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Stopover 01/8

Once upon a fabulous Patagonian adventure

8 July 2021

While the adventure in Tierra del Fuego ended just a few weeks ago, let’s take a look back on the highlights of this epic journey. Joining the Maewan sailboat and its crew: from special encounters, sharing, transmitting, discovering to powerful emotions.

Return to Chilean soil 

After a one-year break from the round-the-world trip, the Maewan team is finally ready to take to the seas again on their faithful sailing boat. Eager to return to the adventure, Marion and Erwan set off on February 6, 2021, heading for Punta Arenas. After a long flight, they finally arrived in Chilean territory, in Patagonia. Unfortunately, health restrictions prevented them from taking the road to Puerto Williams to join the boat. Stuck in the Patagonian city for ten days, the two sailors from Les Carroz took advantage of the situation to stock up on supplies for the next few months. Staying true to their ideals and values, 100% of their purchases were zero-waste, organic and locally supplied  from La Granja Magallánica. After having stocked up on provisions, the founders of Maewan were finally able to board the ferry to the island of Navarino and Puerto Williams. Following a 30-hour journey through the Patagonian canals, and in particular the Beagle Channel, between the Great Island of Tierra del Fuego in the north and the fjords and the island of Navarino in the south, the duo finally arrived in Puerto Williams. Here, the boat was impatiently waiting for them in the fishing harbour, but she needed a makeover before the big departure! A few days later, the rest of the crew joined them in this southernmost town in the world. Fabienne d’Ortoli, kitesurfing champion, Matthieu Klitting, audiovisual director, and Julien Armijo, scientist, were ready to take on the waves and successfully complete this Patagonian stage, combining discoveries, scientific research and educational activities.

Thanks to some precious help from Igor Bely, son of great scientific navigators and navigator himself, with the painting, Maewan was in the starting blocks to once again get a taste of the saltiness of the Chilean waters. Unfortunately, a setback in the launching of the boat delayed the departure for her determined crew!

Workshops with children while waiting for the boat to be launched 

Whilst waiting for the boat to float again and as soon as she arrived in Puerto Williams, Marion jumped at the chance to start working with Cedena Puerto Williams Cabo de Hornos, the town’s sailing club, which is free and open to all children. Workshops with the youngsters took place over a period of ten days. Marion set up the Maewan educational programme concerning the reintegration of young people who have dropped out of school and, for the youngest, the programme to raise awareness of eco-citizenship through the 8 themes of sustainable development presented in our educational tools. For the older children, the programme is based on a more personalised follow-up, addressing the subject of community, culture, their strengths, and with the aim of building a life project in a fun and eco-responsible way. Erwan intervened regularly with Marion, alternating between the repairs of the sailboat.

During these workshops, A jigsaw puzzle created by the pupils from Haute-Savoie about their environment during the Alps For Good micro-adventure, was presented to their Patagonian counterparts, who also had to create their own project. This inter-cultural exchange ended with a video conference between the classes, full of emotions and exchanges.

Next, the rest of the crew joined in, and the activities continued focusing on sport. Fabienne introduced them to paddle boarding, aiming to work on body posture and mental health. On top of that, our world kitesurfing champion had the opportunity to perform a demonstration of her favourite sport to the fascinated teenagers and adults. The spot in Puerto Williams, sheltered from the swell but not from the wind, proved to be particularly favourable for the practice of this extreme sport, and therefore for the enjoyment it provides.Although he is more used to adventures in the mountains, Erwan was able to learn to kitesurf with the champion, a refreshing and salty experience for him.

Discovering the local environment 

Still awaiting Maewan’s return to the water, our crew was also able to take advantage of the time off to discover the local environment and the island of Navarino. We walked to Cerro Bandera, a mountainous peak on the island. From there we could see the famous Navarino teeth, distinctive mountain peaks. The environment here is wild, midway between the savannah and the alpine tundra. Large forests stop short to give way to the immensity of the plain, barely disturbed by a few plants cutting the straightness of the stretch. Wild horses occasionally make an appearance, adding a lively sound to a place lulled by the wind. The landscape seems lost, isolated from human settlements, sometimes even deserted. It is this feeling of isolation, of returning to a wild state, that our crew also came to seek.

Our adventurers also met Yagans, the ancestral and indigenous people of Patagonia. Unfortunately, crushed by Westerners and their “modern” life, this population has almost disappeared. There are only a few representatives left, defending their ancestral way of life and the nature in which they live in osmosis. Therefore, it is rare to be able to exchange with them and discover their daily life and their enriching knowledge. The team’s deep interest in this population, connected to this land at the end of the world, gave them the chance to meet the last representative of this almost extinct people, acknowledged by UNESCO as a “living treasure”, she has inherited the difficult task of passing on the traditions to her descendants, to avoid burying this treasure of knowledge with her.

Departure for the new adventure

After these numerous delays, filled with time for rich exchanges and discoveries, Maewan was finally able to wet her refurbished hull. The water was cold, especially for a sailboat that had not touched the salty liquid for more than a year.  However, there was not a moment to lose, the maritime adventure had to start at last and everyone was eager to get out into the waves. So, as soon as the boat was launched, our valiant crew set sail for Cape Horn. The journey began with the crossing of the Beagle Channel to its mouth. However, the elements reminded us of the surrounding conditions and prevented us from leaving the channel. We had to wait a few hours until the wind changed in order to get out of Beagle. By chance, we bumped into our friend Igor in Puerto Toro, who was also waiting to set sail for good.

Following this wait, the Maewan crew was finally able to set course for the cursed cape, the greatest fear of sailors, the worst nightmare of some. Seven hours separated us from the great, the sublime, the dangerous Cape Horn. Once the hours of sailing were over, we arrived at the Cape Horn archipelago, more precisely at the Caleta Martial cove. This place surprised our crew, including Erwan, who did not expect such a landscape. Here, the birds can be counted by the thousands, a splendid ornithological ballet celebrating Maewan’s arrival in the southern lands. Dolphins complete the show, in a setting oscillating between vegetation, rocks and water. Armed with her trusty kitesurf, Fabienne made an attempt, which unfortunately failed due to a changing wind and increasing swell. The rest of the crew was nevertheless able to indulge in sports, between paddling, swimming, and even diving for Julien, with a goal to explore the seabed, and all this in a water temperature of around 8°c.

The passage of the famous cape horn 

After the storm, the boat and its crew set sail again, heading south to Cape Horn.  This place, usually terrifying for sailors, exciting for the more daring, looked peaceful, almost sleepy today. The sea was surprisingly calm, almost flat, so Fabienne was able to cover the ten nautical miles, or sixteen kilometres, from Caleta Martial to the southernmost cape by paddle. The kitesurfing champion was even able to set foot on the island of Cape Horn with the aim of performing a session, which was unfortunately unsuccessful due to the gusty wind. The sailboat could not follow Fabienne to the shore because of the sea currents. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Maewan decided to admit defeat for this time, but we were still able to celebrate the joy of a smooth crossing of the fabulous Cape Horn. How many sailors can claim the same?

We circled the island and then crossed the archipelago, with the compass pointing north, to retrace our steps to the Beagle Channel and Puerto Williams.

The return of puerto williams

On the way back to the southernmost city in the world, the Maewan team witnessed a rare and majestic sight: twenty or so whales accompanied the boat in the Beagle, these monsters of several tens of metres and tonnes were impressive in their calm, their presence and their beauty, a welcome worthy of the greatest Roman emperors. Finally arriving in Puerto Williams, the sailboat moored to the Micalvi, an old boat that had run aground near the harbour and which is now used as a mooring point and pontoon for the sailors. The team stayed two days in this unique port before heading up the channel to Punta Arenas, the final destination of the Patagonian expedition. Before leaving the city for good, Marion was inspired to utter these moving words.

“Below the roaring 50s:

Located at 54 degrees south, Puerto Williams is the southernmost city in the world. Known as the land of the edge of the world, the land of the end of the world… I must say that it is rather an imprint of the beginning of the world that this village has left in me. This land capable of giving birth to a thousand and one different lights according to the hours of the day.

As Matthieu lifts anchor, I know that I am  only saying goodbye to the South Sea sailors sheltered at Micalvi for one or more seasons. These sailors who, like us now, have faced the very special conditions of sailing in the deep south. The importance of anticipation, weather analysis and routing preparation. There is no middle ground in these seas. In less than 30 minutes, we can go from 5 to 50 knots of wind and at that moment, it is better not to be in a narrow channel, or the boat would inevitably be smashed against the shore. Patagonia is also, and above all, the patience to wait for the right moment to step outside. It’s the pleasure of taking an invigorating bath in the middle of the icebergs that have fallen from the glaciers and plunged into the canals, or “Pia’s” whisky ice for the aperitif, accompanied by the region’s delicious giant crabs and Julien’s exquisite homemade mayonnaise. It is the approach of this mythical chain, the Darwin Cordillera and its series of glaciers, each more attractive than the other, by the virginity of their itineraries.

Jasmin, Lalo, René, Igor, Bryan, Paola, Constanza, it’s only a goodbye, beautiful encounters, fertile ground for the birth of new projects. The second expedition is starting to take shape and Southern Patagonia will be part of it. We meet at the Micalvi, the marina at the beginning of the world, whose anchorage is an old merchant ship from 1925, which is a great pleasure for the sailors to tie up to, and which is just as much of a pleasure for the sailors, because of the bar that welcomes them”.

 After this final goodbye, Maewan set off again. The battle quickly began in the face of a devilishly strong wind, and the climb back up the Beagle was much more complicated than expected.  But the boat’s faithful captain, Erwan, made good use of his skills and experience to make the journey. The wind conditions are demanding and Maewan IV is forced to make frequent stops in creeks to take shelter from the wind. The setting is magnificent: the canal is surrounded by mountainous terrain, sometimes glacier, sometimes desert, which makes the sailors feel insignificant in the face of the strength and greatness of the wilderness. At the bend in one of these creeks, we see fishermen looking for sea urchins and also king crabs, a crustacean that lives in cold waters and resembles a spider crab, but whose impressive size can be close to two and a half metres in span.

After this short break, we set sail, taking advantage of favourable wind conditions. Once again, Patagonia will surprise our experienced adventurers with its beauty and biodiversity. In the distance, on a rocky mass, dozens of sea lions, these marine mammals, part sea lion and part walrus, are resting and drying on the rocks, some of them distinguished by their unusual size, others by their physical singularity, since an otter lion has surreptitiously mixed with the group of sea lions.

After this new discovery, Maewan continued its way northwards, until it had to stop again at the foot of a glacier, in order to avoid being battered by the next incoming winds. Almost sheltered from these breezes, we drop anchor and enjoy the idyllic setting while waiting to head back to Punta Arenas.

A utopian stopover near the pia glacier

After this new stopover, the sailboat set off, but once again progress was complicated by an uncooperative wind and this time an unfriendly swell. These hostile weather conditions make it difficult for Maewan to make progress towards Pia Fjord. Nevertheless, thanks to Erwan’s knowledge of an existing anchorage, we were able to take shelter near the Pia glacier, next to the Darwin mountain range, the final part of the Andes mountain range. This four-day anchorage allowed us to take full advantage of a magnificent and extremely unusual site where glaciers, sea and forest meet. Fabienne had the opportunity, at last, to raise her sail and put on her board in order to kitesurf in front of the giant glacier, something unprecedented in this sport. On our side, we, the rest of the crew, were able to launch the paddles and sail peacefully on a very calm sea and in an environment of an incredible beauty, alternating between the white and blue colours of the glacier and the sea, the grey and black of the mountain and the green of the vegetation. Marion even had the courage to swim in the cool water, but it was worth it in such a singular setting.

After these four days of rest, Maewan weighed anchor and sailed through the Beagle Channel, this time until she reached her goal. After a few hours of sailing, they had to drop anchor again, due to the unpredictable weather conditions. Nevertheless, this anchorage is a bit special as it is located at Tim Bales, a military checkpoint. We were not allowed to disembark on the island and had to make do with radio or megaphone exchanges with the military. During the four-day stopover, we took the opportunity to walk around on the other side of the shore, before heading back north.

In fact, the captain seized the opportunity to take advantage of a weather clearance. This was short, but still allowed us to sail for a few hours before dropping anchor again, at.night this time, in a bay. The arrival was complicated as the darkness made manoeuvring between the rocks difficult, requiring us to use a torch as well as the boat’s charts and radar.  At sunrise, the view was splendid, the surroundings magnificent, always oscillating between this imposing terrain, this wild and arid vegetation, accompanied by the clear light of dawn. We jumped at the chance to discover the surrounding environment.  Erwan, Fabienne and Julien decide to take their courage in both hands, to put on the flippers and to swim in 8°c water. However, the water did not forgive the first two for their overconfidence, as soon as they got back on the boat, their hands and feet froze. After this swim, Julien and Erwan went to catch king crabs and some shellfish for lunch. However, the latter were likely to be fatal due to the red tide.

Salmon farms – A topic worth investigating

It is precisely this red tide that Julien, the expedition’s scientist, came to observe. caused by a phytoplankton that kills underwater life and has the effect of turning the water red, hence the name Red Tide. Maewan’ s aim during the Patagonian stopover, with Julien at the forefront, is also to investigate the link between this phytoplankton and the flourishing installation of aquaculture, notably in the Beagle Channel, with large salmon farms carrying out intensive production. In order to examine this possible link, as well as this political issue as it affects a large population, Julien began taking samples as soon as he arrived in Puerto Williams. These are analysed but also shown in educational workshops to discuss this environmental problem with the locals. These initial surveys were coupled with interviews conducted by the entire crew with local residents, in order to find out their opinion on the salmon farms. This series of interviews revealed conflicting opinions and allowed Maewan to analyse the problem.

Following this premise and the collecting of shellfish and king crabs, we were able to take action by sailing past these intensive fish farms for the first time. The approach to the first of these proved to be a failure as the workers asked the boat to move away from this private property. Subsequently, Julien had the opportunity to take samples from concessions that had not yet been installed, but also from concessions that were being dismantled. These samples will make it possible to compare the data and establish a correlation between intensive fish farming and red tide. Additional sampling could be carried out on other farms, with the aim of gathering sufficient data for a scientific analysis that can provide solid results and conclusions.

The farms, at first sight, are environmental disasters since the excrement and the food given to the fish cause pollution, equivalent to that of a city of 20,000 inhabitants for just one of these farms. This marine pollution destroys the seabed and the oxidation of these elements takes up the oxygen in the water. In this sense, making it difficult for sealife to breath, especially since the salmon are present in these ponds in impressive quantities, making their swimming, when they reach adulthood, very difficult.The farms install floodlights in the ponds in order to make the fish in them active. This practice is necessary to keep the fish awake for a longer period of time so that they can eat and grow faster. On the other hand, to keep them moving so that they constantly oxygenate the water through their movements, without which they would die.

This study, conducted by Maewan and Julien, was the subject of a documentary film on aquaculture and its consequences on the environment that will be released in the coming months.

Following the sampling and photography, Maewan’s sailboat was welcomed by farm workers to shelter and dock at their floating home in anticipation of the next storm. We had to stay sheltered for almost two days due to strong winds of around 70 knots, or almost 130 kilometres per hour.

After this windy delay, we were all finally able to continue sailing and cover the last few nautical miles to the city of Punta Arenas, which marked the end of the Patagonian journey.

Arrival in punta arenas

Having eventually arrived in Punta Arenas, we found ourselves stuck on the boat while waiting for the authorisation to disembark, mainly related to health precautions. Once these were granted, our crew was able to wander around the fishing port. While some returned to France by plane, others, like Erwan, stayed with the boat to take it to Brazil, the next stage of this round-the-world voyage that started seven years ago.

As for Julien Armijo, our passionate scientist, he stayed in Punta Arenas to continue his study on aquaculture and its environmental consequences, with a view to drawing precise, complete and solid conclusions and results.

But the expedition is not over yet, on quite the opposite, since Marion and Erwan are already preparing to head off towards Brazil at the beginning of June. The next leg is about to begin and will also be full of discoveries, surprises, and adventures, in other words, lots of emotions. So count on us to keep you informed in real time on our social networks of the progress of the expedition, and be assured that this one, like the stopover in Patagonia, will also be the subject of a story, to be enjoyed.

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