22 March 2015

Punte del Este

Buenos Aires with the chocolate milk water of the river
The passage to Punte del Este took 36 hr instead of the expected 30.  The direction of the wind did not cooperate as forecasted and the vast majority of our trip was upwind except for a couple of downwind hours at a measly 5 knots or so - barely moving. 
Wing-on-wing downwind
We polished and cleaned, read, and I even did pilates.  Once again we tested our stamina and the boat by bashing against the waves and all held up admirably.

As per usual on the Rio de la Plata, we had to dodge ships - floating and sunken.  Each of the “obstacles” on the chart seemed to magnetically draw us to them.  On my watch, of course, we headed straight toward the famous World War II wreck, “Graf Spree” just before the shipping lanes in the dead of night.  I diligently changed the course of the autopilot to avoid by going upwind and thought I was adjusting the sails accordingly but Milly did not cooperate and kept inching back toward that magnetic pull and frustrating the heck out of me.  In final desperation, I woke up a snoring Peter to come to my aid.  Poor guy, he was rocketed out of his sleepiness to quickly adjust sails to more effectively pinch upwind.  Black as pitch and no time for photo.

On another occasion, again on my watch, another wreck and obstacle in our way, I had pinched as much as I could, I thought, and felt that I had effectively managed the obstacle.  As every sailor should, I wanted a back up plan…turn on engines to change course.  To do so meant I needed light on the engine panel and, thinking I was brilliant, I flicked the instrument switch on our dash board only to have every instrument including chart and radar go off.  SHIT!  I had created a crisis.  Another wake up for Peter.  Some quick orientation to the panel and instruments which he had always turned on and managed.  No more!  This first mate will now never forget how to manage the dashboard and instruments.  Lesson learned - know how to do every iota of the boat myself!  Peter needs to sleep.

On a proud note, I did decide and manage to tidily and properly furl the genoa on my own, turn on the engines and begin to take down the mainsail before Peter made his way to the cockpit without being called in a panic when the contrary wind sent us on a course in the opposite direction to our destination.

I don’t know what adventures Peter had on his watch.  I was trying to sleep.

First view!
We can only imagine what it’s like after crossing an ocean but even after 36 hours, sighting of destination is exciting! Beautiful hills and green sea met us in the a.m.  We arrived in Punte Del Este with strong winds to negotiate tying up to a mooring ball.  Peter backed at full power to the ball and I grabbed it with our Robship hook.  It worked on the second attempt.  A full workout - Peter in concentration and I in upper body conditioning.  
Raising the Uruguayan courtesy flag
In such a strong wind we did not want to head to shore to check in and so had a few beer and peaceful dinner to celebrate our safe arrival at our first port of call, Punte del Este. among the sea lions and jellyfish in our backyard.
Sea lions are aptly named - full mane and foul oral hygiene
Juxtaposed grand yacht with bathtub fishing boat
Next day, on check in we were told to move the boat to the very outskirts, sea side of the mooring balls.  Again another workout to catch a mooring ball in a growing wind which during the night roared and brought in enormous, rolling and, even in our stable catamaran, a little uncomfortable swells.
Fishing boats shared our harbour with grand sailing vessels and motor yachts.
Punte del Este is billed as the best beach resort in South America.  It is a small and more charming Miami Beach.  Set on a peninsula bout 6 blocks wide, it has the calmer waters of the river on one side and the gorgeous surf of the Atlantic on the other.  Miles and miles of beaches are on both shores.
Selling sweaters on the beach. It must be getting cold.

The town itself is full of restaurants and condos with a small and relatively exclusive residential area at the tip.
  Apparently in January and February, it is packed with partiers.  March is the tail end of the season. We saw the last of two very large yachts leave for Europe when we were there. 
Fidelis, 56 m long
The beaches were not crowded and the pleasure craft of the usual beach resorts were few.  Over the five days we stayed, the temperature dropped and the winds from the south were chilly.  Time to head north to our next port and last in Uruguay, La Paloma.
Where in the world is Milly?

Farewell, Argentina!

Our week in San Fernando was spent in the hustle and bustle of the final commissioning of Milly which Memo orchestrated beautifully. Each day a brigade of factory workers would arrive to work on the list of things that needed attention, Peter and I would leave to top up our provisioning, and at the end of each day we would check the tasks accomplished off our “Memo list”.  The list was cleared in four days and Peter and I began to make plans for our final leave taking.
Peter up the mast lubricating the mast track

Monday was spent immersed in the bureaucracy of “checking out”.  We take for granted how simple it is to arrive in and leave a country through an airport - one staff, perhaps a little taciturn, to stamp and ask questions.  Not when arriving in or departing from a country in a sailboat.

We had checked in the week before - the tour of offices to check out happens in reverse.  Each time we went through the half day process, Santiago lead the charge and we followed along, once again grateful for his expertise, diplomacy and guidance.

Checking out in Argentina requires a visit to the yacht club office for a stamp to say that we are in good stead.  Then to immigration in Tigre, another town about 10 km distant, to check Peter and I out. Then to customs an office right next store to customs separated by a glass partition but never the two do mix, not even to pass papers.  Instead, the papers in immigration were returned to Santiago who took them to the next window, on the other side of the booth to the ladies in customs.  They took same papers and stamped away.  Then off to the prefectura or coast guard in San Fernando for a final stamp which on all previous Antares visits had been rubber.  Up to now the process had been efficient and at all points with friendly, smiling staff.  

The prefectura had a new first officer on duty.  He told Santiago, without a smile and with no room for negotiation, that Milly needed to be inspected.  We would have to take her to their inspection office up river.  With some frustration and disbelief that this new rule was in place, off we went.  Memo joined us and we motored up to a delapidated, floating “dock” with only one point to tie to, a fleet of sorry looking prefectura boats, some with very large steel bumpers and one other sailboat also waiting for inspection.  No one expected or assisted us and staff seemed a bit perplexed that we had arrived. Santiago leapt ashore and waited for the new officer to arrive from the first building we had gone to less than a five minute drive away.  We waited 40 minutes.  A stressed out junior officer eventually came on board to inspect for his new boss.  He walked the foredeck, stepped inside the saloon and, with sweat on his forehead, stamped our papers.  Santiago then jumped ashore to gather the said papers.  Meanwhile the floating dock floated away.  The piling that we were tied to was no longer accessible to Santiago who had to leap from another higher dock to Milly as she motored by.  Luckily, his leap was sound and he did not fall into the brown waters of the delta.
The prefecture inspection office with Milly tied to the piling and dock that escaped.

A visit back to the yacht club office to give in a couple of the stamped papers and a final visit back to customs in Tigre to give in two papers stamped by the prefectura saw the end of a very full day.  Peter and I then ventured forth to fill Milly with diesel for the first time - another adventure.
Good-bye, intimidating cement dock

We untied the lines at 7:00 a.m. the following morning in a beautiful dawn light.  We said good-bye to our cement dock and ominous steel block and motored out of the club.  Although we had had a good stay at the Yacht Club Argentino, we were ready to leave and set off for the first stage of our grand journey north.  However, we now understand the sadder part of cruising - saying good-bye, perhaps forever, to friends made along the way - this time Memo and his family and Santiago. 
Farewell, Argentina!

We are very grateful to Memo and Santiago for their patient diligence and guidance in so many facets of our stay in San Fernando.  And we have continued to be impressed by the skill and knowledge of those who work at the factory.  We always knew that Milly was in the best of hands.

12 March 2015

Two Week Uruguayan Adventure

Much of our day in Colonia was spent finding good views of Milly
We spent a week in Colonia, a sweet, historic town with a very comfortable harbour. Our days were full - playing tourist, looking for hardware stores and chandleries, connecting online at the gelateria (not a hardship). 
The old town is full of beautifully kept stone buildings, cobble stone streets and lush vegetation.

The drivers of the aquarium jalopy 
The best table on the street
Cobbles were originally used as ballast on Portuguese ships
We were slightly frustrated when we found that stores were not open when they were supposed to be.  After one week we realized that the cause of our frustration was our own ignorance of a time change between Argentina and Uruguay - demonstrates our isolation but also our growing adherence to the sun as our clock.

Another view
Daily life chores cooking, cleaning, repairing seem to take longer on a boat.  And until we get out to salt water with a working watermaker, water conservation was always part of the thought process as well as power consumption.  We filled up our three water containers daily at the dock tap and used it for flushing our fresh water toilets, rinsing dishes etc. 
Yogurt made in a thermos!
In order to recharge our house batteries we attempted to use our generator.  It shut down with a message saying that water coolant was not reaching the engine.  We tried three times as we had been told and three times the generator shut off.  Next step, change the impeller.  Tools were gathered and with manual in hand, reading glasses on - mine, Peter dismantled the generator to reach the target and found an eaten impeller, switched it for a new one and put the machine back together again. Magically, it worked! Very gratifying.
Massacred impeller - it's the black thing in the middle with 5 broken paddle wheels.  One escaped into the heat exchanger.

We went for a circular daysail and learned from our successes and booboos.

After a week, we headed off to Riachuelo, a small river about 14 NM away.  Staying there required our first anchoring experience on Milly.  And it was not a routine one.  We had to find a deep enough spot, close enough to shore that stern lines could be tied.  The technique was to drop anchor across the river from the spot chosen and back up while releasing the anchor at just the right speed.  This was with the wind crossing our beam and hence sending us upriver (Milly has such high freeboard that her hull acts as a sail).  On first attempt, the climax was reached when we got too close to shore, the anchor could not be raised because the bridle was twisted around the rhode, it started to pour and two cows came down the bank to cavort - really, cows can cavort - just where we needed to go ashore.  After a bit of fussing and running about - no time for a photo! - we raised the anchor to try again, this time very successfully, apart from our port stern periodically being in the bushes overhanging the bank.
Our final location in Riachuelo.  Just right.
 Next morning, we found our rudder in the mud and so reanchored, this time expertly!  It got us through two crosswind lightning storms - we stowed our electronics in the oven for safekeeping and avoided metal on the boat.  It actually felt very cozy and safe eating dinner in our saloon.
Sunset up the river

Sunset down the river
A kayak paddle up the river brought us to a little set of rapids.

True isolation on the river.  No one in sight

Our unnamed inflatable kayak took us to the Rio de la Plata beach

A walk on the 2.5 km beach on a rainy day.  We were the only ones there.
After three peaceful days in Riachuelo, we sailed upwind to Puerto Sauce.  We knew that this was a pulp and paper mill town but didn’t realize that the pleasant enough sailing harbour was right beside the enormous factory.  With a bit of drama trying to successfully tie up to a mooring ball, we checked out the town - nothing, really nothing there.  One closet-sized kiosko with door open but no lights on and a bike parked in the only floor space.  Thank goodness for my over-the-top provisioning.  

We had thought that the incessant rumble from the factory might diminish at night.  But no, just two air raid sounding sirens at 10 p.m. - change of shift? - and then an additional louder growl that sounded like a snow plough going up and down the harbour bank.  Sleep was not happening so we untied the lines at  3:30 a.m. having our first night sail on our own, upwind, with motor.  It was lovely and relatively quiet even with Milly’s engines rumbling.

This says it all
We arrived at Yacht Club Uruguay in Montevideo early afternoon, tied up to a mooring ball. and explored the club and the neighbourhood around a tiny bit before relaxing.  The club was lovely and luxuriant.  People were incredibly helpful and friendly, voluntarily coming to our Spanish-feeble aid without us even asking for help.  We were told that Uruguayans pride themselves on being friendly and from our short experience there, we would agree that they have reason to be.
Our view in the CYU harbour

Harbour was also used by fishing boats

And by several fleets of dinghies.  The Opti's reminded us of Em and Tom's early sailing days in Squirt.
Our impressions of Montevideo after three nights were very positive.  It had a beautifully developed long and accessible waterfront with clean and wide beaches, cafes, an amphitheatre etc.  On our bike along the Rambla, a wide path that traces the riverside, we saw fitness stations, runners, walkers, roller bladers, swimmers and waders, fisherfolk, cricket, soccer (lots) and tennis players, hand ball competitors, dinghy races, kayakers, beach volleyball courts, cafes, heladerias (ice cream shops) and sun worshipers galore.
Biking on the Rambla.  Long beaches interspersed with rock and greenery for miles and miles.
  The mood, compared to it's big cousin, Buenos Aires, seemed to us hopeful and prosperous.   The city itself is small at 1.3 million compared to the 3 million of B.A. and the hustle and bustle is much muted.  The historic centre is tiny and quiet compared to the immensity of B.A.'s historic neighbourhoods.  However, lots of cranes in the skyline and clean streets, tidy sidewalks with people having time and inclination for r & r gave a happier impression. We had a great three night stay and would have liked to see more but felt the need to get back for Milly’s final fixes and the start of our journey to blue water and north.
Possession of pot - even as soap - has been legal in Uruguay since 2000

Mercado del Puerto is a lovely old building filled with eateries, grilling huge amounts of meats.  

The Mercado with art deco customs building

Ugly but intriguing.  

We left the harbour at 4:00 p.m. for our first overnight sail alone.  We crossed the Montevideo shipping lanes in daylight, making a quick gybe as evasive action when one ship suddenly sped up in our direction.  The sun set on our course to B.A. and night fell.  I took first watch with an enormous orange moon.  It was a peaceful downwind sail with only shipwrecks to avoid.  Rio de la Plata is littered with shipwrecks.  According to Memo, ships in Uruguay were loaded with rocks and gravel to carry across to B.A. when the city, in it’s prime, was being built.  The desire to carry a maximum load outweighed commonsense  - the freeboard or hull above water was so low that if a wind came up with wave action, the ship would take on water and sink.  Go figure!

Peter’s watch saw a change in wind direction and increase in wind speed.  He loved it.  Apart from the roaring wind and waves hitting us on the beam, I could also hear the exhilaration in his voice when he reported that we were going 11 knots.  He was wide awake - reefing the sails, adjusting, playing - and stayed on watch for an extra hour.

During my second watch at sunrise, I learned the value of radar.  Nothing on the chart, no marks or lights on some contraption that looked like the top 20 meters of two cranes sticking out of the water, was only visible on radar.  It would have done us serious damage if hit.  We are happy to have our two screens - one for the chart and one for radar.  I also had to avoid a dredger that was doing circles - up the shipping lane, expected; U-turn to dump the sludge right where we were, unexpected and not pretty; and then back to the shipping lane heading right for us.  I turned on the motors and crossed the lane pronto.

We arrived safe and sound in San Fernando.  We docked the boat in our old spot with aplomb and were greeted by Memo and Santiago.  There is a list of stuff to attend to on Milly, mostly minor, and then we will be off. We have already learned a lot and will continue to do so as we head north. Can’t wait!