07・Dyed in Blue

When you move to a distant place or start a new life because of work or higher education, the days until then sometimes seem like a long time ago or a dream.

I found myself in another world of blue, surrounded by a sea of endless islands.

-- This is a real story. --
islands in chile

It is like a dream, no, like a painting!

The islands line up like a blue mirage against a sea as blue as ink. The Andes, with snow on their peaks, have a clear outline as if cut from a dark blue plate. Have I stepped into a blue painting? Even time seems to have stopped. Aomi sails swiftly through the blue water, her white sails appearing as though hoisted within the painting.

And yet, I am at a loss. Even if I try to imprint this clear and transparent view of mountains, sea, and islands into my memory, it seems too beautiful to remember. Surely, no camera can capture such pure blue that moves people so deeply. What can I do, surrounded by a landscape of mountains, sea, and islands, that fills my heart with such deep blue?

 

After leaving Puerto Montt, the northernmost city in the Patagonian Archipelago, Aomi sails through the sea of islands and heads south toward Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America.

Each morning, I wake up in an island bay, breathe in the fresh air, eat my morning meal, make lunch, raise the anchor, and set sail. By nightfall, Aomi reaches the island several dozen kilometers to the south and drops anchor in a cove. After a while, I finish my evening meal, spread out some charts and Sailing Directions in the cabin, and spend several hours planning the next day's voyage.

I carefully read the navigation charts published by the U.S. Department of Defense, marking dangerous points with a red pen. I compare nearly 100 charts from the U.S., U.K., and Chile to check the reliability of the topographic and bathymetric data, deciding where to anchor for the next day and drawing a course line on the chart with a soft pencil. I also have to find a safe anchorage on the chart for evacuation in case of sudden weather changes along the way. It feels as if I came here to do paperwork rather than sailing.

In fact, sailing through the archipelago is more difficult than you might think. With so many islands so close together, it's easy to get confused and mistake several islands for one big island, leading you to think you are lost. Some islands differ in shape and location from those shown on the charts, and there are many uncharted shoals and rocks. The charts I bought in Chile are particularly interesting; the locations of many newly discovered reefs are handwritten by the issuing office, added after the original printing.

The U.S. Sailing Directions, collecting navigational information on the Patagonian Archipelago, contain an incredible warning: "In general, the soundings appearing on the charts are of a reconnaissance nature. Mariners proceeding through this area should use the utmost prudence in navigation." Furthermore, the U.S. charts for the Patagonian Archipelago caution: "The area covered by this chart has not been completely surveyed."—Will I make it to Cape Horn without running aground? Suddenly, I realize that all the inhabited islands are now behind me, and the vast expanse ahead is entirely uninhabited.

 

The fishing line trailing behind Aomi hooks many fish as she sails. It is about 50 centimeters long, with long pectoral fins and thick bones like a horse mackerel. The 30-meter fishing line splits into a Y-shape, and small plastic squid-shaped lures are attached to the end of each line. Some days, the fish bite both lures, and I catch two at the same time. In densely populated countries, the joke goes that more people are fishing than fish in the waters. Still, in this uninhabited area, you can fish without limits. I can save a lot of canned food that I couldn't buy enough due to lack of money. I fillet the fish into three pieces and eat it as sashimi or grill it, sprinkling salt. A freshly caught fish is enough food for two days.

From Aomi, anchored in a cove, I row a dinghy to the shore and fearfully land on an uninhabited island. Birds sing in the dense forest that covers the island, and as I walk along the beach, I see small crabs crawling in the cracks of the rocks. Countless small fish gather where the sparkling water from the stream pours into the sea. They suddenly turn and disappear as I approach them, leaving nothing but crystal-clear water. Standing on the beach at low tide, I am surrounded by a chorus of shellfish breathing, something I have never imagined. The bustle of the city and the noise of the cars are a distant, otherworldly event, so alien is the time that even trying to remember life in the city is impossible.


Islands in the norh Patagonia

Rowing a dinghy, I look into the water along the shore. The water is as clear as tap water as if you could almost drink it. The clean, sandy bottom is dotted with shellfish-breathing holes. There are green, brown, and white forests of algae that resemble plastic. I can see hills covered with sea urchins, and white rocky mountains.—I feel as if I were looking down at the ground from an airplane.

Lifting my eyes from the water, I see a strange orange rock, bright as if painted. The trees covering the island are of such an intense green that staring at them actually strains my eyes.



In the clear blue landscape of the northern Patagonian Archipelago, I breathe in and out the fresh air, feel the currents on my hands through the rudder stick, listen to the sound of the tides, and feel the sky, the sea, and the mountains of the Andes right in my heart and on my skin.

I'm glad I have come, so glad I have come in a sailboat. Because the experiences I can't imagine while in a city, and the experiences I don't even know exist, happen here every day.

blue sky and sea, in the region of chonos

Patagonian map

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