us at first and this helped us the first dozen miles to another gap again, I assume through a drowned moraine.  The mist slowly burnt off, revealing snow-covered mountains rising from the water.  


To one side was a large area of shallows, but along the edge of a large island there was a deep water channel and we followed this until we came to what looked for all the world like an artificial canal.  This led to the Laguna.  A back eddy ran with us for a while, but eventually the tide turned against us and as we came to the end of the canal, it was swirling and eddying dramatically and carrying bits of ice  from the glacier with it.  A largish piece swept across our path and crashed into a shoal, exploding dramatically into three large and many smaller fragments.  A bright blue hemisphere had us puzzled for some time - it was too symmetrical and too bright to be anything other than man-made, but in fact it proved to be a piece of ice, jewel-like in its depth of colour and iridescence. 

The photo I took does not do it justice.  The final clouds lifted like a stage curtain and as we struggled out of the cut, we could see the glacier coming down to the water.  It was a beautiful and impressive site and made me so pleased to have put in the effort to get there.  If needs be, I would have turned back then and felt I had been lucky, but in fact it was still quite early in the day, so we continued motoring through increasing amounts of ice towards the glacier.  


I have seen a number of glaciers coming down to the sea, but they have nearly always been surrounded by snow and ice.  This one had trees growing down almost to its edge, which gave it a rather surreal appearance, to my eyes.  A small

ship was at anchor near the glacier: a cargo vessel that plies the channels from Pto Montt to Pto Williams and takes passengers as well.  They were embarking into the ship's boats as we approached, to go and take a look at the glacier.  I suspect that they must have rather envied us, going in our own boat and able to linger as long as we wished. 

While Iron Bark was hauled out in Nelson, Trevor built an extension to the bow in order to raise the bobstay fitting above the waterline.  In the past, hitting a solid lump of ice with the bobstay has tended to have a rather alarming knock-on effect: the sudden weight against the bobstay would cause it to pull down the bowsprit, which in turn bent the mainmast forward and the whole lot would shake as the tension went off the bobstay.  Now our 'icebreaker bow' took the shock and the bowsprit and mast were unaffected.  Of course we had to try it out and check that all went as planned!

While you couldn't really describe the  glacier as 'calving', bits were dropping off at regular intervals with a roaring and splashing that seemed a bit over dramatic, 

but was eminently satisfying.  We stayed there for about an hour, admiring and 

photographing and really hoping that a great big bit would fall off to give us something to boast about.  Eventually, however, we decided that we had better 



get back to our pretty anchorage, which would enable us to take the first of the tide back up the Canal de Elefantes (named for the long-vanished elephant seals that probably abounded there before the hunters got to them) in the morning.  The sun continued to shine, the day remained calm and the tides were sufficiently accommodating that we had no problems saving our daylight.  It had been a day in a thousand.

The next few days saw us making our way to Pto Chacabuco.  We had another visit from Don Descarpo one night.  He was a big fellow this time, and even bolder, but again, was very gentle.  We had a big slab of cheese that we had bought in Chiloe and suspected that he could smell it.  Handsome though he was, we really didn't feel that he should move in, but he had other ideas.  No amount of hand clapping or shooing had any effect and he perched on the bar round the self-steering gear watching us with great self-possession.  Finally, Trevor levered him off and into the water.  Even then he failed to hiss, snarl or respond with any sign of nastiness.  But he didn't return after such ignominious treatment.  We visited several other attractive anchorages, including one that had a large cataract pouring into it.  The only other excitement was one day when we came to

turn the corner that would take us down to Pto Chacabuco. It was another calm, sunny day, but as we made our way towards the turning point,  we admired a gorgeous snow-capped peak.  But as we got closer, we could see that the wind 

was howling along Seno Aysén.  There was no way we could make against it to fetch the last mile to a nearby anchorage, so we backtracked several miles to another anchorage.  It gave Trevor the opportunity to saw some more fire wood. 

Seno Aysén is notorious for its completely local and very strong winds and I could see that Trevor was starting to fret again about our getting to Pto Chacabuco, in spite of the fact that we still had plenty of time before I had to leave.   Fortunately, the next day we managed to battle through the slightly reduced wind (this time with a fair tide) and after a couple of miles had left it behind us, still blowing like mad in that one small area.  No wonder old-time sailormen were so superstitious!

Just to tease us, we ran aground on a falling tide at the entrance to Pto Chacabuco, but it was nearly low water and we were off again in about an hour.  It allowed us to drink a beer and admire the scenery before going and anchoring for the last time, at least as far as I was concerned.

Pto Chacabuco is a small village whose only reason for existence to to service the port.  This used to be at Pto Aysén, but massive deforestation caused equally 

massive silting and the port is now only accessible to small craft at high water.  I doubt it was much of a place in its heyday and now I would have to say that it's a bit of a dump.  However, there was a brand spanking new supermarket, where we could start re-provisioning Iron Bark for the next few months.  Trevor's plans were to continue in Chile (bureaucracy permitting) until about October, then sail to the Falkland Is.  After that he will probably sail up to Canada.  As he is unlikely to find anywhere better or cheaper until he arrives in Canada, we did a fair amount of research into the price and quality of anything he wanted, that has a long shelf life.

I had hoped to get a bus from Pto Aysén to Pto Montt and see some more of the wonderful scenery, but not only was the bus going to be travelling largely at night, it was going to deposit me in Pto Montt at ten past one in the morning. As the town is not that salubrious, I felt the idea was starting to lack merit and when I discovered that I could take a bus to an airport and fly back  and catch a connecting flight for NZ$120, all on one day, I decided to go for that option.

We managed to keep ourselves amused in Chacabuco  and Pto Aysén - just -  while Trevor struggled with bureaucracy and trying to replace the credit card that had expired and caused so many problems earlier in the story.  We took a day trip for the 'resort' of Coihaique: we exhausted its possibilities in about 3 hours, including taking a long time to drink a really good cup of coffee (a rare commodity in Chile) and having a  picnic lunch.  But I'm sure it would be a wonderful place to be based, with loads of opportunities for tramping, climbing, kayaking and so forth.

Pto Chacabuco, being in Seno Aysén, is also subject to the very strong winds.  All the time we were there it remained relatively calm until the last night.  The holding is extremely good and we had plenty of ground tackle down, so we weren't really worried, but it takes a stronger constitution than mine to sleep in gale force winds.  The wind was gusty, rather than constant, and I wasn't really too worried about getting ashore, but Trevor was concerned that things would get worse, so we ate breakfast and I packed my bags.  Trevor launched the dinghy and we rowed ashore to wait in wind and rain for the mini-bus that was to take me to the airport.  We found a partial lee next to a seriously unprepossessing night club and were speculating on the state of mind of the poor sailors who reckoned that this was the best they could do in the way of entertainment), when the caretaker came out. We tried to explain what we were doing there and a few minutes later he came back out and invited us into his kitchen, where with charity worthy of the Good Samaritan himself, he gave us hot Nescafé and a toasted bun.  It was a gesture that sums up why it is that everyone who goes there has a very soft spot for Chile.  The towns may be scruffy; the bureaucracy stifling, but the people appear to be invariably kind.  I don't think I ever saw people shouting at each other or hitting their children.  The stray dogs generally seem to have enough to eat and lie in the middle of the footpath in the secure knowledge that people may step over or round them, but will never kick them out of the way. Horses are groomed and I never saw any with galls or sores; the huge oxen are gentle and unafraid.  And most of the Chileans we saw had little extra in their lives, but did not seem to resent a couple of apparently wealthy gringos in their society.  One of the more heart-warming aspects of cruising there is the way in which every vessel on the water went out of its way to salute us.  Even the big cargo steamer would sound its siren in greeting.  I was glad to be going back to New Zealand, but part of me would have liked to stay longer.

Eventually the bus arrived.  I felt dreadful saying good-bye to Trevor, who would undoubtedly find Iron Bark cold and empty when he went back.  It would have been much better had it been a bright, sunny day.

The young guy driving the minibus spoke a bit of English and could understand more.  I could speak a bit of Spanish and understand more, so we managed a reasonable conversation.  He was born and brought up in Ushuaia, but both he and his brother, who works at Aysén hospital, moved to Chile about 5 years ago.  He told me that they both much preferred it to Argentina - it's more peaceful, more beautiful and that they can earn more money.  That last bit was a surprise to me, because I hadn't got the impression that Chileans are particularly well paid.  Things must indeed be dire in Argentina.  I also got the impression that he didn't feel too confident about Argentina's democracy, but we didn't really have enough common language to discuss this properly.  We drove all round the back streets of Aysén, picking up more people before heading off towards the airport. 

It was great being in the front on the way to Coihaique - I could see a lot more than when we went on the bus.  There was a large shrine to San Sebastian - I had seen the sign as we went past, but this time I saw the shrine itself.  It was like a grotto and there were lots of candles burning in it.  Considering that it was quite a long way from town and still raining, it tells you something about the locals' piety that they had made the effort to go there and light candles.  The driver crossed himself as we went by.

The rain cleared away as we started to climb the mountains and it was sunny and dry by the time we arrived in Coihaique.  The bus took a bypass, in fact.  The country changed dramatically on the other side of the town.  After the steep, gullied mountains, it opened out into rolling countryside that reminded me of Yorkshire on a grand scale.  The farming seemed to be done a bit more intensively and, one might say, seriously than nearer to the coast.  Arable farming must be a bit of a challenge in the terrain.  It's not seriously steep, but there are lots of slopes and valleys: level fields of more than about 3 or 4 hectares are a pretty rare sight.  Fine for small scale tractor and trailer stuff, but not somewhere you could use a combine harvester.  There were a lot more biggish houses about and most of the buildings were far better maintained than down by the coast.  Large or small, they had fresh paint and white, rather than grey, net curtains.  I got the impression that inland is the where the prosperity is rather than along the coast.

It was a long and interesting drive to the airport at Balmaceda.  The land was extensively cleared and the views much more open than anything I had seen before.  The far horizons were still dominated by gloriously-shaped, snow-covered peaks and the whole area was very appealing.  I think I even saw a condor soaring over a hayfield near the road - it really did look too big for a vulture and its wings were proportionally longer.  It would be nice to think that's what it was, anyway.

I was fretting a bit about getting to the airport on time, because we seemed to be running a bit late, but consoled myself with the fact that everyone else on the bus was going for the same flight.  I was also looking forward to getting a glimpse of Balmaceda, which I reckoned must be quite a sizeable place to have acquired an airport of such importance.  I was therefore the more surprised when we arrived,  to find it consisted of nothing more than a collection of houses, a couple of small shops and an airstrip.  No-one seemed to find this a bit odd, but I thought it was more than a little strange to build an airfield in the middle of nowhere, 55 kilometres from the nearest town.  I know that there wasn't a lot of level ground around, but in fact there was an area of plateau land not far from Coihaique.

I paid my fare - in fact $7000 rather than the $8000 we had been quoted.  About 17 Kiwis for 134 km.  Pretty reasonable by any standards for door-to-door service. No-one spoke any English at the airport, of course, but I gathered that there was a certain amount of concern about my flights.  My connection at Pto Montt was with the same carrier, but on a different plane and there was only 20 minutes between flights.  The staff were very careful and helpful and emphasised that I would have to move 'muy rapido' to ensure my connection.  They sent my baggage priority.  I had a window seat, but there was quite a lot of cloud around, so I didn't see quite as much as I'd hoped, although I had fantastic views of the islands we had visited around Chiloe.  At Pto Montt I duly rushed to get my baggage, but couldn't see it.  I heard my name being paged, so dashed to the check-in counter to explain that I couldn't find my bag.  Then I realised that they had in fact been super-efficient, checking my bag through to the next flight for me.  I was most impressed, my heartbeat slowed down to normal and I felt that there was now even a possibility that both I and my bags might get back to NZ!  I got a few grey hairs however while waiting by that carousel.

A good flight to Santiago, but largely in the dark.  The airport was pretty much back to normal, with few signs of the earthquake damage.  I had a comfortable amount of time before my flight to Auckland.  All 12+ hours of that was in the dark, which was a bit grim.  For some reason, I appeared to have really bad eye strain, so I couldn't read.  I watched a movie (Sherlock Holmes - an intriguing approach that would work a lot better on the big screen) and tried - unsuccessfully - to sleep.  Somewhere along the way they stole Saturday from me: we left Santiago at 2300 on Friday and arrived in Auckland at 0400 on Sunday.  Early, alas, because my flight back to Nelson was scheduled for 1120.

Clearing in was blissfully easy and my luggage had arrived with me.  Everything was smoothly organised and there were no queues to speak of.  My passport has a chip, which means that I could go and clear myself in at one of the many machines provided for the job.  There was also a plethora of scales in the departure lounge, so that you could weigh your baggage before checking it in.  For the sake of interest, I weighed my big bag, which had seemed to weigh a ton each time I handled it - 20.5 k.  But a very awkward shape.  My carry on bag was 7k.  I felt I had done pretty well at travelling light, all things considered, because I had summer clothes for NZ, posh clothes for NY and cold-weather sailing clothes for Chile!

I got myself a cup of coffee and sat down to wait for the ticket offices to open in the faint hope that I might be able to get an earlier flight to Nelson.  Amazingly I could, so I checked in my big bag and backpack, which I knew would be handled with more care than I would guarantee with the big planes, and celebrated with a croissant and a pot of particularly pleasant Earl Grey tea.

We left into clear sky and I had the most glorious flight back home, with bright sunshine over the whole country.  I could see all the way down the Cook Strait to Wellington on N Island and the Marlborough Sounds on S Island.  Even the Strait was flat calm and the ships' wakes were clearly visible at some distance behind them - not a common state of affairs.  Then down Tasman Bay and at last we landed at Nelson, 30 hours after my leaving Chacabuco.

Half an hour later I was back on board my little boat, which seemed none the worse for my absence.