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Sailing into the Land of Giants

Date: 2003-12-10

WildlifeSAIL NEWS LETTER 10 December, 2003

1. 10 new log reports (No. 49 - 59) are posted at
2. PATAGONIA - Land of Giants (Giant Wilderness and Giant Winds), written by Kate Hagerman
1. 10 new log reports (No. 49 - 59) are posted at
NEWS LETTER reports update you on newest web postings, including log reports, photo and video galleries, and educational sections.

2. PATAGONIA - Land of Giants (Giant Wilderness and Giant Winds)

- Mar del Plata, Argentina

Wildlife finally arrived in Mar del Plata under spinnaker at sunset. JF and I hadn't seen each other in 5 weeks. The last two weeks apart were due to the unfortunate southerly winds in Punta de Este, Uruguay. JF called me via the satellite phone when he could see the harbor. I grabbed a bottle of champagne from the hotel restaurant and a cab. We drove to the end of the pier at the harbor's entrance. I stood by the lighthouse waving a scarf. They sailed by me yelling, "Yahoo! We made it! I love you!" I ran back to the cab in the last yellow light of the day. We raced Wildlife to the marina. They had a difficult time docking the boat due to limited space and after a few yells from other sailors we were together again.

- The Sail from Mar del Plata into the Roaring 40's

The sail to Puerto Madryn from Mar del Plata was rough and nauseating. The waves crashed against each hull separately and tossed the boat from side to side. My internal organs responded similarly. My brain sloshed around in its fluid, distorting vision and equilibrium. We hobbled around the cabin bumping into walls with the intention of gaining support from their presence but obtaining bruises instead. The feeling before vomiting is ever-present. Eliana, my friend from Buenos Aires was not so lucky. She threw up every hour for the first day and was green for the remainder of the sail.

I was pre-hypothermia and in full fowl weather gear sitting at the helm station when a single dusky dolphin jumped out of the streaming water beside me. I screamed "dolphin, dolphin!" to the guys inside. We ran to the bow, laid flat on our stomachs and watched them surf the waves. Dolphins are the all-star athletes of the sea. They spring in front of the bow, leap, flip and love applause. They stayed with us until the sun went down.

We watched the sun and moon rise and set, and got closer to the meaning of being, instead of doing. I am not talking about the cushy ashram type of being. This is being ok with feeling very ill all of the time even though you are not sick. Sailing makes you look your fears in the face. Night watch is the best for that. The silver sea brings out the what-ifs you never talk, and we talk about them. "Did you hear that? It sounded like people talking. You wouldn't believe how many people get stranded at sea, " JF says. "What if a whale wants to play volleyball with our boat?" When the storm comes I imagine the purple streaks of lightening blowing the boat to pieces. The question of what is out there turns into what is coming, what are we getting close to and what is under us. But the sun does rise and in its blinding orange rays I spot a troop of penguins squeaking by. They look totally vulnerable and they are fine with it. So we must be. I am happy to be in our bunk, warm for the moment, watching the clouds bounce by thinking of a sea calm enough to practice yoga and get the kinks out.

We entered Gulfo Nuevo at sunrise. The morning is spring compared to night's winter. A welcome sun reminds us of the other side. JF woke me to see the crimson and yellow horizon, to smell the pastures and see the cliffs of Peninsula Valdez. "It smells like Montana, " he says. We had tea and apple tart. The boat creaked from side to side. We were under full sail. The gulf was so calm it appeared we were not even moving, a gift from Neptune for our perseverance.

- Puerto Madryn, Entering the Land of Giants (Giant Wilderness and Giant Winds)

Puerto Madryn is the gateway to the roaring 40s where the wind picks up and you can whale watch while having lunch. Madryn has the sweetness of a New England town with cool temperatures, teahouses, and earth lovers. There were a few houses here in the 80s but sexy eco-tourism made this town cool and populated. A pier was built to house cruise ships and a golf club is in the works. The village is a kid's playground. They run rampant, strollers, crawlers, runners, yelling kids, laughing kids, football kids, you name it they live here. They travel in packs. Only the boys get to play after dark.

We attached Wildlife to a mooring ball because the dock system for yachts does not exist here. We take the dingy to shore, drag it up the pebble beach to the fenced-in Club Nautico Atlantico Sud. The waves are so large that often the trip to shore is a soaking one. Hot water showers at the club are a welcomed respite from the recent dips we have been taking in the 13 degree Celsius bay. The transom of the boat is our usual showering spot, and most recently a desirable sunning platform for sea lions. We had such a visitor who left us a very smelly marking of his territory. One afternoon I was alone in the cockpit and was greeted by a young sea lion. He bounced around and rolled in the large waves. He circled the transom I was sitting on. I dared him to come up for sun but the playful waves were more inviting.

Patagonia is the land where the giant fisheries take 1 million metric tons of fish per year and directly compete with the feeding behaviors of whales, and seals, where the famous people are scientists and everyone cooks out. Half a sheep and sausages are the usual servings at asados (barbecues). The first asado we attended in Puerto Madryn was under a tin roof on the beach with surfers and a 72 year-old sailor from Italy named Bruno Nicoletti. He has the exact boat as Wildlife thus we were his new best friends. His claim to fame comes from his first year at sea (age 62). He fell asleep during watch while sailing off of the coast of Venezuela. His boat was smashed into pieces by a tanker. He drifted at sea for 7 days clinging to a 'piece of boat' and stayed hydrated by 'absorbing water through the pores of his skin' all the way to the sandy shores of Tobago. "The currents were in my favor," he boasts.

- Finding Guanacos, Patagonian Wild Lamas

Chulingo is the affectionate name given to the round grills typical at asados. An actual chulingo is a baby guanaco with which I became intimately acquainted. Her name was Princesa. Guanacos are a cross between a giraffe and a deer. They have long necks, walk like emperors and graze the arid flat desert-scape of Patagonia. Their population has plummeted from 7 million to less than 400,000 because they are the unfortunate competitors of the imported English sheep. Guanacos keep harems: one alpha male per 14 females. When the alpha male is challenged by a robust young male looking to take over his harem many baby guanacos are left behind in the process. Princesa is an orphan from such a battle. She was three weeks old and nibbled on my entire body looking for something that could feed her. She settled on grazing my hair and we became friends. I hugged her for two hours until I was peeled away to find Ricardo Baldi, a scientist who was in the field tagging chulingos. Ricardo studies the range of guanacos via radio tags to determine the necessary areas to create as preserves. We rode in the back of a white pick up truck with binoculars searching for the guanaco man. We found him bouncing through the field on his way to the next site. Ricardo humored our questions, showed us the radio tracking tools and took us around more pothole ditch roads to follow the guanacos.

Ricardo works on the land of the recently established preserve, Estancia Esperanza, the Ranch of Hope. Estancia Esperanza was created when the World Land Trust donated 14,000 hectors to the local NGO Fundacion Patagonia Natural FPN who is partnered with Wildlife Conservation Society WCS. Donating land to local NGOs seems to be the most effective way to prevent the de-diversity of our planet.

- A Day to Remember on Peninsula Valdez

The FPN president, Graham Harris, took us (the 2 Wildlife Captains, JF and Flo, 2 crew, Daniel and Vasco, and me) via Mercedes tank on a tour of Peninsula Valdez. We interviewed and filmed Claudio Campagna (a charismatic WCS scientist) delicately place a satellite tag on the forehead of an elephant seal. The tag sends positional signals to a satellite every day for 8 months. We named the young female elephant seal Maria and watched her ripple back into the sea. The adult male elephant seal looks like an elephant with out legs and ears. They are ferociously enormous and keep harems of 150 females. They have young male guards who get together and gang up on the adult male, a battle that often ends in death for the youngsters.
Claudio is also working on the 'Park of Sea and Sky.' The idea is to create a protected park 200 miles off shore along the Patagonian Shelf, an area of 2 million square kilometers. The fishing industry has a strong hold on the shelf, which has caused the albatross, penguin, whale and seal populations to be labeled globally threatened species.

Graham took us to see a sea lion colony, a penguin haven and Whale Camp, a remote whale observatory he called home for eight years. Whale Camp is on the shore of a protected calving bay for right whales. I needed some quiet air and set out for the warm pebble beach to meditate. I closed my eyes, felt the sun on my skin and sank into myself. I heard breathing in my ear, then a strong groan. I opened my eyes to see two whales lifting their heads out of the water. They checked me out from their eye on the side. We looked at each other and peacefully wondered what the other was thinking.

- Penguin Pose

Pablo Yorio arrived the next morning in a red pick up. He is a WCS scientist, slinky and academic. I call him the penguin man. He drove us two hours south on more bumpy dirt roads to Punta Tombo, a place I call Penguin city, home of 200,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins. They are used to humans and don't really mind us standing around admiring them. Upon entering the preserve one must slow down so as not to hit the hundreds of penguins hobbling across the road. We walked along the designated path for humans. The rule is: do not stand on the bridge that crosses the penguin pathway. When we stop to look they stop to look and their food may digest due to the delay and their babies will die from hunger. The penguin superhighway consists of three lanes going toward the sea to drink, feed and bathe, and three lanes coming from the sea back to their nests to feed their young and relieve their mate of nest duty. Penguins are enlightened. They get it completely. The males and the females are the same size, have the same feathers and think of their own survival before breeding. They are monogamous and homebodies. They return to the same nest and the same partner, hunt in groups and share the housework. It's 50/50 all the way. If you get too close they will poke your eye out and they do yoga. I learned a new pose in penguin city: Take your flippers behind you back until the tips touch. Take a deep breath, puff your chest and turn your head from side to side.

With respect,
Kate Hagerman (Kate joined the Wildlife catamaran on 5 November, 2003)

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