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.

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