WHEN FUELING IS AN ADVENTURE - 1994 Cape Horn

WHEN FUELING IS AN ADVENTURE

           We’d sailed New Chance, my 40 foot Robert Clark cutter, more than 7200 NM from San Juan, Puerto Rico, through the Panama Canal, down the coast of Peru and Chile, across the Straights of Magellan and into Puerto Williams, the southernmost town in the world. From there we had hoped for a shot at rounding Cape Horn. It was not to be. A full gale broke when we were within 20 miles of our goal. After four attempts, all hair-raising, with under 5 miles to go, I ordered the bow turned north. Two of the crew got off in Ushuaia, Argentina, where they caught a plane north. Chuck Adams and I proceeded to ready the boat for the next long leg.      

          With new crew arriving within a couple of days, we kept busy hunting down and loading stores plus fixing some of the stuff that had busted in the gale. Soon all was ready except for fuel. Taking advantage of halfway decent weather, we motored down to the fuel dock at the opposite end of the bay. Actually, there was no ‘fuel dock’ as such. We had to move the boat into a beachhead, secure it to shore, and then haul fuel hoses aboard from a regular automotive service station.

On our first attempt we went aground about 50 feet from shore so we returned to the Ushuaia Yacht Club, in reality a fairly large ship resting on the bottom of the bay. Five hours later, on a still rising tide we were back for a second try at filling our diesel tanks. I drove the boat right up to the beach, which thankfully had a steep drop off. Chuck jumped off the bow onto a narrow sandy strip with two mooring lines. He crawled up a ten-foot high grassy cliff and searched all over for a mooring post, all the time tugging on both lines in an effort to help keep the bow into the wind. I kept it hard forward.

 

There wasn’t a mooring post in sight. Gusts from williwaws topped 35 knots. The constantly shifting wind still dragged Chuck, his heels dug into the dirt. Desperate for a place to secure the two bowlines he spotted two parked cars and worked his way towards the nearest one where he slipped one line around the bottom of the front tire and made it fast. The second line went around the tire of a car about 20 feet from the first, not a second too soon. Gusts had to have exceeded 40 knots as light snow dusted the deck. 

 

Convinced the lines would hold I threw the engine into neutral and went to the bow as Chuck dragged the fuel hose over and handed it up to me. The wind howled while I filled up every tank and jug. Chuck then took the hose, handed up five one gallon jugs of lube oil and two beers and we were set to go. Back at the helm, I gunned the engine in forward gear as Chuck released one line then the other. As he walked the lines across the gas station a tremendous puff caught him by surprise. Dragged across the station he couldn’t hold the line. The bow of the boat whipped around. In desperation he wrapped one line around the bottom of an abandoned gas pump. It held for a few seconds then came crashing down, glass and metal parts flying all over.  

The wind eased for a minute. Chuck stood the gas pump up, jumped down the hill to the beach and with the agility of a chimpanzee climbed aboard. Shook by the entire event I put the gear in reverse when of a sudden, the motor stopped. I’d forgotten we had dropped a stern anchor as we approached. The propeller had wrapped the anchor line. Knowing darn well it would not get unwrapped by putting the prop in reverse, I tried it anyway. No luck. Chuck started to strip to dive in but I stopped him. The skip screwed up, he goes into the icy water. It took just seconds to unwrap the line, a hot shower, and a shot of rum and our fuel stop was a done deal.

  © William Butler, 2004