Together with guests we visit a nature restoration farm, before preparing our boat for the Pacific. We celebrate Christmas on a remarkable island.

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Valdivia – Isla Robinson Crusoe (CHL)

“It’s so green!” Joke marvels at the dense vegetation on the way between the airport and the marina. She and Meint have just arrived in Valdivia and are excited to spend a week with us. It’s the prize they won when renewable energy company Vandebron promoted our mission last year. Now it’s our job to give them an idea of what it’s like to be on a sailing trip around the world in search of sustainable solutions. So, naturally, sailing and documenting a sustainable project are on the program. “If you like green, you’re in luck”, Floris jokes. Coincidentally, trees figure prominently in the reforestation initiative we have arranged to visit with them.

A Farm that Restores Nature

We take them to a family farm on the island of Chiloé. At “Alihuen”, meaning big tree, we check into the cabaña reciclada. The comfortable cottage is made of recycled materials, such as wood from a demolished building. Our host is the Belgian Jeroen Beuckels. He describes how the island must have been completely forested once. As more people settled, more and more trees were felled for building, heating, and to make way grassland.

Over the past 15 years, Jeroen has planted more than 23,000 trees to turn grassland into forest. “In addition, I estimate that around 100,000 trees have reproduced themselves. They not only regulate water levels, but are also the habitat for many native insects, birds and a rare deer, the pudú”, Jeroen says.

Next to Beuckels’ home are a small field, a vegetable garden, and a greenhouse. We all help him with planting potatoes. The plot of land used for agriculture is enough to feed the family. That’s possible because the Beuckels family does not consume much dairy and meat. “That saves a lot of space”, Jeroen explains.

On a tour of the property we notice how remarkably dense the forest is. Where grass once grew, we see moist, carbon-rich forest soil. When we pass a clearing, Joke suddenly comes to a halt. “Look left”, she gestures. At the edge of the forest we spot a stocky brown deer. “A pudú!”, we whisper with big smiles on our faces. Jeroen’s approach is clearly successful. Find out more about this inspiring family farm at our sustainable solution story and video about Alihuen

A Taste of Sailing

It’s fitting that we are doing a story about trees, we won’t see them for a long time when we cross the Pacific. To give Joke and Meint a taste of what that’s like, we take them sailing down the Valdivia river to where it reaches the ocean. It’s the first sunny day of the week, there is a very light breeze, and the current is just right. We float peacefully down the river and get close ups of red-footed cormorants sitting on buoys feeding their young. Just past the town of Niebla, Meint’s excitement grows as he feels the rhythmic ocean swell lift Lucipara 2 up. “So this is what it feels like? I love it!” he grins. “It’s not always this gentle”, we assure him, but we’re happy conditions are so favourable today. When we move to an anchorage to have lunch, black-necked swans surround us to complete the picture-perfect setting.

The week with Joke and Meint flies by and before we know it, we have to say goodbye to them. We could not have asked for better guests and the boat feels a bit empty without them around. Back on our own, there’s no more getting around it: we have work to do. Lucipara 2 yearns for some TLC, we have some articles to write and videos to make, and we need to stock up on food, lots of it.

Workshop Central

Steel Lucipara 2 gives us confidence out at sea, but right now, her hull material gives us pain. There are rust spots all over the deck. If we don’t treat them, they will only get bigger and can eventually lead to holes. So over the course of four days, Floris sands them down until he sees the shining metal underneath. He then degreases the areas and paints over them, layer by layer. The hull needs touch ups, too, so Ivar does the same on the outside to give Lucipara 2 her blue look back. We also re-mount our toilet, install a new GPS antenna and replace a stay that was showing the first signs of wear and tear. There’s enough work on our to-do list to keep us busy for a few weeks.

The fact that we’re not alone makes it all more bearable. Around us, the crews of SY Eastern Stream, SY Vera, SY Stormalong, SY, Ithaca, and SY Pazzo are also busy working on their boats and preparing for the Pacific. As everyone longs for diversion from the chores, we use every opportunity to have BBQs together, go on hikes, and check out the local jazz festival. Besides good company, they are also great helpers. Jaap fills our gas bottles and dive tank, while Linette shows us how to make a wind catcher. “I can’t wait for that to come in handy”, Floris comments, his mind already on warm Pacific nights.

All of us venture into town numerous times to buy as much groceries as our boats can fit. “How much flour do you think we’ll need in the coming 10 months?” Ivar wonders. “How much of everything, really?” We have heard that doing groceries in the Pacific is both a challenging and expensive affair, so we get as much as possible in Valdivia’s many grocery stores and markets. Our large backpacks accompany us on every trip to town until every compartment of the boat and the entire front cabin is filled with food. “Do you think we have enough until we reach New Zealand?” Ivar wonders. “If not, we just have to go on a diet”, Floris jokes.

Work Some, Play Some

It’s not just work, work, work. In-between our Pacific preparations, we meet Charlotte Lovengreen, the honorary consul of the Netherlands. Her apartment in Valdivia also functions as the Dutch consulate, so it is full of Dutch artefacts, including a biscuit box with a drawing of Amsterdam. But it’s really Charlotte’s hospitality and personality that make us feel at home. Over tea we discuss modern day Chile and the challenges the country faces at the moment.

A few days later we meet her again, this time with a delegation from the Netherlands. Over dinner and beer tasting we learn from Jaap Stuiver about Bluecon. It’s a mobile sewage treatment plant the size of a sea container, ideal for small villages. We will keep an eye on its implementation, which will have great benefits for nature, water, and health!

Soon after we have ticked off all the items of our to-do-list, a good weather window opens up to sail on. There is time for two more farewell dinners, one at the traditional German brewery Kunstmann cervezeria and one onboard SY Vera, where Britta serves a delicious pasta dish. Yet the next morning there is no more procrastination: now it’s our turn to loosen the ropes and wave back to the remaining crews on the pontoon. With the ebb flow we leave Valdivia. Off to the Pacific!

Peaceful Pacific?

Apart from a short trip from Puerto Montt to Valdivia, we have not done any serious ocean sailing in more than six months. How will it feel? A fresh breeze and swell greet us at the mouth of the Valdivia river as if to say: Welcome back, did you miss us? Not really, it turns out. Both of us need some time to adjust during the first day.

On the positive side, the fresh and stable breeze allows us to sail the 450 nautical miles to Isla Robinson Crusoe in only three days. By the time we get used to the ocean’s cadence, endless blue vistas, and being away from civilization, the contours of the famous island appear on the horizon. Brown and green cliffs rise straight out of the water and form a chain of steep mountains. The island looks inhospitable, but on the northside, Cumberland Bay gives some protection from the prevailing south-easterly winds. It’s also where the island’s only settlement is and where our friends of SY Ithaca and SY Pazzo are anchored.

Christmas Banquets

We are just in time before SY Pazzo’s crew Cindy, Willy and John sail on. As an early Christmas gift, Willy invites both SY Ithaca’s crew – Ping, Pierre, their kids – and us for dinner at a restaurant that other sailors highly recommended, Refugio Náutico. We get a taste of the rich seafood cuisine, including the local lobster for which the island is famous. What a treat!

The feast continues on Christmas Day aboard SY Ithaca. In a true display of Chinese-South African hospitality, Ping and Pierre serve one delicacy after another. “You must try this!” they insist with every course. And how can we resist, when they are all so tasty. We spend a wonderful evening together. Sadly, it’s also a farewell dinner, as they are heading in a different direction. It’s an inevitable part of cruising life, unfortunately, to part from friends.

Christmas Dinner at Refugio Nautico
Christmas Dinner at Refugio Náutico

Damaging Winds

Despite assurances from the locals that the weather would remain calm for the next few days, we experience what other yachties warned us about. One night, winds sweep over the mountain ridge and accelerate on their way down before they release their full force on Lucipara 2 and the other boats moored in the bay. The winds come in violent gusts and from different directions, which we attribute to the island’s topography. Steep mountains surrounding the bay on three sides mean that whirlwinds are created, similar to the williwaws we experienced in the Patagonian caletas.

We hardly sleep that night. The anchor chain squeaks noisily as it is yanked in different directions, the howling gusts are deafening and the worry about our anchor dragging keep us on alert. All of the anchored boats stay in place, but Lucipara 2 does not come out of it without damage. The next morning, we discover that a blade of the wind generator is broken. It causes the mizzen mast on which it stands to vibrate vehemently when it is turned on. We have no choice but to decommission it until we can replace the broken blade, leaving us to rely on our solar panels until then. The other damage is rather mysterious. The wind indicator, which sits on top of the main mast, has bent 90 degrees upwards. “Something heavy must have hit it from below” Ivar assesses. A piece of debris? A bird? We’ll never know. After Floris removes it from the mast, we have to conclude that it is beyond repair. “Add it to the list” Ivar remarks with a sigh. Although the breakdown of virtually everything on board is part of cruising life, it’s still difficult to accept sometimes.

Island Explorations

After SY Pazzo’s and SY Ithaca’s departure, our social life is reduced to chit chat with the friendly locals. It gives us time to turn our attention to exploring the island. The town is a made up of two parts, a lower part and an upper part. The lower part was devasted by a tsunami not so long ago, and it is now made up of new and modern buildings which house dive schools, hotels and minimarkets. “Aren’t they afraid of another tsunami?” Ivar wonders aloud. Behind the road lining the beach the hills rise quite steeply and we pass residential houses, a very new hospital, and the school. There’s even a library, with free WiFi.

Yet it’s above the town where the true magic lies. An attractive hike takes us high into the hills to the remains of Alexander Selkirk’s dwelling. The Scotsman resided on the island from 1704-1709 on his own, living off the land and wild goats. Each day he would hike up to a lookout from where he could scan the sea on the north and south side for ships, hoping one would liberate him from his solitude. We follow his footsteps further up the mountain and are rewarded with a view that showcases the island’s different climate zones and the extensive types of vegetation. On the south side, lush, green rainforest gradually gives way for brown, dry coastland until the point where violent waves crash against fierce rocks. On the north side, the forest is made up of different layers, getting more endemic as the height increases.

It is in one of these zones that we have the best chance to spot the Juan Fernández hummingbird, so named because it only exists in this archipelago. Armed with our big-zoom camera we stake out by a tree with blue flowers. “The park ranger was right, this is where they come. I see one!” Ivar whispers. The flamboyant male draws our immediate attention with his bright red plumage and melodious song. He flutters around nervously before settling on a branch that gives us an unobstructed view of him. Perfect for a photo shoot!

Paradise Lost?

At the library, we learn about the many threats to the native fauna and flora: loss of habitat, human activities, and introduced species such as eucalyptus trees, blackberries, rats, rabbits and goats. It’s confronting to see how this secluded piece of land is damaged due to human interference. The designation of much of the island as national park is helping to protect its unique biodiversity and limit further damage. Still, we realize that the island is no Garden of Eden, as one might think after reading Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe”. It was inspired by Alexander Selkirk’s tale of survival on this island. In turn, the famous book inspired the Chileans to name the island Isla Robinson Crusoe.

That feeling of lost resilience intensifies when we try to get some fresh vegetables in town. The minimarkets sell only what the supply ships bring in. As the last one arrived before we did, there is nothing left by the time we hit the stores. “Can we buy fruit and vegetables from people who grow their own?” Floris asks Marcelo, our go-to islander for everything. “Not many people do”, he replies. “Although there is a lady with a greenhouse further up the street.” We follow his lead and find Ingrid, whose garden is full of fruit trees. She takes us to the big green house where she grows tomatoes, beans, and peppers. Unfortunately, the fruits and most of the vegetables are not ripe yet. A little apologetic that not more is in season, she sells us two crops of lettuce. We learn that she is one of the very few islanders who grow their own food. “It’s a pity that people no longer live off the land, as Alexander Selkirk did, but rely on the ferry to bring them food from the mainland”, Ivar laments.

Sailing West

A week is not enough to fully immerse ourselves in the community and natural wonders of Isla Robinson Crusoe. But we know that there are thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean ahead of us, filled with many more islands that we also want to explore. This is what we’ve been preparing for, and so, two days before the end of the year, we lift our anchor and let a gentle southerly breeze fill our sails. It’s almost 1,700 nautical miles westward to the next island: Rapa Nui, the most isolated inhabited island in the world!

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